Concerns have been raised after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as leader of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), unveiled his plan to invoke Article 44 to replace the controversial martial law. This interim charter provision gives him absolute power as the NCPO chief.
Article 44 states that, "In the case where the head of the National Council for Peace and Order is of the opinion that it is necessary for the benefit of reform in any field and to strengthen public unity and harmony, or for the prevention, disruption or suppression of any act which undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economics or administration of state affairs, whether that act emerges inside or outside the Kingdom, the head of the National Council for Peace and Order shall have the powers to issue any order to disrupt or suppress regardless of the legislative, executive or judicial force of that order. In this case, that order, act or any performance in accordance with that order is deemed to be legal, constitutional and conclusive, and it shall be reported to the National Legislative Assembly president and the prime minister without delay."
It means that when he invokes Article 44, General Prayut will have the powers over all three branches of government - the executive, the legislative and the judicial.
Observers compare Article 44 to Article 17 of the "Administrative Charter of 1959", when Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat was serving as prime minister.
The clause states that, "Pending operation of this Administrative Charter, if the prime minister finds it desirable to prevent, abate or suppress an act giving rise to the subversion of national security, the throne, the national economy or state business, or an act that can contribute to the disturbance of or threat against public peace or public policy, destruction of national resources or deterioration of public health, whether it comes to pass prior to or following the entry into operation of this Administrative Charter, the prime minister, upon a resolution of the Council of Ministers, shall be bestowed with the power to issue any order or to perform any act whatsoever.
"Such an order or act, or the observance thereof, shall be deemed lawful. Upon issuance of any order or performance of any act in virtue of the foregoing paragraph, the prime minister shall inform the National Assembly thereof."
At that time, Sarit had cited the controversial clause in ordering the execution of 11 people. It is not surprising that many people have become afraid that a replacement to the martial law may be something more scary.
It is understood that the government has decided to lift martial law in order to reduce pressure from foreign countries. However, foreign countries are unlikely to look only at the nomenclature of the new law; they will also scrutinise its content and its jurisdiction.
If the new law has the same implications as martial law or has even more severe measures that may result in more infringement of rights, they will conclude that the status quo remains.
If claims by some government figures are any indication, the new order to be issued under Article 44 will not be that scary. The new order will replace martial law and it is not an order to summon or arrest anyone. So, the order in essence is likely to be more relaxing than martial law.
This may reflect General Prayut's promise that Article 44 will be used constructively.
The prime minister also plans to invoke his power under Article 44 to solve the problems in the Thai aviation industry following a threat by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to downgrade Thailand for failure to meet standards.
Government supporters say they do not think General Prayut would invoke Article 44 in the same way as Sarit's use of Article 17.
However, there is no guarantee that the powers-that-be will not exercise their widespread power in a negative way. The power under the provisional charter is comprehensive and free from scrutiny.
History tells us that it is risky to rely on someone with absolute power. In fact, even an elected prime minister should not wield this kind of massive power.
However, as the country is now in a special situation, we just hope that General Prayut is aware of the risks of having such power. He should renounce the power and return the country to normalcy as soon as possible.
More importantly, he should not allow Thai people to "get addicted" to a special law, or we will end up being unable to solve the country's problems through normal laws in the future.