Lockdown and anxiety in Thailand

Lockdown and anxiety in Thailand
07jan_opinion_art.

THAILAND - After seven months of eerie calm following Thailand's latest military coup on May 22 last year, prospects for South-east Asia's second-largest economy this year are characterised by anxiety and apprehension about what is to come.

Thailand's virtual lockdown since the coup is likely to be maintained in this transitional period, where a resurgent monarchy-centred political order must come to grips with inexorable democratic arrangements.

The hitherto elusive balance between old powers and new politics, between Thailand circa the Cold War and its offspring in the early 21st century, will continue to underpin and determine political outcomes next year and thereafter.

Under the current military regime, security and order apparently have superseded prosperity and freedom.

Thailand's lockdown has been as astonishing as it has been unsurprising.

With a military regime under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) ensconced in power after the putsch and governing the country directly, as opposed to delegating to technocrats and policy professionals, it was a matter of time before the ruling generals' mindset, organisational culture and values and preferences would become entrenched and dominant.

Consequently, Thais are forced to adhere to traditional values and symbols as if their clock of progress had been turned back a few decades.

Of course, most matters outside political life are still business as usual.

Those not engaged in politics and policymaking will still find Thailand a hospitable, permissive and forgiving place.

But the military's role in politics and society will become increasingly salient and controversial.

The military authorities may project a business-as-usual image, but the reality is increasingly marked by suppressed scepticism, tension and opposition.

The maintenance of martial law since the coup is a telling indicator, as military-authoritarianism has reared its repressive head in a country that was on the verge of democratic consolidation less than two decades ago.

More manifestations of the military's resurgence during the grand transition and the royal succession are likely this year, with a build-up to consequences spilling over into a reckoning of sorts next year.

Several trends and dynamics are discernible.

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