Military-dominated Thai House to convene on Thursday

Military-dominated Thai House to convene on Thursday
Newly appointed National Legislative Assembly members registering at Parliament House yesterday. Thailand’s junta has named an interim legislature comprising mostly current or retired uniformed officers.

Military officers, policemen and bureaucrats, rather than politicians, will fill Thailand's Parliament next Thursday, when the ruling junta convenes an interim legislature that could enact sweeping changes before elections are held.

More than half of the 200 National Legislative Assembly members announced on Thursday night are current or retired uniformed officers. A total of 105 are from the military, while the rest include police officers, bureaucrats and academics. Among them are junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha's brother, Lieutenant-General Preecha Chan-ocha, and former senators known for their support of protesters who helped topple the Puea Thai-led government, eventually deposed in a military coup on May 22.

Gen Prayuth, in his weekly TV address last night, asked people to focus on the assembly's performance rather than its composition. "Some laws have been considered for decades and still not been passed... Some agreements have not been signed because interests were involved," he said.

According to an interim Constitution enacted last month, the assembly will pick a prime minister, who will then appoint up to 35 Cabinet members. Junta chief Prayuth, who retires as army chief next month, is widely tipped to assume the premiership. But even if this does not happen, the junta is expected to keep a tight rein on power. The junta has not indicated when it will lift martial law. It will also exist alongside the future Cabinet, overseeing national security affairs. Under the interim charter, it has special powers to intervene in any way it deems fit if national stability is at risk.

Meanwhile, it will select members of a council that will draft longer-term national reforms, and also help pick a committee to write a new Constitution. This charter will the kingdom's 20th.

The last standard Constitution was enacted in 2007, one year after the military overthrew the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, who upended a political order dominated by the old elite. Even though Thaksin lives in self-exile overseas, politicians linked to him had continued to dominate the scene once polls were restored.

Since the May 22 coup, however, the military has suppressed dissent and purged the bureaucracy and state enterprises of senior officials linked too closely to the former government. The junta says it is removing political influence from the bureaucracy, but analysts expect it to push for deeper changes that will permanently neutralise Thaksin's network.

The political transition is taking place amid deep anxiety over the looming end of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's reign. The revered monarch turns 87 in December.

Meanwhile, the Thai economy - South-east Asia's second largest - is taking a slow road to recovery as it tries to undo the damage caused by seven months of political unrest before the coup. The economy shrank 2.1 per cent in the first quarter.

According to a Bank of Thailand report, while the more stable political environment has driven some types of consumption, demand for property slowed and manufacturing production declined in June, compared to the same period last year.

Businesses "continued to defer new investments, awaiting signs of economic recovery and clarity on government policy", it said in the report released on Thursday.

The political situation continued to weigh on tourism, with visitor arrivals in June falling 24.4 per cent compared to the same period last year.

This article was first published on August 2, 2014.
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