Thai junta's 'special powers' defended

Thai junta's 'special powers' defended
Secretary-General of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Gen. Paiboon Koomchaya, who also in charge of legal and justice affairs, listens to questions during a news conference at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, July 23, 2014.

BANGKOK - Prayuth gets backing from his assistant to take over as premier.

The Junta's legal advisers have been vehemently defending the granting of "special powers" to their leader under the provisional constitution, saying he needs these powers to see things through.

The charter's Article 44 states that if necessary, the leader of the National Council for Peace and Order, with the consent of the NCPO, can exercise "special powers" by issuing an order or stopping any action. This order would be binding for all institutions - legislative, executive or judiciary - and would be considered final and constitutional.

Article 44 specifies that these "special powers" can only be exercised in some cases and if national security is threatened.

Wissanu Krea-Ngam, a legal adviser to the NCPO, acknowledged that Article 44 was based on Article 17 of the 1959 Constitution, which was used by then-military dictator Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, but pointed out that NCPO leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha could only exercise this power when absolutely necessary.

"The use of 'special powers' [under Article 44] relies on the existence of the NCPO and enables [the NCPO] to carry out tasks that the cabinet finds difficult to handle," he said.

Wissanu insisted that without this power, the NCPO might have to resort to staging a coup against itself - a strategy used by some juntas in the past.

He said the special power "is unlikely to be [exercised] daily or used at whim", adding that when the disturbing case of the rape and murder of a teenager emerged recently, many people called on the NCPO to exercise "special powers" against the accused. Yet, he said, the NCPO exercised restraint and put the case through the normal judicial process.

However, he acknowledged that Article 44 was a double-edged sword, as it could be used for constructive reasons or for bad ones.

Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, another legal adviser to the NCPO, argued that Prayuth was most unlikely to use this power like Sarit did in the 1960s, when he ordered the immediate execution of those accused of setting fire to a property as part of an insurance scam.

"I don't think it will go that far … When we had no [provisional] constitution and [the NCPO] was the law, it could have done more than what is prescribed by Article 44, but it didn't," Pornpetch said.

Separately, support for Prayuth to take up the prime minister's job has emerged from within the junta.

"I think he is well qualified," Royal Thai Army assistant chief General Paiboon Khumchaya said. Paiboon is also the NCPO deputy chief for legal and judicial affairs.

"Over the past few months, he [Prayuth] has been carrying out the prime minister's duties and has been doing them well," Paiboon said. Prayuth, the Army chief, led the May 22 power seizure, and Wissanu said the provisional constitution did not prohibit him as the coup leader from assuming the PM's post.

These remarks were made at a press conference held yesterday at Government House to explain the contents of the provisional charter.

"Though the charter allows for him to take up the prime minister's post, whether [Prayuth] will become [prime minister] or not is up to the National Legislative Assembly," or NLA, Wissanu said.

When asked if he considered it appropriate for the junta leader to assume the prime minister's post, Wissanu said the answer lay very much in the hands of the public and Prayuth himself.

Under the provisional charter, the prime minister - who is selected by the NLA - can be removed from office by the NLA, which in turn is appointed by the NCPO, Wissanu said.

Wissanu also defended the controversial Article 48, which in effect grants amnesty to the NCPO for staging the May 22 seizure of power from the elected government, saying this was necessary to prevent vengeful actions in the future.

When asked how the NCPO expects to bring about reconciliation when democracy defenders like Chaturon Chaisaeng and Sombat Boonngam-anong were being tried on the one hand and the junta had absolved itself of any legal responsibility on the other, Wissanu said the provisional charter did not forbid any possible redress for these people.

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