Thai junta curbs political party activities

THAILAND - The Thai junta has suspended political parties' activities as it seeks to decide whether it would allow large-scale building projects initiated by the ousted government to continue.

In an announcement yesterday to clarify which laws are still in place despite the May 22 coup, the junta said that political parties are not allowed to convene meetings or organise activities related to politics. The registration of new political parties was also suspended. There was no time frame given for this suspension, which mirrored the situation eight years ago when the military had staged another coup that ousted then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In the May 22 coup, the Thai army overthrew a Thaksin-linked caretaker government and swiftly clamped down on any possible resistance through pre-emptive detentions and strict surveillance of anti-coup activities.

Army chief and junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has set a roughly 15-month time frame for fresh elections to be held, before which the junta would try to bridge political differences widened through the country's nearly decade-long political conflict.

The kingdom's rural masses and lower middle class have repeatedly returned Thaksin-linked parties to power, something which its royalist establishment and urban middle class attribute to corruption and populist policies.

This week, the junta is expected to start deciding on which infrastructure projects get the go-ahead. Among those under review are flood prevention projects in the 350 billion baht (S$13.5 billion) water management plan, as well as a 2 trillion baht plan to primarily double-track railways and build high-speed rail links. The latter was ruled as unconstitutional by Thailand's charter court in March.

The junta stressed yesterday that all decisions on the projects will be transparent.

"There will be no tea money," National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak told reporters, in reference to kickbacks that are often involved in large-scale building projects.

In recent days, Gen Prayuth has also assumed the position of chairman of the Board of Investment.

The Thai army says it was forced to stage a coup by the deteriorating security situation in Thailand, caused, in part, by nearly seven months of anti-government protests prior to its intervention.

In response to international condemnation of the coup, it said that it planned to meet representatives of international human rights groups, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to "create understanding".

Meanwhile, a Norwegian telecommunications firm has admitted that its Thai telecommunications provider DTAC blocked access to Facebook some two weeks ago on orders from the junta.

The Facebook disruption, which lasted for about an hour on May 28, sparked panic about the junta's clampdown on social media. The junta has denied blocking Facebook and attributed it to a technical glitch.

Yesterday, a Thai beauty queen relinquished her title after coming under heavy criticism for her Twitter and Facebook comments on "red shirts", the supporters of the ousted government. Miss Universe Thailand winner Weluree Ditsayabut had sparked the furore after saying they should be "executed".

This article was first published on June 10, 2014.
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