Thai junta 'seeking to retain influence'

Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha

The charter drafters' proposals to set up two new reform bodies have been interpreted by some as a sign that the junta will attempt to retain power or significant influence after the next general election.

The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) inserted provisions in the new constitution about the setting up of a Reform Movement Council (RMC) and a reform strategy committee.

Judging by the composition of the RMC - 60 National Reform Council (NRC) members and 30 National Legislative Assembly (NLA) members - it will be hard for the public not to believe that the junta will seek to retain power or influence.

Another matter that has persuaded political observers that the junta government wants to prolong its power was the rejection of a proposal to prohibit members of junta-appointed organisations, the so-called "five rivers", from participating in the political arena for two years after their terms ended.

That idea was proposed by CDC member Jade Donavanik but shot down by a majority of CDC members and several junta leaders, including Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The term "five rivers" refers to junta-installed bodies the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the Cabinet, the NLA, the NRC, and the CDC.

'Origins of members key'

A political scientist from Thammasat University, Attasit Pankaew, said he would not blame the public for thinking the junta wants to perpetuate it hold on power.

Attasit said national reform plans had been constructed by reform experts in the form of reports even before this government, but those reports were not implemented.

"I agree with the idea of setting up the two bodies to actually implement the reformation plans, but the origin of their members is still an issue for the people, " he said.

Attasit believes the RMC requires Reform Council members because they are the people who understand the reform plans the best.

However, he said that the council should not include Legislative Assembly members. Instead, he wants to see members of conflicting groups in the council.

Red-shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn, of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), said the decision to set up the two bodies clearly benefited junta organisations.

"It is certain that once the five rivers' terms ends, they should not be involved with politics in the future because they would have finished their works," he said.

"After these agencies came to power they have become so addicted to power they cannot let go."

He voiced strong opposition to the setting up of the two bodies, reasoning that if the five rivers' policies and plans could push the country forward, once there was an election and a new government they would instantly continue the previous government's plans.

"There is no necessity to set up new organisations to push forward national reform, unless what the junta is doing is not the right thing, and then the new government would not pursue the junta's plan," the UDD leader said.

Further, he said establishing the new bodies would be a burden on the country, instead of helping.

He claimed the Prayut government had misused state funds by appointing at least 1,000 members to implement the policies of government agencies, with each appointee paid at least Bt100,000 (S$4231) a month for a combined total of at least a Bt1 billion a month.

"All this money spent by the junta government does not benefit the country at all, it only benefits the junta and their people," Weng said.

Deputy leader of the Democrat Party Nipit Intrasombat said that only the CDC, NRC and NLA were attempting to stay in power longer.

"These three 'rivers' are craving more power. Therefore the CDC drafted their charter that way, but the NCPO and the junta government merely accepted the idea of the new bodies," Nipit said.

Thus, the fundamental idea of continuing national reform surely was a good idea since it could not be accomplished within a few years or even 10 years, he said, adding that the key point was the members who will man the reform bodies.

"All 60 million people [of Thailand] are capable of pushing reform. Why do the members [of the new bodies] have to come from the NRC and NLA only and include other reform experts?" he said.

Nipit said if the public believed that such people were not the best to implement national reform, it could affect the new charter.

He suggested that if the reformers want to ensure their plans are implemented after the next election, the CDC should insert a provision in the charter that when a new elected government comes to power it must continue the reformers' policies within two years. And if it did not, the public could gather enough signatures to overthrow the government.