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Bangkok's Coup Regime Creates a Militarized Parliament

Bangkok's Coup Regime Creates a Militarized Parliament

by Richard S. Ehrlich | Bangkok, Thailand
August 8, 2014

Coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha's new hand-picked militarized parliament was inaugurated on Thursday (August 7), enabling the general to dominate future legislative, executive and judicial institutions.

Gen. Prayuth's interim parliament will soon nominate an interim prime minister who is widely predicted to be Gen. Prayuth himself.

He will then install a cabinet which is expected to include the general's closest military colleagues.

Gen. Prayuth appears to be trying to create an image of acceptable legitimacy to his overwhelming personal power, while extending his reach across this modern, capitalist, major non-NATO U.S. treaty ally.

To do so, the frequently glum-faced general is surrounding himself with military colleagues, compliant technocrats and passive bureaucrats, while banning or marginalizing popularly elected politicians.

On Thursday (August 7), Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn presided over the NLA's inauguration at the ornate Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, which is used by the royal family for its most important official ceremonies.

Senior military officers in the NLA wore immaculate white military uniforms during the ceremony which is a formality under Thailand's constitutional monarchy.

Gen. Prayuth has vowed to establish a National Reform Council which will nail down the details, limits, powers and punishments of his soon-to-be-constructed new Thailand.

Describing his coming cabinet and council, Gen. Prayuth told his countrymen: "They will both consist of military officials, civil servants and people who support us.

"Please pay attention," the general advised on Aug. 1 during his weekly, nationwide televised, stern lecture series which he calls, "Returning Happiness to the People."

After awarding himself and his colleagues amnesty for any illegal acts before, during, or after his May 22 coup, Gen. Prayuth moved quickly to intimidate his opponents.

The U.S., European Union, Australia and other governments called for a return to democracy and free elections, and the Pentagon limited some military assistance.

Gen. Prayuth however defiantly appointed all 200 people in his newly invented National Legislative Assembly (NLA) which he unveiled on Aug. 1.

His interim parliament includes an unprecedented 98 seats for military officers including 69 "active" officers, and 29 "inactive" or retired.

Seven police officials, similarly active or inactive, round out the security forces' combined 105 majority.

They are boosted by 50 "technocrats" collaborating with the regime, and 26 former senators, including many previously in the military.

Nineteen "private sector" and "other" NLA members complete the parliament which is widely expected to rubber-stamp Gen. Prayuth's decisions.

Former politicians elected by a majority of voters during previous governments are not eligible.

They include former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, currently overseas after she was toppled in the May 22 coup.

In Paris, Ms. Yingluck recently visited her fugitive older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted during a 2006 coup in which Gen. Prayuth also participated.

Gen. Prayuth's new interim constitution, issued at the end of July, enshrines his massive powers.

Article 44 allows Gen. Prayuth's ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta to intervene if it perceives anything "destructive to the peace and safety of the country".

"It gives the NCPO oversight over all executive, legislative, and judicial powers," wrote Zachary Abuza, an author and political science professor at Simmons College, Boston, who focuses on Southeast Asia's politics and security.

"The NCPO will remain in place and will still have ultimate power over the post-coup government," agreed Thai political analyst Saksith Saiyasombut.

Troops, police, and plain clothed agents during the past few months have seized people in Bangkok for silently reading George Orwell's dystopian novel "1984" in public or flashing the defiant, three-finger salute which appears in "The Hunger Games" movies.

Thailand remains under martial law, and the media is either cowed or pro-coup, but critics are expressing themselves across Internet's social media.

"I've been warned but they don't want to do anything to me because frankly my family is kind of elite," wrote Parit R. Serirengrid, who described himself as a "young blood politician" of the previously powerful People Power Party.

In crunched English, Mr. Parit tweeted: "I don't know is any country in the world have 50 percent military in the parliament am I in the Third Reich Nazi Germany?"

Mr. Parit said the "military junta" earlier telephoned him, requesting he turn himself in at an army camp for questioning, but he said he will not go "until I see my name on TV" -- where official lists of wanted suspects are broadcast.

Coup supporters have been informing on people who appear critical of the junta, which promised to pay 500 baht ($16.50) rewards for such information.

"Kindly check on this type of spreading of false news about Thai Army from these two gentlemen pls," a balding "semi-retired" Thai man tweeted to the army's public relations @armypr_news Twitter account.

The informant identified two outspoken critics, including a vocal British citizen.

A Bangkok-based French businessman said he was satisfied with the coup because it made Thailand "stable by ending public political protests," though he lamented how the economy has suffered due to jittery international investors.

*************

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, "Ceremonies and Regalia," in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are
http://asia-correspondent.tumblr.com
www.flickr.com/photos/animists/sets
https://gumroad.com/l/RHwa

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