Thailand's New Cabinet: The End of Military Dictatorship
Earlier this month King Maha Vajiralongkorn swore in the new cabinet of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the former leader of the military junta that ruled Thailand since 2014.
This brings an end to military junta, The National Council for Peace and Order, that’s ruled the country since its coup in 2014 and a return to civilian rule.
The election in March, the first since 2014, was riddled with scandals and allegations of venality; from the nomination of Princess Ubolratana Mahidol as Thai Raksa Chart’s candidate, the subsequent court ruling that the party was unconstitutional, to delayed results in some provinces based on accusations of polling fraud.
The election did not result in a decisive victory – Prayuth’s win is the outcome of a slim majority in the Lower House of Representatives made up of a shaky coalition of 19 parties and the new 250 appointed-member Senate whose members are army generals, made possible by the new constitution.
Prayuth needed the support of the other 19 parties to form a majority since his own party didn’t have enough to form a government on their own. Having 19 parties in a coalition, means 19 different voices and 19 sets of policy agendas making it inescapably unstable.
Now with a parliamentary mandate, will Prayuth’s premiership be any different than under military rule? He has vowed to address the political ructions that has divided the country for over a decade. Of course, this is easier said than done and his appointment of former army generals to ministerial positions suggests that power in still resolutely in the hands of the conservative elite.
Prayut has yielded that he will rule within the parameters of democratic rule. This refers to the highly controversial Article 44 which granted the military junta absolute power to restore public order which includes the right to search and arrest any person deemed suspicious and a threat to national security up to seven days without charge.
Growth rates have fallen below 3% for the first time since mid-215 (World Bank). The Thai economy has grown at a slower rate than others in South-East Asia (Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia), growing by just 2.8% in the first quarter of 2019 (World Bank). How well the economy performs in a democratic environment will be a topic of interest for many.
Troubles in the South
Insurgency in the South still remains an issue. On July 17th a roadside bomb injured three soldiers in the Narathiwat Province. Peace talks have been ongoing for a number of years yet the lead negotiator for the separatists has criticized the government’s efforts, suggesting that they were placating the issue without addressing any of the root causes of the dissent.
Thailand is an ideologically divided state, bifurcated along two broad lines of the rural and working-class (red shirts) and the conservative, royalists (yellow shirts).
The Red Shirts and Anti-junta parties have made it their priority to amend the new constitution that favours the military and Bangkok elites.
The rumour that Thaksin Shinawatra, the infamous telecoms tycoon turned politician, is starting a new party indicates that the feud between the red and yellow shirts is far from over.
The shaky coalition of 19 parties in the Lower House is likely to breakdown from internal strife. Differing demands from parties will likely test the strength of Prayut’s grip on the government and his promise of stability. [update: the Thai Civilised Party, one of Prayuth’s coalition partners, decided to remove their support for the military– putting the slim majority on even thinner ice. It seems that the coalition could already be breaking down.]
A policy statement was presented to parliament on July 25th and received serious scrutiny from the opposition and the international audience. Many have criticized the failure to address key issues in Thai society such as human rights abuses under the ‘repressive’ military rule (Human Rights Watch) or the exact ways of boosting sustainable economic growth. It will be interesting to see how (if, at all) the military party will tackle such issues under their new found democratic mandate.
This piece was submitted to Intelligence Fusion by a member of our guest blogger network.
Isabelle de Ferrer
Isabelle is an undergraduate human geography student at the University of Leeds, currently based in Singapore. She is hoping to pursue a career in international security and intelligence with a focus on south-east Asian relations. Living in Singapore and travelling frequently has intensified her interest in the region and led her to specialise in Asian politics whilst at the National University.