If the PM stays, watch out for more bombs


From Thairath, August 16, 2016
Title: Be careful of future bombs
On the blast: Blasts in the south of Thailand
Paper on the table: Order to stay longer [referring to the accusation that the new charter will enable the military to remain in power longer]
On the bombs on table from left to right: ACT [Act of Law], Perform, Create, Crisis [meaning something like the actions the junta and the charter writers in creating unjust laws will lead to violent unrest]
Bomb on the man’s lap: Constitution
Mouse man: What you created in the past [meaning what was created will lead to trouble in the future]
Mouse: Don’t forget bloody May 35 [refers to Black May in 1992, here referred to by the Buddhist Era year 2535, this means that misuse of the charter will trigger more bloody events in the future]

[This pro-Thaksin/pro-Red Shirt cartoonist illustrates the political context of the recent bombings and the charter vote.

The new charter is written to allow unelected powers, such as the senate, to exert influence over the elected government and possibly install an unelected “outsider” prime minister in the case of a political deadlock.

The outsider prime minister means no amnesty, no constitutional amendments, and no power that can guide a future government to risk everything to take action for Thaksin. It means no political force can completely influence police and military appointments specifically to advance the fortunes of the political party in power. It also will create unresponsive, weak, and corrupt political coalitions specifically designed to resist Thaksin dominance of politics.

Most importantly, it probably portends further monetary handouts at all levels of society to maintain these coalitions and mute Thaksin influence. This dynamic has already created a lack of an economic program for Thailand focusing on investment in labor and industry to raise the country from its middle-income trap.

All of this recalls the events of 1991-1992 when a post-coup military junta engineered a charter that allowed one of its leaders to retain the post of prime minster even after elections. This led to mass protests with people being shot down on the streets of Bangkok and a humiliating back-down by the generals who had attempted to retain political power.

Such an eventuality is the hope (and warning) of the Red Shirts and those who oppose the junta. They warn that, if the junta uses its charter to install a non-elected general as prime minister after the next elections, there will surely be more bombings and unrest. They hope that history will be on their side and that a wide cross-section of people would rise up to oust a government that dares to retain an unelected general as prime minister.

This cartoon’s implied linking of the recent Mother’s Day bombings to Bangkok politics is surprising. Thaksin and the Red Shirts have vigorously denied that the violence was related to the charter vote (on the other hand the cartoonist could also contend no such linkage is actually implied and he is only warning against future violence).

Will the military heed this new threat?

The military probably feels extremely confident of its position even after the bombings. The overwhelming vote for the charter demonstrates that the voters (whether they were well-informed or not about the actual provisions of the charter) do not oppose the concept of military rule and its “half-democracy.” This is probably not surprising considering Thai tolerance for strong-arm tactics and distrust of elected politicians (more here: Analysis: Thailand’s Half Democracy).

The Red Shirts attempted to make the charter vote a referendum on extended military rule and on those terms the people seemed to have spoken. The Red Shirts are often minimized by their detractors with the claim that they are uneducated about democracy. It is ironic then that the Red Shirts’ response to the charter vote was that the voters where uneducated about the undemocratic provisions of the charter they were voting on.

The public “no” campaign was indeed brutally suppressed, but in the age of internet-based media and the Red Shirts’ own intense “no” campaigning online it seems unlikely that the presence of physical billboards and public speeches would have swayed voters who get most of their information from the net.

Despite any public show to the contrary, the Mother’s Day bombings are still viewed by those in power as a response to the charter vote and specifically a warning of what can happen if the military dares to cling to power after the next elections.

When the army combines their perceived big win on the charter with this recent unrest (along with direct warnings from Red Shirts about retaining power), it is likely that some generals are even more adamant that Prime Minister Prayuth should retain his post after the elections.

This would happen in a similar way to the events of 1992–a political impasse would be generated by submitting an unsuitable PM candidate who would create a deadlock among MPs. Then the “neutral” military man would emerge as the unelected compromise choice.

This is both the nightmare and the last hope for Thaksin. It creates a situation where mass protest–staged in the historical frame of Black May 1992–would seem justified and could possibly attract supporters outside of those who wish a Thaksin return.

However, this is a much different political atmosphere from 1992. Military intervention into politics in 2014 occurred after protracted political disruption and, in terms of the Thai value of unity, it seems to have fulfilled its imperfect role by halting the machinations of the despised and compromised elected politicians. Such characterizations seem incredible to Westerners who assume much different values in their politics, but in a Thai hierarchy of values, this might be seen as the common sense understanding of what is happening.]

Also: Analysis: Thailand’s Half Democracy

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