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New Thai PM facing many 'missions impossible'
Publication Date : 26-08-2014
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta chief who was officially endorsed as Thailand's prime minister, appears to have complete control over the country's executive and legislative branches.
This is due mainly to the extensive powers of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
Prayuth, who is due to retire as the Army chief at the end of September, was last Thursday unanimously voted as the 29th prime minister by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), which was installed by the NCPO.
The junta also appointed its advisers to the committees to select 173 of the 250 National Reform Council (NRC) members to propose reform ideas in 11 areas.
Prayuth's first task as the country's "chief executive" is to tackle the administration's image as a "military regime" and its credibility problem among the international community.
He also should address the issue in which the junta is viewed as attempting to centralise power.
The NCPO has suspended all elections of local councillors and administrators. In Bangkok, a committee led by the permanent secretary for the Interior will select their replacements. In other provinces, provincial selection committees will pick the replacements.
Political observers saw this move as an attempt to centralise power and to wipe out the influence of politicians in local administrations.
Prayuth should address this issue urgently before we head for a fresh general election in October 2015, as planned.
Last Monday, the 'rubber-stamp' NLA easily approved the 2015 fiscal budget bill in its first reading. Panthep Klanarong, chief of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), reassured that the anti-graft agency would scrutinise every mega-project under the military government with the same standards applied to civilian administrations' projects.
As a result, Prayuth needs to come up with an effective strategy to combat corruption and encourage public participation to enhance this transparency. Coordination among government agencies should be improved for greater efficiency.
Albeit reluctantly, Prayuth may also need to address the problem involving the lese majeste law. Recently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the New York-based Human Rights Watch raised concerns about a "decline in freedom of expression" following the coup. Critics also alleged the law was frequently abused as a political weapon by the authorities to silence dissidents.
Significantly, the NCPO has a plan to restructure state agencies tasked with handling security affairs and insurgency in the deep South. Prayuth approved in principle a new structure for administering the southern border provinces. He should make sure the new structure integrates the operations of all agencies from policy to field operations, guarantee consistency in the operations, as well as eliminate obstacles impeding the previous negotiations.
Last but not least,Thailand has been plagued by severe political division. Various agencies were assigned by the NCPO to whip up their respective reconciliation roadmap. The NCPO at its early stage launched the "Festival for Returning Happiness" in Bangkok and other provinces in a bid to achieve national reconciliation. But that was only superficial.
Prayuth wanted to see everybody join hands and even invited those living on self-imposed exile overseas to return.
He believed Thai people would forgive one another and not continue to fight.
Former Thammasat University rector Noranit Setabutr said at a recent seminar it was impossible to get everyone to think alike, but people should learn to coexist with those with different thoughts from theirs. Thailand needed to promote participatory democracy and introduce laws that could be applied equally.
US Secretary of State John Kerry asked the Thai authorities to lift restrictions on political activity and speech, restore civilian rule and return quickly to democracy through free and fair elections.
With all eyes now on him. Prayuth should work with "his reform council" swiftly on this mission.