THAILAND’S military commanders should oversee a long-term national strategy in order to resolve the country’s “unique” problems, Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said on Monday.
Prawit, who is also Defence Minister, was referring to the country’s draft national strategy bill, in which a joint committee comprising the prime minister, Cabinet members, and military commanders – among others – would work on a 20-year strategy to steer reforms. The announcement reaffirms the junta’s involvement in government despite its promises for a return to democracy.
“Previous problems stemmed from misunderstandings,” Prawit said, as quoted by The Nation. “Those military chiefs will help provide opinions on panels, with academics to counterbalance them.”
If the draft bill is passed through Thailand’s rubber-stamp Parliament, Cabinet would be obliged to follow the committee’s 20-year national strategy and report its performance to Parliament.
The junta government maintains the draft bill is needed to align government agencies, but observers have raised concerns on whether or not the military’s majority presence would have an overbearing influence on policy-making.
Brushing aside the concerns, Prawit said the draft bill was flexible in future contexts and merely provided a broad strategy-mechanism framework, The Nation reported.
“National strategy needs to be driven by all parties, whether the military, people or academics,” he said. “There will be only five or six military heads there just to make sure all blocs can move forward together.”
In 2014, the military seized power from former democratically-elected prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration, bringing with it a slew of reform agendas and amendments to the kingdom’s Constitution. It said then the coup was to bring an end to years of political turmoil.
Rights groups, however, have warned the kingdom is descending into dictatorial rule by the junta government.
Last week, Human Rights Watch said the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), in its clampdown on dissent, has frequently silenced and jailed peaceful critics, including a growing group of activists who are using Facebook to poke fun at the junta.
Western governments have called on the junta to ensure a swift return to democracy.
While the junta had promised the general election for 2015, Thailand has not hosted an election or even fixed a date for one. The newly approved Constitution stipulates it could take another 19 months before the vote happens.
Earlier this month, Thailand’s new King Maha Vajiralongkorn signed the military-backed Constitution into law, an essential step towards an election the junta has promised would restore democracy after the twelfth successful coup in 80 years.
The death of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej death last October after more than seven decades on the throne sent Thailand into mourning. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the polls would only be held next year and not any time before the cremation of the late king, which is expected in October.
The new Constitution is the Southeast Asian country’s 20th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. Critics say it will still give the generals a powerful say over Thai politics for years, if not decades.
Subsequent to the coup, the junta outlawed political parties from holding meetings as part of its crackdown on political dissent. The junta-appointed prime minister Prayuth was also accorded powers to pass any law that was deemed in the interest of national security.
Thailand is politically divided between its majority support for Yingluck and her brother Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party in the poorer north and northeast, and the traditional royalist-military establishment in Bangkok and the south.