Thailand’s indefinite roadmap: Prayuth threatens to ‘stay on’ in power

Originally published at Siam Voices on October 30, 2015

Thailand’s military government is becoming increasingly blatant about its intentions to stay in power

THAILAND’S Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has never been shy about letting everybody know his opinions. The junta leader also expects everybody to listen. Nobody knows that better than the local journalists who have endured the daily press briefings by the PM that have more often than not turned into prolonged tirades (as we have reported previously). The rest of the country might have caught some nuggets of his wisdom during his weekly TV addresses while waiting for their nightly fix of local television’s ubiquitous and hugely popular soap operas.

It’s one and a half years into the rule of Thailand’s military after it took power in the coup of May 22, 2014. Its reign has been authoritarian, dominating nearly the entire political discourse, censoring the flow of information and intolerant of criticism and dissent – even if it’s something as innocuous as an old man giving flowers to anti-junta protesters.

The junta has its hands in almost every institution that is currently re-writing the constitution, thus re-defining the rules for any future elected government – that is IF there is going to be an election any time soon. With a new timeframe for democratic elections in mid 2017 – instead of initially late 2015 – the military junta has postponed the date at least three times already. First the constitutional drafting process was blamed to be taking too long, then the generals granted a public referendum on the next constitution in exchange for another delay, and eventually the rejection of said draft constitution by a fully-appointed government body pushed it further back even further, since the whole process of writing a new constitution has to start over again.

But even when the rules for the currently sidelined politicans are set and the veneer of democratic normalcy is being prepared to be raised, there is no guarantee that that’s actually going to happen.

While Gen. Prayuth himself has decided to reduce his daily press briefings, he didn’t keep it short during a meeting of the self-titled “five rivers”, which includes the military junta, the cabinet, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) and the newly established National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA), this week.

In his speech Wednesday morning, a hot-headed Prayuth went on an extensive tirade clocking in at two hours and 15 minutes, attacking his opponents and ultimately culminating in this threat:

“Politicians do not have to be suspicious of me. [The media] writes every day that I intend to cling on to power. I must make it clear. If there is no peace and order, I must stay on.”

In other words, if there are any political groups or individuals are attempting to stage anything large-scale that the military government sees as a threat, it has a very convenient excuse to shut the country down.

Even though his Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan tried to downplay Gen. Prayuth’s threat, saying that the prime minister ”didn’t mean it literally” and people ”shouldn’t read too much into it”, it becomes increasingly obvious that this wasn’t just yet another slip of the tongue by Gen. Prayuth and what the military junta is doing to ensure its grip on power, no matter how the political landscape looks in the foreseeable future.

As a return to democracy becomes more and more elusive, Thailand’s military rulers are turning the twindow for the next election into a time horizon: always visible, but never reachable.