Four years after coup, Thais tire of corruption and democratic delays

File photo shows people protest against Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok. — Reuters photo

BANGKOK: When Thailand’s army took power in a bloodless coup four years ago, it promised to bring happiness back to the ‘Land of Smiles’ and return the country to democratic rule within two years.

The military said the coup was needed to stop further violence after months of street protests and to stamp out corruption which had plagued Thailand for decades.

But as the coup’s fourth anniversary approaches on May 22, the ruling junta, or National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), is facing a public perception crisis, according to international and domestic polls which say corruption is as endemic as ever. The government has also repeatedly delayed the general election, with the latest date set for February 2019.

Some analysts say the date could be pushed back again.

When it first came to power, the NCPO vowed to tackle everything from so-called ‘taxi mafias’ to the illicit logging of forests.

Its military-backed parliament has passed 298 laws since 2014 and the junta has issued more than 500 orders, according to the National Legislative Assembly, making ‘huge changes to the legal system,’ said Yingcheep Atchanont, a programme manager at iLaw, a Thai legal monitoring group.

But in recent months the military government itself has been the subject of a protest in the northern city of Chiang Mai against the building of a government luxury housing project on forested land, the largest gathering since the junta took over.

It is also being investigated by the country’s anti-graft agency over a suspected misappropriation of around 129 million baht (US$4 million) from a state fund for the poor.

“They announced they came into power to fix corruption and over the past four years have proved that they can’t,” said Yingcheep.

Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index gave Thailand a score of 37 out of 100, slightly lower than in 2014 when the military took over.

But others think the military has done what it set out to do.

Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, an independent body which monitors state corruption, told Reuters the military government has “done more to battle corruption than any other government in Thai history”.

However, delays to the general election have fueled a resurgence in anti-government street protests that have taken place intermittently since the start of the year. Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, a former election commissioner, said an upcoming parliamentary decision on whether to adopt one of four bills that need to be in place for the vote to happen could be delayed.

“The earliest we could see an election is March 2019, the latest would be June 2019,” Somchai told Reuters.

Deputy Prime Minister Prachin Chanthong told Reuters the junta means to make good on its promises.

“We want to see this country peaceful and united and have a better standard of living and higher income for everyone … but it takes time,” said Prachin.

The Pheu Thai Party, whose government was ousted in the 2014 coup, said the junta had spent the last four years trying to extend its hold over Thai politics by strengthening the judiciary, the civil service, and independent organisations while weakening political parties and civil society. — Reuters

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