Embedding the military state

In recent times, academics have written about Thailand’s Deep State and about a parallel state and monarchized military. They haven’t been writing of the military state, which by all recent reports is what the military junta is now seeking to achieve.

Establishing a military state involves a militarization of the state. Uniforms, hierarchical order, laws that make the military prominent in civil affairs, the use of military courts, military privilege, the subordination and/or partnership of the military with other classes and government dominated by military leaders.

Once the preserve of banana republics and fascist regimes, the military state looks increasingly like the state arrangement preferred for Thailand’s post-succession state. It is also useful for establishing the (anti-)law framework of authoritarianism that the junta hope is marked by a resounding “victory” for its ridiculous charter. That the charter may be approved in a bogus “referendum” will be used by the junta to justify its military state.

Yet it would be wrong to understand the referendum and charter as the end product of the 2014 coup. In fact, it is looking increasingly like a sideshow in a broader embedding of the military in society.

One of the scariest stories ever published in the Bangkok Post is about this process. It reports that “[s]oldiers from the rank of sub-lieutenant and up have been given police powers to summons, arrest and detain suspects in a wide range of crimes including extortion, labour abuse and human trafficking, and will also be allowed to search property without a warrant…. [T]hey are authorised to search any place, seize assets, suspend financial transactions and ban suspects from travelling.”

In addition, “soldiers would also act as interrogators and they were taking the crime suppression role because there were not enough police to tackle crime.”

These sweeping powers replace the police in a range of criminal areas. Everyone should be worried. Such powers, once given are difficult to remove, and draconian power feeds the military’s addictions to repression, murder and corruption.

Self-appointed military dictator and prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha issued these draconian powers for “preventing and suppressing certain crimes that pose a danger to public order and peace or could sabotage the economy, society and the nation.” It is sure to be used for targeting political opponents and are quite obviously a preparation for possible mass arrests around the referendum over the draft charter.

The rule of law is dead under Thailand’s military state. Law becomes what the military wants it to be.

Another Bangkok Post story states that “[h]uman rights advocates have slammed the regime’s decision to give soldiers powers, on par with police, to deal with crime, which they say could lead to unrestrained actions and abuse of power.” Such voices will be ignored. Worse, the military state may well expunge such voices.

Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk identified a “trend by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [he means the junta] to enforce unchecked powers with total impunity…”. He added that this was “very alarming … especially since the NCPO does not tolerate any form of scrutiny or criticism.”

Like us, he names the outcome: “It reaffirms that Thailand has become a military state … as many tasks are being transferred into the hands of soldiers…”.

Yaowalak Anuphan, director of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights stated: “The NCPO is returning us to the dark ages…”.

It is far worse than that.

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