The Bangkok Post
Sep 8, 2017
As Cambodia faces the prospect of being ruled by the same strongman for another decade, Thailand is set for a future to be dictated by a 20-year national strategy spearheaded by the military men who have ruled the country over the past three years.
On Wednesday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed to stay in office for another decade. That would make him the longest-serving leader in Asia.
In Thailand, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet members have appointed a 29-member committee to produce a “national strategy” that will control Thailand’s future for the next two decades.
Since the appointment of the committee last month, criticism and doubts about its mandate and the selection of its members have emerged. More than half the members are seen as connected to the regime — among them top leaders from the army and police.
In less than a year, this strategy will be completed, approved and legally binding. It will set out directives for the country’s development in various areas. Members of future governments and all state agencies will have to follow it, otherwise they could face indictment and removal from office by the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
The compliance requirement and harsh punitive measures could help the regime fasten a lock on the country’s political, social, environmental and economic development for the next two decades. This is not a healthy sign.
True, amendments to this so-called strategy will be allowed. But they can only be carried out with the approval of the committee now dominated by those selected by the military. This means the regime will still have control over what changes can be made.
On the bright side, if the strategy is well-written, it could be a guiding light for the country. If not, it could become — as a former member of the State Enterprises Policy Commission Banyong Pongpanich recently put it — shackles of obedience that will jeopardize Thailand’s future for a very long time.
Future governments could easily be lame ducks as they will be busy avoiding policies and actions that might be construed as non-compliant with the strategy.
The regime has already come up with a blueprint for this strategy. Called the draft national strategy, the blueprint was approved in June 2015. The recently appointed panel will have to follow this blueprint when crafting the national strategy.
But the regime could still get the benefit of the doubt. The strategy blueprint could be a good, broad plan. But no members of the public have seen a full draft.
So far, the blueprint is not accessible in any public domains. Only a short summary has been made available. iLaw, a civic group which monitors lawmaking and law enforcement, requested a full version from the government in May, but it has not been given anything yet.
The government should not keep such a draft secret as it has done. If it is determined to ensure public participation into the process, it should start making the draft available for all. The Thai people cannot afford to wait and see what the strategy will look like during a one-month period of public participation to be organized once the committee has finished writing it.
Meanwhile, the new committee needs to be aware that the world and Thailand will undergo rapid and less predictable changes within the next 20 years. As a result, its national strategy must be broad and flexible in nature. No long-term strategies should freeze the nation’s future.
Gen Prayut and his regime themselves have no reason to make the strategy as rigid as feared by many people, unless they want to exert control over the country’s future over the next two decades.