Jul 7, 2014

Thailand - Thai junta chief faces some big decisions

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The National Council for Peace and Order has instructed its legal panel to make a change to the proposed interim Charter to prevent a "power overlap" between the interim government and the NCPO, a source said yesterday.

The provision in question gives the NCPO authority over the interim government. However, legal experts have pointed out that this would lead to implementation problems, because some NCPO members are also expected to be Cabinet ministers.

"If the NCPO rules against a Cabinet decision on some issues, the administration will run into a legal snag,'' the source said.

The Charter drafters have been assigned to present drawbacks and advantages of the interim government having absolute control in running the country juxtaposed against the NCPO being in charge of the government, especially in matters that affect national security.

If the NCPO's legal team is able solve legal complications arising from the power overlap, the interim Cabinet is expected to be made up of three groups - military top brass who are NCPO members; people handpicked by NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha and other NCPO leaders; and specialists such as technocrats.

It is likely Prayuth will be the PM in the interim government to ensure the NCPO accomplishes its missions, analysts have said.

Since many believe Prayuth, as NCPO chief, should be held accountable for the success or failure of the national reform process, there has been little opposition to the speculated move.

However, there is a knot that the NCPO has to unravel. If Prayuth becomes PM, will he continue to double as Army chief?

The interim Cabinet is sure to be formed before September 30, when Prayuth is due to retire as Army chief.

So, he has three options: One, is that he extends his term as Army chief to have absolute power. Under this scenario he would simultaneously hold three posts - PM, NCPO chief and Army chief.

However, it is expected that this could create an "undercurrent" in the Army because four high-ranking officials are vying for the military's top post - and they would lose that chance.

The second possibility involves Prayuth retiring and appointing his most trusted aide to be Army chief while he would continue as NCPO chief and PM to balance his power.

This option would also likely ruffle feathers in the military but it is believed Prayuth could handle the situation.

The last option would involve Prayuth retiring as Army chief and also stepping down as NCPO boss to allow the country's 29th prime minister to steer the country using the NCPO's roadmap to democracy. This is the least likely scenario unless the NCPO amends the interim charter stipulate that the junta does not command the government.

All three possibilities point to Prayuth as the most likely person to take the post of interim PM. But with the unpredictability of Thai politics, a source close to the NCPO said General Prawit Wongsuwan, the former defence minister, was also high on the list to be PM.

Prayuth has said the interim charter could be promulgated this month. The proposed document, made up of about 46 articles, identifies the National Legislative Assembly's roles and acquisition of power.

It is expected the NCPO would appoint 200 members to the assembly and that it would have the capacity to write and revamp current laws, draft a new charter and vote for the PM. The assembly chairman would nominate the PM for royal endorsement.

The proposed charter would also identify the process used to select the Cabinet and the qualifications that Cabinet members must have. It is expected the Cabinet would have no more than 36 members and could include state officials.

The reform council is likely to comprise 250 members, including one from each of the 77 provinces. The rest would be specialists picked from various professional groups such as the legal fraternity, plus civil administration, natural resources and the environment. Professional bodies would either select members or a selection panel would do it.

The reform council would have to draw up national reforms in accordance with proposals from the Reconciliation Centre for Reforms, which is gathering information from villages across the country. The council will also heed suggestions from a reform panel chaired by Defence secretary General Surasak Kanjanarat.

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