EDITORIAL: Plenty of bullets, still no ballots

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Perceiving threats everywhere, the panicky junta is grasping at straws in a bid to cling to power.

The ruling junta should stop contriving ploys to delay the election now that its tenure in power is running out. The blundering diversions and dubious excuses to cling to authority only weaken the country and hurt its people.
Most recently, the military has stretched credulity with the claimed discovery of a cache of war weapons, which it said posed a severe threat to national security. Even if the weapons do exist and really were found hidden away in Chachoengsao’s Bang Nam Priao district, the majority of the public appears unwilling to accept that they represent any clear danger to security.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, his deputy Prawit Wongsuwan and Army chief Chalermchai Sitthisat hastily declared that the weapons discovery last week meant it was still too early to lift restrictions on organised political activity. Perhaps they spoke too hastily, because their credibility is being widely questioned.
The weapons, they said, were linked to the red-shirt movement, implying that the group is arming in preparation for attacks on political targets. Thus, they said, restraints on the country’s political parties and activists must remain in place. 
The weapons cache, according to a formal police complaint filed by Colonel Burin Thongprapai of the junta’s Supreme Command, had some connection with Jakrapob Penkair, the exiled former spokesman for Thaksin Shinawatra’s government, and Lt-General Manas Paorik, the former deputy commander of Third Army Region. He named them and three others – Wattana Sapwichian, Chaiwat Polpho and Somjet Khongwattana. He accused all five of possessing military-grade weapons and racketeering. The weapons found in Bang Nam Priao reportedly came from the same batch as the weapons the five allegedly distributed to red shirts during the 2014 protests.
Burin’s complaint overrode an earlier claim that linked the weapons cache to Wutthipong “Ko Tee” Kachathamakul, who’s been labelled an extremist militant red shirt. Wutthipong fled to Laos after the 2014 coup and his current whereabouts are unknown. Unconfirmed reports a few months ago suggested he’d been abducted and killed. Jakrapob disappeared from public long before the coup. He was on Facebook on Monday denying the weapons allegation against him, which he dubbed fake news. And Manas supposedly turned himself in to face earlier charges in 2014 and has since been free on bail.
The weapons discovery and blame attributed to the red shirts came as political parties plead to be allowed more room to organise for the election. The parties are of course quite within their rights to seek that freedom, and even the junta-driven constitution ensures them leeway to prepare for polls. There is a timeline on the legal books indicating when they can begin calling meetings and recruiting and registering new members. Now, with the weapons discovery, the junta is considering an amendment to the law to extend that timeline. The amendment in itself would take considerable time. Lifting the ban on political activities would take no time at all.
We don’t want more delays and diversions. The generals are not qualified to run the country. Thailand has a sophisticated economy, but under military rule, commodity prices have risen and poverty has worsened. The junta’s popularity, based on the single three-year-old achievement of restoring peace to the land, is in rapid decline. Let’s see the soldiers back in the barracks – until there is a genuine threat to national security. 

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