Security expert warns that Thai society has summoned a genie and is unable to put it back into the lamp.
Prof Dr Surachart Bamrungsuk of Chulalongkorn University was referring to the revival of military power in Thai politics and one of its controversial attempts to institutionalize its power through re-establishing the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), an old anti-communist military arm set up during the cold war.
The political science lecturer told a seminar that after the cold war the Democrat Party's Chuan Leekpai administration revoked the anti-communist act, but ISOC, the body that came with the law, was not also dissolved; so it became a toothless tiger. After that, there were attempts to propose a security bill for consideration, but elected parliaments always turned it down.
But after the Sept 19 coup, the genie does not want to go back inside the lamp, and instead is intent on establishong its power. Out of the coup, we have a non-functioning government, we have the biggest ever arms procurement project, and we are going to have a security law, Surachart said.
It is a little bit fortunate that after the coup the country has not become a military state, but rather a military regime. The government is not a full-fledged military administration, but a regime dominated by military power. That reminds us of the Oct 14, 1973 and May 1992 events, whose legacy seems to be entirely lost today. We have turned back the clock to long before Oct 14, 1973, he said.
ISOC has been in fact an ad hoc body attached to the army, but it will become permanent once the bill is passed into law. And there would be two security bodies: the National Security Council and ISOC, with the latter probably being the real authority given its power as written in the bill.
"Once there was a term ‘Bureaucratic Authoritarianism'. I think now Thai society is heading toward Military Bureaucratic Authoritarianism. What's the use of talking about democracy? Do you notice that there's not been very much opposition to the internal security bill this time? Little media coverage and little attention paid in universities. In those days audiences used to pack rooms for discussions like this," said Surachart.
He said the passing of the internal security bill would be like a silent coup, and the public should demand all political parties scrap the law in light of the upcoming elections.
The bill covers about 8-9 kinds of offences including, the last one, any act deemed a threat to national security. What is national security, he asked?
Article 6 of the bill clearly states that ISOC is the authority who defines national security and its threats. Demonstrations, for example, might be deemed unrest or a threat to public order.
Surachart said that in recent years he had believed that globalization would prevent militarization of states, except Burma and Pakistan in Asia, but it has happened in Thailand. Thailand used to be a model of demilitarized and democratizing politics in Southeast Asia, but now it is a proof of the military presence in politics in the region.
Senior military officers always cite the fact that Malaysia also has a security law as a reason for Thailand to have one. But look at what happens in Malaysia, Surachart argued. In fact, the law in Malaysia is the equivalent of Thailand's anti-communist law. When the insurgency problem ended with an accord made in Had Yai in 1997, the law was not revoked. Today Malaysia arrests anti-government people, including even intellectuals who criticized the government outside the country.
If the trend goes on like this, with the security law in place, a major blow would be dealt to Thai society's democratization process as the military holds more and more power in its grip.
Surachart warned NGOs and activists not to yield to offers of some seats in regional or provincial ISOC bodies, because this is a problem of principle and cannot be improved by involving more people from the people's sector. Actually, he wished to see those NGOs and academics who sit in the National Legislative Assembly resign in protest, but knew it was wishful thinking.
Surachart said Thai society must now come to its senses, and choose its future. And academics must also come to their sense, or else intellectuals would end up being just part of the military bureaucratic authoritarianism.
"And some NGOs still enjoy hunting down Thaksin remnants after having trampled the Thaksin government. Please come to your senses. As NGOs used to talk about a strong civil society, but some NGOs have supported the coup, or even support the internal security bill. I don't want to see NGOs and academics betray Thai society. The problem today has passed well beyond the point of Thaksin or No Thaksin. Stop. Otherwise Thai society cannot move forward."