Concerns are being raised over Thailand’s PM being handed sweeping Covid powers which could promote an increase in authoritarianism. Those critics say he could assert even more control under the guise of handling the pandemic. The newly appointed powers were published in the official Royal Gazette, which detailed 31 laws now being under direct control of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha. The wording below, has sent opposition parties into a frenzy:
…..“temporarily in order to suppress the [virus] situation and protect the people.”
Immigration, health and procurement, areas of cybersecurity and defense are all areas of control that were handed over to PM Prayut. The range of powers have not been given an expiration date, which is worrisome to those who fear history will repeat itself in terms of former generals staying largely in charge of the country. Thailand has seen 13 coups since 1932. Paul Chambers, an academic at the Center of ASEAN Community Studies at Naresuan University in Phitsanulok, Thailnd, says the move is a classic example of enabling dictatorship.
“Thailand has become the classic example of leaders with autocratic preferences using Covid-19 to rationalise a descent into dictatorship. What we are seeing today could be Prayut’s enhanced Covid coup.”
Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher with the Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division also chimed in the criticisms. He warned that Prayut’s control of cybersecurity could be used to “shut down critical opinions from the media and public about the government’s response to the crisis.”
“Old habits die hard. Prayuth has seized power from cabinet ministers to establish one-man-rule using Covid-19 outbreak as a pretext. It is a silent coup.”
Sereepisuth Temeeyaves, leader of Thai Liberal Party, also posed questions over the move.
“Prayuth has one brain and two hands … how can he manage the whole country himself?”
Prayut, who previously was an army chief, seized power from an elected government in 2014 and rebranded himself as a civilian leader. In 2019, he won an election under a constitution that was drafted by the army to limit the electoral powers of his opposition and has had his legislative agenda, waved by a Senate that he appointed, through parliament.
Today, Thailand reports 1,583 new Covid-19 infections and 15 deaths.