Thai­land to lift mar­tial law, mil­i­tary ‘deep­ens dic­ta­tor­ship’


Thail and’s junta chief said on Tues­day he would lift mar­tial law but only af­ter re­plac­ing it with a new or­der re­tain­ing sweep­ing pow­ers for the mil­i­tary.

Crit­ics said the move would “deepen dic­ta­tor­ship” in the king­dom.

Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth ChanOcha said he had asked the ail­ing 87-year-old King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej for per­mis­sion to lift the con­tro­ver­sial law, which would then be re­placed with spe­cial se­cu­rity mea­sures.

The for­mer army chief im­posed mar­tial law and seized power last May fol­low­ing the oust­ing of Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra’s demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment af­ter months of of­ten vi­o­lent street protests.

It was the lat­est twist in a decade of po­lit­i­cal con­flict broadly pit­ting a Bangkok-based mid­dle class and roy­al­ist elite — backed by parts of the mil­i­tary and ju­di­ciary — against pro-Shi­nawa­tra ur­ban work­ing­class vot­ers and farm­ers from the coun­try’s north.

Speak­ing to re­porters Tues­day, Prayuth said a new or­der to re­place mar­tial law would be “is­sued very soon.”

Junta of­fi­cials said the mea­sures, which have yet to be fully de­fined, would cre­ate a “bet­ter at­mos­phere” in the king­dom, where dis­sent has been strongly sup­pressed since the mil­i­tary takeover. But hu­man rights groups ex­pressed alarm that an ex­ec­u­tive or­der could al­low Prayuth to wield even greater pow­ers.

Maj. Gen. Sun­sern Kaewkum­n­erd, a junta spokesman, told re­porters Prayuth felt the de­ci­sion was nec­es­sary be­cause “for­eign coun­tries were con­cerned over our use of mar­tial law.”

A spokes­woman for the U.S. Em­bassy in Bangkok said they would wel­come the lift­ing of mar­tial law if it led “to the full restora­tion of civil lib­er­ties.”

Un­der the law the army has been able to pros­e­cute those ac­cused of na­tional se­cu­rity and royal defama­tion of­fences in mil­i­tary courts with no right of ap­peal. The me­dia, mean­while, has been muz­zled.

In his first public com­ments on what might re­place mar­tial law, Prayuth clearly in­di­cated that the mil­i­tary would re­tain sig­nif­i­cant pow­ers. The for­mer army chief said he would use Ar­ti­cle 44 of the junta’s in­terim con­sti­tu­tion to is­sue a new or­der pro­tect­ing Thai­land’s se­cu­rity. The ar­ti­cle grants Prayuth power to make ex­ec­u­tive or­ders on na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues with­out hav­ing to go through the mil­i­tarys­tacked par­lia­ment.

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