Rule by Decree

King endorses military government

King endorses military government

On 22 May 2014, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Commander of the Royal Thai Army (RTA) launched a coup against the struggling caretaker Thai government that had been plagued with months of street protests.  The military junta established the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to govern the nation, thereby effectively declaring martial law. General Prayuth continued the clampdown with nationwide curfews, banning political gatherings, censoring the internet and taking control of the media. He also arrested and detained politicians and anti-coup activists. Three months into the coup, the king formally endorsed the new government headed by General Prayuth and his largely military-backed Cabinet.

Channel News AsiaThai PM stacks Cabinet with military officers

Thailand’s coup leader and newly appointed premier Prayuth Chan-ocha on Sunday (Aug 31) received royal endorsement for a Cabinet stacked with soldiers, as the military extended its reach into the kingdom’s politics.

Nearly a third of the 32-strong Cabinet are senior military officers. Among them are Prayuth’s close allies and key players in the recent years of political turbulence, including generals involved in the bloody 2010 crackdown on “Red Shirt” activists. Former and serving generals will head the defence, justice, foreign affairs and commerce ministries, while an air marshal will take the top post at the transport department.

The civilian portion of the Cabinet includes longstanding allies of the military, such as Sommai Pasri who will lead the finance ministry – where he was deputy minister following the nation’s last coup in 2006.

Military rule in Thailand is not new. Thailand has had no less than 20 coup and coup attempts since 1912. There were periods of “civilian” rule when the military fades into the background but still wields substantial influence over the government. This is the political reality of Thailand.

Further to the south lies the small city-state of Singapore. Singapore became fully independent on 9 August 1965 after ceding from colonial control and a brief association with the Federation of Malaysia. The Singapore government is elected once every five years. Since independence, the government is a one-party rule under the the iron-fist leadership of Lee Kuan Yew. The leadership was briefly handed to Goh Chok Tong during a period when Lee’s son, Lee Hsien Loong was undergoing treatment for cancer. The younger Lee took over the rein after he was pronounced medically fit. His mentor-father continues to oversee the transition in the capacity of “senior minister”.

Lee Hsien Loong was an ex-Brigadier General of the Singapore Armed Forces. Members of his past and present Cabinet comprises a large proportion of ex-military generals. The current Cabinet includes several top ex-military personnel : Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hian (Rear Admiral), Tan Chuan-Jin (Brigadier General), Chan Chun Sing (Chief of Army), Lim Hng Khiang (Lieutenant Colonel) and  Lui Tuck Yew (Chief of Navy). Top civil service and key government-linked companies are often headed by ex-military personnel, such as: ASTAR (Lim Chuan Poh, Lieutenant General), People’s Association (Prime Minister himself), IDA (Ronnie Tay, Rear Admiral), NOL (Ny Yat Chun, Lieutenant General), SMRT (Desmond Kuek, Lieutenant General), SIA (Bey Soo Khiang, Air Force Chief). The large proportion of military personnel appointed to positions of power and control by the Lee government is no understatement.

General Prayuth’s military government has many military personnel in his Cabinet. It is a only obvious that a military junta has military key appointments in positions of power. Otherwise, it won’t be military rule. How does Singapore compare with the Thai government in terms of the proportion of military personnel in the government and government linked institutions? Singapore probably has a higher percentage. But, there is a key technical difference in the case of Singapore’s government. Those appointed are ex-military personnel, not incumbent military man. That makes Singapore a civilian government, lawfully elected through universal suffrage.

And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.