Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Thailand’s ruling military junta has announced it is lifting martial law, but that it will be replaced by "new laws" which hand the military "absolute power".
In a televised speech the former general and current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the "white coup" that resulted in the military government, announced the end of martial law. In its place a new package of security measures will be approved, which promises to be even more repressive and grant the army more powers than ever before.
American diplomatic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, express concern that these measures ignore basic human rights.
For some time the Thai government has been under growing international pressure from foreign governments and activist groups, as well as businessmen and companies, to lift martial law. The law which, although not visible in everyday life – there were few soldiers patrolling the streets - frightened foreign investors and dealt a blow to the local tourism industry, which is worth 10% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In his televised speech, General Prayuth announced that King Bhumibolhas granted formal approval to the lifting of martial law. However, it will be replaced by art. 44 of the new Constitution, already the subject of strong criticism from human rights movements.
The new article gives the Prime Minister power to issue decree-laws to "block or suppress" - generic - threats to national security or to the monarchy. In this context, soldiers "in such incidences, will be able to arrest people without the need for a warrant”.
Confirming this climate of tension in recent days Premier Prayuth spoke to reporters, promising to "just execute" anyone who "does not report the truth", instead of being a source of "national reconciliation". A message delievered without the hint of a smile, confirming the policy followed by the government against those - journalists, activists, political opponents – who do not adhere to the official line.
Thailand's crisis began in 2005, as major clashes broke out between "red shirted" pro-Shinawatra protesters, drawn especially from the countryside and among the poor, and the "yellow shirted" supporters of the Democrat Party, which represents Thailand's upper and middle classes, as well as the capital's elite, led in parliament by former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
In the spring of 2010, confrontations between protesters and police degenerated, leaving about a hundred people dead. This was followed by a political process and new elections that saw the temporary return to power of the Shinawatra family.
Still things remained deadlocked and last May, the military intervened to stop street protests that had left at least 27 dead, ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, who had won the previous election by a wide margin.
Although nothing is known about the nature of future political reforms, the country remains in the hands of the military with, as prime minister, the head of the Armed Forces who is tasked with reforming the state, a situation that could easily move the country towards further authoritarian rule.
The current prime minister was in fact responsible for the bloody crackdown in 2010. Since then, and this despite the many dead, no member of the armed forces was ever held accountable for it.
In recent months there have been several incidents of censorship, violent repression of dissent, censorship of the media and convictions for treason.