Thailand's Prayut Chan-o-cha was elected late on June 5 2019 as the kingdom's first civilian prime minister since a 2014 coup he led. Picture: AFP/LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA
Thailand's Prayut Chan-o-cha was elected late on June 5 2019 as the kingdom's first civilian prime minister since a 2014 coup he led. Picture: AFP/LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA

Bangkok — Thailand’s new civilian government will retain the power to arbitrarily detain critics despite the imminent easing of junta-era security controls, prompting warnings from rights groups of enduring “martial law”.

Nearly 2,000 people have been tried in military courts since Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha seized power in a 2014 coup.

The junta eased a ban on political activities in 2018 in the run-up to national elections and the former army chief phased out dozens of additional junta-enacted orders on Tuesday, transferring military cases to civilian courts.

But the government retained more than 100 orders — including the right for the military to detain suspects for seven days on national security grounds.

“This is martial law used during an emergency crisis, but we’ve had elections and a new government so why is it still imposed?” said Anon Chalawan, of the legal monitoring group iLaw.

Prayut, who was also officially endorsed by Thailand’s king on Wednesday as defence minister, has called his original invoking of junta-era powers as a way of “solving problems”.

But political analyst Titipol Phakdeewanich said the continuing restrictions show that full democracy remain a distant prospect for Thais.  “I think they know people will be more critical of this government,” he said.

Thailand held elections in March, and Prayut holds a slim majority in the lower house through a coalition of almost 20 parties, which — with a military-appointed senate — voted him in as civilian prime minister.

Prayut’s political opponents slammed the process, which included the temporary suspension from parliament of his biggest rival. Despite questions over his legitimacy, the former army chief got down to the nitty-gritty of forming a cabinet.

The picks endorsed by the king Wednesday include junta number two Prawit Wongsuwan as deputy prime minister and pro-marijuana Bhumjaithai party leader Anutin Charnvirakul as health minister. They still need to be sworn in and present policy statements.

The flurry of political activity came after a rash of attacks on pro-democracy activists that remain unsolved. In late June, activist Sirawith Seritiwat — known for staging anti-junta protests — was put in hospital after being set upon by stick-wielding men.

Police on Wednesday charged eight people for allegedly posting “false information” on Facebook that accused authorities of being behind the attack. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years.

AFP