Thailand's military junta promised an early transition to civilian rule when it took power in a coup d'etat in 2014. The world is still waiting, and doubts about the sincerity of that promise are growing.
The junta initially said it was planning to transfer power by the end of 2015. The transition is now expected to be postponed to early 2018, at the earliest.
There is an increasing view that the junta is trying to stay in power as long as possible. To clear away domestic and foreign doubts, the head of the military government, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, needs to set out a clear timetable for the transition to civilian rule.
DRAFT DIFFICULTIES The main reason for the delay so far has been the government's difficulty in drafting and ratifying a new constitution that will serve as the basis for the transition. A draft constitution drawn up in 2015 was scrapped, largely because it was unpopular among the people. It was only late in January that the committee in charge of drafting the new constitution published a revised version.
But several aspects of this latest draft are problematic. Provisions making even nonmembers of the parliament eligible to become prime minister and stipulating that all upper house members should be selected without popular election are far from democratic. There is also strong opposition to provisions that would give the Constitutional Court enough power to influence the direction of the government.
It has even been reported that the military junta recently proposed to the drafting committee that provisions be added that would allow it to retain virtual power after the transition to a civilian government.
It is difficult to predict whether the draft will be approved in a national referendum, scheduled to be held in July. If it is rejected, the transfer of power could be further delayed. All in all, it is very uncertain when and how the country will restore democracy.
Antagonism between supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has continued to destabilize Thai politics and society over the past decade. This hostility, which also triggered the coup d'etat, is still smoldering. Quelling this and promoting a nationwide reconciliation should have been the top priority for the military government.
Instead, the junta has been openly autocratic, evident in such moves as clamping down on the media and suppressing Thaksin supporters. The greatest fear now is that prolonged military rule and the delayed transition to a civilian government will further deepen the antagonism between the two camps and prolong Thailand's unrest.