The leader of Thailand’s military-controlled government on Friday defended its move this week to replace martial law with sweeping powers under Article 44 of the interim constitution.
In a speech at the Command and General Staff College in Bangkok, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) – the junta’s official name – would not abuse its newly expanded authority.
“At the moment, many parties are concerned about the power the military has. There is no reason to be afraid because the military cannot do anything beyond the framework of righteousness,” Prayuth, a retired general and former army chief of staff, told the audience at the school, which was marking its 106th anniversary.
“Once the military has the power, it needs to be more careful to not be power-crazed.”
The Thai government drew international criticism this week for lifting ten months of martial law and replacing it with what U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called “something even more draconian.”
In the name of protecting national security and maintaining public order, the article’s provisions allow the military to censor the media and arrest and prosecute groups of five or more people who stage protests, among other measures.
“The foreign community imparts inaccurate information, stemmed largely from the media,” Prayuth said Friday. “And we found out that foreign media has reported about the power under the interim constitution’s Section 44 that I’m entitled to execute media men. I confirm hereby that it is untrue.”
The prime minister called on the press to do accurate reporting.
“The media is allowed to examine us but they must consider what is right. Especially when [the media] implicate anyone, there must be evidence. More importantly, they must pursue the nation’s interest.”
But Prayuth also issued a warning.
“And I will not yield to the ones who do harm to the nation anymore. And if any preventative measures to keep the country from being divided are needed to be invoked, I will certainly do that,” he said.
The government still planned to hold a general election next year, he added.
“For the elections, I confirm they will go on as planned in the roadmap. The charter drafting will be in accordance with national reforms. The constitution is expected to be passed in September, should there be no more unrest,” he said.
Press freedom concerns
Meanwhile, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) of Thailand issued a statement expressing concern about press freedom under Article 44.
The new order gives the military sweeping powers “to censor the media, with harsh punishments possible for journalists deemed not to be in compliance,” the FCC said.
It said it joined Thai media organizations in urging authorities “to provide clear guidelines on how they will handle reports they consider problematic.
“We also hope that all news organizations, both foreign and domestic, covering Thailand's complex and divisive politics will strive for objectivity, fairness and accuracy at all times,” the FCC statement said.