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[ 2015-03-28 ]

Martial law to be lifted: PM

Preparations under way, says Prayut, but he has not discussed the matter with Cabinet

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said he is about to lift martial law and issue an order to deal with security issues.

However, he said he had not discussed this matter with the Cabinet and that it was his idea.

Prayut, who also heads the National Council for Peace and Order, said he was waiting for the right time to issue the order under Article 44 of the post-coup provisional charter, which gave him extensive powers as the NCPO leader.

"The preparation is under way. You will know the order is issued when it is issued," he said yesterday.

According to Prayut, the order will be announced before he seeks a royal command to lift martial law, which has been in effect since the coup he led last May.

The prime minister yesterday chaired the Cabinet's retreat in Hua Hin. The lifting of martial law was not on the meeting agenda.

The government has been under constant pressure to lift martial law from the private sector, human rights groups and foreign countries.

Political observers and critics yesterday voiced opposition to invoking Article 44 of the provisional charter to replace martial law.

Human rights lawyer Somchai Homlaor said Article 44 gave General Prayut, in his capacity as NCPO chief, "unlimited and absolute" power - with the end result of making it worse than martial law.

"This clause is dictatorial and it restricts the rights and liberties of people," Somchai said. "If Article 44 is used to replace martial law, Thailand's image in the eyes of the international community will get worse. In fact, Article 44 should be repealed."

Article 44 states that "In cases where the head of the National Council for Peace and Order is of the opinion that it is necessary for the benefit of reform and to strengthen public unity and harmony, or for the prevention, disruption or suppression of any act which undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economy or administration of state affairs, he shall have the power to make any order to disrupt or suppress regardless of the legislative, executive or judicial force of that order."

Somchai said that the "outdated" martial law should be amended through the National Legislative Assembly to make it better reflect the current situation, such as allowing visits by relatives of those being detained under martial law.

He said that either the Internal Security Act or the emergency law was a better alternative than martial law. "They both are less severe than martial law," he added.

Thammasat University political science lecturer Attasit Pankaew said there was no necessity to use Article 44 instead of martial law.

The authority given under Article 44 is more than martial law, and the junta will be able to do virtually anything under this law, Attasit stressed.

"Article 44 leaves a lot of space for interpretation, meaning the public does not know what the junta could do or could not do with their authority," the political scientist said.

He said the first thing that needed to be done was to determine whether it was necessary to use Article 44, as social stability had returned under the junta.

He said there were people who opposed the junta government, but no violent acts had been committed that warranted invoking such a strong law.

Suriyan Thongnu-eiad, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Democracy, agreed that there was no reason for the government to use Article 44.

He said that right now there were no violent issues in society, as contrasting ideas had not led to social conflict.

"Using Article 44 would be similar to Thailand's old dictatorship eras like Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat's time, which is not in accordance with the modern society," Suriyan said.

He said that the law was highly inappropriate for modern times, because everyone knew that no one could control other people's ideas.

"If the junta really insists on using this law, it would be similar to a person using pesticides on vegetables that have weeds. The person who uses pesticides on his own vegetables will die when he eats them," he said.

He said there were other laws to maintain social stability.

Anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngam-anong, who was arrested and faces a military court hearing, agreed the government could maintain stability without using these special measures.

"The government would earn more respect from the domestic and international community if they maintain internal order by using normal laws," Sombat said.

He added that martial law was normally used in situations where society was suffering from instability, but it was peaceful now and there was no reason for people to hold political protests.

The Nation March 28, 2015 1:00 am