Thai junta leader and prime minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha hinted on Friday that martial law would soon be lifted and replaced with a controversial section of the interim constitution that gives the military junta equally sweeping powers.
Martial law has been in place since May 20 last year, two days before the military takeover that brought Prayuth to power.
The outdated law authorizes the military to detain individuals without charges, conduct searches without warrants, ban political demonstrations, intimidate the media, and try civilians in martial courts. It has been heavily criticized by coup opponents, human rights groups, the tourism industry and foreign countries.
To repeal martial law should usually be welcome. But, there’s a catch.
Martial law, Prayuth added, would be replaced with Section 44 of the interim constitution. As the Bangkok Post points out, the section is “one of the most controversial” in the provisional charter as it gives the junta leader “sweeping powers to maintain peace and order.” It reads as follows:
In the case where the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order [that’s the official name of the ruling junta] is of the opinion that it is necessary for the benefit of reform in any field 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 economics or administration of State affairs, whether that act originates inside or outside the Kingdom, the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order shall have the powers to make any order to disrupt or suppress regardless of the legislative, executive or judicial force of that order. In this case, that order, act or any performance in accordance with that order is deemed to be legal, constitutional and conclusive (…)
Political observers and critics immediately voiced opposition to invoking Article 44. The Nation quotes a political science lecturer as saying that the junta would “be able to do virtually anything under this law”. Prominent human rights lawyer Somchai Homlaor argues that the controversial article gave the junta “unlimited and absolute” power:
This clause is dictatorial and it restricts the rights and liberties of people. 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 In fact, Article 44 should be repealed.
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