Abhisit slams junta, says generals in panic mode

Ex-Thai PM's remarks echo Thaksin's - a sign both camps are losing patience with military

BANGKOK • Thailand's junta is in "panic mode" over the economy and is failing to heal the country's deep political rifts, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said in an unusually strident criticism of the kingdom's generals.

His remarks come just two days after his archrival, self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, hit out at the junta's nearly two years in power - an indication that the country's bitterly divided political camps are increasingly seeing eye-to-eye about military rule.

Thailand's generals seized power in May 2014 saying they would end more than a decade of political instability that had dogged the nation and dragged down what was once one of South-east Asia's most vibrant economies.

The current prime minister, former army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha, has vowed to kick-start the economy and end the cycle of political violence and corruption with a new Constitution, the country's 20th since 1932.

But in a speech to business leaders in Bangkok yesterday, Mr Abhisit said the junta was failing to carry out necessary economic reforms, especially in the flagging agricultural and industrial sectors.

NO REAL PROGRESS MADE

...in terms of concrete achievement of what's been done, I think even people who support him find it hard to identify those accomplishments.

FORMER PREMIER ABHISIT VEJJAJIVA, on how the junta under Gen Prayut has failed to revive the economy or unite the country

"Despite two years of relative calm and also initiatives being taken by the current government when it came to power, there has been too little progress even on this front and now it's almost in panic mode," he said.

He was equally scathing about the junta's new Constitution.

"I think it's also clear that we're not going to get the kind of Constitution that many of us want, whether in terms of democratic standards, whether in terms of a document that will lead to true reforms that are much needed, or even on the issue of so-called reconciliation," he said.

Thailand has suffered a decade of turmoil as pro-democracy activists and rural supporters of the Shinawatra family vied for power with Bangkok's archroyalist elite and their allies in the military.

Many supporters of Mr Abhisit, a Bangkokian educated at Eton and Oxford, who held office from 2008 to 2011, were at the forefront of protests against Thaksin's sister Yingluck, and hailed the 2014 coup that toppled her government.

But even the military's natural allies have begun to chafe under its protracted rule, and Mr Abhisit's remarks mimic recent comments by Thaksin on the army.

During a speech and a series of press interviews in New York this week, Thaksin accused the military of clinging to power and said the generals had little to show for their time in office.

Meanwhile, Mr Abhisit has also hit out at the military's claim that it was rooting out graft, after a series of corruption scandals that enveloped senior military officers.

"Given some of the things that have already happened, I'm not so sure they can say they're better than politicians. And I'm talking about corruption - I'm talking about abuse of power," he told delegates.

Speaking to Agence FrancePresse after the speech, he said: "I think the Thai people in general still feel that General Prayut means well; he's serious, he's blunt, straightforward, and that he wants to do good things. And that's why I think he's been allowed to carry on.

"But in terms of concrete achievement of what's been done, I think even people who support him find it hard to identify those accomplishments."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'Abhisit slams junta, says generals in panic mode'. Print Edition | Subscribe