Thailand's junta expands 'attitude adjustment' to drunken drivers

Traffic along Ploenchit Road in Bangkok, Thailand.
Traffic along Ploenchit Road in Bangkok, Thailand.ST PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW

BANGKOK (AFP) - It is a tool that has been wielded by Thailand's generals to stamp out dissent. But now so-called "attitude adjustment" sessions are targeting a new kind of offender: drunk drivers.

Every year tens of thousands are killed on Thailand's roads, some of the world's most dangerous - a tragedy that spikes during New Year week.

But junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha says he has had enough.

Under an executive order, police and security forces will be able to detain drunk drivers and those caught racing for between 7-15 days for compulsory "behavioural correction" sessions.

The order, which was published in the Royal Gazette on Wednesday, was made under controversial "Section 44" powers General Prayut awarded himself to bypass his own rubber stamp parliament and issue any law in the name of national security.

The Royal Gazette said those caught drunk driving or racing would not be allowed to refuse the behavioural sessions.

But it added: "They should not be treated as suspects... and their detention is not considered detention under the criminal law."

Gen Prayut seized power in a May 2014 coup that toppled the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

The order is similar to powers which the military have since used to detain political critics without charge, a process the army insists on calling an "invitation" to an "attitude adjustment" session.

Most critics are only released once they sign documents vowing not to repeat their offences at the risk of having their assets seized.

Gen Prayut has defended his authoritarianism as a necessary legislative tool after years of what he says was ineffectual and corrupt civilian rule.

Critics say he and his allies within Bangkok's royalist elite and middle classes have stifled democratic progress.

Previous Thai governments, both civilian and military, have certainly struggled to rein in the kingdom's shocking road death toll.

In a 2015 study on global road safety the World Health Organization found Thailand had the world's second most dangerous roads with 36.2 fatalities per 100,000 people.

The daily carnage spikes around New Year and the April festival of Songkran - weeks that are both dubbed "The Seven Deadly Days".

On Thursday (Dec 31), the Interior Ministry said 104 people had already been killed in the first two days of this New Year's danger week, with 20 percent of the accidents due to drink driving.