The Straits Times says

Coming together for Thailand's sake

When Thailand's armed forces overthrew the elected government of Ms Yingluck Shinawatra in May last year, there were already signs that this was not just another of those tiresome Thai coups but the start of a more severe military spell. Sunday's announcement that the junta's chosen reform council rejected a Constitution prepared by its own drafting committee made nine months of work moot. It smacks of an orchestrated contretemps designed to prolong the generals' grip on Thailand until at least the end of next year. A new committee, yet to be formed, has been given six months to come up with a better report. Among the many methods of filibustering, this must count as particularly odious.

The latest coup, which is at least the 12th since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932, was the apogee of sustained manoeuvring by the Bangkok establishment to oust Ms Yingluck, widely seen as a stand-in for her brother, ex-premier Thaksin, who now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid facing corruption charges at home. It thus ended a populist movement that had taken root in 2001. With their committed following in the rural north, the Shinawatras had seemed unshakeable. Unable to dislodge them electorally, an impatient establishment brought Bangkok to a standstill for months even as they pleaded with the generals to step in.

There is little denying that the Shinawatra pair damaged Thailand's public finances by their profligate populism, particularly in buying grain from farmers above the market price and causing huge unsold stockpiles. It is against this background - plus a looming transition in the all-important monarchy as King Bhumibol Adulyadej, now 87, grows increasingly frail - that General Prayut Chan-o-cha assumed power, promising to "reform the political structure, the economy and the society".

That he has not succeeded is evident. Tourism excepted, South-east Asia's second-largest economy is barely growing, after an all-but-flat 2014. Foreign investment is down. Ties with the United States, a military ally, are frayed. As for Thai society, the divide between the urban elite and the rural masses is unbridged. Indeed, in contrast to the military, vast sections of Bangkok police, for instance, are for the Shinawatras.

Gen Prayut may have done his nation a service by stepping in. But he and his colleagues must do a bigger service by paving the way for a return to civil rule, necessary if Thailand is to heal politically and begin to look ahead. Generals, as those of bigger Asian militaries such as Pakistan's and Indonesia's, belong in the barracks. Thailand's military leaders have set themselves the role of national reconciliation at a critical time of transition in society. They should now work to bring Thailand together if it is to move forward at all.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2015, with the headline 'Coming together for Thailand's sake'. Print Edition | Subscribe