Thais discover limits to rule by diktat

Political tensions are running high again in Thailand, brought on by the retroactive impeachment of former premier Yingluck Shinawatra and signalled by the detonation of two small bombs in downtown Bangkok near a shopping mall. The stability and reconciliation that the military regime promised appear nowhere nearer than when it seized power in May.

This might well be testing the patience of the Thais, including those who supported the coup to bring down the government of Ms Yingluck and also her subsequent impeachment - which carries a five-year ban from politics - to prevent her and her political faction's comeback. Furthermore, there is a growing sense that the regime, through the Constitution it is drawing up, is out to defang all politicians - both populists like Ms Yingluck, on the one hand, and the royalists and middle-class urban elite, on the other.

So rife is distrust in Bangkok that some allege the bomb blasts on Sunday night were engineered by the military regime to justify the continuation of martial law. As in Egypt, the welcome once extended by certain quarters to the military has gone sour.

Many Thais had been relieved when the coup ushered in a period of relative calm after months of political unrest and violence that led to nearly 30 deaths. Egyptians had felt former president Mohamed Mursi's short term was so disastrous that even a military coup would be a better option. In both places, disillusionment has set in as one would expect, given the limitations of governance by diktat. In Bangkok, this was highlighted by the fiasco involving the military's plan to put prisoners to work on fishing boats. In Cairo, it was the military regime's ill-judged ban on the import of "toktoks" - vehicles which are widely used by low-income people.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ought to see that misguided policies can be avoided when diverse feedback and ideas are allowed to freely bubble to the surface. A "culture of submissiveness", as a Bangkok-based analyst put it, can lead to missteps in the handling of key issues and fuel resentment.

In the country's north and north- east, where the people have benefited from the Puea Thai party's populist policies, there is anger over the impeachment. And activists who are prevented from meeting have been active on social media instead. With politicians on both sides of the divide and their supporters chafing and wary, the military regime needs to exercise care that the rewriting of the Constitution does not weaken the democratic process. As polarised and dysfunctional as Thailand's democratic experience has been in recent years, the ballot box is still the better guarantor of social equity and long-term stability.