While Thailand last week was overwhelmed by mourning for the late King Bhumibol, other significant issues seem to have been overlooked, such as serious flooding, the arrest of a former lèse majesté convict and use of the junta’s absolute power.
The year-long mourning for the late King Bhumibol has now ended and the Thai people are returning to normal, colourful life. During the last week of mourning, people mostly wore black and white and almost all domestic news featured stories about the late King and the royal cremation.
The junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha also urged the public and politicians to cease all political activities until the end of October so that the royal cremation could go smoothly as planned.
“In October, this is the period when we’re all in grief and sorrow. So I ask that everything pass peacefully for now,” stated Prayut.
Despite Prayut’s statement, some crucial political activities occurred during the mourning period. On 25 October, the junta head used his absolute power under Article 44 of the Interim Charter to issue three orders.
The first forces disabled people to choose to receive medical subsidies through either the universal healthcare scheme or the social security system. The order states that insured disabled individuals can be in only one system and they have to choose within 30 days of the order being announced.
The second order
speeds up construction of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) by appointing a committee which is empowered to appropriate land outside normal urban planning laws.
The last order
establishes a new organisation, the National Office of Water Resource Management, under the direct control of the Prime Minister. It states that in “urgent circumstances” this organisation will appoint an ad hoc centre and other state agencies must support this centre in resolving the emergency.
The last order reflects the fact that Thailand this year may be facing another great flood. A massive flow of water from the north to the central part of the country has inundated over 20 provinces on its way, including Sukhothai, Phichit, Ang Thong and Pathum Thani. It is estimated that nearly 300,000 people across the country have been affected.
According junta spokesperson Col Winthai Suvaree, rainfall this year is very similar to the great flood of 2011 but the junta can still handle the situation.
Apart from passage of the three orders, other activities were strictly suppressed. Three soldiers in uniform and 11 in plain clothes arrested Ekkachai Hongkangwan, a political activist and former lèse majesté convict, at his house on 24 October. He was detained for five days at a resort in Kanchanaburi and released on Monday.
The authorities arrested him after he posted on his Facebook account on 20 October that he planned to wear a red shirt, an anti-establishment symbol, on Thursday, the day of the cremation of the late King, when Thai people were expected to wear black.
The military also asked whether he preferred to be taken to a resort in Kanchanaburi Province for a few days or an unspecified military base.
After being released, Ekkachai told the media that three soldiers dragged him out of his house during the arrest, resulting in physical injuries. He will therefore file a complaint against them. He added that during his detention he was given 5,000 baht and taken to several attractions in the province.