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Thailand: “Hello I Must be Going”

Groucho Marx sang that memorable ditty in his 1930 movie Animal Crackers. Perhaps Thailand’s musical Dictator, the talented PM/General Prayuth is humming it now. How does it go again? “I cannot say I came to stay I must be going/ I’m glad I came but all the same I must be going.”

Sounds just like him, but of course Groucho never sets a date in his song. He’s a con man and he’s going to stick around as long as the suckers don’t discover his game. Prayuth sets dates, the current one being July 2017. “That’s it! Another year and a half and I’m outta’ here!”

Groucho’s misleading Swan Song is part of a larger number titled “Hooray for Captain Spaulding”; promote the Good Captain to General and you have the kind of sentiment Prayuth expects from the Thai people. “At last we are to meet him/The famous Captain Spaulding/From climates hot and scalding/The Captain has arrived!” Is art, or musical comedy, becoming life in Thailand?

Actually General Prayuth doesn’t have to worry about packing his duffel bag and returning to the barracks so soon. Not when he has hand-picked friends like Mr. Meechai, who has been busy for months at the laborious task of writing a draft Constitution; laborious in the same sense as “laboring mightily to bring forth a mouse.” And now it’s done, sort of, all 270 weighty Clauses of it. Just another two years or so and it may even be in effect. Meechai already appears to be pushing back Prayuth’s exit, though his math is a bit foggy when it comes to the date. And while the Thai nation is waiting for that happy day to come, Mr. P and his Junta will continue to exercise their dictatorial powers under Clause 257 which would seem to make the other 269 Clauses in this Constitution hogwash.

Mr. M declares that his legal masterwork is designed to “effectively suppress corruption and does not whitewash wrongdoers.” Rather strange language for a Constitution. The word ‘suppress’ is generally paired with ‘opposition’ not crime fighting. And real cops put criminals in jail rather than refraining from whitewashing them. But then this is not real crime, it is “corruption,” which in Thailand is generally interpreted as “anything that challenges the financial and political interests of the Bangkok elite.” Now Mr. M’s odd statement makes more sense. But despite his hard work he doesn’t seem hopeful for his brainchild. He thinks that it will do little to bridge the deep economic and social divides that characterize today’s Thailand. In other words it won’t solve any of Thailand’s most pressing problems, which is what the Junta said it was going to do when it staged its 2014 Coup. But it will keep those currently in power, in power.

They may have to trade their uniforms for civvies as Mr. Prayuth has done, or quit their comfy appointed sinecures for a few months before receiving new ones as MPs and Senators (see Clauses 255, 256 and 258 for details) but they will still have comfortable chairs to warm. That’s the point of this long-running charade. Keep the Junta and its backers in power forever, one way or another. Whatever Mr. M’s Constitution says, or doesn’t say, it will be a meaningless ream of paper. Eventually someone will toss it in the garbage and draft yet another one.