Signs of decline in the military regime have clearly appeared after it has been in control of the country for almost four years.
The key reasons attributed to the decline of its popularity include inaction over scandals, particularly the luxury watches saga involving Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, a lack of progress in national reforms, and the regime’s perceived attempts to maintain its power after a general election as well as repeated failures to keep promises on the election date, political observers say.
The National Council for Peace and Order came into power in May 2014, to the applause of the anti-Yingluck Shinawatra camp and many other people who wanted peace and order to return after several years of political chaos.
The regime made many promises to justify its coup including national reforms, good governance, a staunch fight against corruption and a roadmap to democracy.
But after three years and eight months, many of its friends have turned to foes.
- Commentary by Ploenpote: Beware the rising temperature
A crucial issue concerns the 25 luxury watches scandal of Gen Prawit. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has fully protected him. This is in contrast to the plight of several other state officials who were suspended from duty when they encountered scandal, with the prime minister exercising his special power under Section 44 to take action against them.
The possible delay of the election roadmap has also triggered the dissatisfaction of pro-democracy camps after Gen Prayut failed several times to keep his promises on the time frame.
According to political sources, the remaining months will be the toughest for the military government which had its first warning that its popularity was suffering from Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda.
Gen Prem earlier warned the prime minister had lost much of his support base.
Gen Prem’s warning is widely seen by political observers as the beginning of the decline for the regime. It is believed that if the government fails to shore up its popularity, the military will be the only support base it has.
The absence of former People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) leader Suthep Thaugsuban’s support for Gen Prayut in recent weeks is conspicuous, according to the sources. Mr Suthep had publicly shown his support to the government until lately.
Moreover, Gen Prayut declared himself a politician, a move that came amid speculation that a military-backed political party was being formed to support him as prime minister after an election.
According to the sources, the prime minister also alienated the public when he came out to defend Gen Prawit over the luxury watch scandal and claimed it was “a personal issue”.
A recent Bangkok Poll showed Gen Prayut’s support has dropped significantly. Only 36.8% of of 1,114 respondents said they would back Gen Prayut to stay on as premier, compared with 52.8% in an opinion survey conducted in May last year. About 35% said they would not support him while 28.4% abstained.
Meanwhile, a Nida poll found last week that almost 80% of respondents did not view the NCPO as a transparent body. Only 17% had confidence in its transparency. The other 7% declined to answer.
Witthaya Kaewparadai, a core member of the defunct PDRC which supported the military coup, said the Prayut government’s weaknesses are a lack of progress in national reforms and a lack of transparency.
Mr Witthaya said the military government showed a strong determination to tackle graft and corruption after seizing power but its efforts appeared to be faltering.
The luxury watch scandal involving Gen Prawit also caused the public to lose confidence, he said.
“Politics means you have to care about the public sentiment. If [the government] refuses to take that into consideration, it will turn their supporters away. It’s normal for the support base to shrink because the people have high expectations,” he said. According to Mr Witthaya, the regime cannot rely on the support of the armed forces alone. He said public confidence is likely to pick up if the government starts to heed public opinions.
Yutthaporn Isarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat University, said election delays and a lack of progress in reforms have put a dent in the government’s image. He said the former PDRC, which is known to support Gen Prayut, is also losing its confidence in the regime.
What the government can do to turn the situation around is to set the election date and strictly follow the political roadmap, he said. “Politics is a key element to restore public confidence,” he said.