and released only after signing agreements effectively preventing them from speaking out. Violators, the junta has warned, will face prosecution.
Critics, though, say reconciliation _ and any legitimate debate on the divided nation’s fate _ cannot take place in a climate of fear.
The May putsch was swiftly condemned by Western powers, but Thailand’s relations with key Asian nations remain unchanged. Concerns over human rights abuses and the restoration of democracy were not even mentioned publicly earlier this month during a regional foreign ministers summit earlier hosted by Myanmar.
Thailand has been deeply divided since 2006, when former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra _ Yingluck’s brother _ was toppled after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for Bhumibol.
Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire whose political allies have won every national election since 2001, lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai but remains an intensely polarizing figure. He is highly popular among the poor in Thailand’s north and northeast, but despised by a Bangkok-based elite backed by the army and staunch royalists who view him as a corrupt demagogue who bought votes with populist promises.
Although Prayuth has promised to eventually restore democracy and hold elections as early as 2015, Pavin, the analyst, said the junta was working to remove all traces of Thaksin’s influence before then.
Ultimately, “the elite want to gain control over politics. In the last decade, their domination was taken away by Thaksin through elections,” Pavin said. “They are trying to weaken that now … and ensure that politicians linked to Thaksin can’t come back.”
Thailand has not had a prime minister since caretaker premier Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan’s government was ousted in the May coup. Niwattumrong held the position only briefly to replace Yingluck, who took office after a landslide 2011 election but was forced to resign for nepotism in a court case her supporters say was politically motivated.
Prayuth’s governance style differed markedly from his predecessor. The gruff leader has veered beyond usual government policy talk and his speeches have sometimes taken on a paternalistic tone.
Taking to the airwaves almost every Friday night to explain the junta’s objectives, Prayuth has urged people to recycle their trash, to avoid credit card debt, and even to avoid shopping if they feel stressed. He has also launched a “national happiness” campaign and spelled out the “12 core values of the Thai people,” key among them, showing respect for the nation’s king.
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