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Thailand’s ex-Generals flail to justify government’s extension of coronavirus emergency decree

While not a surprise, the extension of the government's free pass to do what it likes seems increasingly unnecessary

Yaowarat Road, the centre of Bangkok's Chinatown, at night
Yaowarat Road, the centre of Bangkok's Chinatown, at night.

Flights are banned until July and overstaying foreigners don’thave to worry about visas until August, so the announcement that the government would extend its state of emergency was news to no one.

The obvious became official Friday with the announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who rubber-stamped the decision of the military-run National Security Council.

The emergency decree, soon to enter its third month, give the government carte blanche to do whatever it wants, regardless of what the weak lower house of parliament or constitution says. The most obvious sign of the “emergency” is the 11 p.m.- 4 a.m. curfew, which seems pointless given that all nightlife remains closed.

Curfew-breaking has become increasingly common, especially in Phuket, as Thais look at the string of days with zero reported coronavirus infections. But the ultra-conservative generals continue to use defiance of their will as a reason to keep the curfew in place.

Armed forces chief Gen. Pornpipat Benyasri, who heads the the security section of the government’s coronnavirus task force, s said the imposition of the emergency decree would continue because some people were defying the night-time curfew imposed to control Covid-19 but curfew.

But he and other officials acknowledged it might soon be time to shorten or eliminate the curfew – but only, Pornpipat said, people didn’t try to have fun by mingling and drinking.

Alcohol continues to be the government’s stalking horse boogeyman; easier to blame booze than corruption, cronyism or nepotism.

In his Friday night talkfest, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha repeatedly called the emergency decree necessary, but without explaining why, saying other officials would do that for him.

Prayut would be happy enough to keep Thailand locked down until next decade, if only to suppress his critics and opposition to the junta-in-democratic disguise. Thailand’s reopening is proceeding at a snail’s pace considering the coronavirus situation, with the premier still hemming and hawing even reopening schools.

Massive sums are spent on education in Thailand with some of the worst results in Asia, so maybe closed classrooms aren’t that big of a deal.

Former Pattaya mayor Itthiphol Kunplome, who now has swapped jobs with elder brother Sonthaya, who is running Sin City, said Prayut has looked at how infections spiked after France and South Korea reopened schools and isn’t sure Thailand can reopen.

Massive sums are spent on education in Thailand with some of the worst results in Asia, so maybe closed classrooms isn’t that big of a deal.

Prayut did offer up a rare enlightened suggestion: Staggering school schedules so that that pupils take shifts in classroom time, perhaps 20 at a time. Staggering both school and office shifts has been a suggested made by some of the West’s top health experts. Doing so in Thailand would be a advanced step for the country’s thinking.

Of course why Prayut is talking to Itthiphol, the culture minister, and not his education chief is anyone’s guess. Itthiphol, with his family’s vested interest all thing tourism in Chonburi, is probably clinging tight to Prayut’s coat tails to try to get the hotels and go-go bars open again.

That apparently will happen as the same time as schools. Prayut has doomed school’s to the vague “Phase 4” of the reopening schedule, the timeframe for which is anyone’s guess.

Schools tentarively are scheduled to reopen July 1 and Phase 4’s date previously was mentioned as maybe June 15, so that schedule might be realistic.