The tragic twists and turns that politics in Thailand has taken following de facto return of military rule last May betray elements of a Greek tragedy.
It was something of a farce when the government hurriedly deleted a scene showing a schoolboy painting a portrait of Hitler in a film promoting prime minister Prayuth Chanocha’s 12 core values that list duties and responsibilities.
Equally farcical was the impeachment of ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra by an assembly that didn’t have the power to do so. Besides banning her from holding political office for five years, the impeachment is accompanied by criminal and civil charges.
As the noose tightens around her, it has undermined Thailand’s reconciliation efforts, setting the nation up for a new phase of turbulence.
The impeachment is unlikely to lead to a new balance in Thai politics. The manoeuvre was a power play by the coup-appointed National Legislative Assembly. With martial law in place since the coup, Thailand is under a virtual military lockdown.
The army has practically made the royal succession the top national security priority. The short-term fallout of the impeachment has been limited because the military is consolidated under the junta, with martial law as a coercive tool to quell street protests.
Such constitutional illiteracy is an everyday phenomenon in today’s Thailand. Critics are “invited” to army installations for “attitude adjustment” sessions. Opponents are tried in military courts with no right of appeal and forced to sign documents that allow seizure of their assets if they engage in political activity.
The possibility that a ceasefire can be brought about in the yellow-shirt-versus-red-shirt class war that has long riven Thai society looks all the more distant.
Lodging of criminal cases against Yingluck will only worsen matters. If her opponents hope she will flee to exile before trial begins as her brother did, they may have underestimated her mettle.