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Is Thailand’s economy undergoing ‘juntification’?

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Since seizing power from the elected civilian government, Thailand’s junta has become increasingly authoritarian.

But attempting to ‘juntify’ the economy is proving difficult for a variety of reasons, and is distracting them from capitalizing on other economic opportunities.

Since seizing power in May 2014, the junta, or the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), have consolidated their position using increasingly authoritarian means; stifling dissent through draconian lèse-majesté and cyber-crime laws, imposing heavy media restrictions, and jailing key political opponents, creating what Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams calls a “climate of fear.”

Initial doubts about King Vajiralongkorn’s relationship with the junta (and his ability to confer legitimacy upon the regime) have subsided.

Last month, after considerable delay – several amendments – Vajiralongkorn finally signed the new constitution drafted by the junta. Critics say it is highly undemocratic and will allow the junta a powerful hold over national politics – even after elections resume in 2018.

The junta’s longevity is detrimental to Thailand’s economic interests, particularly if their interests affect the status quo.

Two examples are the targeting of hawkers in Bangkok, and the red light district in Pattaya; both play an important role in the tourist economy.

Although the latter is clearly problematic, it is backed by powerful interests and the junta will face difficulty shutting it down. Preoccupation with order and ‘morality’ will also distract them from dealing with more pressing issues related to infrastructure capacity.

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