Officials’ warnings over security likely intended to boost junta’s legitimacy and do not reflect increased threat
Deputy PM and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said on 13 November that he believed that members of terrorist organisations, including Islamic State (IS) fighters, had probably sneaked into Thailand. He made his comments in an interview on the Government’s latest crackdown on foreigners who overstay their visas in Thailand, including suspected members of transnational criminal gangs. In addition, Deputy Defence Minister Udomdej Sitabutr has said that Prawit had ordered security agencies to closely monitor its opponents as several are planning to instigate protests and disturbances. In response, however, Deputy National Police Chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said there was no specific threat in this regard, although a letter has been circulated amongst police units to monitor anti-coup activists.
Red Shirt leaders questioned the Government’s motivation for issuing such warnings and claimed that they were part of the junta’s efforts to justify its ban on political activities as it comes under pressure for the ban to be removed. There has been no evidence to date of any significant IS infiltration , although some level of logistical support by foreign jihadist groups for the southern insurgent movement is possible. There have also not been any serious protests against the military although several, including one planned for 13 November by rubber farmers, have been called off following military intimidation. These have however been motivated by economic rather than political issues.
The calls therefore partly reflect that the junta is struggling to justify its heavy handed control over Thailand’s politics following the funeral of the late King, as calls for a return to normalcy continue from many quarters. It is therefore likely that its ban on political activity may begin to be partially lifted soon, as indicated by a 16 November statement by the Deputy PM that the Government would “probably” lift the ban next year, unless some serious event occurred which allowed the military to justify maintaining it. However, it is unlikely that the lifting of the ban will result in any serious protests or disruption, as all parties will be aware that the military will use any provocation to reinstate it.