EU gives up on Thai democracy

opinion December 14, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

Only the junta, certainly not human rights, will benefit from the latest pivot to realpolitik

The decision by the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council to resume political contacts with military-ruled Thailand is wonderful news for global authoritarianism, but woeful for this benighted Kingdom of Southeast Asia. With Donald Trump’s United States 

heedless of rights abuses anywhere in the world, getting the EU also on board gives Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha all the clout he needs to continue managing the country as he alone sees fit.

The EU has abandoned its call for an “urgent” restoration of democracy in Thailand. Everything it has 

criticised since the 2014 coup has been forgotten. Political restrictions and limits on individual freedoms are now likely to continue until all of the general’s ideological enemies die off or fade away.

Absurdly, the EU Foreign Affairs Council based its decision on vague statements that Prayut made about a future election while he was 

visiting the US in October. The 

council clearly doesn’t have its ears to the ground here. Otherwise it would realise how few Thais actually believe there will be an election in November next year, as Prayut assured Trump. It would be aware that Prayut is now again claiming there are “threats to national security”, with the implication being that no election can be held until the perceived threats are expunged.

The junta’s much-vaunted “roadmap” guiding Thailand back to full democracy has never amounted to a clear timeline, and meanwhile, as long as the ban on political gatherings remains in place, preparations for an election cannot begin. At least the EU acknowledges this much, 

noting that “freedom of expression and assembly remains highly restricted. Civil society activists and human rights defenders continue 

to face judicial harassment.” 

But such concerns are evidently not enough to prevent the EU from ignoring its conscience and re-engaging with Thailand politically. Wishful thinking seems to form the basis for the change of heart. The council looks forward to “meaningful dialogue” on “issues of mutual importance” such as rights and freedoms.

Such optimism might be understandable if there were convincing evidence that the junta is genuinely concerned about rights and wants inclusive elections. On the contrary, it has deliberately created a constitutional basis for the military to retain a central role in politics for the long term. The election will be called only when it has eliminated all challenges to that claim on power.

The junta has been confident all along that the EU desires a comprehensive economic and trade arrangement with Thailand, and in recent years, competing trade blocs around the globe have discarded democratic principles in the rush for financial benefit. It was only a matter of time before the Europeans, shaken by Brexit and saddled with high import duties, amended their criteria.

In fact it took three and a half years for EU patience to run out. Finally it became obvious that the Thai military wasn’t about to relinquish its grip on power anytime soon. Meanwhile trade revenues were being lost and other nations were gaining the upper hand. Realpolitik and greed for profit prevailed.

So now the US and EU have jettisoned democratic principles. China of course was never interested in them. It appears that the democracy movement in Thailand is pretty much on its own in maintaining the struggle. If the activists are arrested – or, rather, when they are – there might be a statement of moral support from the EU, but that’s about all.