At war with kids and calendars

opinion November 08, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

The pre-election fumbling taking place suggests that desperation has gripped junta headquarters

The ruling junta’s attempts to put a lid on fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra are becoming more and more absurd. Most recently, a deputy police commissioner, doubtless bowing to the military’s wishes, has ordered an inquiry to determine whether the distribution of calendars bearing images of former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, his sister and fellow fugitive from justice, constitutes a breach of the law.

Police General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul confirmed that he gave the order but has not specified what law might have been 

broken. He said such calendars had been distributed at Thammasat University and the Constitutional Court and in Udon Thani and Ubon Ratchathani provinces. A woman accused of handing out the calendars had a surprise visit at her home from soldiers the day before. There were reports that she was asked to delete photos of the calendars from the social media but she refused.

Clearly the security forces learned nothing from their recent humiliation in confronting the makers of a rap music video critical of the junta. The rappers were threatened with legal action, but the threat was an empty one since there were no legal grounds to proceed. Nonetheless, many citizens have been detained in the last four years simply for expressing their political views. Putting critics through “attitude adjustment” has been a favoured approach of the military ever since the 2014 coup.

There has been a general assumption that the police backed away from the offending rappers because someone realised further action could hamper efforts to keep Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in charge after the coming general election. The military wants to retain control of Government House, this time with a mandate from the voters.

Thaksin and Yingluck remain highly popular among in the North and Northeast, home turf of the red shirts. Now the security forces are playing into red hands by harassing rappers and intimidating ordinary citizens over pictures on a calendar. If Prayut wishes to cling to power through democratic or quasi-democratic means, he should be far more careful about the actions he endorses and be warier of the possible consequences. Rather than gaining the public’s support, intimidation of citizens only deepens the bitterness towards the military and its political allies.

Voters are recalling a similar episode a couple of years ago when pro-Thaksin calendars and even traditional water bowls bearing his likeness were seized. Then as now, the government claimed the makers and distributors were fomenting social division. Yet it is the junta as much as anyone that has kept Thailand polarised, with its rejection of reason and its abject failure to promote reconciliation.

The generals should heed their critics, adopt a more open mind and become more flexible in their political dealings. Instead they have severely restricted political activity and forged ahead with a constitution that sanctions continued military involvement in politics for the long term. They will stack the Senate with 250 people of their own choosing to offset the legislative power of parliamentarians chosen by the people. Guttering basic freedoms and running roughshod over the voters’ will is not the way to run a country – and certainly not the road back to democracy.