Junta must ensure its actions match its claims to restore democracy
July 09, 2014 00:00
By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has assigned the Foreign Ministry to beg for understanding from the international community for its mission to bring peace and restore democracy in Thailand.
But the junta should not force Thai diplomats to present a different picture to the world by doing things that are contrary to the principles of democracy and human rights.
The international community, mostly western countries, criticised the junta not because it did not understand Thailand or Thai politics. The criticism was made not because it wanted Thailand to become a democratic country in the style of the West.
The international community simply wanted Thailand to respect the basic rights of the people. Human rights are fundamental to all democratic societies. Democracy can be translated into different local contexts – but the basic principles and fundamental rights should remain. Nobody is bothered by what label Thais give to their type of ruling regime – as long as the basic rights and political will of people are fully respected.
While telling the international community the Thai junta respects human rights and freedom of expression, their actions have been at odds. There was no good explanation why the junta needed to detain people while heading for what it called the ‘reform’ process toward democracy and national reconciliation.
Over the past weeks, the junta has summoned a number of academics and detained a journalist who strongly criticised the coup. At least two academics from Chulalongkorn University were held for hours last week to “exchange” political views with military officers. The exchange in fact was an attempt to change their attitudes towards the coup and accused them of instigating wrong perceptions among the community.
Thanapol Eiwsakul, editor of the political journal Fah Diew Kan (Same Sky), was tricked by a military officer into detention on Saturday just because he posted a message with political content on social media.
The editor was “invited” by a military officer for a chat over coffee at a Bangkok coffee shop in Phaholyothin Soi 7, only a 10-minute chat. Thanapol was later taken by the officer in a private car to the Crime Suppression Bureau. He was accused of violating the conditions set by the junta when he was released from military detention on May 30.
Thanapol was detained for the first time when he appeared in front of the Bangkok Art Centre among a group protesting the coup on May 23, a day after the power seizure. He was held in a military camp for seven days before being released on condition he would not participate in any political gathering. Indeed he did not, but kept posting opinions on political developments on social media, actions the military deemed a violation of the conditions. The editor, like many others, disagreed with the coup but he did not take any action to hurt the junta.
The military junta kept telling the world that top brass staged the coup against an elected government because it wanted to end the political conflict; it planned to quickly restore democracy; it plans reforms to bring peace to Thai society.
The junta said it was returning happiness to all Thai people but did not want to hear any opposing voices. It said it allowed media freedom and freedom of expression of people in the country, but also made it clear that it would be better if all of them remained silent or reported what the junta wanted them to report.
The junta said it welcomed participation in a reform process from all parties, but the atmosphere it is creating these days in the country is not supportive and conducive enough for reform towards national reconciliation and democracy.
Thailand has experienced an open society and certain levels of democracy over the past few decades. The military junta, if it really has a clear intention and the objective to restore democracy as it claims, should be well aware of the fact that democracy cannot be restored in an authoritarian environment.