Restoring democracy must be main focus of coup leaders

opinion May 25, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Mistakes of the previous coup must not be repeated if we want to make progress

To say it is delusional would be an understatement when one considers the explanation provided by the Army chief of what he think the military could achieve by launching this latest coup.
Like every coup the military has launched since the birth of modern Thailand, the Army has always cited democracy and the need to restore law and order. 
First of all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these coup- plotters are not exactly fair brokers. 
It was the Army that ousted the government of Thaksin Shinawatra back in 2006 and set Thailand off on its current political roller coaster.
Just days ago when the two opposing political forces were about to bash each other’s heads, the Army decided to use the occasion to declare martial law. Two days later, they decided to call a spade a spade.
We can debate until we turn blue about the justifications and the financial and political cost of a coup. And let’s not forget about the conflict in the deep South where more than 5,000 have been killed and the end is nowhere in sight. Sadly, peace in the deep South has always been held hostage by national politics. 
But here we are at this junction again. And the next obvious thing to ask is where do we go from here? First and foremost, the junta has to make it clear how they intend to steer the country back to democracy. 
Moreover, they should try to understand the concerns of foreign governments and organisations about the political deadlock. 
There is a thing called international norms – respect for human rights and dignity, freedom of expression and so on – and a middle-income country like Thailand should learn to abide by it. After all, we signed all sorts of international conventions and agreements to state our political commitment. Or was that just for show? 
The Army need to look at the last time they launched a coup and learn not to repeat the same mistake. Instead of placing Thaksin at the centre of their agenda, this time around they need to think about democratic principles and use that as an equilibrium – not which political family – read Shinawatra clan – they despise and want to keep out of politics. There are ways to deal with Thaksin and it is called legal due process. 
The last time around, the Army was quietly asking other stakeholders for understanding because they wanted to weed out Thaksin’s influence in the country and to make sure that Thaksin will not resurface in politics again. Needless to say, they failed miserably in doing that and the presence of the red-shirt movements and the hordes of Thaksin cronies are testimonies to their failure.
Stakeholders are talking about political reform but reform should not mean changing the ground rules so that the Democrat Party could win an election. It’s about a sense of fair play but asking that from these political extremists from both camps is like asking a bear to use a flush toilet.
As for the Pheu Thai Party, they need to look and think beyond winning a general election because no matter how many votes they get and how many times they win, as long as there is no sense of fair play during the vote and afterwards, this vicious political confrontation and street battles will continue. And the country will be back to the starting blocks again. 
Reform needs to be as inclusive as possible. It needs to reflect the sentiment and values of the Thai people, not one particular stakeholder, or cement the military’s place in national politics. If we can’t realise that, we won’t be able to move forward as a nation.