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Latest measure won't teach us to solve political conflict

When you develop acute diarrhoea while travelling, you can resort to taking a pill that will quickly ease the illness - although all the rotten faeces is still in your system and it won't solve your problem in the long run. The medicine simply controls the diarrhoea and stops you from running to the washroom every 10 minutes - but it doesn't heal the infection inside your stomach.

If Thailand is like a human body, then Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has done just that to Thailand by imposing martial law at the odd hour of 3 o'clock yesterday morning.

Martial law as a drug to suppress political diarrhoea won't solve anything in the long run, however. As this article is being written, it's not even clear how long this draconian law, which significantly curtailed civil liberties - including allowing detention without court order for a week - will last.

I do not recall having voted for General Prayuth, nor handing him my consent to rule over me and the rest of us like a dictator. And unlike in the United States, where only the elected president and elected governors can declare martial law, in Thailand the main beneficiary of the law, the Army chief, is the one who decides. This places Thailand in the league of "democratic" nations like Pakistan where the army chief decides.

So far, 11 TV channels, mostly those identified clearly as being politically partisan, have been ordered off the air, and all community radio stations have been told to stop broadcasting. Six book titles in English have already been removed from shelves at a local bookstore, according to human-rights researcher Benjamin Zawacki. We are instead being fed instructions from the Army chief, who is the self-appointed head of the newly created Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC).

Newspapers and the rest of the print media have been instructed to refrain from printing anything that could affect "peace and order". This could be interpreted as anything deemed as inappropriate by Prayuth.

Let us take a deep breath and consider what it will do for us, a Thailand under martial law. The baht has already plunged, the stock market nosedived and one man wields sweeping power, indefinitely.

Martial law teaches us we are too immature to deal with real political differences, so censorship is needed. Martial law reminds us we're incapable of deciding the fate of Thai politics by ourselves and have to rely on armed soldiers whose power rests on the brute force of machine-guns and armoured vehicles.

What martial law can never teach us is how to solve political conflicts in a lasting manner.

Neither democracy nor lasting peace and order can be achieved by coercion. By trying to maintain peace and order indefinitely, Prayuth may have to rely on martial law indefinitely. But by trying to maintain martial law forever, Thailand will end up becoming a dictatorship.

Let us for once rise above the occasion and remind General Prayuth that we do not want to place Thailand on the path of military dictatorship once again.

The cycle of military intervention with 18 coups in eight decades has to end for Thais to grow up and learn to take responsibility for themselves.

You may mean well, General Prayuth. And I hope this is the case. But what you are doing now is a disservice to Thailand.


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