Despite stacked odds, election is essential
The junta is likely to hold on to power at the polls, but its opponents must seize every opportunity for change and progress
The recent emergence of a raft of political parties is sending a clear signal to the ruling military junta – the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) – and to society as a whole. It is that elections are essential if the country is to continue making progress. Even among those who welcomed the Army’s intervention in politics four years ago and maintained faith in the generals for some time after have come to realise the necessity of an election as a genuine instrument for negotiating power.
Citizens who want a share of the power need to enter the race. Those who want the military out of politics know an election is the way to remove it. Elections hold the promise of peaceful political change. History has established that military coups cannot resolve political conflicts. The 2014 coup staged by Prayut Chan-o-cha was no exception. It has failed utterly to reconcile the opposing sides, heal the country or end corruption. The generals’ promises of reform have proved to be mere pretext for seizing control.
The downside of the coming election is that, if junta-allied parties win, it could give the generals a measure of legitimacy and the chance to perpetuate their rule. Political elements that supported the NCPO are now forming parties to contest the race in the hope of claiming enough parliamentary seats to keep Prayut in power.
The military government has put in place legal instruments to extend its rule. It has the armed forces protecting it and dissuading opposition. Public money is being spent on the very kind of populist programmes the generals once derided as a politician’s trick, a bribe for votes. And it is now creating not one political party but many in a bid to ensure it receives a mandate to continue governing.
Prayut’s recent campaigning and the emergence of pro-junta parties have rendered the political spectrum clearer. In coming months and years we can expect to see fierce competition between the pro-junta groups and its opponents in the Shinawatra-red-shirt movement. And there will be opportunists ready to side with whoever has the upper hand.
All of them claim to be fighting for democracy and the people’s interests, but few people outside their membership rolls will truly benefit. The pro-junta groups refrain from setting out platforms or policies, content to pledge allegiance to the three pillars – nation, religion and monarchy.
Generally, the political equation hasn’t changed in four years. There are new parties offering alternatives, but it’s doubtful they’re strong enough to win at the polls. The present regime will see to that. It would be naïve to think the junta would heed calls for a free and fair election. Its need to win the election to gain legitimacy and remain in power is simply too great. But it is wise to call for close monitoring of Thailand’s political developments.
The government and its supporters would use any means necessary to win an election that has to come eventually, since further delays are impossible.
Heading towards it, the rules of the game are not particularly fair and the players are hardly equal. Plus, with the junta as a player in the game, there is no real regulator supervising the polling. Despite all of this, the election is still the best choice.