No light on the horizon

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

As we move forward into 2016 the outlook for Thailand looks grim. The Prayut dictatorship shows no sign of exiting from the stage. Elections have been postponed again and again, and even when they eventually take place, the junta hope to have fixed the system so that the military and the conservative elites remain in power whatever the electoral outcome.

Generalissimo Prayut and his band of uniformed thugs continue to threaten and detain anyone opposes the junta. This is carried out in the crudest manner, best illustrated by the enforced “Attitude Changing Sessions” in military camps, the intimidation of activists’ families, the prosecution of activists under the draconian lèse-majesté law, the use of military courts, the “fitting up” of innocent people with dubious charges and the loud-mouthed rants of Prayut. On more than one occasion Prayut has made threats of violence against people involved in peaceful protests, claiming that there are hordes of patriotic people who might do them harm. Lawyers, academics, students and journalists have all been intimidated.

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Those who are brave enough to put up non-violent resistance to this illegal junta are dragged off to secret prisons by soldiers who conceal their faces. They and their families are not informed of their whereabouts and the prisoners are locked up in small cells with no fresh air or daylight.

Not surprisingly, there is no pretence at even-handed impartiality. Fascist monks and ultra-royalists are allowed and even encouraged to stage protests and their thuggish behaviour in wrecking the 2014 elections has been overlooked by the courts. At the same time pro-democracy events, including academic seminars and peaceful expressions of opposition have been subjected to military intimidation. Censorship is wide-spread.

The prosecution of ex-Prime Minister Yingluk over the Rice Guarantee Scheme contrasts with the attempt to gloss-over the junta’s abuses of power and its corruption.

All this is done while junta officials show not one ounce of shame when they tell bare-faced lies about democracy and happiness. Neither do they exhibit any shame in repatriating asylum seekers back to China to face certain death or imprisonment.

Of course, the junta is not having its own way on everything. The huge on-going military corruption scandal involving Rachapak Park is becoming an ugly oozing sore which simply will not go away. There is the total incompetence in solving some high profile crimes such as the bomb attack in central Bangkok and the murder of two British tourists. At the same time, the economy is going down the pan. This is not totally due to the junta’s mismanagement, although tourism is affected by the political situation. Thailand’s economic problems are linked to the economic slow-down in China. But the junta clearly does not have a clue about how to deal with it and they will be blamed by the population.

The most important thorn in the side of the dictatorship is that they have failed to stamp out dissent. Regular protests are taking place despite the threats and detentions. But this is where our side; the pro-democracy side, have a serious weakness. Since the demise of the Red Shirts as an active social movement, the new layer of activists has failed to build a new mass movement for democracy. There is no indication that they are even trying to do this, preferring instead to act in small autonomous groups, hoping that symbolic gestures will somehow lead to the restoration of democracy. We can see the danger of this strategy just across the border in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi’s insistence, since 1988, in using symbolic gestures while turning her back on the mass movement, has meant that while she compromises with the Burmese junta, they are able to craft a sham democratic system which receives international praise.

Given the military’s dominance over the political system and the palace, whether the present king lives or dies has no bearing what so ever on the future for Thai democracy.

In the short term, unless a mass social movement for democracy is rebuilt, there is little hope for freedom in Thailand.

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