Western governments’ responses to Thai referendum: predictably weak

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In this blog I have long argued that while any “international bad press” about the Thai junta, generated by the comments from Western governments is welcome, especially when they demand the release of political prisoners, none of these governments can be relied upon or trusted to maintain a principled stand against the military dictatorship. Democratic change can only come about by building mass movements of ordinary people within the country to overthrow military rule.

After the referendum results it was interesting to read the official responses of the United States and the European Union.

The United States ambassador to Thailand issued the following statement. “Given (the result of the referendum), we, the United States of America, as a long-time friend and ally of Thailand, urge the government to return to civilian democratically elected government as soon as possible. As part of moving back to civilian elected government, we strongly urge the government to lift restrictions on civil liberties, including restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” [http://bit.ly/2aPzqGY ]

The European Union also issued a statement. “During the campaign period, however, there were serious limitations to fundamental freedoms, including restrictions on debate and campaigning….It is essential that the current restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly are lifted to allow for an open, inclusive and accountable political process. The EU continues to call upon the Thai authorities to create the conditions for a genuine democratic transition leading to early general elections.” [http://bit.ly/2auzDR7 ]

What is obvious here, if we read between the lines, is that the West are not demanding that the authoritarian constitution, which will prolong military domination of Thai politics, be scrapped or amended. That is the aim of all democratically minded Thais. The legitimacy for such a call comes from the fact that the referendum was neither free nor fair and that the military’s new constitution will not lead to a genuine democratic transition.

The governments of the West are ready to accept elections held under this constitution so long as the government lifts restrictions on the civil liberties of freedom of expression and assembly. The EU statement goes on to say that “all main stakeholders in Thailand need to engage in an inclusive dialogue and work together peacefully towards this aim.”

In practice this means that the EU would like to see pro-democracy activists cooperate with the military and the conservatives in the run up to elections, which, incidentally, may not be held until 2018. Talking about the need for “civil liberties” is also vague. Does it mean the abolition of lèse-majesté? Probably Western governments will not call for this. Does it mean that the military should stop banning demonstrations under the pretext of protecting national security? Given that governments in the West such as France and the United State do the same thing, it will not be serious issue.

The nice sounding pronouncement from Western governments, which in the main are right-wing pro-business governments, are there to legitimise future good relations with the Thai government, irrespective of whether we have genuine democracy or not. The pronouncements are as mainly for internal consumption within the West.

They are not really interested in freedom, democratic rights and social justice for the majority of the Thai population. They are blind to and terrified of the prospect of mass movements of the working class and the poor rising up to overthrow authoritarian regimes.

The lesson from this is that it would be a waste of time to believe that any foreign governments, especially those in the West, would ever be an important factor in bringing about democracy in Thailand. For them, their only interest is being able to conduct business with Thailand. They want to be able to “keep the lines open” to talk to the elites.

[See also http://bit.ly/22sCo67 ]

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