Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The manner in which the military junta has treated the protests by the “People Who Want Elections” on the 4th anniversary of the military coup shows that they have no intention of restoring real democracy.
Before the planned protests soldiers and police were sent to activists houses as a crude form of intimidation. The parents of student leaders were told to rein-in their children. Trade unionists were also paid nasty visits at home. Road blocks were set up on approaches to Bangkok in order to deter people travelling from the countryside. The police lied that they were trying to look for weapons. The vehicle number plates of activists were placed on a black list. The person that provided the sound system for the protest was taken off to a military camp for an attitude changing session.
The anti-junta protest assembled at Thammasat University. Previously the university authorities, working hand in glove with the junta as usual, closed the football pitch, claiming they needed to destroy weeds!
Initially the police would not allow the protest to leave the university, but some people managed to evade police lines and get as far as the UN building where they read out a proclamation. The protest leaders were informed by police that they had broken “the law”. They then gave themselves up to the police and were detained for two nights in police stations before being taken to court.
Visits to activist’s homes take place on a regular basis and some are followed around where ever they go. Soldiers deem it that they have a right to enter buildings and attend seminars and meetings without asking permission. There isn’t a single Thai-based pro-democracy activist who isn’t facing some charge or other.
A few days ago prominent members of Pua Thai Party, including junta critics Chaturon Chaisang and Watana Muangsook, were summoned by the police because they had given a press conference demanding an end to the junta. They were given a warning and released. At any time the junta could ban them from taking part in future elections or even order the dissolution of the party. Many believe that Pua Thai would win substantial numbers of votes in a future election.
All this gives the lie to the junta’s laughable claim to “respect human rights” or to have a “road map” towards holding free and fair elections.
The latest rant by Generalissimo Prayut seeks to confirm that elections will be held in Thailand in early 2019. Election dates have been announced before and the junta’s record is littered with broken promises and bare-faced lies. However, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that the junta cannot carry on ruling as it does now for the next decade. The junta understand that they need to create the image of restoring democracy and holding elections. Otherwise popular opposition to the junta will increase and at some point they will be overthrown, a fate which befell most previous Thai military regimes.
The junta’s plan is to set its rules in concrete under the National Strategy and to place all its appointees in powerful positions in the Senate and the judiciary before elections are held. They have already forced through a military-inspired constitution. All this is in order to fix election rules, censor manifestoes of political parties and tie the hands of future elected governments to junta approved policies for the next 20 years. In addition they may even set up an “army party” with the hope of transforming Prayut into an “elected Prime Minister”, much like what happened in Egypt.
A number of political parties, including Pua Thai Party, Future Forward Party and the Commoners Party have stated that they would scrap the military constitution if they win enough seats in parliament. But without a mass movement on the streets to back them up this “illegal act”, according to the junta’s rules, cannot be achieved as it will be sabotaged by the Senate and the judiciary. Unfortunately none of these parties seems interested in building a mass social movement to fight for democracy. This is another reason why we need a genuine left party allied to workers.