Thailand: Junta Starts Year 3 Amid Protests, Praise

Nontarat Phaicharoen
2016.05.23
Bangkok
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160523-TH-coup-620 Police look on as demonstrators gather at Democracy Monument in Bangkok to mark the second anniversary of the coup that brought Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha to power, May 22, 2016.
BenarNews

As Thailand enters a third year under junta rule, critics say it has silenced their voices while supporters say that life under the generals is more orderly.

After Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha led a coup that toppled the government of Yingluck Shinawatra on May 22, 2014, he vowed to restore order and unity amid political turmoil and rid the nation of anti-royalist elements.

Since then, the National Council for Peace and Order – the junta’s official name – has yet to steer Thailand back onto the path of democracy. Prayuth’s government has rounded up government critics and journalists for so-called “attitude adjustment” sessions, and escalated arrests made under Lese-Majeste – Thailand’s strict royal defamation law.

At least 39 people have been charged with sedition and 67 have been charged with violating Lese-Majeste, according to iLaw, a Thai human rights advocacy group.

All this has happened against a backdrop of uncertainty over the country’s future, as King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a symbol of unity and Thai identity for decades, is 88 and in frail health.

Yingluck’s term ended on May 7, 2014, when an anti-corruption body found her guilty of corruption linked to a rice subsidy scheme and a court ordered that she be removed from office.

Amid protests that turned violent and claimed dozens of lives, Prayuth, who was then army commander-in-chief, seized power. The general held meetings with all parties involved, including Yingluck’s party and the opposition Democrat Party, but they failed to find a solution.

“Sorry, but I need to seize the power,” Prayuth said on May 22, 2014.

A day later, Prayuth invoked martial law to summon Yingluck and 22 other leaders of her Pheu Thai party for attitude adjustment, but released them later.

On July 22, 2014, the junta formalized its power through an interim charter. Since then, it has maintained its grip, ordering attitude adjustments for some 922 people at military camps or through home visits, iLaw claims.

Two years later

Yingluck marked Sunday’s anniversary with a posting on Facebook.

“It was the day that the people’s rights and freedom were taken away. They justified this action by claiming that my government could no longer govern the country and it must be them in charge in order to proceed with the reconciliation process,” she said.

On Sunday, security officers looked on as 300 people gathered at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok to criticize the junta for its grip on freedom of expression.

“During these two years, all voices of Thais have been ignored. Two years do not seem long when compared to our life span, but it is long enough to tell how villainous the government is,” said Rangsiman Rome, a member of the New Democracy Movement.

The junta is creating more division and turmoil, said Payao Akhad, the mother of a nurse killed during 2010 demonstrations by the so-called Red Shirts – supporters of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, another former prime minister.

“It has been two years that the citizens have been deprived of their rights. Instead of reforming the country for the better, there are even more conflicts,” she told BenarNews by telephone on Monday.

Government supporters protest

Supporters of the government also raised their voices. A group of royalist women, Sri Siam Ladies, rallied in front of the U.S. Embassy on Monday to protest what they described as American meddling in Thai internal affairs.

“This is the Kingdom of Thailand, not USA’s colony,” one poster said. Since his arrival in Thailand last year, U.S. Ambassador Glyn T. Davies has called on Thailand to return to a democratic government.

“Since it took over the power, the nation became calmer and corruption has been reduced,” Bangkok resident Kitti Tantiweshyanond told BenarNews.

“The government allows citizens to speak out, but it does not allow gatherings that incite unrest or arouse violent emotion,” he said.

Sri Siam Ladies rally in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, May 23, 2016. [BenarNews]

Road map

Prayuth has laid out what he calls a roadmap to democracy and has readied a new draft charter to be voted on in an Aug. 7 referendum.

Kasit Piromya, a member of Democrat Party who served as Thai foreign minister in the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration, said the draft charter is not acceptable.

“It will provide difficulty for the Thai people into the future,” he told a gathering of the media and expats at the foreign correspondents’ club of Thailand on May 10.

“I could not accept the rationale that we should have stability and ignore participatory politics,” he said.

Pongthep Thepkarnchana said he had read the draft charter and had questions. He is a former deputy of the Thai Rak Thai Party led by Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006.

“I concluded that we lack a good checks-and-balances system. We have an imbalance of power,” Pongthep said.

The referendum would mark the first time that Thais go to the polls since the junta seized power.

Elections are to follow later at an unspecified date. In September, Prayuth announced that elections would take place in July 2017 at the earliest.

The proposed charter allows the junta to hand pick all 250 senators, including six officers from the military’s top brass.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said Prayuth’s government had kept its promise by following a path to democracy.

“There is a way. You cannot say the road is rough. The car is moving along, following the road map,” he said, responding to Yingluck’s Facebook post.

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