Thailand’s military-controlled government on Tuesday welcomed a decision by the European Union to resume political contacts “at all levels,” saying the move reflected E.U. recognition that the junta is steering the country back to democracy.
The E.U., a 28-nation bloc that is one of Thailand’s top five trading partners, announced the move a day earlier as part of a gradual political re-engagement with Thailand.
“This is good for us. This is what the government has been trying to do in these three years, sending representatives to talk to every country where we have the investments and they are invested in our country, especially the European countries because they are a significant market,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha told reporters in Bangkok. Prayuth, a former army general, heads a junta that has been in charge since the military toppled a civilian-led government in a May 2014 coup.
Last year, Thailand’s overall trade volume with the E.U. equaled 35.9 billion euros (U.S. $42.1 billion), and the European bloc was the country’s number three trading partner behind China and Japan in terms of total trade, according to statistics from the European Commission.
“The reaction of the European Union is not trying to make conditions to Thailand. Instead, it shows that they understand what the government has been working on to move forward the country forward,” Prayuth said.
“Thailand is following the roadmap to the general election that is scheduled in November 2018. However, the exact period depends on the readiness of [related] laws,” added Prayuth who, on previous occasions, postponed promises of staging the country’s first elections since the coup.
He said the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs was instrumental in persuading the E.U. to resume political contacts by lobbying countries about how the government was implementing measures to put Thailand back on a path to democracy.
“The big issue is that political developments between Thailand and the European Union are getting better on one level and the E.U. has a more relaxed attitude at all official levels … this shows our country has [improved] in these three years … which satisfied the European Union, more or less,” Don Pramudwinai, the minister of foreign affairs, told reporters at Government House in Bangkok.
On Monday in Brussels, the E.U.’s Foreign Affairs Council announced it was restoring full political contacts with Thailand while calling on the junta to restore the democratic process.
The council said it remained concerned about how civil rights, liberties and free speech had “severely curtailed” in Thailand since the military takeover. But it also noted progress taken by the junta to promulgate a new constitution paving the way for a general election, adding it welcomed Prayuth’s most recent announcement that voting would take place in November 2018.
The council urged the junta to ensure that laws needed to set up polls be enacted “as soon as possible,” and said the E.U. looked forward to further deepening bilateral ties, depending on whether free and fair elections occur, a democratically elected government is installed and the situation with human rights improves.
“The council has decided therefore to resume political contacts at all level with Thailand in order to facilitate meaningful dialogue on issue of mutual importance, including on human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the road toward democracy. The council will make full use of such contacts to raise these issues of concern,” it said in a statement.
Free and fair
Meanwhile, a Thai political commentator, former Elections Commissioner Kothom Areeya, said he was confident that elections would occur in 2018. But, he stressed, they should be free and fair.
“I believe we will have the general elections next year because all the authorities have done their jobs. ... More important, it should be a fair election and the government shouldn’t do anything thing to support any political party in particular,” Kothom told BenarNews.