As political parties begin to stir to life in junta-controlled Thailand, young politicians are appealing to Thais of all political beliefs to have faith in democracy as a form of government to keep the military from repeatedly seizing power.
Thailand has faced more than 20 military coups since the kingdom became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, including two since 2006 in which the generals forcibly ended the respective terms of Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck, as prime minister.
But in Bangkok last week, some rising young Thai politicians presented their visions of hope for the future of politics and governance in their country. They appeared as Thailand faces the prospect early next year of the first elections since the military ousted Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014, although the reigning junta has previously delayed long-promised polls multiple times.
“People want to see an alternative, people want to see the parliament working again,” Thanatorn Juangroongruangkit, a 40-year-old political rookie, said during the event at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT).
“It is proven that military governments with unelected power cannot solve the problems. It’s time for us to say ... enough. Once this military government goes back to their barracks, we need to make sure they will not, ever again, seize the power of the elected government in the future,” Thanatorn said.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, a former army general who led the coup that toppled Yingluck four years ago following tumultuous anti-government street demonstrations, has scheduled new elections tentatively for February 2019.
Another of the young politicians who showed up at the FCCT, Parit Wacharasindhu of the Democrat Party, said Thailand could prevent more coups by embracing “liberal democracy.”
“Liberal democracy is just more than fair and free elections. [A] free and fair election is only one leg of a chair. The other three legs are respect of human rights, decentralization of power and a system of check and balances,” Parit, an Oxford University graduate and a nephew of former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, told BenarNews.
Elections: ‘A fight between the junta and civilians’
The registration of new political parties and a review of existing parties began in March, even while the regime headed by Prayuth has barred full campaigning and strictly regulated when political parties can meet with members.
In June, the junta is expected to lift a four-year ban on political activity including gatherings of five or more people, according to media reports. A political gathering law enforced by the military government had been used to charge seven pro-democracy activists with sedition for leading a demonstration that drew about 100 people in January.
As of April 3, meanwhile, 69 existing parties and 98 new parties had submitted documents for Election Commission’s review including at least one new party that favors Prayuth retaining power.
Upon registering his People Reform Party, Conservative figure Paiboon Nititawan announced that he would form an alliance after elections to bring Prayuth back to power.
Responding to reporters’ questions on Monday, Prayuth said he was open to the possibility of remaining prime minister if his coalition retained power through next year’s elections.
“Thank you. I don’t know yet if I will accept or not. We need to jointly consider it,” Prayuth said.
However, an expert at Ubon Ratchathani University said the junta likely would not give up power completely if voters sought to oust Thailand’s military rulers via the ballot box.
“If there are elections, I see them as a fight between the junta and civilians. Gen. Prayuth said he would not hold on to power but there have been attempts to keep Prayuth in power,” Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political science lecturer, told BenarNews.
Political pledge sought
Thanatorn, a former executive of Thailand’s leading auto industrial conglomerate, registered his Future Forward Party with the Election Commission in March. He said he entered politics to offer an alternative to the two major opposition parties, the Democrat Party and Pheu Thai Party.
Thanatorn said his goal to restore democratic politics could be achieved if political parties pledged their commitment to four goals: free and fair elections in February 2019; political parties’ collective opposition to an outsider prime minister; collective support for a people’s assembly to draft a new constitution with a referendum; and a collective drive to get rid of military rule.
The constitution allows leeway for an outsider to become prime minister if the 500 members of lower house and 250 senators hand-picked by the junta fail to agree to pick a prime minister from a list that political parties proposed before the elections.
Thanatorn said some people have lost faith in the current government.
On the other hand, he said, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee that rallied to oust Yingluck Shinawatra before the 2014 coup fear the possible comeback of her older brother, Thaksin, through parties connected to him.
Both Shinawatras fled the country and are living in exile.
Thanatorn said he used to join pro-Yingluck demonstrations, but he realized lately that her Pheu Thai Party did not represent his views.
Barriers on democracy allow a takeover of government, according to Parit, a 25-year-old politician.
“We can tear apart these barriers and push through the idea of liberal democracy. Therefore we can prevent the country from collapsing into military rule,” Parit said.
“I would pledge right now that I would not put my hand up for an outsider PM and I would fight my hardest to make sure all Democrats would not do that,” he added.