Military-ruled Thailand on Tuesday lost out to Kazakhstan by a wide margin of votes in its campaign to win a non-permanent seat on the U.N.’s prestigious Security Council.
Thailand received only 55 votes out of 193 votes cast by all of the members of the U.N.’s General Assembly, according to information released by the United Nations.
At least 138 member-states voted for Kazakhstan to become the next non-permanent representative for Asia on the Security Council, General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft said in reading out the vote tally, which was broadcast on U.N. television.
Like Thailand under the junta, Kazakhstan, a central Asian republic and former Soviet state, has been the focus of international criticism for its human rights record and authoritarian style of rule. Starting in January 2017, Kazakhstan for the next two years will occupy the regional seat on the council held by Malaysia.
Thailand has spent at least 500 million baht (U.S. $14.1 million) in campaigning for the prestige of being elected to the non-permanent seat, Thai media reported. The Security Council is made up of five permanent members with veto power – the United States, Russia, China, France and Great Britain – and 10 non-permanent that represent the regions of the globe.
Apart from Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Sweden and Ethiopia were elected to non-permanent seats on Tuesday, while Italy and Netherlands were battling one another late in the day for election to a fifth non-permanent seat on the council, according to news reports.
Thai officials could not be reached immediately for comment. But before the vote on Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha expressed the hope that a majority of members of the world body would elect Thailand to the Security Council.
“[It] will be a good opportunity for Thailand to comment in the world forum. Thailand will be able to present issues of the Group of 77 countries and agenda to the United Nations,” Prayuth told reporters in Bangkok after a cabinet meeting.
Open letter from rights watchdog
Prayuth is the former general who led a military coup that toppled the civilian-led government of Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014.
Since then, the junta – formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order – has been widely criticized for implementing policies that have repressed free speech in the country.
On the eve of the U.N. vote on Thailand’s candidacy, New York-based Human Rights Watch sent an open letter addressed to Prayuth, in which it called on his government to make good on a commitment to upholding human rights that Bangkok had included in its candidacy for the security council.
“Since you led the seizure of power on May 22, 2014, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has severely repressed fundamental rights and freedoms that are critical elements for democratic rule,” wrote Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
The letter delved into a long list of alleged repressive policies carried out under the junta. HRW detailed media censorship, arrests of government critics and others prosecuted under Thailand’s strict Lese-Majeste royal defamation law, so-called “attitude adjustment” detention sessions, and detentions of those who have criticized or questioned a controversial constitutional referendum coming up on Aug. 7.
“Thailand’s campaign for a Security Council seat highlights a human rights policy guided by the principles of ‘reaching out, hearing out and respecting the views of all,’” Adams said, citing the Aide-Memoire submitted by Thailand in its council candidacy.
“But since the May 2014 coup, the government has enforced media censorship, placed increased surveillance on the Internet and online communications, and aggressively restricted free expression. The NCPO has also suppressed the views of persons openly critical of its policies and practices by using arrests and trials in civilian and military courts,” he went on to say.