Thailand: Hope for Democracy wanes Again

Anthony Desbiens, translated by Gemma Kentish
24 Août 2015

The coup d’état was supposed to be temporary and peaceful. In reality, it has gone on, and the 22nd May marked its first year anniversary. The military junta that has controlled Thailand for over a year has recently pushed back the next elections to autumn 2016, a time frame as worrying as it is long and which gives time to amend a Constitution to favour military power. And the European Union and the international community are content to simply criticise and nothing more.

Credit : Chaiwat Subprasom - Reuters
Credit : Chaiwat Subprasom - Reuters
Whether it is out of weariness or pragmatism, Thailand is for now avoiding a civil war, one year after the coup d’état led by the military led to the nomination of their leader, General Prayuth, to the position of Prime Minister. In May 2014, the country was host to violent clashes between supporters of the democratically elected Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and her opponents, composed mainly of the Thai elite, ultra-monarchists and the military. It was thus in an already turbulent climate that the junta seized power, with the blessing of the 87 year old venerable King.

One year later, it is safe to say that it has become the status quo. Led with an iron fist by General Prayuth, the country does not seem ready to keep their democratic elections alive. The upcoming elections have been pushed back again, this time to the end of 2016. A more distant deadline should give the military junta time to rewrite the Thai Constitution - it would be the tenth in a century - and would naturally conform to the principles that it defends, particularly ensuring the place of the monarchy.

Because the military took over in May 2014 with the aim of preventing any challenges to the monarchy in Thailand. Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother Thaksin, who was also Prime Minister from 2001-06 before being overthrown by a putsch, were both accused by their opponents of questioning the authority of the monarchy. According to Le Figaro, the new Constitution seeks to undermine “the young Thai democracy, in favour of the royalist establishment of Bangkok, whose preeminence had been shaken by the elections and by the rise of Thaksin”, and then by the rise of his sister.

Credit: REUTERS/Erik De Castro
Credit: REUTERS/Erik De Castro
In the meantime, the current power has been extending its influence across the country, through virulent repression of the repeated calls for calm by Yingluck Shinawatra. General Prayuth’s first targets: journalists criticising the regime. In March, the Prime Minister even threatened those who “do not report the truth”, with death, and advised them to work to encourage “national reconciliation”.

Martial law has prevailed over Thailand since May 2014 and prohibits any political gathering. Apart from the media, the government has attacked supporters of the Shinawatra family, and has even reintroduced the crime of lese majesty. Scarcely used in Thailand, and certainly not against members of civil society, it has been modernised, and in March a man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for making offensive comments about the King on Facebook.

For the time being, despite this shift towards authoritarianism and the ambiguity surrounding the content of the future Constitution and the date of the next elections, the international community has remained very silent on the subject. The European Union and the United States have settled on condemning the coup d’état and calling for a return to democracy, without mentioning any concrete measures of reprisal. It is a harmful and detrimental position to take, at least for Europe, and could damage the credibility of its diplomacy with the country.

As Gothom Arya, Director of the Centre of Research for the Establishment of Peace, has explained to Libération, the future Constitution “is a project which revolves around the idea that politicians are bad, that one cannot trust them and that only members of the assembly (who are nominated by the military) can make reforms.” Thailand is not a priority for the European Union or for the international community, but they will have to pay more attention to the country in order to avoid the establishment of a long lasting dictatorship.