A few days ago, we posted on the International Institute for Strategic Studies and its invitation to The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha to present a Keynote Speech to its 15th Shangri-la Dialogue.
The Dictator’s speech there has caused The Nation to compose an editorial with the bold title: “Junta’s dishonesty to the world continues.” We were a little surprised, when a reader drew our attention to this, noting the use of “dishonesty” and “continues.”
It went further, noting that the so-called Dialogue always sees security issues trump any consideration of democracy, but observing that The Dictator offered “false assurances.” It says that “General Prayut … disguise[d] the state of Thai politics,” declaring that the junta “continues to be dishonest and misleading about the domestic political situation…”.
We were startled that The Nation, which has for several years been determinedly anti-democratic, declared “[t]he [political] division we suffer is not unprecedented, and nor did it stem from politics that rendered democracy dysfunctional.”
Prior to both the May 2014 coup and the 2006 coup, Thailand had a normal parliamentary system similar to that of many other countries, including the United Kingdom. Ideological differences are hardly unique to Thailand. But in more advanced democracies such differences, and even conflicts that boil into violence, are resolved non-violently in parliament. Public dissatisfaction with elected representatives is expressed in the next election.
Thailand had already developed a system of democratic institutions that could have calmed its political upheaval without the military interfering as it did. The armed forces – manipulated by the power elite – simply refused to allow the system to work in the normal way.
Better late than never? Surprising, but true.
The Nation gags on Prayuth’s claim that “the Thai military is politically neutral.” The editorial declares that the military “always takes sides:
Its troops spilled the blood of fellow citizens to end the 2010 red-shirt street demonstrations and, by contrast, responded to the pleas of the erstwhile yellow shirts to topple a legitimate and elected government in 2014. Prayut was among the insiders on both occasions and knows this distinction all too well.
Heavens to Murgatroyd! Surprising, but true. And still further:
The only law the Thai military understands is martial law, and it is applied with extreme prejudice. Prayut and the NCPO are forever stressing the importance of the rule of law, but they must have a limited grasp of what this entails. If they truly respected the rule of law, they would not have staged coups against elected governments – a coup in itself is unlawful. Thus any law imposed by a coup-installed government and any ostensibly legal action taken is illegitimate, lacking the popular mandate and measures of accountability that democracy demands.
Nor would the prime minister even consider having in his arsenal the interim legislation known as Article 44, which grants him extraordinary powers to override the usual restrictions on government activity. And nor would the NCPO be bringing civilians to trial before a military court.
Again, surprising, but absolutely correct. And still more truths follow:
For Prayut to tell foreign observers that the junta doesn’t “intend” to violate rights or restrict freedoms demonstrates how hypocritical this government is willing to be. It must surely be plain for all to see both at home and abroad that the military is offering false assurances with its claim to have seized power temporarily to restore law and order so that reforms can be introduced. The ongoing detention of critics of the junta has nothing to do with reform, and in fact runs counter to what ought to be reform’s ultimate goal – the strengthening of Thai democracy.
Washington Irving, if he were around, would think his Rip Van Winkle had woken in Bangkok. But credit is due to The Nation for this truthful editorial.