The country Thailand is often associated with many things. Usually pleasant ones. Holidays in the sun, Thai food, Thai culture, the night life in Bangkok and so on. But that is soon to be over. Since a coup d’état in 2014, the country faces a severe decline of democracy and human rights. It found its newest climax in a series of laws that have been strongly criticised by human rights associations. They fear that the country might very soon slip into a military dictatorship. But why?
Let’s start by taking a closer look at the Thai junta. The coup occurred in May 2014 after months of political tensions, riots and demonstrations which often opposed the government friendly red shirts to the government opposed yellow shirts. Collisions between both groups were extremely rough and often ended with deaths. There were anticipated elections in February 2014 which were cancelled because many people weren’t able to vote due to violence everywhere. In March 2014 the Constitutional court dismissed the prime minister and many other senior ministers. Those were immediately replaced but the demonstrations didn’t stop. In May, the royal Thai armed forces, under the lead of General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, then took control over the country. The NCPO (National Council of Peace and Order) united the executive, legislative and judicial power under their command, repealed the constitution, decreed martial law, installed a curfew, banned political gatherings, arrested opponents, took control of the media and took most of the other measures we know from authoritarian regimes. It has since then strengthened its power and it does not look like the military will give up its power anytime soon. The government has said that the 2017 elections cannot be hold before the new constitution is finished. A constitution that will allow the military junta to choose members of parliament and government officials. The recent laws are just another confirmation of the junta’s wish to stay in place.
On March 29th 2016, the Prime Minister, the former General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, granted soldiers from the rank of a sub-lieutenant and above, the right to arrest anyone they suspect of a crime. They military is also allowed to search proprieties without a warrant. This will help “preventing and suppressing crimes that imperil peace and public order, or that could sabotage the economy” according to government officials. Thailand took another step towards a establishing a lasting military dictatorship. 6 civil society groups, such as amnesty international, spoke up against those measures and appealed to countries to do the same. If Thailand has to fear sanctions from their allies, the possibility for the government to change its course is high. The country’s economic situation was very weak before the coup and has since then not stabilized. Economic sanctions are therefore a real threat to them. The East Asia spokeswoman Katina Adams, of the US State Department, told the Thai government to “limit the role of the military in internal policing and to allow civilian authorities to carry out their duties.”
This is not the first coup in Thailand and it will probably not be the last one. Since 1932, the country has had 11 other ones. One reason are the constant tensions between the elites in Bangkok, which are close to the King and the military, and the rural-based politicians who are politically left. Those are the ones that were in office before the Junta and had the support of the red-shirts. They are often associated to the Shinawatra family, as both Thaksin and his sister Yingluck have been Thailand’s former, democratically elected, Prime ministers. Those camps have been fighting over the power in Thailand for decades and will still do for some time. But things look much more serious this time, the military has put in place a strong regime in their favour, which will not vanish easily. Somehow it is a paradox turn of events that, as we speak about the end of the military regime in Myanmar and its democratization, the neighbour country Thailand takes its place as the problem child in Southeast Asia. It may be that the Thai junta will, just like the Burmese one, stay in power for a considerable amount of time…