PPT on the coup anniversary

19 09 2009

After the 2006 coup: regression and possibilities

Also available as: หลังรัฐประหาร ๒๕๔๙: ความเสื่อมถอย และความเป็นไปได้

The military coup of 19 September 2006, which ousted the elected Thai Rak Thai government and Thaksin Shinawatra, has ushered in a period in which many previous accomplishments in struggles for democratization, civil rights, and freedom of speech have seemingly been reversed. Thailand today has a government which attained power via dubious judicial decisions and extra-parliamentary manoeuvres, increasing restraints on free expression through both censorship of media and rampant use of lese majeste charges, and a political environment marred by constant threats of further military coups and violence. While lamenting these serious setbacks, PPT feels that the third anniversary of the coup is an appropriate occasion on which to note two interrelated issues that have been brought to the fore in the last three years.

First, notwithstanding the real gains in democratization and observation of human rights during the 1990s, the events of the last decade, starting with the Thaksin regime’s own violations of media freedoms and human rights and degenerating further with the royalist coup-backers’ overt statements of contempt for democracy, free speech, or the rights of political opponents to assemble, have pointed out the tenuousness of the earlier gains. Constant struggle to protect the gains is required as authoritarian forces continually work to roll them back.

Second, the post-coup aggressiveness to reverse electoral decisions and stifle political dissent, all in the name of protecting the Monarchy, has finally thrown more light on conservative and authoritarian institutions and actors.

Not least among the reasons for that tenuousness of democratic advances has been the protected and too-frequently unremarked position of royal institutions like the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) and the Privy Council, as well as the special privileges afforded those with connections to these institutions, including major sections of the military. Democratic advances have been limited and checked because these institutions and the people around them have remained beyond the normal application of law and the scrutiny by any other institution, including any accountability to parliament. The use of uniquely harsh lese majeste laws are used to limit scrutiny.

While the current government has worked exceptionally diligently to protect the monarchy, this has seen the status and role of the monarchy and the Privy Council discussed and debated. Royalists are furious and stunned. These debates are not mainstream, but even the vast, not-yet-fully-enumerated wealth of the monarchy and its increasing calls on taxpayer funds are increasingly topics of conversation.

Arguably more significant has been the increasing popular resentment that has developed to conservative and authoritarian institutions. Part of this has to do with widespread dismay that it was royalists who ousted Thaksin and his supporters several times. The red shirt movement is marked by various tendencies and possibilities, not all of them progressive by any means. Certainly an uncritical longing for Thaksin’s return, unmediated by criticisms of his regimes’ own anti-democratic practices, is not a solid foundation for democratic progress. But the central demand of the red shirts, shared by all segments of the movement, seems to be for a return to democracy and observation of the principle that all people have a right to a voice in the policies of the Thai state. This includes having the right to elect a government.

Most importantly, acts of protest and opposition by hundreds of thousands of ordinary people dressed in red, even under threat of military violence, are themselves signs of democratic vibrancy. The Democrat Party government wishes to lay responsibility for red shirt activities solely at the door of Thaksin, but it takes considerable imagination to conclude that these people are mere pawns, duped or paid by Thaksin. They remain determined to have their voices heard.

Three years after the coup, the potential for democratization is still very much alive. Whether that potential is realized in upcoming years will depend on continuing criticism and scrutiny of these authoritarian institutions. It will also require that a broad range of people identify authoritarian trends and condemn them.

Such actions by Thais deserves the support and encouragement from international actors. When organizations like Amnesty International refuse to condemn royalist authoritarianism they strengthen reactionary politics. However, other international observers have been far less timid and condemn such actions and call attention to human rights violations. Here we mention the Asian Human Rights Commission as a great example.

The events since 2006 reconfirm that the descent into crude authoritarianism is not inevitable. However, constant struggle, vigilance, the promotion of human rights and the support of progressive groups is absolutely critical for more democratic institutions to regain lost ground and become embedded.



2 responses

20 09 2009
หลังรัฐประหาร ๒๕๔๙: ความเสื่อมถอย และความเป็นไปได้ « Liberal Thai

[…] 11 After the 2006 coup: regression and possibilities September 19, 2009 ที่มา – Political Prisonals in Thailand แปลและเรียบเรียง – แชพเตอร์ […]

22 09 2009

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