On the junta’s “election” I

16 09 2018

As one academic wag put it recently, if the junta’s party/parties lose the upcoming “election,” then it may turn out to be a “good” election. Like Human Right Watch’s unsolicited advice  for the junta on its “election,” such commentary is missing the point or at least doesn’t make much of the real issues with this “election.”

HRW says: “Thailand’s military junta should immediately lift restrictions on civil and political rights so that upcoming national elections can be free and fair…”. Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director implores: “The government should rescind restrictive orders and restore freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”

HRW says “[l]ocal activists expressed concerns … that independent monitoring of elections will not be possible under current conditions.” And observes that the “junta forcibly blocked efforts to monitor the constitutional referendum in 2016 and prosecuted many people involved in such activities.”

And HRW says that to “ensure that the upcoming election will be a genuine democratic process, the United Nations and Thailand’s friends should press the junta to”:

  • End the use of abusive, unaccountable powers under sections 44 and 48 of the 2014 interim constitution;
  • End restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly;
  • Lift the ban on political activities;
  • Free everyone detained for peaceful criticism of the junta;
  • Drop sedition charges and other criminal lawsuits related to peaceful opposition to military rule;
  • Transfer all civilian cases from military courts to civilian courts that meet fair trial standards;
  • Ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work, including by dropping politically motivated lawsuits against them; and
  • Permit independent and impartial election observers to freely monitor the election campaign and the conduct of the elections, and issue public reports.

That’s all fine and good, and the junta deserves criticism for all of its political repression. However, to look at elections as a campaign, vote and its counting is to miss too much. Yes, elections matter, but so do context, laws and rules that structure how those processes occur.

It should not be forgotten that the junta has spent more than four years ensuring that the context, laws and rules do not allow an election to be free and fair in Thailand. The junta’s repression has enabled it trample its political opponents and split them apart. It has worked to exile, jail, co-opt or suffocate the leaders of oppositions. It has also put in place rules and laws that mean that are meant to strangle any non-junta loving party that might form a government. It has rules in place that prevent a non-junta government from actually governing.

Likewise, it should not be forgotten that even when the parties the junta has sought to crush and limit gained power through elections in the recent past, the judiciary, military, anti-democrats and the powers that be have prevented them from governing. It is so much easier to do that under the junta’s rules.

Freedom to campaign, to vote and to speak are all necessary (with or without and election pending), but these don’t make for a free and fair election.


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