Thailand languishes and still not free

12 03 2023

Readers may recall that about a month ago we were shocked that the Economist Intelligence Unit trumpeted that Thailand had miraculously emerged as the biggest improver in its annual democracy ranking. That was bizarre, not helped by flawed methods and ideological taints.

Now, we read a Bangkok Post headline that blares: Thailand improves but still ‘not free’

The headline refers to the release of Freedom House’s annual rankings. For the Post, “Improves” amounts to a one point gain on a 100 point scale, for 29 to 30.

Perhaps a more truthful headline would have been: Thailand languishes and still not free.

What does this year’s report say? Its overview states:

Following five years of military dictatorship, Thailand transitioned to a military-dominated, semi-elected government in 2019. The combination of democratic deterioration and frustrations over the role of the monarchy in Thailand’s governance triggered massive demonstrations in 2020 and 2021. In response, the regime has employed authoritarian tactics, including arbitrary arrests, intimidation, lèse-majesté charges, and harassment of activists. Press freedom is constrained, due process is not guaranteed, and there is impunity for crimes committed against activists.

Quite unlike the EIU and entirely more realistic, Freedom House acknowledges that the 2019 elections and the 2017 constitution are fundamentally undemocratic. For the question, “Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?”, it’s a fat zero score, as it is for the question: “Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?” On the question: “Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?”, it’s 1/4. And the scores 0 and 1 predominate. Where Thailand is ranked better, it is about Freedom of Religion, Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights.

Interestingly, on the judiciary and its independence, it is a dismal 1/4. The report states:

While judicial independence is constitutionally guaranteed, courts are politicized and corrupt. The Constitutional Court has sweeping powers, including the ability to dissolve political parties, overthrow elected officials, and veto legislation.

Related, it adds: “The police and military often operate with impunity, which is exacerbated by the absence of any law that explicitly prohibits torture…”.

On the topic of academic freedom (1/4), the report states:

Academic freedom is constrained in Thailand. University discussions and seminars on topics regarded as politically sensitive are subject to monitoring or outright cancellation by government authorities. Activist activities on university campuses remain constrained by the government, including through prosecutions for sedition and violations of draconian lèse-majesté laws. Academics working on sensitive topics face oppressive tactics including summonses for questioning, home visits by security officials, surveillance of their activities, and arbitrary detention for the purpose of questioning.

Thailand’s public education system is rife with propaganda aimed at instilling obedience to the country’s monarchy and military.

In other words, Thailand is languishing with the likes of Angola, Algeria, Guinea, and Mali.



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