Friday, 11 December 2015
Just as Myanmar lurches towards democracy, with National League for Democracy (NLD) poised to reconfigure the country’s political landscape after a massive electoral victory, the much more prosperous Thailand is experiencing a reverse trend. On the surface, the Kingdom of Thailand presents an image of tranquility, prosperity and hospitality. Yet, the world knows, and should be reminded of, the continuing atmosphere of political repression in the country, especially after the Thai military once again stepped into and exerted control over civilian politics, suspending democratic contestation and civil liberties in favor of what seems to be a protracted martial law under the rule of army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha. While one can’t deny the unruly nature of Thailand’s politics in the past century, with more than a dozen military coups and constitutions constantly reshuffling the country’s political order, the imposition of military rule and its perpetuation is both unjustifiable and unsustainable. Despite all its imperfections, Thailand’s recent struggles with democratic politics reflect the natural birth pains of participatory governance and underline the people’s demand for greater say in the public sphere and the respect for fundamental human rights and civil liberties.
The iron-fist of martial law is nothing but an outrageous anachronism, which has stunted the country’s political development and undermined the welfare of its people. In the past years, the military junta has stepped up its crackdown on free speech, tortured and harassed journalists, stifled public debate, and dispensed with any form of democratic accountability. Such repressive form of governance runs counter to the country’s century-old quest for modernity and progress. By blocking off avenues for peaceful political contestation and muzzling both traditional and new media, the military junta is deepening existing faultlines and class-based antagonisms in the society. Coercively silencing voices of dissent and restricting people’s access to information creates a false narrative of stability, which precariously conceals society-wide resentment and the age-old rural-urban, mass-middle class divide in the country.
We call upon the ruling junta to immediately and unconditionally prepare the ground for a transition back to civilian, democratic politics. We oppose its ham-fisted approach to any expression of democratic rights and dissent. We call upon the junta to release all prisoners of political conscience, cease its torture and harassment of journalists and political activists, and reverse its ongoing crackdown on free media. The 21st century has no place for martial law, a relic of Cold War era, which is rapidly withering away in neighboring Myanmar. We stand in solidarity with advocates of democratic rule and human rights in Thailand, who have valiantly fought for the return to civil rule and opposed the ongoing atmosphere of unconscionable repression. We fervently hope that Myanmar’s democratic transition will serve as an inspiration for return to democratic politics in neighboring Thailand. We also call on the international community to continue the pressure and to not overlook the creeping authoritarianism in the kingdom. The international community in tandem with the civil society groups within and outside Thailand must maintain its pressure on its military rulers to restore the people’s rights and the country’s democratic institutions.