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Thailand: Blinded by patriotic faith?


Editorial Desk

Hopefully, Thais' rejection of American criticism of the junta doesn't mean they are rejecting democratic principles and the rule of law in the Kingdom.

Many Thais, notably the so-called Bangkok elite, have responded angrily to comments made last week by visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel. Of course, it's natural that patriotic citizens should get upset at being chided by a foreign state. But the message currently being aimed at Washington by offended Thais is ridiculous.They point out that Thailand is a sovereign nation. This being so, the Kingdom and its people have every right to ignore any comments made by representatives of foreign countries.

Criticism from overseas, however blunt, cannot be deemed as interference in a country's domestic affairs. Countries in the modern world criticise and comment on each other all the time. In this case, Washington has spoken and Bangkok has the right to speak back. That's fine, no big deal in today's international relations.

Russel commented on three key issues in Thai politics. He urged the junta to lift martial law. He called for an "inclusive reform" open to the participation of all elements. And he suggested that the impeachment of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was driven by political motives among the junta-installed National Legislative Assembly.

It is understandable that those in the government, the junta, the military and lawmakers would feel uncomfortable with the American envoy's comments. But it was unfortunate that Thai intellectuals, artists and, notably, media outlets, lined up with the junta to express their indignation.From the junta's point of view, martial law is a useful tool enabling military control of the political situation and popular movements. Inclusive reform, meanwhile, is unacceptable to the military since it would invite too many ideas into the process.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, himself, has warned his fellow Thais not to make comments on the reform process. Thais are effectively being told to listen, wait and see what the grandees chosen by the junta for the task of reform will do for the future of the country. Whether they agree or not, people should refrain from making any noise to disturb them. And on the impeachment of the former prime minister, fairness is not the point. The only objective of the junta's lawmakers is to cut "corrupt" politicians from politics. The rule of law is not their first concern.

The junta handed them the sword and they will use it to kill the enemy.

However, ordinary Thais - academics, artists, the media and others - have no such obligation of faith towards the junta. People remain free to look at any situation from a different perspective. If you ignore his background, Russel made a lot of sense on the development of Thai democracy. In fact his comments merely echoed what Thais had already being saying about the importance of elected government and the rule of law. And many of us maintain that genuine reform in this country can not be achieved under martial law. Reforms toward democracy require freedoms that enable all elements in society to participate in the process. The more ideas proposed across the spectrum, the more useful for reform. But how can people from all walks of life raise their ideas for reform and democracy if martial law forbids them from assembling together and expressing themselves freely? 

Russel is not the first on the planet to call for an end to martial law in Thailand. Thais from the tourism sector and civil society have for months been saying the law is damaging their lives and their means of making a living.It is absolutely right to defend our national dignity, but intellectuals, artists and the mass media are supposed to have clear views on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It is embarrassing to misuse the phrase "non-interference" to help justify the demolition of democratic principles.

Source: The Nation

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