On March 24th, 2019, following a five-year direct military rule, a national election will once again take place in Thailand. For millions of voters across the entire country, this is considered a way of putting an end to years of chaos and political instability. With the military-led government pledging to turn back power once an elected government is established, it appears that democracy is again a viable prospectus.
However, in spite of such a seemingly promising election, the actual political future of Thailand remains uncertain and even depressing. For example, even though the current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha claims that this national election will help restore democracy, the irony is that there is not an actual place for future members of parliament to meet. According to the Economist, the old parliament building has been arbitrarily appropriated by King Maha Vajiralongkorn to be part of the royal properties, while a new parliament house has not yet been completed. Such a lack of respect for the salient role of parliament exemplifies how democracy and the rule of law have been sidelined and ignored in Thailand.
It is then very unlikely that the military generals will be willing to give up power following this election, as the military dictatorship in Thailand has a historical record of disrupting and manipulating the electoral system for their own gains. By pushing a public referendum in 2017, the military-led government managed to amend the constitution and reform the electoral system. This allows military forces to enjoy huge political presence even after losing the election. Furthermore, since the overthrow of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014, the military-led government has banned political activities of oppositions and pushed back the election five times.
Even in January of 2019, the government now once again postponed national elections, from February 24th to March 24th. This quickly prompted anger and outrage across the entire country. Even if the election can finally occur, the military dictators, like Prayut Chan-o-cha, will be expected to continually dominate, if not control, the newly elected government. This is partly because even during the campaign process, many politicians and parties that are at odds with the military dictatorship have found themselves trapped in a series of political troubles. For example, as South China Morning Post reveals, Thai Raksa Chart, the party that is loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra (former Prime Minister and major political enemy of the military generals), has been completely banned from running the election. The only party that is free of all these troubles is Palang Pracha Rath led by Mr. Prayuth.
Therefore, the international community, as well as millions of voters across Thailand, should be well aware of the fact that the oppressive military dictatorship will probably continue, and that the economic troubles and sufferings associated with this oppressive rule will also persist. In fact, under the rule of Mr. Prayuth, Thailand has experienced much slower economic growth, as household debt has continued to rise. According to the Economist, Thailand has become the world’s most unequal country by a significant margin, with the richest 1% of the population controlling more than “two-thirds of the country’s wealth.”
How, then, can the international community and Thai citizens ensure that democracy ultimately returns to Thailand? Despite it being almost certain that Mr. Prayuth and his party will continue to rule over the country, this upcoming national election remains a precious opportunity for the international community as well as local NGOs to mobilize people’s opposition against the dictatorial rule. This, in conjunction with the political influence of Mr. Thaksin and his allies, will be likely to impose serious political pressure on Mr. Prayuth to make concessions. Even though democracy may not be restored in Thailand within a short time frame, given the persistence of international and domestic pressure, it is not unimaginable that one day, Mr. Prayuth and his government will open up the democratic reform.
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