Thais need free hand to determine their future

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 2:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 9:28am

Thailand's military has promised a return to democracy, but the interim constitution and parliament it has put in place do not engender hope. The junta has given itself supreme power, raising concern about its intentions. The coup on May 24 and all actions taken since have been legitimised, while no provision has been made for a popular vote on the final charter that has been envisaged to usher in civilian rule. Only by relaxing its iron grip can there be faith in the process.

Uncertainty is not what Thailand, Southeast Asia or investors want. The coup has had negative consequences, among them limiting civil liberties, weakening the country's position as a place for stable investment, and casting doubt on its regional and global standing. There has been little tolerance for dissent, with activists and politicians silenced and the tightest media censorship in decades. Plans call for power to be returned to the people with a new constitution and elections by October next year, but the extensive economic and political reforms foreseen make that target look overly ambitious.

For all the concerns, though, coup leader and army commander-in-chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha does have a measure of support. Many Thais are fed up with the political gridlock that has stalled legislation, caused violent protests and slowed an economy that had been growing at 6.5 per cent. Businesses and jobs have disappeared along with the investors and tourists who have been scared off. The junta's pledge to rid Thailand of injustice and corruption has broad backing.

But no matter what the degree of support, Thais have to be given the freest possible hand to determine their future. The institutions mapped out to temporarily govern and draft a new constitution have to be as broadly representative as possible. More than half of the hand-picked 200-member national legislative assembly are military personnel, raising doubts about its independence. Favouring one sector of society over another and passing it off as democracy will only return Thailand to the unstable course it had been on.