Warnings over Thai democracy on coup anniversary

AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) — On the first anniversary Wednesday of a coup that overthrew Thailand’s longest-serving elected prime minister, activists and politicians warned the country’s return to full democracy is under threat.

Deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra led the charge, accusing the international community of ignoring the junta’s “departures from democratic norms.”

In an opinion piece posted on The Wall Street Journal’s website, Thaksin accused the military-backed government of spending more time worrying about preventing him and his followers from returning to power than on economic development and restoring the rights of the people.

In line with promises by army-installed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, elections are to be held on December 23.

“The international community is so disgusted by the junta’s mismanagement that it wants it to pass from the scene as soon as possible,” Thaksin wrote.

“Rather than quarrel over the details of democracy, the world appears ready to look the other way so as to provide no reason for the junta to delay the December 23 election.”

Army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin said he overthrew the twice-elected Thaksin on September 19 last year to end political turmoil, reunite a divided nation and rid Thailand of corrupt politicians.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the military-installed government had taken few steps to keep its promises to protect human rights.

Prospects for the return to an elected government through free and fair elections remained uncertain, it added.

“Thaksin’s contempt for human rights and democracy was evident, but Thailand is worse off because of the coup,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Martial law remains in many areas of the country, there are greater restrictions on the media, and many key institutions such as the parliament, the Constitutional Tribunal, and the Election Commission have become tools of military rule.”

The announcement of the December election date in late August came just one week after 58 percent of voters nationwide approved a new constitution, written by a committee hand-picked by the army.

But voters in northeastern Thailand, a pillar of support for Thaksin, rejected it.

“The new constitution is actually a step backwards for Thailand,” said Adams.

The Student Federation of Thailand said the coup “was merely power-grabbing among elites” and said the junta’s reasons for staging the putsch have not been borne out.

Chaturon Chaisang, a former leader of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party, said the junta has failed to justify its coup and only succeeded in damaging the economy and setting democracy backwards.

“A year after the coup, people have received only one thing, an undemocratic constitution,” Chaturon said at a press conference.

“There is no sign that the new election will be free and fair.”

From his exile in Britain, Thaksin told the BBC he would return to Thailand after the vote. He questioned the junta’s use of power, accusing them of stifling opposition.

Thai Rak Thai was accused of electoral fraud and disbanded by a junta-backed court in May.

“For most of the past year, Thailand has been under martial law, with freedom of the press restricted and activity by political parties severely limited,” Thaksin said.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), based in Bangkok, said the environment for media and free expression remains compromised.

Surayud told reporters he was ready to accept criticism and vowed to improve.

Responding to Thaksin’s comments, he reiterated Thailand is working hard to restore democracy.

Coup leader Sonthi told local radio that only those “who are not fully informed” would call the coup a total failure.

The government announced late Wednesday that General Anupong Paojinda, a key player in the coup, will replace Sonthi as army chief.

Sonthi faces mandatory retirement at the end of September but will remain at the helm of the junta.

Analysts saw Anupong as a moderate choice

Warnings over Thai democracy on coup anniversary

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