Thailand’s Democracy: mockery or reality?

Photo courtesy of The Financial Times.

By Chris Worrell || Contributing Writer

Thailand’s government, ever since its military coup in 2014 under Prayut Chan-ocha, has consistently been under military control. Thailand is considered to be a constitutional monarchy, with a king and queen as its figurehead for the head of state. The real power lies within their prime minister, Prayut Chan-ocha, and his military regime to back him up, called the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Some argue that although Thailand’s military junta has now been formally elected into office, through open elections, its hold on power shows that the country’s politics are a tangled hybrid of democracy and authoritarianism. Others argue that the general election in March of last year and cabinet formation in July gave the country the appearance of democracy, but Thai democracy no significance. The 2014-2019 military junta essentially rigged the election and appointed its members as senators, the heads of the Election Commission, and other state monitoring agencies (Paul Chambers, ISPI). This debate of whether Thailand is democratic allows for the term “hybrid” to be used but I do not think Thailand is a hybrid democracy. Thailand is becoming more authoritarian. The country held its first open election in 2019 as a facade to show the world “we are democratic” while rigging votes through its military junta, silencing its people, and promoting anti-democratic ideologies through the media.

A hybrid regime is one that features autocratic and democratic ideologies, but Thailand focuses on authoritarianism as a way to control its citizens. Due to the limited checks on the central government power, the use of violence by the military junta brings fear to those who oppose the government. For example, the anti-military party Future Forward, led by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, is currently facing the threat of dissolution for allegedly attempting to overthrow the nation’s constitutional monarchy. Thanathorn has been stripped of his lawmaker status, is facing various charges and potential jail time for preaching ideas of military reform, and decentralized power (DW News). Many human rights activists spoke out against their government and want a future for democracy by saying “all around us, we are facing more threats, the government tells us we can’t criticize them. They attack us. They bring legal cases against us … and they insult us” (John Sifton, Human Rights Watch). A lot of these crude attacks have been done by the police or military officers which weakens the level of trust between Thai citizens and the government. Censorship is not an attribute of democracy and because of this, civilians are resenting its government for taking their freedom of speech. It is a clear act of terror against the Thai people once violence is involved to try to intimidate, harass, and invoke fear for speaking against the military junta’s ideologies.

Thailand prefers authoritarianism over democracy by allowing Chinese communist propaganda to be promoted in the media. A prominent Thai paper, Khaosod, which means “fresh news,” takes a moderate-to-liberal position, has almost 14 million Facebook followers, and prints approximately 900,000 copies daily (Tyler Roney, Foreign Policy). Khaosod’s willingness to reproduce and sell Chinese propaganda is a sign of China’s communist party influence on neighboring countries. It also signifies its ability to quickly push their anti-democratic message abroad, especially to Khaosod large following. From a tweet by journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall, he said, “In the last few years, @KhaosodEnglish became the best English-language media website covering Thailand. Don’t ruin it by publishing anti-democracy propaganda, please!” (Roney). Some characteristics of the Chinese government include control of media and violent force from the military, which is what’s going on in Thailand currently. This situation with Khaosod is hinting at a form of authoritarian resilience, meaning it is very clear that China’s communist party propaganda is pushing back against democracy in order to keep order, so why not Thailand.

Thailand’s military government can be defined for its strong military, rigged elections, censorship, and their strong central leader, Prayut Chan-ocha, all of which emphasize authoritarian characteristics, proving that they are not a hybrid regime. The question to consider is: what is in the future for Thailand? Due to the lack of care that Thai people are shown by its government, people are already speaking out. Over 10,000 people registered to join the “Run Against Dictatorship”. Protesters chanted “Get out, Prayut” and “Long live democracy” highlight the desire for a government that invests in its people. This was the biggest anti-government protest since the 2014 military coup, which gave Prayut Chan-ocha his power (DW News). The future of Thailand can lead to civil unrest and protests if the current military junta continues to be the central power that threatens, violates, and ignores the wants from the Thai people.

Junior Chris Worrell is a contributing writer. His email is cworrell@fandm.edu.

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