More Democracy Needed, Not Less: Removal of An Elected Government & Proposal for a “Peoples’ Council” Would Be a Step Backwards for Thai Democracy

For Immediate Release:

BANGKOK, 08 December 2013 – The ANFREL Foundation wishes to express its deep concern about the ongoing protests in Bangkok, in particular, the attempt by protesters to remove an elected government through undemocratic means and their calling for an unelected body to govern the country, a so-called “People’s Council”, that would be anything but representative of the people.

The right to protest is a foundational right in a democratic society. That said, that freedom does not extend to occupying government buildings and intentionally creating chaos in the hope of prompting the removal of a duly elected government via undemocratic methods.

The original motivation of the protesters to block the amnesty bill that would have kept leaders on both sides of the Thai political divide from being held accountable is admirable. Indeed, ANFREL believes that most of the average protesters on the street are well intentioned, desiring good governance, transparency, and accountability from their leaders. These are commendable goals that are certainly worth pursuing. ANFREL shares these aspirations and wishes to encourage all citizens to seek the same from their elected leaders. The means used to pursue these goals matter a great deal however.

Protest leaders reliance on unconstitutional and undemocratic methods against an elected government, methods relied upon time and again over the last few years, sullies their movement, no matter how worthwhile the goals of most protesters may be. Unconstitutional shortcuts to the political change one seeks have an unfortunately long and time-tested history in Thailand. But if the past few years have shown us anything, it is that Thailand must advance beyond such shortcuts, for they have proven to be unsustainable and only serve to widen and enflame the country’s political divide.

Protesters will only achieve their ultimate goals when they take the longer, more difficult, yet more sustainable, path of democratic reform that requires civic and voter education, political party and media reform, policy innovation, and an embracing of democracy and elections. Parties appearing hostile to elections and willing to disregard the choices voters make will have a difficult time competing for the votes of those same people in future elections. This makes the current attempt to remove the government actually counterproductive to the long-term goals of the protesters.

Regarding the establishment of a “People’s Council” as described by protest leaders, Thailand already has a body that reflects the choices of the people, the National Assembly made up of the House of Representatives and Senate, the majority of which were elected less than two and half years ago in an election with ~75% turnout (over 35 million voters) and which was observed by ANFREL and others as mostly free from fraud and relatively representative of the people’s will. As ANFREL’s Chairman stated in 2011 after the election, “The election period, in particular Election Day on July 3rd, was managed well and without any major incident which would call into question the election’s results.”

If, as protesters claim, the government has lost its legitimacy, they should be calling for new elections as the way to move forward. Doing so would give the over 46 million eligible voters of Thailand the choice to either renew the legitimacy of the current government or choose a new path. “Fear of losing an election is no excuse for pursuing undemocratic changes to the system of governance,” said ANFREL’s Executive Director Ichal Supriadi. He added that, “Thailand is ready to move past its long history of coups and make a democratic step forward. It can only do so however when protesters, their allies, and all persons respect democratic norms, norms which include respect for elections and the adoption of protest methods which respect the rule of law.”

 

For More Information, Please Contact ANFREL’s Campaign & Advocacy Coordinator Ryan Whelan at +66 85 945 7373 or ryan at anfrel.org

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