Thai Coup D’état Anniversary: Elections, Not Ongoing Military Rule, Offer Thailand a Sustainable Democratic Roadmap

On the one-year anniversary of Thailand's most recent coup, ANFREL's fears in the days following the 22 May 2014 coup have unfortunately come true. The timing for elections has been pushed back repeatedly, with threats to delay them further unless conditions, in the eyes of the ruling junta, prove perfect. Until the country’s leadership recognizes that elections should be treated as a mechanism to solve, rather than a cause of, conflict, the country will continue its downward spiral away from democracy.

The country’s top-down reform process in the year since the coup reveals the sustained animosity towards elections held by some so-called ‘reformers’. To say little of the substance of the proposed reforms that create super-empowered un-elected bodies, Elections remain a low priority for the junta. Originally mentioned as likely to be held in late 2014, Elections quickly slid to February 2015, and are now being discussed as likely to be, at the earliest, in August 2016, a full twenty-five months after the coup.

The junta’s failure to place voters and elections as a foundational part of their reform plan makes their proposed reforms unlikely to be sustained in the future. If and when backlash to current reforms strikes, rather than another coup, the country will be better off if citizens and the military rise up to protect Elections and voting itself. Voters across the world, when given the chance, have shown a remarkable desire to vote for their own legitimate change of power after tiring of incumbent governments. In Thailand, military coups have instead repeatedly pre-empted and short-circuited this foundational mechanism of electoral democracy.

Immediately after the coup, ANFREL stated, and continues to maintain, that "while an individual Election may have results favoring one side or another, Elections themselves and the Electoral system of Thailand have no intrinsic bias. Elections are not a luxury to be held only when ‘perfect’ conditions have been attained. Rather, they are a method of conflict resolution and can exist in parallel with a substantive reform process. Similarly, a preference for elections should never be dismissed as a partisan opinion. The politicizing and blocking of elections as a whole without cause and without sincere, democratic alternatives is a dangerous strategy that paralyses Thailand while leaving it with few good options for conflict resolution.”

Even more so than the 2006 military coup, 2014’s coup has put Thailand in democratic free-fall. As we stated at the time of the 2014 coup, "Thursday’s military takeover is a grave violation of the fundamental rights of all Thais, no matter their affiliation, and it fails as a step towards a sustainable political solution just as the last coup failed eight short years ago. Further, there is the risk that coup leaders’ imposition of restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to assembly will in the long run deepen the damage already done to Thailand’s democratic development."

Our view in the 2014 post-coup statement that Elections are tools for change and reform, rather than an obstacle to them, was clear. Sadly, our statement’s call for greater freedoms and the recognition that a coup is a grave violation of civil and political rights rings truer than ever for Thailand:

“This fact reveals why a quick return to elections is important. A protracted period of military rule or a reform process dictated by military appointment is unlikely to solve Thailand’s problems. Indeed, experience from other countries shows that an inclusive reform process, usually including elections or referendum, rather than a one-sided ‘reform’ of the rules, is more likely to result in a sustainable democratic peace. To lessen the harmful impact of the coup and move the country in a sustainable democratic direction, ANFREL hopes that coup leaders quickly restore civilian control of government administration, return all rights to the Thai people, including journalists, academics, and activists, and move forward towards elections in a timely manner.”

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