Editorial: Thailand’s anti-junta agenda overshadowed by ‘election now’ campaign

The movement against the ruling junta has been reignited after the recent protests calling for elections at the MBK department store and the Democracy Monument, but the public seems to be overlooking one of its primary goals, which is to stop the junta from staying in power.

Since late January, the group of activists called the Democracy Restoration Group (DRG) have staged three political activities, which have led to the prosecution of over 70 individuals. The DRG has proposed two main ideas -- firstly, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) must hold an election in 2018, and, secondly, it must cease its efforts to hang on to power after the election.

“When we have elections, when we have an [elected] cabinet, the NCPO has to step down by default; this is the first step of building our democracy,” DRG leader Anon Nampa said during a speech at the protest on 24 February at Thammasat University. “Second step,...all NCPO orders and announcements that limit our rights must be amended by a parliament that we elect. This is the importance of elections.”

The speech clearly shows that the DRG movement is not only calling for an election but also aiming to remove the whole NCPO regime. The DRG leaders also discussed the junta’s national committees and other legal mechanisms which will sustain the military’s influence over Thai politics after the elections. They stated these mechanisms need to be removed for Thailand to have a real democracy, but these messages have somehow failed to reach the surface as they have been overshadowed by the “election this year” campaign.

Unsurprisingly, the pro-election proposal has moved into the foreground because it provides a common ground for both red shirts, who have disliked the junta since the beginning, and some yellow shirts, like Veera Somkwamkid, who once supported the military, but now prefer elections.

The DRG campaign attracted so much attention that pro-military celebrity Nitipong Honark jumped into the discussion, arguing that the election could also lead to another form of dictatorship. Rangsiman Rome, a leader of DRG, had invited Nitipong for a coffee and challenged him to a debate about Thai politics, but Nitipong declined.  

The anti-junta campaign, on the other hand, has been overlooked as the public seems to talk only about why Thailand should have an election, and when it will take place. In other words, the focus of the discussion is whether we should have an election now or later, and has shifted away from the real enemy of democracy -- the NCPO.

Pressuring the junta to hold elections is of course crucial because it is the shared interest of people from different political perspectives. However, this pressure has already been brought to bear by politicians from the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties, who consistently urge the junta to remove its ban on political activities so that they can prepare for the elections.

The DRG is the first movement in the past four years to have directly called for the elimination of the entire junta regime from Thai politics, and this call must be sustained. Previous protests against the junta usually focused on particular issues, such as the cybercrime law, the attempt to scrap the universal healthcare scheme and the constitution.

Given the junta’s failure to manage the economy and its corruption scandals, more and more Thai people are running out of patience and looking for a better political future. Pro-democracy activists should remind the public more that the election will not lead the country to a brighter future if the military still retains power in Thai politics.

“Prayut-nocchio” masks mock junta head Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha for repeatedly postponing the election (Photo from Matichon)