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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2528

Thailand: Military junta must lift restrictions on political parties and pave way for elections

Jakarta, 09 October, (

Thailand’s military junta should make good on promises to hold genuinely free and fair elections as soon as possible and lift all restrictions on political parties’ ability to campaign, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today.

“The past four years of military rule have been a human rights disaster for Thailand. Authorities have muzzled free speech and cowed civil society as the junta has wielded power with complete impunity. A return to democracy is urgently needed to end this crisis,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, Indonesian Member of Parliament and APHR Board Member.

“We urge the Thai authorities to announce a firm election date as soon as possible, and to ensure that the vote is free and fair. This must include reforming or repealing repressive laws, releasing all those detained for criticizing military rule, and allowing political parties to campaign and voice opinions without restrictions.”

No environment for free elections

On 12 September, the Royal Gazette announced the laws on electing members of parliament and the selection of senators, opening up the way for long-awaited elections between February and May next year.

While Thai authorities slightly eased restrictions on political parties in September – including by allowing them to recruit new members and hold internal meetings – bans remain on public campaigning and political gatherings of more than four people.

In a worrying move, police on 24 August formally charged three senior members from the new Future Forward party, which has campaigned against military rule, under the Computer Crimes Act, a law frequently used against government critics.

“It will be impossible to hold a genuinely free and fair vote in Thailand under the current conditions. How can Thai people make an informed choice about their future if they are not allowed to hear what political parties have to say?” said Teddy Baguilat, APHR Board Member and a Member of the Philippine Congress.

“Regional and international governments should push the Thai military junta to remove all restrictions on political parties well in advance of polling day.”

A wide crackdown on rights

The years since the junta came to power in 2014 have been marked by a serious and far-reaching crackdown on human rights. Hundreds of members of parliament, including APHR members, were removed from elected office by the barrel of the gun in May 2014 and have been prevented for more than four-and-a-half years from undertaking any political activities.

The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has introduced a range of laws which grant it sweeping powers to restrict human rights including those to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Hundreds of real or perceived opponents – including lawyers, politicians, human rights defenders and regular social media users – have been brought before the courts to face charges after criticizing the military.

Several politicians have been among those targeted, including Chaturon Chaisang – a member of APHR and former Education Minister – who was charged with two sedition counts after criticizing military rule at separate press conferences in 2014 and in May this year.

A new Constitution, brought in under the NCPO’s rule in 2017, has further cemented a role for the military in the next government by allowing the junta to hand-pick the 250-member Senate, which will include six seats automatically reserved for military and police chiefs.

Moreover, in July, the unelected National Legislative Assembly passed a 20-year national strategy, which makes it mandatory for future governments to follow a political course set out by the junta or possibly face removal from office.

“There is no point in holding an election unless the will of the people prevails. The junta’s moves to tighten its grip on politics for years to come raises the prospect of Thailand looking frighteningly like military-controlled Myanmar – this must not happen,” said Baguilat.

“Nevertheless, elected legislators from APHR and across our region will be standing with the people of Thailand when they come out to vote. Despite the challenges, a free and fair vote will still be a step in the right direction towards rebuilding an elected Parliament and ensuring a government that can operate free from military interference.”

While the military junta has publicly committed to holding elections before May 2019, it has reneged on similar promises several times since seizing power in 2014. NCPO leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has also said that the election cannot be held until the coronation ceremony of King Maha Vajiralongkorn has taken place, the date of which has not yet been set.

- Asian Tribune -

Chaturon Chaisang – a member of APHR and former Education Minister – who was charged with two sedition counts after criticizing military rule at separate press conferences in 2014 and in May this year.
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