Academic blames military for weakening democracy in Thailand

Academic blames military for weakening democracy in Thailand
PHOTO: Reuters

The military is the primary cause of the retreat of democracy in Thailand and Southeast Asia, and the extensive power obtained by coup-makers encourages more putsches in the future, a Thai studies scholar says.

Tyrell Haberkorn from Australian National University said granting amnesty to those launching military coups and passing laws like Article 44 of the provisional charter granting the junta leader absolute power could lead to more coups.

Haberkorn stressed the repercussions from creating a history of coups. "Each time the military forgives themselves for seizing power, detaining people, and torturing people, it makes it easier to do it [the coup] the next time," she said.

The Thai studies scholar was speaking at an international forum entitled "Democracy Drawbacks in Southeast Asia" organised by the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University on Friday.

The drawbacks of democracy in the region were caused by the military, she said. "More specifically, when the military intervenes in politics."

Haberkorn said this included the junta passing orders that were treated as law and adjudicating civilian cases within the military judicial system.

"In my view, this series of actions could never be a path towards democracy, no matter what the generals in charge may say. These are actions that are both individually and in sum detrimental to the exercise and promotion of human rights."

The scholar warned of the effects of the junta granting themselves amnesty even if the actions were dubious.

"This is dangerous because this institutionalises and gives a legal clause to otherwise illegal actions that are explicitly damaging the protection and promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law."

Apart from amnesty, Haberkorn also pointed out the adverse effects of the restriction of freedom of expression and political freedom through legal and extra-legal means that includes surveillance on academic seminars and visits to people's homes by soldiers.

Even when the soldiers are polite and harmless in holding conversations and there was no arrest, it was still a form of intimidation, which shrinks the space of freedom of expression and political freedom, she said.

"It doesn't matter how polite the soldiers are. It's not the issue of politeness. It is the issue of their presence [in people's home], that we should think about," Haberkorn said.

She said under the current military regime, the restriction of freedom of expression was achieved through the use of Article 44. The clause permits the head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is also the prime minister, to issue orders and take any action he deems necessary "legal".

She said the power vested under Article 44 was written vaguely and could be broadly interpreted.

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