Anti-junta protesters are focused on not just pushing for speedy elections as promised but also attempting to end the vicious cycle of coups.
Both are difficult, but the latter is much more challenging as it would require concerted and sustained efforts – and an understanding of the bigger context.
It’s one thing to mount pressure on the junta in a bid to oust them – or at least honor their own word on when general elections will take place.
Junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha broke his word for the fourth time in four years on Tuesday when saying a vote wouldn’t be held until February 2019, at the earliest. And even that was not written in stone. What is clear now is that Prayuth’s word is unreliable.
Back to the issue of ending the coup cycle.
A leaflet distributed at the latest protest one week ago at Thammasat University focused on amending the junta-sponsored charter and returning the army to the barracks.
In a climate where Prayuth holds absolute power to override to executive, legislative and judicial branches, it sounds like wishful thinking.
That doesn’t mean these objectives shouldn’t be pursued when an elected government comes to power.
But it would be a big mistake to think that these measures alone would suffice.
Little has been said about how to engage Thais who repeatedly welcome or even call for military interventions. As long as there exists demand for military coups from a significant portion of society, it’s likely they will be supplied in the future.
To engage or neutralize citizens who act as cannon fodder for military interventions is thus necessary for Thailand to become a post-coup society.
There’s a need to convince people to think that military junta is the lesser of the two evils, compared to corrupt and abusive elected governments. This requires sustained efforts to tackle issues beyond elections such as ensuring that political parties, particularly big ones, are not under the influence of one or a few and more answering to the people, which includes people who have decided not to vote for them.
As long as a significant sector of the population feels that the power of the people is only valid on Election Day, and politicians regard their electoral victories as blank checks to do whatever they like, Thailand risks inviting more interventions in the future.
If people feel that there’s little or nothing they can do to influence big party politics that happen to be under the power of a single man, as people see the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Pheu Thai Party to be, there shall be demand for more coups when these people get frustrated and feel they cannot count on anything else.
Corruption and nepotism committed by elected politicians, perceived or real, can never be overlooked. It must be taken seriously and to simply say the junta is no better when it comes to the issue won’t cut it.
Thailand needs a concrete long-term plan to elevate its electoral politics to the point where it will never be regarded as more evil than military rule. This requires building faith and trust in electoral politics, with detailed, measurable criteria, and it has to go beyond the mere of holding of free and fair elections.