BANGKOK — The chairman of Thailand's interim parliament has accused the United States government of "interfering" in Thai politics by calling on the ruling junta to lift martial law and abolish all restrictions on civil rights.
Pornpetch Wichiatcholchai, the head of the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA), said the US broke "diplomatic protocol" by allowing Daniel Russel, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, to talk about Thai politics during his speech at Chulalongkorn University on 26 January.
In his speech, Russel called upon the Thai military to repeal martial law and cease suppressing freedom of assembly and expression. He also raised concerns over the NLA’s retroactive impeachment of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which he said could be seen as politically-driven.
Speaking at today's press conference, Pornpetch said he was not surprised by Russel's violation of "diplomatic protocol," because the US "thinks of themselves as a superpower" and likes to interfere in other nations' domestic issues.
"[The US] thinks that having an election is democracy. They don't care about other contexts, about other disputes," Pornpetch said.
He added, "However, I think that [Russel's speech] is still better than sending CIA or spies to interfere with our country."
Pornpetch is the latest Thai official to vent anger at Russel's perceived interference, despite the US envoy's insistence that the United States had no interest in taking sides in Thai politics. Yesterday, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the US Charge d'Affaires to Thailand, W. Patrick Murphy, to discuss the speech given by Russel.
Murphy confirmed the meeting and said he repeated the US's stance, urging Thailand's military government to take the necessary steps to return the country to democratic rule. Murphy also insisted that the US has no intention to take sides in Thailand's domestic politics.
"We believe it is a matter for the Thai people to work together to build democratic future," Murphy tweeted this morning. "We don't take sides."
The Thai military staged a coup against an elected government on 22 May 2014, ostensibly to restore order and put an end to anti- and pro-government protests in the capital city. Since seizing power, the junta has launched a national reform effort and invoked martial law to ban public protests, detain individuals without charges or a court warrant, and try detractors in martial courts where appeals are not permitted.
The US quickly criticized the coup and called for a return to democratic rule in Thailand. As a result, pro-coup Thais, many of whom hail from Thailand's conservative and royalist factions, have been lashing out at the US government on social media for its perceived assault on Thai sovereignty.
In the past 24 hours, the following message has been posted hundreds of times in comment threads on the US Embassy in Bangkok's Facebook account:
"Here is the Kingdom of Thailand. We are independent country. We can handle all our internal matters by ourselves. We have nothing to do with you. It’s none of your business. We, the majority of Thai people are warning you, don’t interfere in Thailand’s internal affairs regarding Martial Law. We are very happy with this law as it stands."
In today's press conference, Pornpetch insisted that the junta, known formally as the National Council for Peace and Order, intends to build a "sustainable" democracy that is in accordance with Thai traditions, and may not necessarily reflect the American definition of democracy.
"We are moving forward to a sustainable democracy, so we have different ideas than the US," Pornpetch explained. "[The NCPO] is committed to reforming Thai politics and paving way to sustainable democracy and election. I stress that Thai democracy is a regime that conforms to Thai customs, tradition, and spiritual guidance, which is democracy with the King as Head of State."
He also told reporters that Yingluck's impeachment is in accordance with "the constitution and the principles of rule of law."
"The US themselves have impeachments in the past," the NLA chairman said, "They have done it in the cases of President Nixon and President Clinton."
For comments, or corrections to this article please contact: [email protected]