BANGKOK – Speaking on the 83rd anniversary of the founding of democracy in Thailand, the deputy chairman of the ruling military junta said he does not believe the military is responsible for stunting the growth of democratic rule.
"That's not true. Who would do that?" Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan said when a reporter asked him today whether he agreed with the assessment. "Throughout those years, the military never did such a thing. Instead, we are the ones who have protected the lives and property of the people, and built happiness and order in the country.”
Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, who also serves as Minister of Defense, made the comment on the anniversary of the 1932 revolution that replaced Thailand's absolute monarchy with a parliamentary democracy.
However, the revolution failed to turn Thailand into a full-fledged democratic country as hoped for by some of the revolutionaries. Over the past 83 years, Thailand has seen 12 successful military coups and 19 constitutions, with the government alternating between quasi-democratic regimes and military dictatorships.
The most recent coup toppled a democratic government on 22 May 2014. The coup makers said the takeover was necessary to restore order after six months of mass street protests, in which nearly 30 people died in politically-motivated attacks.
"Right now, the government is working on a new constitution," Gen. Prawit said today. "This whole situation was caused by conflicts. If there were no conflicts, and if the country was peaceful and orderly, there wouldn’t have been a problem. But whenever there are conflicts, we have to save the lives of majority of people, and protect the image of the country, in order to prevent the country from being damaged any further."
Since seizing power, the current junta – known officially as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) – has continued to rule over Thailand with an iron grip. The military has retained a ban on all public protests and political activities, routinely interfered with the media, and sent scores of civilians to face trial in military courts. Junta chairman Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has power to unilaterally issue any legally-binding order, has also granted security officers the authority to detain individuals, search properties, and censor the media without court warrants.
Just this morning, police arrested four student activists for participating in political activities in Bangkok. The first three students were briefly detained after they attempted to lay a bouquet of flower at Democracy Monument to commemorate the 1932 revolution, and the fourth student was separately arrested for joining a peaceful pro-democracy protest last month.
However, Gen. Prawit told reporters today that Gen. Prayuth is in fact man of "democratic thoughts."
"He doesn't use any dictatorial power," Gen. Prawit said. "In fact, he defends human rights. Today, everything is going forward as in the road map that he has announced to the people."
Gen. Prayuth, who has repeatedly extended his "roadmap" to a return to democratic rule, now says a national election will be held in September 2016 at the earliest – given that the new constitution, which is being drafted under the junta's oversight, is approved in an upcoming referendum.
"Right now, the government is trying to do everything [for the people], but the media never writes about what the government has done," Gen. Prawit said today. "All you do is attack us. You have written and accused the government of so many damaging things, even though I have never damaged anything."
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