BANGKOK — Not long after the junta lifted its ban on politics Tuesday, a campaign banner for one candidate had already appeared in Bangkok.
The pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party, which supports Prayuth’s return to the premiership, became the first party known to exercise newly returned political freedoms with several banners erected in the Chaeng Wattana district, as noticed by a Thai PBS reporter. Online, members of the Democrat Party seized the occasion to call attention to social media polls on party policy.
With a terse announcement, messaging and political engagement absent for nearly five years since the 2014 coup took the first steps back into public discourse.
— ญาณี_ไหว้ครู (@Yanee_ThaiPBS) December 11, 2018
But the reaction from a variety of politicians and activists to the news was reserved.
After learning about the lifting of the ban, deputy Democrat Party leader Nipit Intatarasombat said that while they are ready to start campaigning in earnest, they need time to agree on a platform.
“We are ready. … As for policies, we have met twice but will still have to go into details,” he said.
On Facebook, the nation’s oldest political party’s New Dem youth wing began eliciting votes for people to weigh in on proposed policies. As of Tuesday afternoon, two-thirds of respondents supported a proposal to make military service voluntary instead of compulsory.
The Pheu Thai Party, the political powerhouse which has handily won elections for two decades only to be deposed twice by the military, got busy with an afternoon meeting that left its secretary-general, Phumthum Wechayachai, unavailable to speak to a reporter.
The progressive newcomers at the Future Forward Party said through a spokeswoman that it’s not time to celebrate or be happy as the junta never had any legitimacy to restrict people from politics to begin with.
Pannika Wanich added however that the party will launch a platform focused on 12 policies Sunday at the Queen Sirikit Convention Center and launch campaign caravans in earnest beginning Dec. 21. Pannika stressed that this had been planned prior to Tuesday’s announcement.
Future Forward secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul pointed out that the decision did not include any amnesty for those charged for violating the junta’s rules. Those who have been charged for engaging in political activities or for opposing or criticizing the junta continue to face legal battles as the order was not retroactive, he said.
“Patriots and people who love democracy are still ‘chained’ in the name of these legal cases,” Piyabutr said.
Nuttaa “Bow” Mahattana, who has been charged several times over for her pro-democracy campaigning, said she expects to continue operating as usual but wants greater legal clarity about the change.
“It will be all the same as in the past, as I do not consider the junta’s order, which violates human rights, as legitimate.”
She also stressed that many charged with sedition for criticizing the junta or simply calling for elections will have to continue fighting in the courts.
Nutta is also concerned the election won’t be free and fair.
On Wednesday, she and representatives from at least half a dozen political parties will petition the Election Commission to reject a proposed plan to strip ballots of the logos of all political parties.
As for plans to hold street rallies, Nutta said the need will be assessed weekly. She said lifting the ban may help bring more members of the public out on the streets, an issue that has dampened the success of past efforts.