ON THE EVE of three years in government, the country’s military junta has been criticised by Thailand’s two major political parties for its failure to achieve any important reform.
Having seized power on May 22, 2014, the military appointed a so-called National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) promising to restore order and a pathway back to democracy. But it has since implemented a new constitution which cements its position to oversee a decades-long national strategy to approach Thailand’s “unique” challenges.
Senior figures from the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties this week criticised the junta’s lack of progress regarding the economy and its sustained attacks on democratic freedoms and human rights – particularly regarding crackdowns on activists and media.
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SEE ALSO: TIMELINE: Thailand Coup 2014 – May 22-23
“Politicians dare not make eye contact with anyone these days,” said Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat, as quoted by the Bangkok Post. Conflict and threats of violence continue unabated, he said, but have merely moved from street demonstrations online.
The NCPO has led a crackdown on dissent by tightening restrictions on the media and silencing activists through imposing the kingdom’s strict lese majeste and cybercrime laws.
The cornerstone of this is the controversial Protection of Media Rights and Freedom, Ethics and Professional Standards Bill, deemed a “death blow” for media freedom by the South East Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).
Human Rights Watch has warned that the bill is “misnamed” and rather “would mean that reporters in Thailand will be constantly looking over their shoulder at a government-appointed panel that can have them jailed.”
While debating the Bill, a senior government official said that journalists reporting on views critical of the military “should be executed by firing squad.”
Reports on Sunday suggested that the junta is moving to target citizens simply viewing content seen to insult the royal family, not only those that produce or post such material.
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What’s more, the Democratic Party’s Nipit said he continues to hear “lots of complaints from the public” regarding economic matters.
The World Bank has described Thailand as “one of the great development success stories.” Its economic growth took a massive hit due to political unrest in 2014, however bounced back to 3.2 percent in 2016, with forecasted growth of 3.5 and 3.6 percent in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
But secretary-general of the Pheu Thai party Phumtham Wechayachai said “what really determines economic management is not sets of numbers, but how much the people have in their pocket.”
“What they face are rising costs of living. Businesses hesitate to invest because they lack confidence.”
“I think it has done a fair job in keeping peace and order. Economic management and reforms are completely different,” said Nipit.
Tourism is a vital sector of Thailand’s economy at around 11 percent, and despite a brief drop in tourist arivvals post-coup has remained steady since 2014. “The government wants all of you have confidence that you will be safe during your stay in Thailand,” asserts the junta.
“Elephants trampling on tourists and tourists having their legs cut off by speed boats, this won’t happen any more.”