Thailand’s Junta Leader Wants Citizens to Answer Four Leading Questions About Elections

General Prayut Chan-o-cha. Photo from Prachatai website.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is urging citizens to visit government centers and answer four election questions that could determine the country’s future.

Prayut was the army chief who led the coup in 2014. He vowed that the military would restore civilian rule once political and electoral reforms were implemented. A constitution was approved in 2016 which laid the groundwork for the holding of elections but it was strongly criticized because it contained provisions that gave the military broad powers in the bureaucracy.

Below are the four questions listed by Prayut:

1. Will elections bring good governance?
2. What then, if elections do not bring good governance?
3. Is it right to only focus on elections, at the expense of the country’s future and other issues?
4. Should bad politicians be given a chance to run for office, and if conflicts return, who will solve them and by what means?

About 1,000 centers across the country were opened to receive responses from the people. The government is also thinking of doing the survey in malls in order to reach out to more people.

Leaders of political parties expressed concern about the real motives of Prayut in launching the unusual survey of public opinion. They are worried that Prayut could be softening the public towards the idea of extended military rule in the country. But Prayut supporters insisted that the junta leader is simply interested to learn the views of ordinary citizens, rather than paying attention to the loud voices of opposition politicians.

Sunai Phasuk, Asia’s senior researcher of Human Rights Watch, is doubtful about the reliability of the survey:

Few will be brave enough to say they oppose prolonged military rule, repudiation of election results, strong-man rule, or even another military coup. Why? Because they understand expression of dissenting opinion is punishable under the orders of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

NCPO is the name of the government established by the junta.

In the past three years, the junta has strictly regulated the media. It also used the Lese Majeste (anti-Royal Insult) law to arrest and prosecute individuals for criticizing the military dictatorship.

Independent news website Prachatai asked some activist groups to list their own leading questions for Prayut to answer. The New E-saan Movement reminded Prayut that coups undermine democracy:

Are you aware that coup d’etats violate democratic and human rights principles?

If in the future, Thailand experiences another coup d’etat, will it be charged as a crime against the state?

Unionist Sriprai Nonsee urged Prayut and the military to return power to the people:

Coup d’etats to seize power from the people are unlawful. How, then, can a junta meet standards of good governance? When will you return power to the people, by restoring the right to vote and by revising the constitution—which should come from the people genuinely?

Journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk tweeted four questions for Prayut:

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