Thailand: Poll result a slap in the fact for the elite

The results of Thailand's July 3 general election are a slap in the face for the dictatorship.

They prove without any doubt that most people have rejected the military, the Democrat Party (PP) and the royalist elites.

Pheu Thai Party (PTP), the party closely allied to the Red Shirt pro-democracy movement, won a clear majority. The result is all the more remarkable, given the election was held under conditions of severe censorship and intimidation of the Red Shirt democracy movement by the military and the military-installed PP government of Abhisit Vejjajiva.

It confirms the Abhisit government never had a mandate from the people.

It confirms that the more than 90 pro-democracy activists shot dead by military snipers last year were shot to keep the PP and the military in power.

Every single election since 2001 has been won by the Thai Rak Thai or its descendants ― Palang Prachachon and now PTP.

The latest results expose the lies of the military, mainstream media, liberal academics, NGOs and the PP ― all of who supported the 2006 military coup and claimed that it was “necessary” because the majority “didn’t understand democracy” or were “bought off” in election frauds.

It is a vindication of the struggles and sacrifices of the Red Shirts and it proves the deep commitment to democracy among the majority of Thai citizens, especially the poor.

But the important question after the election is whether the PTP government will show the same commitment to freedom and democracy as those who voted for it.

To shake off the legacy of the military coup and the destruction of the democratic process, the new government must take some immediate measures. These include:
1. freeing all political prisoners, including those jailed or charged under the notorious lese majeste (insulting the monarch) law;
2. ending censorship of all types;
3. sacking army chief General Prayut Junocha on grounds of seeking to influence the outcome of the election by stating he opposed PTP policies in the south. The army chief should be the servant of an elected government and never have special extra-constitutional powers to intervene in politics;
4. the indictment and trial of Abhisit and his deputy Sutep, along with generals Anupong and Prayut for the murder of Red Shirt civilians last year;
5. the temporary re-introduction of the 1997 constitution, instead of the present military constitution, and the start of a process to rewrite the constitution to increase freedom and democracy;
6. scrapping the lese majeste and computer crimes laws that prevent freedom of expression.

In the long term, Thai society must seek ways to totally reform the military, drastically cutting its budget and removing its control of the media. This will reduce its political influence.

The justice system, plagued by double standards, must also be seriously reformed and measures should start in the process of building a welfare state to reduce inequality.

But it is doubtful the PTP intends to carry out these necessary changes. It will be up to the Red Shirt movement to push the new government to make radical reforms, rather than secret and dirty compromises with the military and the elites.

Of course, the Red Shirt movement has many factions within it. This is normal for such a large mass movement.

Some will want to wind down the movement and leave the business of politics to the new government. This would be a serious mistake.

The more radical sections of the movement must continue the struggle for justice and equality in order to bring about real changes.

This election is only one step towards restoring democracy. It will take mass participation of the Red Shirts to strengthen and speed up the process.

[Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a political commentator and dissident. In February 2009, he was forced to leave Thailand after he was charged with lese majeste for writing a book criticising the 2006 military coup. He is a member of Left Turn Thailand, a socialist organisation. His latest book is Thailand's Crisis and the Fight for Democracy and his website is www.redthaisocialist.com .]

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