Insights : Six Months After the Coup

Insights on Thailand  is a weekly newsletter with commentary and selected updates on Thailand from Verapat Pariyawong, Visiting Scholar at SOAS, University of London.
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21 November 2014 

Commentary by Verapat Pariyawong 

On 22 May 2014, Thailand’s military overthrew the democratically elected caretaker government following months of political turmoil. Six months after the coup, Thailand’s economy continues to struggle, and repression remains unbridled as the junta led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha insists to impose martial law throughout the kingdom amid concerns from the international community.

This week, in one of the most unprecedented examples of political life imitating pop-culture art, civilians in Thailand continues to adopt a silent and peaceful three-finger salute of protest inspired by the Hunger Games franchise, despite the threat of being detained by the military or police. Thais in London meanwhile staged a #DistrictThai campaign at the recent red carpet premier, earnestly asking the world to care a little more about the ongoing repression in the land of smiles. Some positive reactions from Hollywood are emerging as reported by Buzzfeed and many Thais are waiting to hear what Jennifer Lawrence might have to say.

But not much can be discussed in Thailand. Last week, a TV host of ThaiPBS was removed from her show, following pressure by a group of military officers after her program criticised the junta, with  an internal source citing threats being made on her and her family. Despite widespread calls to end the criminalisation of criticisms by media, a junta leader responded with a comment that ‘these regulations will be relaxed when officials see fit’.

Fresh doubts have also emerged about the junta’s handling of the economy as Thailand cut its outlook for the fourth time this year. Reuters reported that the country’s economy grew much less than expected in the third quarter, forcing the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) to cut the country’s growth forecast to 1.0% – Thailand’s weakest since the 2011 floods. This worrying development fully corroborates World Bank’s earlier predictions that Thailand will remain the slowest-growing economy in South-East Asia till 2016.

As if such figures are not enough, the recent brutal murder of British tourists on a tropical Thai island not only injures the tourism industry, but also illustrates how the flawed justice system and disregard for rule of law plays a key role in Thailand's political intabiltiy.

Calm at the surface, the months ahead look quite grim with a strong undercurrent for Thailand, and it won't get any better unless there can be an environment for open, peaceful and 
constructive dialogues between the Thais whose happiness at gunpoint cannot be further sustained for far too long.

Selected News of the Week

Democracy and the rule of law must be restored to Thailand
Verapat Pariyawong, The Guardian, 21 Nov 2014

The murders of two Britons have focused international attention on a broken justice system with which Thais are all too familiar.

“Mockingjay” Filmmakers React To Thai Protesters Adopting “Hunger Games” Salute
Buzzfeed, 21 Nov 2014

Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence reacts to Thai protesters adopting the Hunger Games salute: “It’s kind of a complicated set of feelings that I went through,” he said. “There’s the first response of seeing, ‘Oh, this kid’s using that [salute]. Isn’t that strange?’ And then you go, ‘Oh, wow, the government just made it illegal. Oh, wow, now kids are getting arrested for it.’”

More details are also covered by the BBCCNNthe Guardian and the New York Times among others.

Martial law to stay in Thailand indefinitely, to be used as army's tool: Justice Minister
The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2014

Thailand's martial law will not be lifted for the foreseeable future, the justice minister said on Friday. The announcement comes as Thailand prepares to enter its peak tourism season.

Media must 'respect the rules', Prayut says
Bangkok Post, 18 Nov 2014

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has insisted the media enjoys freedom and denied being involved with the removal of a Thai PBS programme host.

UPDATE 2-Thailand trims outlook as Q3 GDP hit by export slump
Reuters, 17 Nov 2014

Thailand's economy grew much less than expected in the July-September quarter as exports and tourism contracted, forcing the authorities to again cut the country's growth forecast for 2014.