The future of Thailand hangs in the balance
When General Prayut Chan-o-cha and his allies seized power in 2014, they promised to bring about national reconciliation, but the divisions in society have become worse. They promised to combat corruption, but nothing has really changed. They promised to eradicate any remaining poverty, but the number of people living below the poverty line actually increased for the first time in decades before the pandemic. They promised to drive economic growth, but Thailand continues to lag behind its neighbours. They promised to restore happiness to the Thai people but few are smiling now. The constitution they made is a national headache.
They have failed. They have failed in their agenda.
Last week, at a press conference on the porch of Government House, the prime minister mentioned the god of death, Matjurat, which was seen as a threat to the demonstrators. The anniversary of the massacre of students at Thammasat University in 1976 had been commemorated only a few days earlier. Students and schoolchildren are protesting again. What did he mean? He has dropped similar threats before. The cabinet members gathered around the prime minister smiled and laughed at his remarks. They laughed.
These people are the past of Thailand.
The future of Thailand today is out on the streets, in the rain, under the water cannon, up against serried ranks of police with riot shields, and against the Border Patrol Police, brought into the capital, just like in 1976. Luckily, the security personnel now have proper crowd-control equipment, rather than live ammunition. But they still don't know how to use this equipment.
The future of Thailand is fed up -- fed up with being told how to wear their hair, fed up with having to recite nonsense, fed up with leaders who embarrass them. They see themselves as citizens of the world, but their country is ruled by the sort of military-dominated regime that the rest of the world rejected a generation ago.
Through their mobile phones, they found an alternative to the brainwashing of Thai schooling. They know that Thailand could be a lot better -- economically, politically, in almost every way. They are saddened that the Future Forward Party, which seemed to offer a glimmer of hope, was dissolved. They have watched activists they admire being exiled, jailed, beaten up, and "disappeared".
The intensity of their feeling has thrown up a new cadre of leaders who have the courage to say things that could not be said, to defy heavy intimidation, and to go to jail for a long time, if necessary.
The future of Thailand hangs in the balance. The country has a choice. Everyone has a part in that choice.
Thailand will be happy only when it moves beyond the leaders which have failed and failed again over six years. It will prosper in the long term only when it embraces a new generation who is ready to devote their energy, learning and vision to building the future. The business community has started to show its concern. It should shout louder.
The last of the 12 core values that Gen Prayut issued in 2014 is "Putting the public and national interest before personal interest". It is time for him to follow his own advice. He should resign, along with all his colleagues from the 2014 coup group. The senators too should consider making a sacrifice, because the Senate is a roadblock to change.
Pasuk Phongpaichit is a professor of economics at Chulalongkorn University. Chris Baker is a historian. In 2017 they jointly won the Fukuoka Grand Prize.