Thais dream of democracy

Thais dream of democracy

Pro-democracy activists and relatives of those who died in the bloody crackdown of May 1992 gathered at Thammasat University yesterday to mark 30 years since one of the most terrible days in modern Thai history.

It's something that shouldn't be forgotten and what occurred so tragically needs retelling.

The military under the government led by coup maker and Prime Minister Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon started a bloody crackdown against anti-junta protesters on May 17 of 1992. Scores were confirmed dead while many protesters mysteriously disappeared over the course of the days that followed. Many are still classified as missing.

Despite the blood and tears, Bloody May 1992 become a watershed moment in modern Thai history. It catapulted the awakening of a democratic movement after the junta returned to the barracks due to the intervention of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great acting as mediator between the military government and protesters.

The 1997 Constitution -- dubbed the People's Charter and still hailed as the best and people-inclusive charter -- was drafted and mandated not long after.

Sadly, the People's Charter was torn up by the coup of Sept 9, 2006.

Then, the military-led by former army chief Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, staged another coup on May 22, 2014. Like Gen Suchinda, he later became prime minister.

The month of May should remind us that the military has a low learning curve when it comes to democracy. But the big question is not only what society has learnt but what needs to be done, to help make Thailand a real democratic society. Bloody May 1992 shows us that the pursuit of democracy is not easy and can be extremely deadly.

Yet, democracy movements and numerous street protests over the past three decades show Thais still dream of a more open society, no matter how tired and disillusioned we are.

On Tuesday, former prime minister Anand Panyarachun again called for a better constitution to be drawn up. Regardless of political hues, his suggestion rings true.

Despite it winning public consensus, the current charter does not work because it only divides. It does not guide the country as it should. The roles and powers of senators need to be revised so they align with and support democratic ideals.

But the aftermath of May 1992 should remind us that we can still have hope. The People's Charter mandated in 1997 should remind us that once Thais created a constitution that united us.

May 1992 should remind us of the importance of having an open mind. Thai society is now perhaps more divided than it was in the 1990s and we do not know how to move through the political quagmire.

The only thing we know is that being open-minded and accepting differences can save the day.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayut told the media that the military will not stage another coup d'etat. Despite his comment being just a casual response to a media question; one related to a political situation unfavourable to the current government -- but also linked to the 7th anniversary of the coup of May 22, 2014 -- we can only hope that the prime minister is a man of his word.

The past three decades -- with two coups and a number of protests and crackdowns -- have given more than enough empirical evidence that military governments do not work and never will.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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