No place for scare tactics

No place for scare tactics

The United Thai Nation Party (UTN) and pro-status quo elements like the army have launched a fear-mongering campaign, laden with ultra-nationalist content, in the lead-up to Sunday's election.

They are no doubt worried about the rise of parties in the former opposition bloc advancing in popularity.

An emotion-charged video launched this week by the UTN under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha stirred public reactions, as did the army's attempt to appeal to public patriotism in a similar pre-poll messaging drive on its website.

The 2.45-minute clip from the UTN projects a fearful scenario for Thailand's future, including scenes of a retired government official begging and the kingdom facing a war with no soldiers in the absence of military conscription.

The video targets UTN's rivals who have campaigned for structural changes, among them the Move Forward Party (MFP), which has campaigned for military and bureaucratic reforms, including cutting the budget for state retirees' pensions.

While the video might arouse fears among some voters, it will also breed hostility towards the UTN and exacerbate the nation's polarisation.

If anything, it shows that Thailand remains trapped in its divisions, and that the promises made by Gen Prayut when he staged the 2014 coup "to bring about reconciliation" were just lip service.

If that is not enough, the army early this week released clips also with an ultra-nationalistic message, similar to the UTN's clip.

One video, "Why the army is needed," also projected a scenario of a Thailand without soldiers while another clip on its webpage featured the song Nak Paendin, Burden of the Country, composed in the mid-1970s during the Cold War between radical right-wingers and far-left communists.

During the 1976 massacre at Thammasat University, the music was used by radical right-wing to instigate violence.

The Nak Paendin song rearrangement was ordered by then army chief Apirat Kongsompong for use against those who campaigned for army reform and cut the army budget in the 2019 election.

But the re-posting backfired. It was met with a torrent of public criticism, forcing the army to withdraw the piece from its webpage.

Army chief Gen Narongpan Jittkaewtae has since told his subordinates to use their judgement when casting their ballots and that they should consider the country's needs and its stability.

In an unprecedented move, the army also projected a giant screen carrying a message encouraging soldiers to vote for the party that "cares about their welfare". The message was apparently sent to army agencies across the country.

Some wonder if the move was endorsed by Gen Prayut, who is defence minister. If so, the decision casts him in a bad light.

For a start, treating those with different ideas as "enemies" is not acceptable by any standard. In particular, the armed forces have a moral obligation to stay neutral in politics and must accept any result won through free and fair elections, as endorsed by the constitution.

The army also is bound to support any government formed through such a democratic process. Gen Narongpan and his subordinates must know they have the duty to uphold such a noble principle at all costs -- and that is why the army is needed.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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