Martial law a nightmare for the have-nots

Martial law a nightmare for the have-nots

Reform was the buzzword during anti-Thaksin demonstrations that led to the May 22 coup. Reform was also the military junta's promise to the people after its power seizure. So what's happening now on the reform front nine months down the line? 

For many people in the cocoon of calm in Bangkok, that question may be irrelevant. Why talk about reform when calm has been returned to Bangkok's streets, enabling us in the capital to continue our lives as before. Isn't that enough?

The answer is no.

After years of street violence, and years of having to get up each morning with great fear and anxiety over what was to come, who can blame people in Bangkok for having welcomed the military junta's move to stop Bangkok from turning into a war zone?

But here's the problem. The apparent calm may have allowed the haves to continue their way of life and enjoy the benefits of the system, but the have-nots are now facing much harsher suppression under military dictatorship than ever before.

Should we be indifferent and continue to live in our peaceful cocoon when the government is waging war on the poor in the rest of the country?

We tend to talk a lot these days about morality and the need for good people to run the country. The reality, however, is that the government is helping the mandarins drive the poor from their land, support industry to contaminate local communities, damage villagers' health — even killing some of them — and destroy the environment.

What kind of morality is that?

Despite its reform talk, the government is churning out a series of laws to strengthen bureaucratic power and central control to help industry exploit natural resources more easily. Money, as before, comes before people's health and the environment. 

What kind of reform is that?

To solve longstanding conflicts over land rights, people in contested forest areas had worked out with previous governments to use community land ownership as a legal compromise so they could stay while helping the government conserve the forests. Violent forest eviction is now the name of the game.

Communities fighting against destructive mining do not fare any better. Armed soldiers are deployed to prevent public hearings and suppress local resistance, as in the case of a gold mine in Loei. Clear evidence of harmful health impacts is dismissed, as in the case of a gold mine in Phichit. Under martial law, villagers in both places are living through fear and persecution.

Earlier this week, the Industry Ministry snubbed two decades of local resistance by granting a concession to a potash mine in Chaiyaphum, with two more concessions in tow. And they called the deal historic.

Meanwhile, a new mining law is in the pipeline to empower local authorities to give mining concessions anywhere in the country, including protected forests.

At the same time, communities in Isan opposed to oil drilling in their localities are now watching what is unfolding at Namoon village in Khon Kaen's Kranuan district with dread.

The National Human Rights Commission backed the Namoon villagers' appeal to stop oil drilling because of an inadequate environmental impact assessment. Who cares? The oil firm is now moving oil-drilling machines into Namoon under army protection.

Have you seen the pictures of armed men in hoods surrounding the village and poor grannies prostrate on the ground, crying for mercy, pleading for the soldiers to stop?

Under martial law, there seems to be no stopping controversial projects. Oil drilling, deep sea ports, and coal-fired power plants which will destroy the Andaman Sea, its marine ecosystem and the tourism industry are set to go ahead.

Some have begun to say enough is enough. The Pak Moon villagers are now heading to Bangkok for a sit-in.

People along the Andaman coast have vowed to stop the environmental nightmare ahead.The anti-oil concession lobby has won its first battle to delay a new licensing round. 

Ripples of discontent are spreading. These people are not reds or yellows, but ordinary folk who want to protect their communities, their children. 

Their demands echo those of the ethnic Malay Muslims in the restive South. All they want is decentralisation so they can take charge of their lives, their communities, their region.

Under martial law, their calls will remain unheeded, and any reform promises stay empty.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Sanitsuda Ekachai

Former editorial pages editor

Sanitsuda Ekachai is a former editorial pages editor. She writes on human rights, gender, and Thai Buddhism.

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