Keep quiet, we're building democracy
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Keep quiet, we're building democracy

Thailand may be short of water now but it is awash in fallacies, chief of which is the notion that arresting 14 anti-coup students will lead to an atmosphere of peace and calmness.

Look how tranquil the country has become. I have not seen such an intense level of emotional arguing and tirade-throwing from one group of people at another since the Bangkok Shutdown operation by the whistle-blowing People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters in 2014.

News about the students has emerged from nowhere and grown to front page prominence. Social media is abuzz with calls for the military regime to release the students, criticism against the military regime and ferocious attacks against the students themselves.

The arrests have virtually spawned intellectual warfare. The incident has entrenched an anti-coup, anti-military sentiment among certain groups as it alienates a large segment of progressive-minded people from a possible alliance with moderates which can potentially serve as a key to future reconciliation.

How will the hate-mongering, denigration and divisive squabbles lead to peace and order? Only the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) knows.

Another misconception being peddled around is that anti-coup students must have the backing of politicians.

Army chief and Deputy Prime Minister Gen Udomdej Sitabutr said he knew who these politicians are who have been manipulating the university students to do their bidding.

So who are they?

Before the army chief and his security officers went ahead to detain the students and put them in jail, he should have revealed to the public who the masterminds are to justify his actions.

Better yet, why didn't he arrest the kingpins instead of the students if he has the information linking them together?

To keep claiming the students were stage-managed by politicians or vague anti-coup elements without offering proof is no different than slander, a practice of many political groups and websites which the NCPO has vowed to tackle.

The authority's argument that the students must have an ulterior motive because they had been called in for talks and attitude adjustment sessions but refused to comply holds no logic.

People who do not cooperate with the authority do not need to be paid. Many do it out of defiance. The students were clearly against the coup. It's only natural that they would try to stand up against what they believe to be unjust even if they were told not to do so.

Their anti-coup rallies or other symbolic protests encompass that spirit of defiance, which by its own definition must carry on despite negotiations, warnings or threats by the powers that be.

It is significant that all these acts of defiance are done in a peaceful, non-offensive manner. The authorities cited the NCPO's ban on political gatherings as one reason for the arrest of the students who took part in anti-coup rallies. That is legitimate in the eyes of the military government, even though the protesting students obviously were trying to say otherwise.

The other charge against the students, however, is instigating unrest. This one stretches the imagination. The students' rallies last Wednesday and Thursday were peaceful. But the military leaders argued that if they hadn't arrested them, people who disagree with the students might confront them and the conflict may lead to violence.

This would make it appear as if the students were jailed out of fears of what could happen. This sounds unconvincing. No violence has broken out yet. Not even a hint of confrontation has emerged as the students were small in number and their rallies were of a symbolic nature.

With the military keeping the country under such tight control, it's hard to imagine how a pocket of student protests could escalate into a threat to national security. But the NCPO has chosen to stem the suspected tide with hopes the arrests will discourage others from rousing the rabble. Slash the throat of one chicken and all the monkeys will go quiet too, as the saying goes.

The problem, however, lies in how the NCPO defines peace and order. The regime keeps saying people need to keep their heads bowed and mouths shut as it works hard to lead the country to "genuine democracy". But really, can there be peace without arguments? Can society fall into order when its members are not allowed to stand up for their beliefs?

Youth is a time of questioning authority. A society that jails its young members for doing so is left with a fallacious sense of peace and order, and no real future.

Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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