The silence is deafening
What kind of society is the junta creating when the peaceful "New Democracy Movement" protesters, all in their early twenties, are jailed without due process, to have their fate decided on by a military tribunal? Without any doubt the junta's behaviour in this matter is utterly deplorable. But what is soul-destroying is the comfortable silence from certain sections of our society. You can almost hear a pin drop. The leader of the Democrat Party? Not a sound. Venerable statesmen? Not a squeak. Or maybe the rector of Thammasat University would like to voice his objection? Not a single word. Ladies and gentlemen, right or wrong, the only people that have demonstrated any courage at all through this episode are the 14 kids in jail, while the adults hide.
In my early 20s, all I cared about on a daily basis was stumbling to the Stanhope Tavern before last orders. But instead of enjoying their youth, these young men and women have chosen the path of righteousness, risking their freedom, based on principle, which ultimately leads to character. Winston Churchill said courage is the rarest of human qualities. Therefore, when we witness it, we should nurture and embrace it, instead of fearing it. But I sense the junta fear the courage of these young rebels, and I think I know why: courage is contagious.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha claims these students don't understand democracy. It is the junta that needs to be educated in democratic principles. Without a shred of evidence, Gen Udomdej Sitabutr, the army chief, even smeared the student protesters, accusing them of acting as a proxy for sinister politicians. Alas, the junta have resorted to the oldest trick in the book: the "BSE" strategy. When all else fails, "Blame Somebody Else!"
In case readers think I'm biased against this government, let me say this. I would also like to ask former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra a question: if you are a freedom fighter for democracy as you claim to be, why are you not coming out to defend these 14 "like-minded" student activists? Every time a member of the Shinawatra clan is neck deep in it, their PR machine pronounces this to be a matter that requires urgent national attention. But when it's 14 young students that are facing the music, the Shinawatra juggernaut seems to fall silent. This is the very definition of insincerity. So shame on the junta and shame on the leaders of the Pheu Thai leadership. In the words of Shakespeare: " A plague on both your houses".
Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, someone I know personally and respect, spoke eloquently about his "seven pillars of democracy". In my view, the junta has managed to run roughshod over every single one of the Panyarachun pillars. Let's examine the wreckage one by one.
Pillar 1: Free and fair elections. The Bavornsak constitution is intent on making elections meaningless. Power will be held by "unelected" officials and not the representatives we voted for.
Pillar 2: Political tolerance. The only people with tolerance are citizens that have had their civil liberties confiscated. There is zero tolerance for dissenting voices at this present time. Ask the 14 students in jail if you don't believe me.
Pillar 3: Rule of law. A Constitutional Court that doesn't have the courage to defend the constitution means we are no longer a nation of laws. An amnesty for Thaksin is unconstitutional (quite rightly), but an amnesty for the coup-makers written in the interim constitution is legitimate by all accounts. It begs the question. Were they sick the day law was taught at law school?
Pillar 4: Freedom of expression. To be fair we've never had this freedom in Thailand. But this government is ratcheting up an environment of fear, which is not conducive to the development of free and fair expression.
Pillar 5: Accountability and transparency. This government can't claim this while keeping a straight face. A National Legislative Assembly, a National Reform Council, wholly appointed by the junta, together with the criminalisation of political assembly and the right to peaceful protests, all but eliminates any remote possibility of accountability and transparency.
Pillar 6: Local political empowerment. The junta holds a deep distrust of the grassroots' ability to determine their own destiny and decide for themselves who they want as leader, or "elections" wouldn't be such a rude word in this country.
Pillar 7: Civil society. This can only flourish when the state seeks to consult its citizens on essential matters of government. This means education, not indoctrination. It means encouraging intellectual curiosity, not snuffing it out. And it means promoting and embracing political participation of the grassroots instead of belittling their contribution.
Thailand must choose political evolution over revolution, social harmony over division, and equal opportunity over abject inequality. The ultimate salvation of this nation lies in rejecting our student-jailing, debate-fearing, flag-hugging, double-speaking, truth-concealing, outdated and self-serving traditions, and embracing the tried and tested ideas in Mr Panyarachun's seven pillars of democracy.
Songkran Grachangnetara is an entrepreneur. He graduated from The London School of Economics and Columbia University. He can be reached at Twitter: @SongkranTalk
Songkran Grachangnetara is an entrepreneur. He graduated from The London School of Economics and Columbia University.