Thailand on global trial
As a direct result of the military coup in 2014, all international observers have their eyes on Thailand. We are in the spotlight, but not in a good way. Instead of proudly taking our place on the world stage with dignity and honour, Thailand finds itself on trial by the international community.
Ask any "credible" foreign observers about their views on what is happening in this country and their response will be a series of expletives followed by "What is going on in Thailand!?" Are all these foreign observers misinformed, naive or ignorant? Perhaps.
But even among members of the Thai press these days, glaring vocal support for the military regime is becoming as rare as a sighting of the Arctic fox in a winter blizzard. So why have the cheerleaders of the junta all but vanished?
The answer is, they haven't vanished at all. They are in the process of distancing themselves from an administration that is courting international embarrassment with every turn it takes and every decision it makes. The Bangkok intellectual cognoscenti are starting to grimace every time the prime minister is behind a microphone. Editorial writers, formerly supportive of the coup, are afflicted with writer's block and are having to resort to verbal gymnastics to reinvent themselves. While Democrat Party members, true to form, are attempting to weasel themselves back into a position of relevance by offering solutions to the mess they have themselves been responsible for making.
Like it or not, Thailand is now on trial for its life. If we pass, we will live to fight another day. If we fail, we face being humiliated on a global scale, in the full glare of the international stage.
Firstly, the gruesome Koh Tao murders case, will be closely followed by international observers, and in this case it will be the infamously inept Thai police and our justice system that will be on trial. The murders of British backpackers David Miller and Hannah Witheridge leaves a permanent stain on the Thai tourism industry, and the way we honour the memories of these two innocent travellers is to seek justice for their families and friends. But the only way that can happen is when the real perpetrators of these murders are tried in a court of law in a transparent and effective manner.
We have heard too many stories involving the shenanigans and utter incompetence of the Thai police. Whether the two Myanmar migrants are guilty or not, I don't know. But one thing is for sure: due to apparent police incompetence, pertaining to initial crime scene protection, DNA evidence collection, and due process for the accused, it is all but certain that justice for Witheridge and Miller will become even more elusive.
Secondly, the way in which we have chosen to handle the Rohingya and the Chinese Uighur issues has resulted in Thailand's human rights record being put on international trial.
Without doubt, turning away these migrants and leaving them to their fate has earned Thailand universal condemnation from the free world, including the EU and the US. It is an unmitigated public relations calamity that renders us vulnerable to the title of the "Cruella de Vil of Southeast Asia".
Finally, in the case of the 14 student protesters that have now been temporarily released from detention, but are still facing a military tribunal, it is our democracy that has been put on trial in the international courts of public opinion. Jailing these students was a huge mistake, because towards the end, the junta was practically begging these young rebels to take bail and go home. Refusing bail, these kids forced the government to comically throw them out of jail.
However, there is another impending trial that will have huge implications for Thailand. And that is the Yingluck Shinawatra trial for criminal negligence in the Pheu Thai administration's rice pledging scheme, in which, if found guilty, the former prime minister could face up to 10 years behind bars.
The international media will spring into action at the next hearing scheduled for Tuesday. But Ms Shinawatra would have learned an important lesson. If she fights this case tooth and nail, and surrenders herself for incarceration without skipping bail and going into exile before the event of a guilty verdict, the junta faces another monumental public relations conundrum.
The regime will face two stark choices. Exonerate the former prime minister of this charge and eat humble pie. Or they could incarcerate Thailand's first female prime minister, who won her last election in a landslide, and turn Ms Shinawatra into a living, breathing, in the flesh, charismatic, empathetic symbol of resistance to authoritarian rule.
I have said this once and I will say it again. I wish the prime minister well in his endeavours to reform Thailand. But the prime minister has absolute power, and with that comes absolute responsibility.
John F Kennedy once astutely said: "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan". However, in the case of Thailand, now under military rule, victory as well as defeat, will have but one undeniable father. And his name is Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
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.