Thai junta told to hold elections as country ‘far from democracy’s return’
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Thai junta told to hold elections as country ‘far from democracy’s return’

FOUR years on from a coup that overthrew the democratically elected government, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) are calling for Thailand’s military to restore the electoral process and lift restrictions on fundamental rights.

In a statement on Monday, one day before the anniversary of the 2014 coup, APHR Chairperson and Malaysian MP, Charles Santiago, said it was time the military junta “fulfills its promise to the Thai people.”

“That means an immediate end to arbitrary limits on fundamental freedoms and a clear timeline for the holding of free and fair elections,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Junta targets Pheu Thai Party over criticisms on delayed polls 

The promise to return the country to democratic rule within two years has been repeatedly broken by the head of the National Council for Peace and Order, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

After repeatedly delaying elections – which are currently set for February 2019 – and imposing restrictions on public gatherings and political activities, frustration with the junta and its leader is visibly growing.

Under the restrictions, the opposition parties have been unable to campaign and the military have used them as a method to shut down criticism. On Monday, three politicians from the Puea Thai Party were charged with sedition after they accused the junta of failing to keep their promises.

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Pheu Thai party members Chusak Sirinul (R), Chaturon Chaisaeng (C) and Watana Muangsook (L) speak at a press conference at the party headquarters in Bangkok on May 17, 2018, ahead of the fourth anniversary of the May 22 Thai military coup. Source: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP

“The prosecution of activists, party members, and others merely for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights blatantly disregards Thailand’s international commitments and runs afoul of constitutional guarantees and accepted democratic norms,” Santiago said.

The parliamentarians said all political parties must have the right to operate freely, calling for an immediate repeal of the political ban.

They also highlighted their concern over Prayuth’s unlimited power and ability to unilaterally make policy under the interim constitution.

SEE ALSO: Thai junta history book claims it established ‘true democracy’

Prayuth has hinted he would like to stay in power after the election, which would be possible under the junta-backed constitution that allows for an “outsider” to be appointed prime minister. He has even been carrying out meet-and-greet sessions and community visits, looking very much like an election campaign.

APHR Board Member Teddy Baguilat, a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, expressed concern over the future of Thailand’s democracy if Prayuth’s power remains unchecked.

“General Prayuth’s limitless authority, coupled with the junta’s repeated failure to live up to its own word, sends the concerning signal that Thailand may still be far from democracy’s return,” he said.