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Thailand’s Election Date Set For Late March, Fiver Years After The Coup

On Tuesday, Thanathorn told VOA the election was just a small first step in what would be a protracted struggle to wrestle power

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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures the Thai way shortly after accepting the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits' hosting and chairmanship for next year in Thailand from Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in Singapore, Nov. 15, 2018. VOA

Nearly five years after the military stormed to power in yet another coup, Thailand has finally announced an official election date scheduled for late March.

It comes with mounting defiance to the army’s tight control over freedom of expression, as activists and artists increasingly risk the threat of jail to publicly demand a ballot.

Thai Election Commission Chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong told a press conference Wednesday the date had been set for March 24.

“That is the date, which is flexible enough and should be beneficial to everyone concerned. That is the main reason why we decided to choose that date,” he said.

February date

Public frustration flared when it recently was announced the long promised vote would be delayed for a sixth time because of concerns the Feb. 24 scheduled date could conflict with King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s coronation in May.

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Activists and university students gather to demand the first election in Thailand, since the military seized power in a 2014 coup, in Bangkok, Jan. 8, 2019. VOA

That excuse had perplexed many, given that pushing the date back would bring it into even closer conflict with the coronation.

A group of arch royalists staged a demonstration directly outside the Election Commission to protest the pre-coronation ballot date immediately after it was announced Wednesday.

Wide field of parties

A particularly wide field of smaller parties now is set to contest the election in a political environment that has opened somewhat since the junta relaxed wide-ranging bans on political activities in December.

It will still be a democratic election, however, that comes with many autocratic caveats enshrined in the constitution Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha imposed after he seized power from Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government in 2014.

Major concerns include the military being able to virtually hand pick the entire 250-person Senate. Future governments also will be locked into a legally binding 20-year junta-devised development plan covering everything from national security to social equality.

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Messages from activists demanding quick elections to end military rule is pictured at a university in Bangkok, Jan. 19, 2019. VOA

Military retains control

Paul Chambers, a political analyst and lecturer in Thailand’s Naresuan University, said the military also would retain significant control over its budgets after the election through a constitution that also allowed for an unelected prime minister.

“So, there is a democracy, there are elections, but when people say, ‘Oh, Thailand’s going back to democracy,’ it’s not the same quality of democracy that used to exist,” he said.

A very powerful military that could appoint people to positions in the army previously overseen by the elected prime minister would remain behind the scenes, Chambers emphasized.

In October, incoming Royal Thai Army commander Gen. Apirat Kongsompong refused to rule out yet another coup after the election.

Thailand has had 19 attempted coups and 12 successful ones since 1932.

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A Buddhist monk and a patient sweep the yard at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, Feb. 3, 2017.

Rival parties

In addition to the Pheu Thai party aligned with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and longtime rivals the Democrats, the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party will compete with several smaller parties.

One that has attracted considerable interest is the progressive and diverse team that has united behind 40-year-old billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Future Forward.

Also Read: Calm Settles Over Congo After Election Result

On Tuesday, Thanathorn told VOA the election was just a small first step in what would be a protracted struggle to wrestle power from those who had controlled the wealth and power of the country for decades.

“So, if you want to correct what’s wrong over the past decade, there’s only one way you can solve that. You tackle the root cause of the problems. That means you have to deal with these structures, with this group of people. I haven’t seen any politicians trying to do this before,” he said.

“Since 1932, since the democratic revolution happened in Thailand — it’s been 86 years — and we’ve still been only this far. I believe democratization in this country will not be completed in the next year or two,” Thanathorn said. (VOA)

Next Story

Impeachment Process Divides Global Opinion, but Shows Democracy in Action

Trump Impeachment Drama Gets Attention, Mixed Reviews Around World

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Impeachment Process of Donald Trump
President Donald Trump waits outside the Oval Office of the White House before walking with first lady Melania Trump and son Barron Trump on the South Lawn in Washington, before boarding Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Trump is traveling to Florida for a campaign rally and the Thanksgiving holiday. VOA
As the impeachment process against U.S. President Donald Trump unfolds, it’s not only Americans who are following every twist and turn. Millions of people around the world have been following the testimonies on Capitol Hill and are fascinated by the political warfare in Washington. Many observers say it shows American democracy in action.

Trump is accused of threatening to withhold $392 million in military assistance to Ukraine, unless Kyiv launched a public corruption investigation into the family of his political rival, the Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden. Soliciting foreign interference in U.S. democracy is unlawful and Trump strongly denies the allegations.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, Britain is trying to break out of its own political crisis caused by the 2016 vote to leave the European Union. With a general election imminent, many Britons see their own recent political chaos mirrored across the Atlantic, says political scientist Thomas Gift of University College London.

“Both the U.S. and the U.K. [Britain] are rivaling one another for levels of dysfunction in government, or lack of ability to get things done,” Gift said. “Typically, the world, including the U.K., looks to the U.S. as a model of democratic governance and has had, for a long time, institutions of power and leadership that project integrity. And I think watching this, particularly from abroad, I think does to some extent undercut that belief that the U.S. is this kind of moral, ethical and democratic leader.”

Polls suggest less than one in five Britons have a positive opinion of Trump — and that’s echoed in the views of many watching the impeachment process play out.

View of the Arc de Triomphe
General view of the Arc de Triomphe as French President Emmanuel Macron attends a commemoration ceremony for Armistice day, 101 years after the end of the First World War, in Paris, France. VOA

“If it goes through the House, I really hope that the Senate really stand up and do something about it. He shouldn’t be president and he should be impeached,” London resident Dayo Thomas told VOA.

In Paris, there is mixed interest in Washington’s political battles. Jacques Grau, a physician, believes the impeachment process is a good idea. “It allows democracy to function,” he told VOA.

Student Selene Ay says many of her contemporaries are not that interested.

“I know a lot of people followed after [Trump] was elected. But I think it kind of died down, I guess. People don’t care that much.”

There appears to be greater interest in Russia — and seemingly, greater support for Trump. Moscow resident Mikhail says the Americans elected Trump, “but now they want to take the decision back. That is wrong,” he said.

Fellow Moscow resident Dmitri says it is a political struggle. “[Joe] Biden’s team is just looking for compromising information to make Trump step down.”

They may be strategic rivals, but Russia doesn’t necessarily welcome America’s political problems, according to Andrey Kortunov, director of the Russian Council on International Affairs.

Buildings in Cairo, Egypt
A general view of clustered buildings in Cairo, Egypt. VOA

“The only U.S. president who can fix problems with Moscow is a strong U.S. president,” Kortunov told VOA. “So if Trump is under impeachment it definitely weakens his position and it becomes more difficult for him to manage this very complex and very delicate relationship. We need to have predictable partners. Weakness makes leaders unpredictable.”

With 1.3 billion people, India is often called the world’s biggest democracy. In Delhi, there is admiration for principle of impeachment. “It means that it is a very fair, a proper democracy at work,” according to Dipika Nanjappa, who works at a local voluntary organization. Retired government official Ashish Banerjee agrees: “We need to be more accountable. Our leaders need to be more accountable,” he told VOA.

Cairo resident Sameh Ghoneim sees echoes of Egypt’s own leadership in the alleged actions of Donald Trump. “He is only interested in personal gain,” said Ghoneim, who works as a mining engineer outside the capital. “He will look for corruption in others when it helps him.”

ALSO READ: Trump to Pursue Higher Sales Age for Vaping Devices: ‘An Age Limit of 21 or So’

In South Africa’s Johannesburg, opinion on Trump’s fate is again divided. “I think he’s doing just fine, so I don’t see the reason why he should be removed,” said local chef Khanyisile Shongwe. Cleaner Joseph Maisa is no fan of the U.S. president. “He doesn’t bring nice things in America. That is why he should be removed.”

The impeachment process could go on well into 2020, as the U.S. also gears up for the presidential election following what promises to be a bitterly fought campaign. Each twist and turn will be followed closely across the globe. (VOA)