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EU Warns Thailand: ‘Free And Fair Elections’ Or Face Consequences

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By Matthew Tempest

(EurActiv) — Chair of the European Parliament ASEAN delegation, Dr Werner Langen warned, “I don’t believe that the right way forward is to have a military regime in place on a long-term basis.”

Senior MEPs have warned the military junta ruling Thailand that the country must return to “free and fair elections” or risk the future of all EU-Thailand relations.

Thailand has been under the rule of General Prayuth Chan-ocha since May 2014, when he staged a coup to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

A delegation of MEPs from the ASEAN delegation (Association of South East Asian Nations) and the subcomittee on human rights visited Thailand this week – the first official visit by MEPs since the coup.

In the meantime, the EU has broken off negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement between Brussels and Bangkok, and the country’s key $3bn fish export industry has been placed under a ‘yellow card’ for abuses of fish stocks and labour rights abuses.

At the end of the three-day visit, the group – headed by Dr Werner Langen, the chair of the ASEAN delegation – warned that “the future of EU-Thailand relations depends on free and fair elections”.

Chan-ocha has promised a referendum on the draft constitution on 7 August, followed by a general election in mid-2017.

However, both the constitution itself and the freedom to campaign for and against it have been heavily criticised by human rights groups.

Pointedly, the 8-strong delegation warn in their statement that both the referendum and the ‘roadmap to democracy’ plan “must be the result of an inclusive process allowing for an open debate among all stakeholders”.

They add, “In this context, the delegation made it clear that a return to democratic structures and free and fair elections constitute important conditions for the future development of bilateral relations between the EU and Thailand.”

The MEPs met with a variety of stakeholders during their visit to Thailand, including former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, both the Pheu Thai party and the Democrat party, the constitution drafting committee and NGOs and academics.

The meeting with Yingluck – sister of the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra – was arranged after the junta refused her permission last year to travel to Brussels to address the European Parliament.

Commenting after the meeting, Yingluck said, “They [the MEPs], overall, would like to see our country gearing towards democracy and elections as soon as possible.

“The request [by the MEPs] to observe the referendum process is the matter to be discussed between the MEPs and the government.

“People have been waiting for our country to return to democracy for two years. Thai people wish for a general election as soon as possible which would restore people’s rights, freedom and democracy. I wish to see this progress otherwise the two years past would have been lost in vain.”

Langen sounded sceptical about the prospects about the referendum, and the long-term future of Thai democracy.

Speaking at the end of the visit, he said, “I believe that the current draft constitution that will be put to a referendum contains many opportunities to keep political democratic parties from power for quite some time, and I don’t believe that that is the right way to overcome the political differences between the two parties.

“There needs to be more willingness to work on compromise. And I don’t believe that the right way forward is to have a military regime in place on a long-term basis, and that is why it would be very difficult to answer the question as to what would happen if the military regime were to remain in place.”

Suggesting that there should be the opportunity “to consider possible amendments to the text” of the referendum, he said a democratic transition would involve “either fresh elections or some form of coalition.

“I believe personally it would be quite difficult to foresee a military regime in power on a longer term basis.”

Election to be scrapped?

However, according to the Bangkok Post earlier this week Chan-ocha has threatened to scrap next year’s tentative elections if the referendum is passed.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon was cited as quoting the military general that if the draft charter fails to pass the referendum, Chan-ocha would have to stay on to oversee a new constitution and a general election after that – with no time frame mentioned.

Earlier this week, Thailand’s human rights record under the junta again came in for heavy criticism. In the wake of last week’s periodic review of human rights at the United Nations in Geneva, where Bangkok received 249 recommendations from some 97 UN member states, human rights bodies accused the government in Bangkok of “deceiving the international community”.

A joint statement from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and the Thai-based Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw), pointed to the Universal Periodic Review by the UN as an attempt by the Thai government to “sweep human rights violations under the carpet”.

Although the military junta accepted 181 of the UN recommendations, iLaw executive director Jon Ungpakom commented, “Accepting most recommendations related to civil and political rights does not require any capacity on the government’s part. In order to implement many of those recommendations, the military junta simply needs to return the civil and political rights taken away from the people after the 2014 coup.”

Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontom, chair of UCL, said, “The gap between the Thai government’s words and its actions is as wide as ever.”

Earlier this month, the Thai government announced a raft of measures aimed at tackling its persistent breaches of the Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing protocols, which have seen the EU Commission issue its export sector with a ‘red card’ and complete import ban.

The measures largely target foreign-flagged vessels that may have been involved in illegal fishing in Thai waters, to prevent illegal catches entering the seafood supply chain.


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8 thoughts on “EU Warns Thailand: ‘Free And Fair Elections’ Or Face Consequences

  • May 22, 2016 at 10:39 pm
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    Thailand is a Kingdom and the Thai people love, honor, and respect their King as they do their culture and way of life.

    Prayut’s soft spoken coup was driven by his love for Thailand and the failure – economic, political and popular – of what passed for democracy in Thailand at the hands of Thaksin Shainwatra and his sister-proxy Yingluck.

    Prayut holds principled, often paternalistic views on the proper path towards lasting democracy in Thailand. He does not want the legacy of the coup, in a land where Thai people love their King and their culture, to be another in the long history of failed and corrupt attempts at a constitutional democracy. The failed, if not criminal Thaksin legacy must first fade. But Thaksin and his billions still travel the globe to curry favor, forbidden to set foot in his own country.

    The West needs to give Prayut as much time as the Thai people are willing to give him to succeed.

    Reply
  • May 23, 2016 at 12:10 am
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    Mind your own business, show your true democracy first. Do not beat demonstrators.

    Reply
  • May 23, 2016 at 9:50 am
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    Each country has its own system that would work well for them. No one country is the same. We have different history, culture, education, believe and value to name a few. It won’t be smart to think that the system (in this cast, democracy) that work well in Western Europe and the U.S. will work well with us. Having said that, my Thais friend and I, reject it, but we are not ready for this blank democracy where politician buy vote from the poor, become government and corrupted heavily. That is the democracy we denied. Under the current government, we have much less corruption, higher GDP, more tourists, etc.. We can live with that. If you are our true friend, looking more in to this. Find out why we ‘hate’ Yingluck and her brother. Find out why the ‘quick’ democracy don’t work for us. Or at least, just don’t. Don’t tell us what to do that would make you comfortable, instead of making us. Have respect for us, we know what is right for us.

    Reply
  • May 23, 2016 at 3:01 pm
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    the said elected government of YL was extremely corrupted and Thailand was on the way to complete ruins and damage especially from the rice scheme project by the previous government …..military took over to save Thailand from ruins and all Thais, except the redshirt hardcores, are very happy with this military government…..any foreign powers favoring the extremely corrupted previous government are simply siding with the bad guys……what could we say?

    Reply
  • May 23, 2016 at 3:14 pm
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    These MEP is a joke back home,many was self appointed,Brussels trying to run everyone lives and now extends to Asia,They have no idea what Thailand problem was.
    Those Thais that invite them over will regrets what are they in for.

    Reply
  • May 23, 2016 at 4:32 pm
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    It’s quite amusing to hear you address as such: democratically-elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. It proves clearly that EU is just too innocent to be rolled into Thaksin’s plan. Thailand does not need him and does not like him to challenge His Majesty The King. Simple as that sir. Neither do I myself enjoy having military junta either, but what it proves so far, it is a hundred times fairer and better to the people. For those who lost their territory by means of profit from their own people would simply cry out for justice in which was never justified to ordinary sane Thais.

    Reply
  • May 23, 2016 at 5:09 pm
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    International human rights are everyone’s business because they are international and because Thailand has signed onto the relevant international human rights treaties. “Thailand is special” and “the ordinary rules don’t apply in Thailand” is not an answer. As for the statement, “All Thais love their King,” that is not entirely true; however, more to the point, it is irrelevant because the King is going to be gone very soon and the Thais will have to endure the cruel and erratic Prince Vajiralongkorn, who they most certainly do not love. It’s time for Thailand to openly discuss its very serious and immediate problems, and for that we need freedoms of speech, which many Thais are now demanding. Let the world stand with the Thais demanding the right to discuss their political future.

    Reply
  • May 24, 2016 at 1:55 am
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    Thanks for using your freedom to promote ours which has been hijacked by the ruthless dictator.

    Reply

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