Are the last elections in Thailand really democratic?

Everyday life in Thailand, a year after the coup

On May 22, 2014, the twelfth military coup took place in Thailand since the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1932. This was preceded by weeks of street protests against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, personified in the dispute between the so-called “red shirts” and “yellow shirts”. The Prime Minister was - like her brother Thaksin before her in 2006 - a victim of allegations of corruption and abuse of office. Thailand has been deeply divided since 2001. Back then, the telecommunications magnate Thaksin Shinawatra mobilized the poor masses with popular small loans and won the elections. To the horror of the urban elite, who until then had largely determined the country's politics. Since then, pro and anti-Shinawatra governments have alternated in Thailand.

In Thailand today you can have anything, anytime, provided you can pay for it. Money rules the world here too. This is all the more astonishing when you know that the main argument for their intervention and the last coup was given by the military as the general “laxism” that supposedly took hold of the population. But, as in the 80s, the new rulers largely left out daily life. A few illegal gambling dens have been dug up and raids carried out against illegal employers, but by and large nepotism and corruption, other main official reasons for the military takeover, have not really been eradicated since the coup.

In the following you can read a chronicle of the supposed everyday calm in Thailand, in which fear has actually replaced a real democratic process


May 2014: On Nut, Bangkok

On Nut, the district in the southeast of Bangkok, is still considered a poor area, despite the ubiquitous building boom. The dwellings made of corrugated iron and plastic sheets are mostly inhabited by motorcycle taxi drivers, street vendors, prostitutes and day laborers. Most of them here support the "red shirts". The residents here come from the poor, especially from the north of the country. They are traditionally considered to be supporters of the Shinawatra clan. Under the house gate, on the one hand, there is an altar that is lit up with candles all night to the glory of the gods - and this graffiti: red zone. The only act of resistance against the new rulers.

Because from one day to the next, life in this neighborhood ceased to exist. Where there used to be a big hello, with sellers of grilled insects, where young people huddled together in telephone booths, where cockfights were held on the street, now there is silence. Only one man dares to leave the television on until three in the morning. A supporter of the new rulers, the "yellow shirts" (yellow is the color of the king and those who supported the coup, the middle class and urban upper classes).

In the months immediately following the coup, the military arrested more than a thousand people: intellectuals, politicians and bloggers. They were put back on track in "re-education camps".

 

The others hold back for fear of the military. Nok is around 50 years old. Today she sells beverage cans and other goods in her corner shop through a lattice window from midnight. For years she had let the customers in, everyone saw her “red radio” together and discussed politics. It's over.
The junta immediately closed all opposition media. Now only programs approved by her run on television. The king, Bhumipol Adulyadej, the longest-serving monarch in the world, legitimized the coup. The military in a country that still reveres the king is now relying on his blessing. The new ruler, General Prayuth, has his own television program. It is shown once a week on all channels. The title: "Bring happiness back to the people", named after a song that the general composed himself.

There is no shrinking from propaganda films with Adolf Hitler here either. The brainwashing has already started in school: every morning the children recite the 12 maxims that are supposed to make up the Thai identity: among other things "Love for the nation, religion and monarchy", "Preserve old customs and traditions" as well as "Discipline and respect for the elderly"

And that in a country whose youth have an average of two Facebook accounts. To make the maxims popular, you can at least get them on a USB stick. And of course, every reference to Shinawatra and the clan has now been carefully removed from the school books.

The universities were not spared either: political activities by the students are now reluctant, and all references to the student unrest from 1974 to 76 have been removed. In the months immediately following the coup, the military arrested more than a thousand people: intellectuals, politicians and bloggers. They were put back on track in "re-education camps". Amnesty International complains that torture should also have occurred. Those who do not like the new regime may have their bank accounts frozen to prevent unpleasant activities.