A joint statement issued in Washington on Oct 2, signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and US President Donald Trump, promised elections in 2018.
As we come to an end of an eventful year that marked changes Thailand has not seen in decades, the country and the world is looking upon the military to live up to its promises of holding elections and handing back power to the rightful owners — the Thai people.
The past 12 months were marked by many events that will continue to shape the country in the years ahead. One of the biggest events of the year was the cremation of King Rama IX, which saw Thais from all walks of life uniting to pay their respects in October. Most Thais had not known any other monarch and as the crematorium’s smoke went up, most of our hearts sank as it marked the end of an era.
Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.
Another evente that shaped the country’s future was the trial, and subsequent escape from same, of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. In one of the biggest stories of the year, Yingluck’s looming fate dominated the headlines for months. First, the former premier failed to appear at her Aug 25 hearing, and then the court eventually handed down a verdict in her absence on Sept 27 that she was guilty of negligence of duty and sentenced her to five years in prison. The verdict was a wake-up call for any future government that looked to undertake populist policies to be careful that there are no leaks in the system, as it could lead to prosecution in the future.
The Prayut government has been on a non-stop populist campaign by handing out subsidies and freebies over the past year, despite having undertaken the coup on the back of being against such moves.
The hope of the coup administration has been that with these policies and a few more would help the military-backed government to remain popular going into 2018, when an election will supposedly be held.
The elections that were promised in 2015 after the May 22, 2014, coup was then pushed to 2016. Our Dear Leader then went to the United Nation’s General Assembly, where he stated that elections would be held by late 2017. Then in 2017, when Gen Prayut visited the White House, he promised elections in 2018. Eventually the month of November next year was announced.
As the countdown to this has already started, and with the last possible day that an election can be held — they are usually held on Sundays, the last of which in that month will be Nov 25 — just 330 days away, the military government is doing all it can to cling on to power. This comes as the administration is seen as starting to lose a lot of support, to a point that even Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda came out to warn of the waning popularity.
Other events that shaped the political landscape of the country has been the issue of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and his taste for expensive watches. The issue, which came into light soon after the Cabinet reshuffle, has gathered momentum as Gen Prawit has been seen wearing as many as 11 watches worth more than 30 million baht in total. None of these assets were declared to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) when he took office after being part of the coup council — a coup that supposedly was undertaken to tackle corruption.
Among other issues that kept many on the edge was the jailing of Jatupat ‘Pai Dao Din’ Boonpattaraksa, who was also awarded the Gwangju price for Human Rights from South Korea in May this year. Jatupat was put behind bars for sharing a Facebook story that was shared by thousands of other people.
On top of all these issues was the frequent use of the Section 44 for whatever the need was of the Dear Leader, although one can take solace in the fact that there were fewer S-44s issued during 2017 than in the previous year.
Operating in such an environment has not made things any easier for the traditional media, such as ourselves. Falling advertising revenues coupled with changes in consumer behaviour has put a lot of pressure on the newspaper industry. Many of our colleagues have started to look for greener pastures, and those that remain are trying to carry to torch to act as the voice of the people.
With the clock ticking to take us forward into 2018, our only hope is that this time around Gen Prayut lives up to his promises of handing democracy back to the people by November. We, the media, have been acting as the de facto opposition to the military regime and will continue to push for the generals to live up to their words so that our country moves forward on the path of democracy and prosperity.