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THAILAND COUP: Return to elections a distant hope

Publication Date : 30-05-2014

 

The prospect of a return to elections in Thailand remains distant, after its military rulers said they would only be held when "all citizens abide by the law".

Yesterday, a government spokesman also indicated Thailand would widen censorship, sending officials to Singapore and Japan in the coming days to seek tighter control over social media from Facebook to Google Inc and instant messenger service Line.

The first briefing for foreign media by a ranking general on the unfolding developments here was given yesterday by Lieutenant-General Chatchalerm Chalermsuk.

While conceding that the army's May 22 coup d'etat was illegal, he insisted that the army had intervened unwillingly, to prevent Thailand from becoming a failed state and sliding into civil war.

"The question is, can a free and fair election take place in the current political situation," he said.

Briefing foreign media alongside Lt-Gen Chatchalerm in the morning, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Sek Wannamethee, reading from a prepared statement, said the junta's National Council for Peace and Oder (NCPO) "aims to create the right conditions for national reconciliation and push forward the reform process, with the free and fair general elections as the final goal".

 Censorship of the Internet has also been widened since the military coup although a foreign ministry spokesman had said the junta would not block social media.

Among websites blocked yesterday were the popular Prachatai.com, the academic website Midnight University and the Thailand country page of the independent, New York-based Human rights Watch.

Web journal Tech In Asia yesterday reported that since the coup, 219 websites had been shut down.

The military rulers warned about the spread of what it considers provocative material on social media and asked service providers to help tighten censorship. Officials will travel to Singapore and Japan to meet with Facebook, Google and Line, too, as they have no representatives in Thailand.

"We want to talk to them informally," adviser to the permanent secretary of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Ministry Pisit Pao-In, told a news conference yesterday.

"We do not ask them to install any additional software. We just ask them to help filter content."

Separately, army spokesman, Colonel Winthai Suwari, citing junta supremo General Prayuth Chan-ocha, told reporters only websites which were deemed to "provoke conflict and divisiveness" and those that attacked the monarchy would be blocked.

Yesterday, the military released more detainees, including the ousted government's foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul and the former premier's secretary general Suranand Vejjajiva.

But it also summoned more people and clamped a massive security cordon around a crucial intersection in downtown Bangkok to prevent a repeat of volatile anti-coup protests on Wednesday.

So far, more than 250 people have been summoned - mostly politicians, activists, academics and financiers thought to be aligned with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by a military coup in 2006. Under martial law, the junta can detain people for up to seven days without charge or trial.

In Singapore yesterday, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Thailand's visiting Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Sihasak Phuangketkeow that he hopes a process of reconciliation can be found.

Prolonged uncertainties will affect Thailand and the region as a whole, Shanmugam said.

He said: "Therefore, Singapore joins the other Asean member states in expressing our hope that the situation in Thailand will return to normal as soon as possible, as peace, stability and development in Thailand are important in advancing the shared goal of an Asean Community by 2015."

 

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