By Punnawit Tantirapan, Thailand
The COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand started in January 2020, making it the first country outside China to experience this deadly viral infection. It has been the toughest year for the country’s economy, since the present Prime Minister came into power in 2014. The Government is still the same as the last one, but the prime minister retired from the military and became a politician in late 2018. It was not so obvious at first that people didn’t want this government, most people who preferred democracy as a political system was living in silence most of the time throughout 2019 as there were people being jailed or prosecuted before the election in 2019. The military regime exiled many politicians and activists, which many feared would happen to them if they don’t keep their thoughts. However, this pandemic has highlighted cracks within Thai society. This article is not directly related to COVID19, but how the government has been using the pandemic to violate people’s rights.
Recent student-led pro-democracy protests have been demanding the State to make changes in ways it governs the country. First, they are asking the prime minister to step down from power. Second, students are pushing for constitutional reform and third, the government needs to stop curtailing the freedom of its people to express their views on critical issues. In their declaration of three demands, Prime minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha must resign from his role and let the people have a fair, clean election process.
At the height of COVID-19, the government failed to fix the economy, resulting in high unemployment rates throughout the country. Many small to medium sized businesses closed down during the pandemic. Some people lost everything they had, leading to some commiting suicides. Jiamsupa was one of them. He drove a taxi for two decades and the lockdown forced him to stay home without income. This is one of the reasons why people no longer have faith in the Government.
With the declaration of the state of emergency, people were unnecessarily arrested and harassed by the officials. Moreover, a number of pro-democracy activitists have been arrested and charged due to violation of the emergency decree. People were arrested for allegedly breaking the law, and some were charged with controversial draconian laws that debilitate rights, freedoms and social justice.
The current government tore the previous constitution and constructed a new one by themselves. The ex-military government appointed 250 senators to vote for in favor. They won the election without any objections. It shows that the current government intended to remain in power in many more years to come.
Thailand is regarded by many as a champion of combatting Covid-19. There have not been any new cases domestically in nearly three months. The death toll remains at 58— which is low compared to its ASEAN neighbors. Despite this, the government has been extending the state of emergency decree to prevent any disruptions towards socio-political harmony and economic recovery. This has had a chilling effect on the state of human rights, freedoms and social justice in the country. Sadly, democracy is merely a concept that exists in the constitution of Thailand under this current regime. This has to change to not just salvage the nation from any greater threats to lives, but to preserve what is left of every Thai person’s dignity and aspiration to enjoy a free, just, equal country.
Department of Disease Control. 2020. Thailand situation. Retrieved from https://ddc.moph.go.th/viralpneumonia/eng/index.php
The Thaiger. 2020. CCSA recommend an extension to the emergency decree in Thailand. Retrieved from https://thethaiger.com/coronavirus/cssa-recommend-an-extension-to-the-emergency-decree-in-thailand
Thailand Law Library. 2020. Royal Family (Sections 107-112). Retrieved from https://library.siam-legal.com/thai-law/criminal-code-royal-family-sections-107-112/
Thailand Law Library. 2020. Offense Internal Security (Sections 113-118). Retrieved https://library.siam-legal.com/thai-law/criminal-code-offense-internal-security-sections-113-118/
Photo by Punnawit Tantirapan
*The contents of this opinion piece are solely those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the view of the either Global Campus of Human Rights Asia Pacific, the universities under it, or the APMA program.