No scheme to stay on will ever make Prayuth le­git­i­mate


Can the ex­pected ref­er­en­dum on whether to al­low the mil­i­tary regime of Gen­eral Prayuth Chan-Ocha to stay for two more years “le­git­imize” the gov­ern­ment?

Some say yes, as they ar­gue that this time, un­like in the coup Prayuth forced on peo­ple last year, the elec­torate will have a say through a plebiscite in­stead of obey­ing the guns and or­ders of coup mak­ers.

Many have al­ready de­cided to give a blank check to the mil­i­tary strong­man and leader of the Na­tional Coun­cil for Peace and Or­der — who later chose him­self to be­come prime min­is­ter for an al­most in­def­i­nite pe­riod to run the coun­try and en­sure that the Thaksin-Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra clique would be an­ni­hi­lated.

Nev­er­the­less, gain­ing a “man­date” through the ref­er­en­dum would be a very sweet move for the regime that’s still re­garded as less ac­cept­able than an elected ad­min­is­tra­tion by some for­eign states. Af­ter all, if en­dorsed through a ref­er­en­dum, Prayuth can fi­nally say peo­ple have granted him a man­date.

‘A twisted and fraud­u­lent ref­er­en­dum

at best’

It’s a twisted and fraud­u­lent ref­er­en­dum at best, how­ever, be­cause the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is def­i­nitely not con­ducive to a free and fair plebiscite.

First, there’s the on­go­ing ban on po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ings of five or more peo­ple. Ac­cord­ing to iLaw, a non-gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion spe­cial­iz­ing in le­gal re­form and hu­man­rights fig­ures, at least 72 meet­ings and sym­po­siums have been banned or in­ter­vened in for the past 12 months.

Given that, how can one truly ex­pect peo­ple to ar­tic­u­late crit­i­cally to­gether and de­lib­er­ate the choices in or­der to make a gen­uinely in­formed de­ci­sion?

If this were an elec­tion, it would be akin to one that the op­po­si­tion par­ties could com­pete in but could not cam­paign pub­licly.

Sec­ond, one should con­sider how far­ci­cal is the ori­gin of the process. The very peo­ple selling the idea of a ref­er­en­dum on whether to al­low a junta leader to stay on are mem­bers of the Na­tional Re­form Coun­cil (NRC) and the Na­tional Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly (NLA) who were in­stalled by Prayuth the junta leader to be­gin with. Con­flict of in­ter­est doesn’t seem to bother some Thais or Prayuth, how­ever.

Third, the main ques­tion on the ref­er­en­dum — be­sides whether to al­low Prayuth to stay on or not — would be whether one re­jects or ac­cepts the junta-spon­sored draft char­ter. If the an­swer is no, then Prayuth au­to­mat­i­cally stays on to over­see a new draft­ing process. If the an­swer is yes, then peo­ple get the junta-spon­sored draft char­ter, which is deeply flawed in the eyes of those who sup­port democ­racy.

Very Lim­ited Choice

Ei­ther way, the choice is like choos­ing be­tween two brands of cola.

If a coup is com­pared to a sit­u­a­tion where armed men seize con­trol of a house that be­longs to ev­ery­one, then the ref­er­en­dum is like the gun-sling­ing armed oc­cu­piers ask­ing the other oc­cu­pants whether they would like to have them stay on or not.

The truth is, le­git­i­macy can­not be at­tained through the bar­rels of guns or the use of force and co­er­cion. Le­git­i­macy can never be at­tained by si­lenc­ing mil­lions. Yes, Prayuth is likely to stay on for two more years if not longer, one way or the other, but no scheme can ever make him le­git­i­mate in the eyes of Thais who cher­ish free­dom and democ­racy.

Ill-got­ten wealth, no mat­ter how long you keep it or how hard you try to laun­der it, re­mains il­le­git­i­mate. Stolen power, like stolen money, will re­main what it is no mat­ter what. Lee Jae-min is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of law at Seoul Na­tional Univer­sity.

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