News / Asia

US Demands Return to Democracy in Thailand

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) listens to Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (R) at the start of their meeting, May 31, 2014, in Singapore.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) listens to Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (R) at the start of their meeting, May 31, 2014, in Singapore.
VOA News
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has demanded that coup leaders in Thailand release detainees and immediately hold general elections, after Thai military leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha said a return to civilian rule is probably at least a year away.

Speaking at an Asian security conference in Singapore on Saturday, Hagel also called on the junta to end its curbs on free expression, including banning political gatherings of more than five people and tight media controls.

Condemning the kingdom's "retreat from democracy," Hagel told delegates to the Shangri-La Dialogue that the U.S. had suspended its long-standing military ties with Thailand.

In a nationally televised address late Friday, General Prayuth said a process of reconciliation and political reform must take place before elections. He spent much of the speech reassuring the public that the Thai economy is strong and that investors should remain confident.

However, he also warned protesters to stop demonstrating against the military coup that he led last week, because, he said, conflict will slow down the process of restoring civilian rule.

Hundreds of government troops sealed off busy intersections in Bangkok on Thursday to prevent an expected opposition rally. Truckloads of soldiers .blocked all roads leading to the city's Victory Monument in a massive show of force during the busy evening rush hour and many street vendors closed up shop early. Few protesters were seen then, but they are said to be planning a huge rally on Sunday in the capital.

Thailand's military rulers have outlawed protests and detained hundreds of government officials, politicians and anti-coup activists since taking power last week. Most have since been freed after promising to refrain from public protests, but others face prosecution.

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said the United States sees no legitimate reason to delay elections in Thailand.

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by: Patrick James Kelly
June 01, 2014 12:33 AM
Being an American who has lived in Thailand the past 20-years, the idea of a single person making all the decisions in a supposedly democratic society causes me great concern. While I will be the first to agree that what Thailand needs at this point is a strong hand keeping all the various factions in Thailand from exploding into violence, I am 100% certain that coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha being effectively handed one man power in Thailand is not the answer. This would be like United States Secretary of Defense Chuch Hagel taking over power, throwing out the congress and senate as well as the president and all members of his cabinet and imposing martial law followed by declarations that he alone is now in charge and making all the decisions. Of course, such an event would be virtually impossible in the US since ordinary soldiers would never take part in such a blatant affront to the core principals of democracy. Now while it is true that the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council or "NPOMC" has some role in making decisions since the coup, there is no way for anyone to assess whether they have any real power or are simply rubberstamping Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha's decisions.

Personally I have nothing against Gen. Prayuth Chan-orcha. He seems like a nice enough guy who has risen to the top of the Thai military which is certainly worthy of a certain degree of respect. While I suspect he is likely a fair person with a good moral sense of right and wrong, the song "Everyone Wants to Rule the World" still comes to mind. It is a very dangerous move to allow anyone too much power over others since power always has a tendency to corrupt. There is just something that happens to people who become overnight "stars". Unfortunately with rare, rare exceptions the results are usually all bad not only on a personal level where some spend too much time admiring themselves in the mirror but also on a public level when it become apparent people are just people no matter how many spotlights are turned on them. My advice to the good General is that he start sharing that power as quickly as he can and make sure the public is made 100% certain that one man is not calling all the shots. His failure to do so poses great risks to the country he says he loves. Regardless of that love, Thailand is not his country to do with as he pleases. It belongs to all the people of Thailand who surely love it just as much as any general.
In Response

by: Prassina from: Tucson, Arizona
June 02, 2014 2:28 PM
Patrick, your analysis of General Prayuth sounds reasonable. I agree that he appears to genuinely cares about Thailand's future but that is precisely why he was chosen to lead the coup: he inspires confidence. The goal of the military takeover, however, isn't restoring democracy - not a this stage anyway. It is about gaining time. Those vying for the ultimate power are simply waiting for His Majesty to pass away. Sadly, it may not be long now. Meanwhile, anything goes: promises to farmers, to small business owners, etc, ( in spite of the army's dismal knowledge of economics. ) Don't be too optimistic, though, because that is all a front.

by: Mark from: Washington
May 31, 2014 12:04 PM

It's time for the US to take over Thailand. The United States is the only country in the world that knows what other countries needs to do. Bring our troops to defend our country. Punish those country who would not obey. Let us impose economic sanction immediately, don't provide aid to them.
In Response

by: Prassina from: Tucson, Arizona
June 02, 2014 2:13 PM
Mark, that's sarcasm, right? You can't be serious about the US taking over Thailand?
In Response

by: MOD from: CHINA
May 31, 2014 9:01 PM
UHHH....what a shame..................."Bring our troops to defend our country" who do u THINK u r.............

by: DAN GRAZOR from: OHIO
May 31, 2014 9:06 AM
Whoever in Washington made the statement : " State Department spokeswoman said the United States sees no legitimate reason to delay elections in Thailand" obviously missed or does not understand the first section of the article that states : "Thai military leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha said a return to civilian rule is probably at least a year away."
The USA gov. once again has the mentality that everyone in this world has to render to their demands, and again it is leading to more instability! This US gov. is causing turmoil in its own country, and expects others to follow by demanding, GOOD LUCK!

by: meanbill from: USA
May 31, 2014 8:31 AM
(IS IT AN AMERICAN THREAT?) -- With pompous bluster Hagel demands -- "That Thailand return to a Democracy" -- (OR WHAT?) -- The US will interfere in the politics of Thailand and bring violence, death, destruction and war, like they always do when they interfere in other (non-European Union) countries politics -- like they did in Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Ukraine? --

PS; _ Like (3) of the (4) horsemen of the apocalypse -- In every (non-European Union) country the US, EU, and NATO countries interfere in, they always bring violence, death, and destruction and war? -- and never peace?

by: Florida boy from: Palm Bay Florida
May 31, 2014 8:29 AM
Why does U.S. want democracy for Thailand but dictatorship for United States ?

by: Mickey Coe
May 31, 2014 8:12 AM
Unfortunately, the rookies in the State Dept and DOD haven't read their history and don't understand that Thailand IS a democracy, but one that when it strays, the Army steps in. This quiets the situation until elections can be held. Threatening a friendly country is self destruction of the good relations. Hagle needs to go back to his old job of throwing trash on trucks.

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