BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - If political reform truly matters to the junta generals led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, they must end their hypocrisy and allow genuine public participation in the way the country is governed.
Mr Prayut again exercised his "special powers" last week, this time to ease restrictions on political activities so that parties planning to contest the coming general election can begin preparing.
While some doubt remains as to whether the election will in fact ever be allowed to take place, the parties can at least begin assembling members for meetings to choose their leaders, candidates and executive teams.
What Mr Prayut decided not to endorse, however, was a proposed primary-style voting system that would have given the broader party membership a louder voice in candidate selection. And nor, for now at least, can the parties announce their campaign platforms.
All that the junta has done is to unscrew the lid a little, thus releasing some of the steam pressure mounting on it.
Severe restrictions and draconian regulations remain in place to gag citizens wishing to express political opinions. This must be the case, the generals say, for the sake of peace, order and public security.
That rationale might be credible if the junta was not selectively applying the rules and blatantly suppressing potential electoral competitors.
On Monday (Sept 17), members of the progressive new Future Forward Party were charged under the Computer Crimes Act for live-streaming a broadcast on Facebook in June critical of the junta.
The same day, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission forced a television station to temporarily suspend two political commentators, reportedly because they talked too much about Mr Thaksin Shinawatra.
Both of these incidents occurred just as the secretary-general of the United Nations condemned Thailand in a report on rights abuses that counted the Kingdom among 38 "shameful" countries where activists were routinely intimidated.
If political rivals remain under the heels of army boots, Mr Prayut and his supporters, including politicians who have pledged to help him return as premier after the election, are enjoying privileged access to national funding.
Mr Prayut was in northeastern Loei province on Monday urging thousands of people to help him maintain peace and order so that the election can proceed and his government need not be accused of plotting a further postponement.
That has happened several times when perceived threats arose, stoking suspicions that they were contrived as justification for the military to cling to power.
Bafflingly, Mr Prayut also asked local administrators to help his government "build democracy".
Sounding like US President Donald Trump, he said, "Don't listen to distorted information." "We are building a castle, a home for us all. We are building democracy and making it strong. Devotion and sacrifice from all of us will strengthen this castle of democracy and prevent it from collapsing."
The remarks can be seen as nothing other than an insult to the intelligence of people around the world.
The military-led government has engineered legal trickery to perpetuate its hold on power, restricted public freedoms and thrown critics in jail.
Such actions do not build democracy but destroy it.
If the election is to take place on February 24, the junta has roughly five months to change direction 180 degrees.
Democracy demands a knowledgeable electorate able to choose among viable alternative candidates who are allowed to present their views freely. Nothing less is acceptable.
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