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'Democratic culture is being eroded'

Feb 14. 2015
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By PRAVIT ROJANAPHRUK
THE SUNDAY

Opponents of martial law say it also hits the economy
CONTINUED long-term imposition of martial law will further corrode democratic culture and negatively affect the economy, opponents of the law have warned, nearly nine months after it was imposed just before the coup on May 22 last year.
Opponents now fear that martial law could be left in effect for another year or longer, including on the promised election-day early next year, despite calls from the United States and the European Union for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to lift it.
“It’s unpredictable under martial law how many more people would be arrested and detained [under the law]. It will affect political parties wanting to carry out electoral campaigns. Will all the parties feel equally at ease campaigning under martial law?” Thammasat University political scientist Pongkwan Sawasdipakdi asked.
Pongkwan said the economy would be affected for the long-term as well as business operators cannot be certain if autocratic power will be used in a way that would negatively affect their business in the future or not.
Red Sunday Group leader Sombat Boonngam-anong, who was arrested for leading a movement to oppose the NCPO and now faces charges at the military court, agreed that indefinite imposition of martial law would take a toll on the economy.
Sombat said he’s deeply concerned about the long-term negative impact on democratic culture, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, among academics, the media and ordinary citizens.
“Silence under martial law is not security,” said Sombat, adding that it’s also a matter of national pride that Thai citizens should not be subjected to a repressive law that in the end affects the standing of the Kingdom in the eyes of the international community.
Human Rights lawyer Anon Nampha said with no end in sight for martial law, many public seminars would continue to be restricted as the military requires that organisers submit request for approval before holding public talks on politics and some have been stopped by the NCPO in recent months.
Anon said he was also concerned about the rise of the number of civilians who will be detained and taken to the military court under martial law and the fact defendants have no right to appeal under military court system.
Some 20 civilians are now facing the military court, said Anon, and the number could significantly rise the longer the special law is imposed.
Both Anon and Sombat believe polls that suggest that many Thais support the continuation of martial law are not reliable. They said polls conducted under martial law were essentially skewed and people may not feel comfortable to express their true political opinions.
“The pollsters may have become a political tool [for the continued imposition of martial law],” said Sombat.
He said many people may not even be aware the law negatively affects them, albeit indirectly, such as the effects on the economy.
For Anon, he said he didn’t care how many people may back the law as he believes it will cause more problems in the end.
As for Pongkwan, the fact more arrests are occurring under martial law suggests that even under martial law, the country has not returned to normalcy.
“It shows that the government doesn’t feel secure,” Pongkwan concluded.

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