By ATTAYUTH BOOTSRIPOOM
THE ARREST of 14 student activists from the New Democracy Movement (NDM) is a reflection Thailand's past social events and could help us envision the country's future.
Severe conflict is no stranger to our society. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) cited this when it seized power from the previous government in May last year. The NCPO has attempted to make us believe the conflict is now behind us and peace is on the way back, in line with its slogan of “returning happiness to the people”. However, it seems our leaders have not made much progress in this area.
It is true that political unrest has gone and no political groups have held a street protest since the coup. But that is because the NCPO has banned political gatherings. Political activists and politicians with the potential to lead a large protest mostly have been summoned to meet the NCPO authorities for “attitude adjustment”.
This method used by the NCPO has failed to get rid of conflict in Thai society. It has just swept the problem under the carpet. Moreover, the restriction on the freedom of expression has heightened frustration among many groups of people, regardless of their political preferences.
The arrest of the 14 student activists has led to an obvious clash of opinions between people with contrasting views. The 14 activists were severely criticised and a “witch hunt” ensued. Their personal information was disclosed although it was not related to their campaign.
The NCPO should attempt to turn this crisis into an opportunity. If it really wants to recreate unity among Thai people, it should review its actions in order to find out if it has done anything wrong. The council members should try to determine what it is that’s obstructing their efforts. Not much progress has been made although the NCPO has been in power for more than a year now.
Also, the powers-that-be appear to be increasingly anxious, particularly over the media coverage of this arrest. Some of their reactions to the media coverage were a misstep and even made things worse for them. The National Broadcast and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) admitted to summoning executives of the public television Thai PBS to explain its controversial scoop on the 14 student activists. Editors from other media outlets also were separately summoned for explanations about their reports on the matter.
In fact, Thai PBS’s scoop did not get much attention after it went to air. However, the NBTC move caused many people who missed the scoop to want to see it. This was no different from the arrest of the 14 student activists. If the students had been allowed to complete their campaign, they would not have gained so much attention and things would not have got out of hand.
It remains unclear if people in power made the decision to have the students arrested, or if it was the work of some officials who simply wanted to please their bosses. Either way, the powers-that-be must review such harsh measures, as it could lead to more pressure against the government.
Opposition and discontent against the government may also grow as many people disagree with what they view as unfair use of power. This dissatisfaction could expand into the streets, as was the case for many mass protests in the past.
The NCPO should try to answer if it wants to end the conflict or bring about unity. If the answer is the former, it may continue doing what it has done. But if it is the latter, it may have to review its stance and allow for more “political space” to make sure that Thai politics returns to normal as soon as possible.