U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Thailand’s military leaders to lift restrictions on political activity and quickly return to democracy and civilian rule through elections.
Kerry was speaking yesterday in Hawaii after a trip through Asia that included a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Myanmar.
“Across the region, there are bright spots” for human rights, Kerry said in a speech in Honolulu. “But we also see backsliding, such as the setback to democracy in Thailand.”
Thailand’s military ousted the elected government in a May 22 coup that followed months of street protests and has used martial law to ban political gatherings, stifle free speech and temporarily detain hundreds of politicians, activists, academics and journalists. Junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has said the nation’s 12th coup since 1932 and the second in eight years was needed to end political divisions and return “happiness” to the country.
Prayuth has said elections can’t be held until late 2015 at the earliest and could be delayed further if the situation is deemed unstable. Since taking over, the junta has written an interim constitution that gives it absolute power and appointed a National Legislative Assembly dominated by military men. The assembly is expected to appoint a new prime minister next week and many of its members have said they favor Prayuth to take the post.
“We’re very disturbed by the setback to democracy and we hope it is a temporary bump in the road,” Kerry said, noting that Thailand is a “close friend and ally” of the U.S.
After the coup, Washington cut $4.7 million of security-related assistance to Thailand and canceled a number of training programs and exchanges with the military and police. The cuts, along with criticism from U.S. officials, has led coup supporters on social media and in the local press to call on Washington to stay out of Thai politics.
“We all know that some countries in the region hold different views on democratic governance and the protection of human rights,” Kerry said yesterday. “But though we may sometimes disagree on these issues with the governments, I don’t think we have any fundamental disagreement with their people.”