Thai Anti-Coup Group Expects Military Rule to Be Short-Lived

Thailand’s military coup will be short-lived as the junta leaders face increasing pressure domestically and international sanctions affect the economy, said a former aide to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

A new dissident group plans to “educate society” to encourage the junta to return power to a civilian government, said Jakrapob Penkair, who fled Thailand in 2009 after being accused of insulting the monarchy and has helped establish the Organisation of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy.

Junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha has said the coup, the country’s 12th since 1932, was necessary to cleanse Thailand’s political system of corruption, and that it will take at least 18 months before elections can be held. Since seizing power on May 22, Prayuth has used martial-law powers to stamp out criticism of the putsch, including detaining people for wearing T-shirts with anti-coup slogans and for reading the George Orwell novel “1984” in public.

“We do not expect that this military junta will last near as long as Prayuth believes,” Robert Amsterdam, a Canadian human-rights lawyer who is advising the group, said yesterday in an interview in Hong Kong. “You cannot essentially believe that in this era of modern communications people are going to allow for ‘1984’-type measures.”

The U.S. scrapped joint military programs with Thailand and Australia’s government said it will prevent coup leaders from visiting. The European Union this week said it’s suspending official visits to and from Thailand and withdrawing support for the country until democracy is reinstated.

More Repressive

The U.S. government said this week that military rule may last longer than expected, and that the junta that ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government last month has been more repressive than the one that seized power from her brother, Thaksin, in 2006.

“The ruling military council has continuously summoned, detained, and intimidated hundreds of political figures, academics, journalists, online commentators,and peaceful protesters,” Scot Marciel, the U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, told a congressional hearing in Washington June 24. “Our hope is that this strong international message, plus pressure from within Thailand, will lead to an easing of repression and an early return to democracy.”

The Organisation of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy was established this week by Charupong Ruangsuwan, interior minister in the government ousted by the coup, who said the group will rally forces outside the country to push for a return to democracy in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

Insulting Royal Family

The baht has gained 0.3 percent since the coup. The benchmark SET stock index has climbed 5.1 percent in the period, compared with the 0.6 percent increase in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

Jakrapob said in Hong Kong that the group isn’t yet calling itself a government-in-exile and isn’t basing itself in any one country. He was once a spokesman for Thaksin and later a cabinet member in an administration of Thaksin’s allies. He resigned in 2008 when police pressed charges against him for allegedly insulting the royal family, a crime punishable by as many as 15 years in prison.

The junta said Jakrapob’s group won’t succeed in changing public opinion within Thailand.

“Any overseas movement aiming to incite conflict has limited impact because many governments won’t allow such a movement in their countries as they see that they are interfering in an internal issue, which is inappropriate,” National Council for Peace and Order spokesman Winthai Suvaree told reporters yesterday. “We believe that the public will show good judgment and won’t see that the issue is important or believe in information they get from social media.”

Junta leader Prayuth has said the army had no choice except to seize power to end more than six months of political turmoil that led to an annulled election in February and the ouster of Yingluck. He has said democracy can’t be returned until the political system is reformed. An interim government will be installed by September.

— With assistance by Tony Jordan

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