Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha attends a news conference as the junta marked the third anniversary of a military coup in Bangkok, Thailand May 23, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Jorge Silva

Thai junta leader, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, says he is ready to listen to the Thai people about the country’s future.

So, starting this week, the Prime Minister’s Office will dutifully report public opinions every 10 days based on the following survey Gen. Prayut devised:

  1. Do you think, in the next election, we will get a government which promotes good governance?
  2. If not, what will you do?
  3. An election is an important, integral part of democracy, but an election alone without regard for the future of the country and others is right or wrong?
  4. Do you think bad politicians should be given the chance of a political comeback; and if there is conflict again, who will solve it and by what means?

So, is a new era of openness dawning in Thailand? Not so fast – there’s a hitch. Every respondent must submit a copy of their citizenship cards along with their replies to the authorities. Few will be brave enough to say they oppose prolonged military rule, repudiation of election results, strong-man rule, or even another military coup. Why?  Because they understand expression of dissenting opinion is punishable under the orders of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). 

Three years after the coup, military repression has become a daily reality. Rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly have been sharply curtailed as the junta continues to prosecute critics and dissenters, ban political activity, censor the media, and stifle free speech.

The international community should see Gen. Prayut for what he truly is – a military dictator who rules without administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability and shows no signs of being willing to relinquish his power. The junta’s promise to hold an election – as required by the constitution – and return Thailand to democratic civilian rule remains dubious.

Governments around the world need to adopt a tougher position towards the junta, starting with insisting on a clear timeline for an election. They should also press the junta to immediately lift its restrictions on fundamental freedoms essential for a transition to democratic civilian rule. This will be an important test for President Donald Trump when Gen. Prayut visits Washington, DC, next month.