BANGKOK, Thailand — Charupong Reungsuwan, a former interior minister ousted by the Thai government who was able to escape into exile, has created a campaign against Thailand’s military government, aiming to “restore and strengthen” Thai democracy.
The formation of this group was inspired by the military coup that took place in Thailand in May. Reungsuwan called the coup “an outrageous act” and “grand larceny.”
Although the military leadership promised to return to democracy after going through reforms of the current political system, Charupong believes they are just creating “a new puppet structure for anti-democratic elements.”
The anti-coup group is known as The Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy, or FTHD. They officially launched on June 24, the 82nd anniversary of when Thailand’s ruling system converted from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy via the 1932 Siamese Revolution.
Charupong has been running this organization outside of the country, rumored to be in Cambodia, emailing journalists and posting YouTube videos online. In an e-mail, he accused the military of stealing the people’s sovereignty by seizing power from the elected government.
Reungsuwan is supprted by Jakrapob Penkair, a former minister and current red-shirt activist who fled to Cambodia in 2010 after being accused of lese majeste (insulting the monarchy), which can be punished with up to 15 years in prison. Penkair translated Charupong’s announcements to Thailand into English.
Jakrapob says about FTHD: “We have lost in the first political round (referring to the military coup in May). We have to regroup, and in regrouping we have to realize that our power is really outside outside Thai territory. So we must start from the outside in.”
FTHD’s main goal is to work with foreign countries to pressure the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to return democracy to the Thai people. One problem with this is that the NCPO currently believes the organization, under its current conditions, is inappropriate. FTHD is also having trouble gaining support from outside of Thailand, since these other countries fear that allowing them to operate in their country will cause unrest along their borders.
The organization is currently seeking out another country in which to hold their operations. Thus far, they have considered Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada.
In order for FTHD to be effective, the organization needs to grow within Thailand, despite its leadership coming from outside. This will be a challenge since the military-controlled government plans on threatening any rebellious acts with prison sentences.
The group will also need funding. While the group is hoping to get financial support from Thaksin, a billionaire and former Thai politician removed from office by a previous coup, he has yet to pledge his support. So far, the military-controlled government has summoned hundreds of Thai citizens for interrogation, discussion and detention for up to one week, with the goal of promote its power. Those they detain must sign statements promising not to engage in any rebellious acts. They have also passed curfews and restricted freedom of the press for citizens.
The military coup and interim government is already hurting Thailand’s international relations. The U.S. has cut a few of its programs relating to Thailand, such as firearms training for Thai police. The European Union’s foreign affairs council stated it would suspend official visits to Thailand and that EU states would not sign a partnership and cooperation agreement with Thailand until a democratically elected government was in place. The council made the official statement:
“Only an early and credible road map for a return to constitutional rule and the holding of credible and inclusive elections will allow for the EU’s continued support.”
While the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy has many obstacles ahead of them, they remain hopeful. Jakrapob says about their efforts: “You don’t have to beat them, you just have to shine the light on how bad they are, and how outdated they are in the modern world.”
– Courtney Prentice
Sources: BBC, Bangkok Post, Business Week, The Globe and Mail