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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25. No. 13. 1962

Tortured Thailand

Tortured Thailand

The Seato publication "Record" had an article in its ninth issue entitled "Three Years of National Endeavour". This was made up of extracts from a speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand. The article attempts to justify the present situation in Thailand when; the 1958 constitution has been suspended and the present government is drawing up a new constitution in a manner in which even the Minister of Foreign Affairs calls "leisurely".1

It is an interesting question whether the government will produce a constitution which could be rightfully called democratic. An analysis of Foreign Affairs Minister Khoman's utterances provides an important clue for answering this question. He says that the Thai people had suffered "twenty-six years of political instability" before the "blood-less revolution" of 1958. To substantiate this he gives only two things. Firstly he says that the Thais did not exercise their voting rights2 and secondly says the parliamentary system in operation before 1958 opened the door for "too many unqualified candidates to swamp the highest legislative body of the nation, and particularly those who do not have the slightest notion of the national interests but only their own."3

Therefore, runs Khoman's argument, the ideal solution "is to weed out the self-seeking politicians and adventurers" and "to set up a natural screen through which only the Worthy candidates will appear before the electorate" (writer's caps).

There are two reasons why this casts doubts on the intention of the present Thai government to produce a democratic constitution. Firstly it is suspiciously similar to the much criticised Communist system of elections where prospective candidates are examined for suitability. Even though the Thai government's motives might not be to preserve an ideological solidarity, they have every incentive to preserve present class differences in governmental power. Surely a government made up of Thais whose economic and social positions are higher than the majority of Thais I do all they can to preserve their position, especially in the face of forces which emphasise the importance of the working classes in government.

The second reason that raises doubts in the present government's intention to democratize Thailand in any proper sense of that term in the fact that many Thais can be assumed to differ with Khoman's ideas about the national interests of Thailand. The government, of which Khoman is a member, is apparently extremely sympathetic I to the West. Thais who favour a neutral line would dissent from this. Further differences can be assumed between classes as far as conceptions of national interests are concerned.

Natural Screen

However, Khoman's "natural screen" is going to make sure that "only the worthy candidates" appear before the electorate and it is obvious that these worthy candidates will have to hold what Khoman and his colleagues think are the proper ideas about Thailand's natural interests.

Therefore the constitution that the Thai government is producing can hardly be assumed to give any opportunity to those who would differ from what Khoman and friends think.

The reply to this will obviously I be along the lines of denying that the Thais are capable of using a democratic government can be considered "useful . . . for the edification of the Thai people not to try and do things of which they had only scant knowledge" (p.2).

To substantiate the above, the example of Field Marshal Sarit (the Prime Minister) arresting a man, trying him on the street and having him shot there, is useful. The political prisoners in Thailand, who according to reliable estimates number above ten thousand, are not exactly a good example with which to educate the Thais in democratic government.

No education

Furthermore, when it is realised that the present legislative assembly is not elected but completely appointed, and that the "interim" constitution gives powers to the cabinet which are not subject to any judicial or legislative review, then it is certain that no efforts are being made to educate the Thais in democratic government.

The political prisoners include all kinds of people whose common characteristic is that they oppose the present tyrannous regime. Only Sarit's political croup is allowed to exist.

Khoman's statement that "More than ever before, the government remains under the control of the people," appears under the circumstances to be a blatant lie. if. as he claims, the Thais were apathetic to exercising their powers under a democratic government, he can hardly claim that they have shown sudden interest under the dictatorship. Those Thais who Have shown interest have been far from encouraged.

—William Alexander.

1 "Record". Vol. 1, No. 9, P.3.

2 IBID, P.2.

3 IBID, P.3.