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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsIn Other News

Thai government takes a step back on democracy

Thailand’s political and media landscape is changing, and some might say it’s taking a turn for the worst. The country’s longeststanding monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, died Oct. 13, ending his 70-year reign and opening the floodgates for disorganized politics.

Although still in mourning, the country was prepared to shift into a more democratic society, especially after decades of coups. The idea was to have a government that is popularly elected and accountable, but nothing is being done to achieve this goal thanks to the new unprepared king, Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Changes within the Thai government are underway, but two of the biggest bills being considered seem to drift away from principles of democracy.

The first is a change to the constitution that has been in the works since last August and is now under revision by a constitutional committee. It would ultimately give the king more autonomous authority. The amendment would allow the king to not have to appoint a regent when he is out of Thailand, which is alarming given that Vajiralongkorn is usually out of the country. The amendment would also scrap a committee of senior elected officials who advise the king. However, the most alarming effect is that if this constitutional amendment is passed, the king will no longer require the prime minister to sign Royal Commands, giving Vajiralongkorn authority to do whatever he wants.

The second is a bill that would require journalists to be vetted and certified by the government to be published. It would also establish a media ethics council, which would oversee all publications. It was reviewed by the National Reform Steering Assembly on Feb. 2 and dropped because of the countless protests by media outlets in Thailand with the condition of removing the vetting process but keeping the committee.

The media ethics council, however, will have four seats reserved for government officials. Journalists in Thailand are concerned the government officials’ presence will sway the committee toward censoring media outlets more strictly when they discuss the government and monarchy. Keep in mind, a journalist can currently be arrested up to 15 years in Thailand if they critique the monarchy.

Having a committee like this could deny the people of Thailand access to basic knowledge, something that will be more concerning if and when the constitutional amendment regarding the king’s power is passed.

A country that diminishes the checks and balances of its ruler while invalidating the media’s role is not on the democratic path. Sound familiar?

Isabella Grullón Paz can be reached at igrullon@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @isagp23