Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dissension is totally normal in a democracy that is alive

The Nation EDITORIAL July 15, 2014 1:00 am

The junta should make a space for people to voice their views if it is to bring Thailand back to where it was

Clearly, the Foreign Ministry has full authority to issue and revoke passports for one and all, but its recent move to terminate travel documents held by politicians, activists and academics has done nothing but damage Thailand's reputation. 

Last month, the ministry cancelled the passports of several political figures and activists, including former Pheu ThaiParty leader Charupong Ruangsuwan, Pheu Thai member Sunai Julpongsathorn, as well as members of the red-shirt movement, such as Jakrapob Penkair, Chatwadee Amornpat, Ekkapob Luara and Attachai Anuntamek.

The most recent case was that of academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, whose passport was cancelled last week for defying the junta's summons. He now faces an arrest warrant. 

There are several other activists and academics whose passports have been revoked without any public announcement or even acknowledgement of the passport holders. 

The ministry said these passports were being terminated along the lines of law, as the individuals in question were either wanted in Thailand for allegedly defying the junta's summonses or faced arrest over lese majeste charges. 

Articles 21 and 22 of the 2005 regulation on passport issuance indicate that the ministry has the authority to revoke the passport of those facing an arrest warrant, or those convicted or freed on bail but prohibited from leaving the country. 

However, it is clear that the ministry does not always revoke passports held by such individuals. Passport termination mostly up to the ministry, which apparently considers each matter on a case by case basis. 

Maybe the junta is revoking passports at this time because it wants people to stay at home? 

Those politicians, activists and academics who stand to lose their passports have done nothing more than voice their opposition to the coup or the junta's undemocratic actions. All they want is for democracy to be restored. 

Many elitists and intellectuals dislike Jakrapob, while Pavin is disliked for his harsh words against the country's politics. Yet, ironically, both Jakrapob and Pavin once worked at the Foreign Ministry. 

But seriously, is voicing one's opposition to the state of affairs really such a crime? Yes, their words might hurt the feelings of some people, but they can't really hurt Thailand as a country. Besides voicing their opposition, the politicians, activists and academics have not actually done anything to harm the junta's stability.

The junta accused Jakrapob of collecting weapons to fight against the military. Now, it is difficult to believe that Jakrapob can actually find so many weapons, which makes one wonder about the junta's tactics. 

Besides, terminating passports has not always helped bring dissidents back, but has instead ended up damaging Thailand's reputation. The Foreign Ministry first experienced this in 2009, when Abhisit Vejjajiva's government cancelled fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's passport.

Thaksin was barely affected as he ended up being granted citizenship and travel documents by other countries. The Foreign Ministry then tried to pressure these countries into deporting the former PM, but it only ended up hurting its own reputation. 

Also, it can be a bit strange when a person hunted by the Foreign Ministry ends up becoming a top official in the very same ministry in the future. 

One must keep in mind that for as long as democracy is alive, voices of dissent will be heard. So, if the junta wants to create a sustainable democracy as it keeps saying it will, then it needs to create a space for dissidents to voice their views.

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