Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha defiantly refuted criticisms of his junta government by America’s top Asian diplomat earlier this week, The Nation reported January 28.
On Monday, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel had urged the ruling junta to end martial law – still in place indefinitely – and to remove restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly in order to promote a more inclusive political process.
But Prayuth insisted that Thai democracy was alive and kicking, and that Thailand was a unique case where the military had sized power last May to restore democracy.
“Thai democracy will never die, because I’m a soldier with a democratic heart. I have taken over the power because I want democracy to live on,” Prayuth declared.
“We are building democracy every day…I did not seize power to give money away to this or that person or take it as my own property”.
According to The Nation, in response to Russel’s recommendation that Thailand should lift martial law, Prayuth said Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn had asked Russel what the United States would do if it faced a similar situation where martial law was necessary to maintain law and order. The envoy allegedly struggled to answer and said he would have to think about it.
Prayuth also reportedly emphasized that as many as twenty-one other envoys had met with his junta government and understood the situation in Thailand. He added that he was willing to go to the United Nations General Assembly in September to explain Thailand’s unique situation to the world.
“If I’m [still] here, I will go,” The Nation reported him as pledging.
Prayuth has also denied charges that the impeachment verdict reached against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra just three days earlier was “politically motivated”, as Russel charged in his Monday speech at Chulalongkorn University.
Separately, according to Khaosod, a Thai daily, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Paramatwinai said on January 28 that US Charge d’Affaires to Thailand, W. Patrick Murphy, had been summoned to discuss Russel’s speech, which Don said “negatively affected the reputation of the country” and constituted “an interference in Thailand’s politics.”
Russel delivered his address after meeting Yingluck, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, and Tanasak. He did not meet Prayuth.
Prayuth had previously shrugged off the snub, emphasizing that both the United States and Thailand continued to work on some issues in spite of suspensions in other areas following last year’s coup.
The United States and Thailand are expected to hold a scaled-down version of the annual Cobra Gold military exercises next month with other countries.