WHILE Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is hoping to use his trip to the United Kingdom and France starting tomorrow to seal economic deals and garner international recognition of his regime, he might also have to endure a lecture from leaders about human rights and democracy, thanks to the efforts of campaigners and exiled Thai dissidents.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the leaders of two European countries to press the Thai junta chief for a rapid transition to democratic civilian rule.
General Prayut, who also heads the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), is scheduled to meet with UK Prime Minister Theresa May in London tomorrow and French President Emmanuel in Paris Macron next Monday.
“Prime Minister May and President Macron should strongly express their deep concerns about the deteriorating state of human rights under military rule in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW.
“They should make clear to General Prayut that there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand holds free and fair elections, establishes a democratic civilian government and improves respect for human rights.”
The UK and France are among major trade allies of Thailand to repeatedly state that bilateral relations will only be normalised when democracy is fully restored through free and fair elections.
“Prime Minister May and President Macron should recognise that the UK and France stand to benefit far more from a partnership with a country that respects human rights and rule of law, HRW said yesterday.
“Business deals should not come at the expense of serious discussions on human rights and the junta’s tightening grip on power,” Adams said. “The UK and French governments need to press the junta to end repression so that Thailand can move towards democratic civilian rule.”
In addition to government leaders and senior officials, Prayut is also scheduled to meet with businesspeople, including company executives.
It was reported that the junta leader might encounter anti-junta protesters living in the UK and France. Among them are those living in exile because of political repression at home.
The Facebook page “Kon Thai UK” has pinned a post calling on Thai nationals in Europe to join a demonstration against the Thai junta tomorrow and Thursday, when Prayut is in London. They planned to hold up placards in front of a hotel where the Thai PM is scheduled to give a speech on “Transforming Thailand”.
The activities are said to be led by Giles Ungpakorn, a Thai academic living in self-exile in the UK after being charged under the lese majeste law in Thailand years ago.
Spectre of Yingluck
Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government was toppled by Prayut in 2014, has been repeatedly sighted in London but it remains unclear whether the Thai junta chief will raise the issue of her residence in discussions with his British counterpart.
Prayut’s European trip became possible due to Brexit and the European Union’s softened stand for political engagement at all levels with the Thai military government.
Those travelling with Prayut include Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, PM’s Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakul, Finance Minister Sonthirat Sonthijirawongse and Industry Minister Utama Sawanayon.
According to government spokesman Weerachon Sukondhapatipak, the group will arrive in London early tomorrow and will first meet with executives of major Thai companies operating in the UK. Prayut is to meet with UK Prime Minister Theresa May in the afternoon.
On Friday, Prayut is scheduled to meet with Guillaume Faury, chairman of Airbus Commercial Aircraft, at the company’s office in France’s Toulouse.
The PM is to meet with Thai businesspeople, state officials and the Thai expat community on Saturday. His meeting with executives of French large companies interested in investing in Thailand is scheduled for Monday.
Prayut is scheduled to meet with French leader Macron at the presidential palace in Paris next Monday. They are to witness the signing of a joint venture company principles agreement between Airbus and Thai Airways, as well as the purchase of a Theos II satellite between Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency and Airbus Defence & Space SAS.
The PM and his team are scheduled to arrive back in Thailand next Tuesday.