DYLAN RAMOS WRITES— On Monday, October 2nd, the leader of Thailand’s military junta, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, came to Washingto to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump. While the president was honoring yet another authoritarian leader with an invitation to the White House, the junta’s Attorney General was charging former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra with lese majeste and computer crimes.
Thaksin was overthrown by a coup in 2006 despite the Shinawatra family winning popular support in every open election since 2001. Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, also served as Prime Minister following Thaksin’s removal, her political party running up the largest parliamentary majority in Thailnd’s history; but the junta overthrew her in 2014 and officially took power.
This has been a busy week for the Thai junta. Attorney General Khemchai Chutiwong’s announcement of charges against Thaksin came just one day after a court issued an arrest warrant for Yingluck herself. The younger Shinawatra was jailed for five years in absentia and fled her country in August, one day ahead of a verdict she called a politically motivated case.
Back in Washington, D.C., Prayut and Trump discussed improving bilateral relations between their respective countries, which have been strained since Prayut’s junta took power in 2014. The Obama administration disapproved of the junta ending democratic governance and violently cracking down on protesters in Thailand.
Although the former president invited Prayut to the February 2016 ASEAN Summit, U.S. officials under Obama continued pushing for the return of Thai elections and the protection of human rights.
Meanwhile, the current U.S. President has offered little criticism of and sometimes even complimented leaders with authoritarian streaks – in the form of invitations to the White House – from the Philippines’ Duterte and Egypt’s el-Sisi, to Turkey’s Erdogan and Russia’s Putin.
Trump made no reference to military rule in Thailand, recognizing Prayut as the country’s 29th Prime Minister. Instead, he is interested in deepening economic ties and reducing the U.S.-Thailand trade deficit. According to Malaysian Digest, American exports are likely to include helicopters, anti-ship missiles and fighter jet upgrades. Whatever they will be used for, it seems certain they won’t be used to defend democracy.