With a major update: Junta cheating deepens

20 03 2019

As the “election” approaches a frustrated and desperate junta is engaging in pretty much open cheating. It is being aided by its allies including the military.

The military is threatening and repressing political campaigners. Rightist television presenters are showing concocted “recordings” to sabotage anti-junta parties. Palang Pracharath is photoshopping images to make it appear they are holding huge rallies. The military is ordering units out to support Palang Pracharath.

All of this is illegal. Where’s the police, the Election Commission and the courts? In the junta’s pocket.

Clearly, election rigging has become outright cheating for the junta and for The Dictator.

It is a disaster for the Thai people.

Update: Given the blatant electoral cheating by Gen Prayuth and his allies, it seems appropriate to go back to a leader in The Economist from about five days ago and reproduce parts of it here, as a record of the rigging and cheating undertaken over the five years of the junta’s (mis)rule:

… On March 24th Thai voters will elect a new parliament, putting an end to five years of direct military rule…. But the MPs they pick will have nowhere to meet. King Vajiralongkorn has appropriated the old parliament building, which stands on royal property, for some unspecified purpose that, under the country’s harsh lèse-majesté laws, no one dares question. The military junta has yet to finish building a new parliament house.

That the newly chosen representatives of the Thai people will be homeless stands as a symbol for how hollow the election will be, and how contemptuous the generals are of democracy, even as they claim to be restoring it. They have spent the past five years methodically rigging the system to ensure that the will of voters is thwarted, or at least fiercely circumscribed. In particular, they want to foil Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister, now in exile, whose supporters have won every election since 2001. The result will be a travesty of democracy in a country that was once an inspiration for South-East Asia. It is bad news not only for the 69m Thais but also for the entire region.

Since ousting a government loyal to Mr Thaksin in a coup in 2014, the generals have imposed an interim constitution that grants them broad powers to quash “any act which undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economics or administration of state affairs”. They have carted off critical journalists and awkward politicians to re-education camps. Simply sharing or “liking” commentary that the regime deems subversive has landed hapless netizens in prison. Even the most veiled criticism of the monarchy—posting a BBC profile of the king, say, or making a snide remark about a mythical medieval princess—is considered a crime. And until December, all political gatherings involving more than five people were banned.

The junta’s main weapon, however, is the new constitution, which it pushed through in a referendum in 2016 after banning critics from campaigning against it. Even so, the generals could persuade only a third of eligible voters to endorse the document (barely half of them turned out to cast their ballot). The constitution gives the junta the power to appoint all 250 members of the upper house. And it strengthens the proportional element of the voting system for the lower house, at the expense of Mr Thaksin’s main political vehicle, the Pheu Thai party. It also says the prime minister does not have to be an MP, paving the way for Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta leader who does not belong to any party, to remain in power. And it allows the general to impose a “20-year plan” to which all future governments will have to stick.

The manipulation has continued throughout the campaign. Politicians and parties at odds with the junta have found themselves in trouble with the courts or the Election Commission. Another party loyal to Mr Thaksin, Thai Raksa Chart, was banned outright. The army chief has issued a writ for libel against the head of another party who, after being followed by soldiers wherever he went, complained of the shameful waste of taxpayers’ money. Campaigning on social media is restricted to anodyne posts about the parties’ policies and candidates’ biographies. Politicians fear that minor infringements of such rules will be used as an excuse for further disqualifications.

But all these strictures do not seem to bind Mr Prayuth and his allies. Before political gatherings were allowed again, he paraded around the country addressing huge crowds in sports stadiums. (These were not political gatherings—perish the thought—but “mobile cabinet meetings”.) The Election Commission has ruled that he can campaign for a pro-military party, which has named him as its candidate for prime minister, even though government officials like him are supposed to be neutral in the election.

All this is intended to ensure that Mr Prayuth remains prime minister, despite his inertia and ineptitude. Under him, economic growth has slowed. Household debt has risen. According to Credit Suisse, a bank, Thailand has become the world’s most unequal country. The richest 1% of its people own more than two-thirds of the country’s wealth. Corruption thrives. The deputy prime minister explained away a big collection of luxury watches last year, saying they were on loan from a conveniently deceased friend.

Worse is to come….

Thailand’s civilian politicians have lots of ideas about how to tackle these problems…. It is Mr Prayuth who, despite wielding almost unfettered power, seems lost for inspiration. The junta has promised to revive the economy by improving infrastructure, but few of its plans have come to fruition. The only thing the generals have to show for five years in office is a heavy-handed scheme to retain power….

… Thais deserve much better—starting with a genuine election.


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