Don’t trust them

26 02 2020

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed on military “reform” that warns:

Reforming the Thai army is much easier said than done. After all, the current army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong himself called the Royal Thai Army a “sacred” organization, setting the tone of whatever debate the society may have.

Gen. Apirat. Clipped from Khaosod

When someone wants an organization to be treated as sacred, it’s often because they want it to be above criticism, accepting neither scrutiny nor accountability….

Most significant in discussions of “reform” is that current “investigations” are internal to the Army. There’s no question that, following the Korat massacre, there will be any kind of independent scrutiny of the Army. In normal countries, there is usually some serious parliamentary oversight of the military. Not in Thailand.

Then there’s the sense of entitlement and real impunity that protects the perquisites, corruption and crimes of senior officers. This “culture” means that “reform” is all but impossible. The flow of funds to the top are unlikely to stop. As Pravit points out, “the sense of military entitlement is indeed so deep-rooted that it bypasses political divisions.”

Chaiyaphoom

Since the 2006 coup and especially since the 2014 coup, these attitudes have been further embedded. Think of the way that the military gets away with murder, literally. The case of Chaiyapoom Pasae where the military has withheld evidence, lied and more.

More recently, as outlined in The Thaiger, anti-military/pro-democracy activist Sirawith Seritiwat was attacked several times, once beaten senseless with baseball bats, in broad daylight. Police were assigned to “investigate.” Result? Nothing.

As the report observes, “Bangkok police have abruptly suspended their investigation into the brutal attack on a political activist and pro-democracy leader in June of last year.”

Sirawith posted on Facebook that police wrote to him, stating:

Sirawith. Clipped from VOA News

The investigation into the case has already been completed and the probe report was forwarded to public prosecutors, who recommended that “the investigation should be halted” on the grounds that evidence gathered could not identify who was involved.

In our view, it is unlikely that the police will uncover evidence against the attackers, most likely because the attackers are associated with the military, regime and/or police. The attackers were warning Sirawith, silencing him. It’s an old tactic. Sirawith “wondered police might be involved.”

If a “sacred” institution can run coups, murder, and engage in multiple other crimes and massive corruption, internal investigations are going nowhere.





A politically contorted judgement

25 02 2020

Criticizing the Constitutional Court can easily lead to prison as the court is protected by laws that prevent even reasonable criticism. In this context, the Bangkok Post story on a “group of 36 law lecturers at Thammasat University … issu[ing] a statement voicing disagreement with the Constitutional Court’s decision to disband the Future Forward Party (FFP) over a campaign loan” caught our collective attention.

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

The lecturers disputed several aspects of the Court’s judgement. Most significantly, they contended that “a political party does not meet three legal criteria that constitute a public organisation and should thus be legally defined as a juristic entity. As a juristic entity, a political party can lawfully obtain a loan.”

They also disputed the Court’s view that “the loan’s low interest rate and late-repayment fee” were an “unusual” business practice. The lecturers pointed out that “a lender and borrower were free to agree on the rate.”

That point mirrors Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s defense of his father’s big land deal in 2014: “Prayut said the company has the right to buy his father’s land at whatever price they see fit.”

The lecturers contend that the loan “did not qualify as a ‘donation or other benefits’ as the court ruled…”.

They also observed that “Section 72, which was used to disband the FFP, did not apply in this case since it deals with money acquired from illegitimate sources or suspected illegitimate sources such as the drug trade or criminal activities.”

They make excellent points, but the Court and regime will remain confident that their double standards and politically contorted judgement cannot be reversed.





Is the regime in trouble?

24 02 2020

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times had a few things to say before the Future Forward dissolution that deserve some attention. He was writing of the military and its regime after the Korat massacre.

He says the “killings have cast the military’s persistent overarching role – including over ex-coup-maker [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s elected coalition government – in a new dim light as critics blast the brass for being more engaged in politics and business than overseeing their barracks and ensuring security.” He adds:

If that criticism gains momentum while the economy tanks and the government’s big business backers visibly thrive, a new era of political confrontation pitting the conservative forces now propping Prayut and new genuinely progressive ones coalescing in the political opposition could break into the open sooner than most expect.

While a political crisis might be seen off in the usual repressive ways, an economic decline would test the resolve of the big businesses that prospered under the junta. Thailand’s big banks “are unevenly exposed to a handful of big borrowers, namely the ‘five family’ corporations that contributed generously to Prayut’s Palang Pracharat Party’s (PPRP) election campaign…”. At the time of writing, Crispin argued that:

Those corporate links will come under scrutiny if the opposition Peua Thai and Future Forward parties deliver as avowed at an upcoming no-confidence debate that will target PPRP ministers, including Prayut, while looking past other parties’ ministers who, with a shift in political winds, could jump to join a future anti-PPRP government.

That might be less likely now that the Constitutional Court has done its job, but the threat remains that deals done with the Sino-Thai tycoons could be revealed.

Matching Ties: Prayuth and CP Group chairman Dhanin Chearavanont (2nd R) and ThaiBev founder billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi (L). Photo: AFP Forum/Chanat Katanyu (clipped from Asia Times)

Some of the deals included “a land deal involving an alleged subsidiary of ThaiBev created just a day before it purchased Bangkok land from Prayut’s family for 600 million baht ($19.2 million), a sum [that] … far exceeds the land’s underlying market value.”

The Sirivadhanabhakdi family’s investments include “One Bangkok” an “integrated development being built in league with the Crown Property Bureau…. The 120 billion baht ($3.5 billion) development … is the largest ever undertaken in the kingdom.” The Sino-Thai tycoons, the military and the monarchy have dominated politics and business for decades.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, economist Anusorn Tamajai, the director of the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Rangsit University’s Institute of Economics, commented on the dissolution of Future Forward:

He said that the case “showed that Thailand’s semi-democracy is being interrupted by anti-democracy elite.” He observed that “most democratic countries did not dissolve political parties because they were institutions of citizens that maintained the stability of the country’s democracy.” In Thailand, however, “[t]he anti-democracy elite’s attempt to maintain its authority shows that this country does not have the rule of law…”. He reckoned this “has caused a heavy impact on the economy and will cause more impact in the future, especially on investment.”

He further explained that “[t]he Constitution, laws, regulations, and independent organisations arose from the coup d’etat, so the legal form has been always questioned in terms of justice…”, adding:

If the Constitutional Court is able to rule based on justice and treats all parties equally, the conflict will be resolved. But if it is not, the dissolution of political parties and the revocation of political rights will occur continuously, resulting in conflict in society.

How much trouble is the regime in? Much depends a lot on the reaction of Future Forward’s supporters.





HRW on the dissolution

23 02 2020

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement on the Constitutional Court’s legal contortions: Thailand: Court Dissolves Opposition Party. Disbanding Future Forward Party, Banning Leaders a Blow to Democracy.

Preparing the Court’s decision

We are somewhat dismayed that HRW sees the dissolution as “seriously damaging the country’s return to genuine democratic rule…”. Given the organization’s experience, it should be well aware that the  military junta did not plan anything like a genuine democracy and that the role of the Constitutional Court has been to ensure that, working with partner partisans like the Election Commission.

HRW gets it right in stating:

Since its founding in 2018, the Future Forward Party has faced an onslaught of arbitrary legal actions and military intimidation that has raised serious doubts about the government’s commitment to the democratic [sic.] process. The dissolution verdict came just three days ahead of a no-confidence debate scheduled for February 24 to 26 against the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha….

The court proceedings raise serious fair trial concerns, highlighted by the court’s refusal to allow the Future Forward Party to present its case, Human Rights Watch said. The party had made a request to present evidence to counter the accusations against it, but the court ruled that it already had sufficient evidence to reach a verdict.

The ruling violates the rights of Future Forward Party members to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and democratic participation guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified.

 





Updated: Another party dissolution

22 02 2020

As expected, Thailand’s politicized Constitutional Court has dissolved the Future Forward Party and banned its executives from formal politics for 10 years.

Since the 2006 military coup, the Constitutional Court has become an appendage of rightist-royalist regimes and has dissolved major political parties in 2007, 2008, and 2019.

For a very useful background on the Future Forward case, see Andrew Marshall’s assessment.

Both Amnesty International and the European Union have issued statements.

A selection of media stories follows:

Update: Some more links:

 





Lese majeste-like arrest

21 02 2020

While lese majeste arrests are no longer permitted in Thailand, other laws are used to arrest those the regime and palace believe are insulting the king or monarchy.

The most recent case is reported by Prachatai.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights is quoted on the case of a Twitter user arrested under the Computer Crimes Act, allegedly for tweets, images and satirical messages about King Vajiralongkorn. Taken before a court, he has been refused bail.

On 19 February, TLHR received complaints from a Twitter user “anonymous_” (@ ssj_2475), who identified himself as a 20-year-old living in Chonburi. Apparently without a warrant, at about 10.30 am, some 10 uniformed and plainclothes police had searched his family home, confiscating two phones, and took him and his parents to the Pattaya police station. The action apparently related to his tweets about the king. At the station, the parents were separated from him.

The police demanded “cooperation” and demanded phone passwords on threat of prosecution. They then identified more than 30 messages from his Twitter account, many of which were related in various ways to the monarchy. He was taken before a court the next day.

Police officers claimed the arrest was in pursuit of a “movement against the monarchy.”

An aspect of this case will be how the police link the arrested man to the posting of anonymous tweets.

Lese majeste may not be used much these days, but other laws are used to “protect” the monarchy.





Police chief’s fibs

20 02 2020

Chakthip (clipped from The Nation)

Regular readers will recall that earlier in the month national police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda was fibbing about his nepotism. That complaint was pretty quickly buried and seemingly easily forgotten – after all, nepotism is a norm for the regime.

He’s now been found to be fibbing again, this time to parliament.

He reportedly told the House committee on law, justice and human rights that he had not applied a different standard in securing the anti-regime Wing Lai Lung (‘Run to Oust the Uncle’) event in Bangkok last month…” when compared with a pro-regime rally.

He declared: “Soldiers did not meddle with my work…”.

A military puppet

That’s improbable, but as a puppet of the regime he obviously knows what the regime and the military wants.

He went on:

Pol Gen Chakthip insisted that he gave one order to all of his subordinates at the event, as well as to those assigned to secure the at the pro-regime Dern Cheer Lung (“Walk in Support of Uncle”) which was held on the same day in Lumpini Park. The “Uncle” in both events’ names, refer to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

To give just a few examples of the partisanship of the police and to illustrate Chakthip’s fibs, we can point to several reports.

First, in the period before the event, the Wing Lai Lung was harassed by police. In one report:

The “Run Against Dictatorship” launch event was previously scheduled to be held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), but that had to be cancelled after reported police pressure.

The police even denied this pressure, but the FCCT confirmed it. A statement from FCCT said that “the police asked them to cancel the group’s booking and threatened FCCT with ‘serious consequences’ if they did not comply…”.

Next,

The press conference was then re-scheduled to today (16 December) at 10.00 at Rattanakosin Hotel. However, Tanawat Wongchai, one of the organizers, said that the hotel informed him that they have been pressured by “those in power” into cancelling their booking.

That may have been the military working hand-in-glove with the police. There were no such reports of pressure on the Dern Cheer Lung organizers.

Next, the Wing Lai Lung event was forced to relocate:

Authorities have been attempting to block spin-off Run Against Dictatorship events in at least three provinces, while the main Bangkok event has been forced to move from Thammasat University to Wachirabenchathat (Rot Fai) Park.

In several cases, the police called in provincial organizers and attended their homes – obviously measures meant to threaten them. For example:

three students from the University of Phayao who were organizing a Run Against Dictatorship event in Phayao were summoned by the police….

These students suffered repeated acts of repression. There were no such reports of pressure on the Dern Cheer Lung organizers.

When the event began, in several provinces, both police and military harassed participants, with wide reporting on social media.

And the latest police act of extreme bias was to charge the organizer of the Bangkok Wing Lai Lung event:

Tanawat Wongchai, one of the organisers of the “Run Against Dictatorship” in Bangkok, has been summoned by Bang Sue Police Station for organizing a public assembly without notifying the police according to the Public Assembly Act.

Tanawat … insisted that a race is exempted from the Public Assembly Act and that this is a case of harassment of the political opposition.

Pol Gen Chakthip is a serial fibber.