Updated: Release Pai I

16 01 2017

Scholars at Risk (SAR) has released a statement and appeal that expresses concern “over the arrest and continued imprisonment of Jatupat ‘Pai’ Boonpattararaksa, a Khon Kaen University law student and activist, based on nonviolent expressive activity.”

Here’s the rest of the statement:

SAR understands that on December 2, 2016, Mr. Boonpattararaksa posted a BBC Thai article about King Rama X, who ascended the throne that month, on his Facebook account. Authorities arrested him the following day, charging him under Article 112 with lèse majesté, marking the first instance of a student detained in connection with such a charge since the new king’s ascension to the throne. Although the article has reportedly been reposted by more than 2,600 others, we understand that only Mr. Boonpattararaksa was arrested and charged with a crime for doing so.

SAR further understands that Mr. Boonpattararaksa was released on bail the day after his arrest, but was re-arrested, and his bail revoked, on December 22, after he posted additional Facebook comments regarding the circumstances of his arrest and prosecution. He remains in detention.

Based on this information, SAR makes an appeal:

SAR calls for letters, emails, and faxes urging the authorities to grant Mr. Boonpattararaksa’s application for bail at his next hearing on January 20; drop any charges against him arising out of nonviolent exercise of the rights to expression, association or academic freedom; and ensure that the case against him otherwise proceeds in a manner consistent with Thailand’s obligations under international law.

The link at the head of this post takes readers to the appeal page.

Update: Prachatai has a series of articles on Pai’s case and his persecution by the military dictatorship. They are:

12 January: “Military forbids activities for detained anti-junta activist

13 January: “Activists head northeast to demand release of Pai Daodin

13 January: “Detention puts lèse majesté suspect’s education at risk

14 January: “Pai Daodin is Thailand’s Rosa Parks





Things that make you think

15 01 2017

There lots of stuff that goes on in the junta’s Thailand that causes you to wonder and think about motivations and machinations.

PPT’s perusal of the Bangkok Post today produced two such moments.

The first Bangkok Post story had us wondering…

The first paragraph was pretty much palace propaganda-like, with the king reported as having “reiterated the importance of children, urging the government to enhance the education system as a key part of the country’s development…”.

Prayuth Puppetry

Who is the puppet?

That’s pretty standard. But then we learn that this is not the king speaking, but The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Speaking at a ceremony marking National Children’s Day, The Dictator becomes the voice of the king and explains an apparently close relationship:

“… the [k]ing told me many times to give priority to children both in terms of education and the country’s development. He also wants the government to enhance the discipline of Thai children, which will result in orderliness and knowledge development of Thai people….

That sounds a lot like Prayuth’s voice rather than the king’s.It does seem a little out of the ordinary for a premier to speaking for the monarch. Is Prayuth out of line? Or are he and the king best buddies?

Just for good measure, The Dictator invokes the dead king: “During the rest of my term in office, I want all Thais to do good to follow in the footsteps of the late monarch, who was always concerned about his people…”. That is more the invocation we are used to from prime ministers.

The second Bangkok Post story is a tale of two parties and had us thinking of double standards and political machinations.

The About Politics column reflects on the floods in the south.

(Naturally enough, these floods can’t be blamed on Yingluck Shinawatra was the case in 2011. This time the culprit is not a government or a party, but the weather.)

The story praises “recovery operations” and singles out the so-called Muan Maha Prachachon for Reform Foundation.

Who is the puppet?

Who is the puppet?

This is the “foundation” established by anti-democrat boss Suthep Thaugsuban, as a post-coup vehicle for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and others who temporarily or momentarily left the Democrat Party in order to engage in street activism to prevent elections and bring down an elected government.

Unlike the Puea Thai Party and red shirts, the Democrat Party and the Muan Maha Prachachon for Reform Foundation have not been sued, harassed, arrested, jailed and suppressed by the junta. After all, they did a lot to foment the coup that brought the military thugs to power.

Suthep and other “key leaders of the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) have sprung into action, including Chitpas … Kridakorn [Bhirombhakdi], Chumphol Julsai and Isara Somchai” have been active in the region.

Most important has been Witthaya Kaewparadai, described as “Suthep’s right-hand man in this operation.”

As is well known, Witthaya is a former Democrat Party MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat. This former MP is said to have been an asset in relief operation having “helped boost the efficiency of distribution of essential supplies.”

Like us, many readers will wonder at this. The junta doesn’t like “politicians” meddling in anything. But, then, Witthaya is also a “member of the coup-appointed [puppet] National Legislative Assembly (NLA),” and this “secures coordination among state agencies and the military which need a go-between to bring help to where it is needed.”

Readers are then told that:

Since the PDRC protests, Mr Witthaya has remained active in his constituency, but his focus has been on community work. He has founded a cycling club where members do the necessary legwork to keep fit and the brainwork by discussing problems facing their community. This cycling club is said to be the biggest in the region.

The reports goes on:Kissing soldiers

The Muan Maha Prachachon for Reform Foundation’s contribution to flood rescue and relief operations can be no less; most of the flood victims are the very same people who kept the group’s street protests going in Bangkok during 2013-2014.

In other words, the PRDC-Democrat Party are catering to their members and supporters.

Imagine what would happen if a former MP from Puea Thai who was also a red shirt was doing something similar in the north or northeast. Sedition charges would be pending!

We learn more about these double standards when the report states:

While the former PDRC leaders are out there working in flood relief operations, the Democrat Party which has a political stronghold in the region is helping quietly, staying out of the spotlight due to a political ban by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

But they are indeed working there, with the PDRC. An unnamed source says: “People think the PDRC and the Democrat Party are no different. It doesn’t matter who leads the flood relief efforts…”.

“Election” preparations and electioneering are permitted in the south. Indeed, the military and junta facilitate them.

Double standards? You bet.

These double standards are reinforced in another story, in the same column, about the problems facing Puea Thai.

The party has few resources left and former party MPs are complaining that they are being left to their own devices and resources, with little help from the party or the “party’s heavyweights.”

Party leaders are tied up in a myriad of legal actions – hundreds of them – brought by the junta.

The longer the junta delays an “election” – some now suggest 2020, only partly tongue-in-cheek – the worse it gets for Puea Thai. And don’t think the junta doesn’t know this. All the talk of cremations delaying the “election” or the king making changes will be used as excuses for no “election.” However, one thing the junta wants is for Yingluck Shinawatra’s case and related cases against Puea Thai to be concluded this year.

The junta believes these cases will cause the collapse of Puea Thai. Once that happens, the junta can better control the “election” outcome.





HRW chastised by military junta’s toadies

14 01 2017

The Nation reports that the junta’s government has “contested claims in a summary on the human rights situation in Thailand released by Human Rights Watch (HRW)…”. The junta reckons the “allegations were outdated and unfair.”

The junta’s toadies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared: “The authors have expressed their views with no updates of the latest status of each issue and, therefore, without taking into consideration progress and efforts made in the country…”.

The MFA’s lamentable statement continues:

There has been significant progress regarding the Government’s [they mean the military junta] efforts on the Roadmap towards restoring a strengthened and sustainable democracy [they mean the much delayed “election”], social harmony [they mean jailing opponents] as well as political stability [they mean repression]. Thailand is now in the second phase of the Roadmap where the Government is currently forging ahead [they mean delaying] with comprehensive reforms to lay a strong foundation in order to achieve a genuine democracy [they mean a Thai-style non-democracy] as well as undertaking legislative reforms. Over 190 laws have been promulgated with a view to addressing chronic problems from the past, including inequality and human rights issues such as gender equality, human trafficking, illegal fishing and labour rights. Such foundation will facilitate the proceeding to the third phase of the Roadmap, whereby the general elections will be held [they mean may be held], and ensure long-term political stability after the new Government [they mean a junta-friendly regime] takes office.

We’d like to be able to say that the folks at MFA are forced to make such silly and untrue statements because they are under the thumb of the junta. Unfortunately, we know that the MFA is populated by royalists and other anti-democrats who support the junta to the hilt.

Human Rights WatchThe HRW account is from its recently released World Report 2017. It begins:

Thailand’s military junta increased its repression and failed to restore democratic rule in 2016…. A new constitution, adopted in an August referendum that was marked by a crackdown against its critics, effectively entrenches unaccountable and abusive military rule.

That seems a reasonable summary of those events. It goes on, quoting HRW’s Brad Adams:

Thailand’s human rights crisis has worsened over the year as the military junta has tightened its grip on power and led the country deeper into dictatorship…. Rather than leading the country back to democratic rule, the junta has increasingly persecuted critics and dissenters, banned peaceful protests, censored the media, and suppressed speech in the press and online.

Again, there’s no argument on these points. The report continues, discussing the junta, saying it:

has banned political activity and public gatherings, made expression subject to criminal prosecution, censored the media, conducted hundreds of arbitrary arrests, and detained civilians in military detention.

That’s all certainly true and it adds that there remain 1,800 cases awaiting trial in biased and unfair kangaroo courts run by the military itself. Further,

The junta has arbitrarily and aggressively used the lese majeste … laws to prosecute people for any expression deemed critical of the monarchy. Since the May 2014 coup, Thai authorities have charged at least 68 people with lese majeste [we think this is too low an estimate as it seems to leave out all of the palace-related machinations associated with the prince-cum-king].

There is much more: “zero justice for past state-sponsored abuses,” the “killing and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders and other activists” and the increased use of “defamation lawsuits under the Penal Code and the Computer Crimes Act to retaliate against those reporting human rights violations.”

And the MFA bleats about “improvements.” The Ministry is a sad joke. The junta is further entrenched and human rights are down the drain. Thailand remains in a very dark and scary place.





Concocting constitutionalism

13 01 2017

The Bangkok Post describes The Dictator as “furious” about reporting on the relationship between the king and the junta’s government.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems to be in a lather over perceptions that the king has stepped beyond the bounds of his constitutional position. Prayuth reckons the reason for this is that the media hasn’t reported on the king’s demands of the government carefully enough.

It is very hard to believe that the media in Thailand would not be exceptionally careful about how they report anything about the monarchy. After all, they have to be very wary of the draconian lese majeste law, wielded like a child’s bat at a piñata by this military regime.

The Dictator insisted that “the [k]ing did not ask the government to amend the new constitution as reported by the media.” In full tantrum mode, Prayuth said he was “angered” by the alleged misreporting.He diagnosed the “problem” as the “local media … feeding off foreign media reports, saying this had caused damage, without elaborating.”

We can only guess that the “damage” is either to Prayuth or to (fake) notions of constitutionalism. Perhaps Prayuth has received a literal or verbal boot to his posterior from the palace. More likely, he’s reflecting a position that the junta learned from the 2006 coup and that is to distance the palace from the military thugs who have hijacked power.

We recall the efforts that Prayuth and his band of constitutional criminals went to after the 2014 coup to declare the palace’s distance from the junta. Smashing the constitution in 2006 was seen by pretty much everyone as the work of General Prem Tinsulanonda and a bunch of palace insiders as co-conspirators, with the king and the queen welcoming the coup leaders just hours after the illegal event. That was an eye-opening event for many in Thailand and took royal stocks to lows not seen since the mid-1970s.

This is why Prayuth and his junta wanted to makes sure that the palace was seen as somewhat distant from their illegal acts.

So Prayuth is worried that the new king’s actions in telling the government to changes aspects of the constitution he’s miffed about is being seen as constitutional meddling. It is exactly that, but that’s not the message Prayuth or the palace wants out there, even if the media’s reporting has been accurate.

In other words, Prayuth is constitutional fence mending after the the fact of meddling.

He declared that “he had never said the [k]ing had asked the government to amend the new charter awaiting royal endorsement.” He attacked the press: “How could you report that the [k]ing had asked the government to amend the charter? It’s not true…”.

It is true, but not the preferred story. As the Post story says,

Reporters responded by saying that the prime minister had said on Tuesday that the [k]ing had advised that there were three to four provisions that need to be amended to fit in with the monarch’s power.

Prayuth retorted:

I said His Majesty had spoken to the Privy Council, not directly to the government…”. He went on to weave the story: “The Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary sent a letter about the [k]ing’s observations to the government and the government agreed to make changes to the constitution of its own accord….

That story might be true or it might not, but it hardly matters for the facts of what’s happening. For Prayuth it matters because the junta wants to wipe the king’s fingerprints from constitutional meddling. We feel sure that the notion that the junta “agreed to make changes to the constitution of its own accord” is clearly a concoction.

So contorted and so legally dubious is this process of constitutional meddling that the junta has had to make several retrospective changes to the interim constitution.

The National Legislative Assembly has rushed the changes through to “allow the government to ask for the new constitution back from the [k]ing so revisions can be made.”

Once those retrospective changes are made, then the draft constitution, “approved” by a “referendum,” can then be changed to suit the king.

The Dictator may feel that concocting constitutionalism is like a magician’s card trick and no one will notice, but it’s too late, everyone saw the king.





Chipping away at 1932

12 01 2017

Several times since we began in 2009, PPT has marked the 1932 Revolution by reprinting the first announcement of the khana ratsadon or People’s Party.

Democracy Monument, BangkokIn recent years the anniversary of this event is barely noticed, buried by a the celebration of various historically insignificant royal anniversaries. While there has been a long-term effort to erase 1932 from school books and the public mind, under the military junta there has been a determined efforts to make invisible an event it consider horrendous for reducing royal powers and granting sovereignty to common people. Moreover, the junta and palace have been writing laws that reverse important changes made in 1932, not least in limiting the powers of the monarchy under the constitution.

One of the nominated changes is to allow the king to decide if he needs a regent when he is flitting back and forth to his home outside Munich.

The current order by the king to change aspects of the draft constitution, “approved” in a “referendum,” is an example of how the very notion of a constitutional monarchy is being rolled back.

The junta may have been surprised by the king’s demands, but they are unwilling to tell him to go to hell. That could be because they are in dispute with the king but feel he should get his way for the moment. It might be that the junta is happy enough to have General Prem Tinsulanonda lose some influence. It may be that the junta wants to further delay an “election” and this is their excuse. It could be that the junta may feel that its legitimacy depends entirely on the monarchy. It might be that the junta believes that a feudal Thailand a la pre-1932 is appropriate for a 21st century Thailand. Or it might be all of these.

Whatever is going on, it’s clear the junta has asked how high the king wants it to jump. It is rushing ahead with the demanded changes.

The Nation reports that quotes junta lawyer Wissanu Krea-ngam as sayin: “Now, … the situation in the country has changed, so they will have to be amended to meet the situation. Otherwise, we will be using principles that were written in 1932…”.

He’s clear on what’s being done here. As a reminder, in 1932, Article 5 stated:

If there is any reason that the king is unable temporarily to carry out his duties, or is not in the capital, the Committee of the People will execute the right on his behalf.

How things have changed and they’ll change further in the next few days.

Readers might ask why the junta wasn’t getting the king’s view as it developed its constitution. Wissanu says: “The clauses to be amended were not paid attention to before the referendum, because drafters had only copied them from the previous constitution.” Yet, you would think a royalist regime would have been talking with the soon-to-be-king. Maybe he was more interested in his concubines and fake tattoos than the work of rolling back 1932 constitutionalism. Perhaps he only realized the potential problems of the regency when Prem got the job back in October.

The chief of the charter drafters, Meechai Ruchupan might have been a bit contrite about causing the king some angst, but he’s still talking draft constitutions and says the proposed “amendment would give the [k]ing the option of either appointing or not appointing a regent should he not reside in the Kingdom.”

Another of the royalist dopes, Somchai Sawaengkarn, of the puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA), ignoring constitutional history and practice,  babbled about it not being “necessary to name a regent because modern communication methods have made it easy and convenient to work remotely. The charter should be amended to meet this environment…”.

In another report, Meechai blathered that the demanded changes were “in line with proposed changes to the charter sought by the government…”. That is so nonsensical that it suggests he’s lost his marbles or is a great liar. It could be both. If the changes were “in line,” why the seeming panic and back-filling now?

Recalling Article 5 from 1932, this is what the same article looks like in the draft constitution:

16. Whenever the King is absent from the Kingdom or unable to perform His functions for any reason whatsoever, the King will appoint a person as the Regent and the President of the National Assembly shall countersign the Royal Command.

If this is to change, what does it mean for related articles? The other relevant articles state:

17. In the case where the King does not appoint the Regent under Section 16, or the King is unable to appoint the Regent owing to His not being sui juris or any other reason whatsoever, the Privy Council shall submit the name of a person suitable to hold the office of the Regent to the National Assembly for approval. Upon approval by the National Assembly, the President of the National Assembly shall make an announcement, in the name of the King, to appoint such person as the Regent.

18. While there is no Regent under Section 16 or Section17, the President of the Privy Council shall be Regent pro tempore. In the case where the Regent appointed under Section 16 or Section 17 is unable to perform his duties, the President of the Privy Council shall act as Regent pro tempore….

Our immediate question is what happens if the king dies or is badly injured and can’t appoint a regent? Another crisis and military intervention to again fix the rules and manipulate constitutional principles and practice?

The new king may well end up creating a republican military that “remembers” what motivated the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. That would be positive in the long run….





Further updated: Royal meddling continues II

11 01 2017

This post updates our earlier post on royal constitutional meddling.

In the Bangkok Post, the king’s demands become “advice” and the report adds:

Under the interim charter amendment bill proposed by the government, when the prime minister submits the new constitution for royal endorsement and if the King makes observations about any charter amendments within 90 days of the new charter being submitted, the prime minister must ask for the document back so amendments can be made at the King’s behest.

Afterwards, the prime minister will resubmit the amended new charter for royal endorsement within 30 days of the document being sent back to the prime minister.

The report states that Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam stated that “in principle the charter provisions that are to be amended are Sections 5, 17, and 182.” Looking at the draft, section or article 5 does not seem to involve the king, section 17 does, and section 182 relates to the countersigning of laws.

In another report, Wissanu suggests that changes to these articles will have wider impacts on other articles in the constitution.

So much for claims about the “will of the people” being expressed in the “referendum.”

If these really are the parts to be amended, they suggest major changes and increases to royal power are likely, further rolling back the post-1932 efforts to constitutionalize the monarchy.

Update 1: Interestingly, the efforts to block sites like PPT, including Facebook pages of critics overseas, is the heaviest we have seen for many months. We can only assume that the junta is either deeply embarrassed or not wanting any negative commentary on the king and his efforts to have the draft constitution changed.

Update 2: The Nation has a story stating that one article the king demands be changed relates to “Article 3, which involved a new stipulation: ‘Should the King not reside in the Kingdom or should the King not be able to perform his duty for any reasons, the King shall or shall not designate a regent by his preference and such a command shall be countersigned by president of the Parliament.’ The passage was to be added to the existing Article 2 of the charter.” This change would allow the king to act officially wherever he is – presumably at home in Germany.





Royal meddling continues I

10 01 2017

New king, same old political meddling. This time, however, Vajiralongkorn’s meddling is public and embarrassing for the junta. It is also revealing of how the “referendum” was a junta plaything that can be thrown aside whenever it or the king wants.

Khaosod reports that General Prayuth Chan-ocha has stated that the king “has asked for changes to the constitution approved by the public in August relating to his powers.” It is reported that the king told members of his privy council of his demands.

Prayuth said “three or four issues would be amended in the section involving the authority and role of the king.”

As the report points out, issues of the “authority and role of the king” occur throughout the 279 articles of the draft and it is unclear which articles are up for amendment. Social media speculation focuses on Articles 5 and 6.

How will the king’s demands be met? Prayuth says”he would use his self-granted absolute power under Article 44 to amend the 2014 interim charter to make it possible to change an already approved constitution…”

Prayuth must be deeply embarrassed by this turn of events. Some might suggest a power struggle is underway and others might consider it is the new king getting a chance at his political oats.

The Dictator is being dictated to, and that will frustrate him. He reckons it will take up to four months to make the changes, and while he denies it, this will further delay the “election.” Additionally, when the changes go back to the king, he can take another 90 days mulling it.

We suspect that Prayuth has invested so much in the succession and royal legitimacy that all he can do is bite his lip. We find it hard to conceive of a republican Prayuth turfing the recalcitrant king out.