Stealing an “election” I

16 04 2018

PPT has been posting on the military dictatorship’s efforts to manufacture an “election” victory since the junta and its lackeys in various councils, assemblies and committees began carrying out instructions on how to write the constitution for the military’s benefit and to the broader satisfaction of the royalists and other anti-democrats who supported the 2014 coup. These efforts at rigging the “election” – indeed, the whole political system – are becoming clearer by the day.

The Bangkok Post’s Alan Dawson write on how to steal an election. He writes of the rigging from last week alone:

Fabulous week for election thievery, last week was….

The stealth takeover of 80% of TV broadcasters took our breath away.

Not only does the government come away looking like the altruistic, fair-minded friend of both big business and the 70 million TV watchers but it got public applause for taking billions in taxpayer funds and handing it to digital TV owners claiming poverty. In return, digital TV newsrooms will broadcast what the regime wants, when the regime wants.

Remember when the broadcasters rebelled a few months ago at the “suggestions” by the Minister of Truth on how they should cover an up-country cabinet barnstorming. That won’t happen again.

There are those who don’t, won’t or can’t see the forces at work here, so let’s reduce the project scale.

Then there’s the fixing of supporters in various positions:

… giving the politician and sedition suspect Sakoltee (aka Sakol) Phattiyakul a job at the Bangkok City Hall. A truly hard-core supporter of Suthep Thaugsuban, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee and the coup regime, son of a leading 2006 coup general, Mr Sakoltee showed up two weeks ago to confirm his membership in the Democrat Party. That surprised a lot of people.

A lot more, though, were surprised at his metamorphosis from somewhat aimless anti-red politician to deputy governor of Bangkok. The Section 44-appointed governor, Pol Gen Aswin Kwanmuang, tossed four assistants under the bus to make way for Mr Sakoltee.

But insiders said the real force behind the lightning transfer was Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, accused of being Kingmaker Apparent of the 2019 election. He has been lining up politicians, political parties and now controls the single most powerful urban office in the country behind the outsider prime minister-to-be.

From inside City Hall, Mr Sakoltee has a unique look at political organising in Bangkok. Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intharasombat calls this direct, government interference in running the BMA.

But to calm things down, the Bangkok Post reports that, despite these frantic efforts, the army chief Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart has lied stated that there’s no rigging going on involving his troops. He lied insisted “that the military is not using its resources and personnel to help the government score political points.”

Of course, the Army boss “also serves as secretary-general of the National Council for Peace and Order [the military junta]…”, which means he’s obviously a liar a clear and obvious role for the military in the government. He lied declared “there was nothing political about the army’s campaign to publicise the government’s work in the provinces.”

He lied denied “that the army was mobilising to help Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha gain the upper hand over political rivals as reports once again emerged of a pro-regime political party being formed to back Gen Prayut to return as prime minister in the next election expected [sic.] to be held in February next year.”

Gen Chalermchai babbled that “the army’s campaign is not aimed specifically at publicising the government’s Thai Niyom Yangyuen development programme, but for promoting projects aimed at restoring national unity as well as advertising the army’s activities such as military conscription.”

The army chief disembled: “It is a long-term strategy which I have conceived and I want it to continue over a span of five to 10 years. It is not merely for the sake of the Thai Niyom programme…”. He means the military is working to fully militarize the administration of the country, which is also the junta’s main objective. We know this because, among many other signals, the bellicose general stated that he is dispatching “teams of army personnel responsible for handling civilian affairs …[being] sent to meet local people, listen to their problems, explain what the government [military dictatorship] has done and find ways to improve [sic.] their livelihoods…”.

As we have previously posted, the general states that the military and junta are using the “Internal Security Operations Command …[working] with the army’s 35 military circles nationwide to finalise details regarding budget allocations and action plans that will suit the different natures of the problems facing each particular province…”.

It is all about rigging the “election.”

Protecting the old elite’s constitutional court

7 03 2018

Did anyone notice how quiet the Constitutional Court has been under the military dictatorship? One might consider this a result of the junta’s repression and its lawlessness. That would be a mistake. Our view is that the court’s relative silence has several causes.

One is that the court became highly politicized from 2006 for a particular reason. It was the (now deceased) king who politically activated the judiciary to “sort out the mess” following the Democrat Party (and friends) boycott of the 2006 election. Following that, the health decline of the monarch saw the judiciary, and the Constitutional Court in particular, become the weapon of choice in the old elite’s opposition to elected (Shinawatra-backed) governments. By 2014, while the court still repeatedly intervened, the military coup and resulting dictatorship became the ballistic weapon. The Constitutional Court’s job was done and the junta, despite ramming through its own charter, has little need for or heed of legal direction and limits.

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

A second reason is that, if the judiciary replaced a health weakened king as the elite weapon against electoral democracy, then with a new king in place the courts becomes less significant. So far, the king’s and the junta’s political interests seem to coincide.

Yet as the political cycle moves slowly on to unfree and unfair elections, the junta envisions the need for a Constitutional Court that can again act as a political sledgehammer when required to stymie elected governments (of the wrong sort) and to support the junta’s preferred government that it hopes to hoist in place through an “election.” The result of this view is that, just like The Dictator or the king, the Constitutional Court has to be “protected.”

Prachatai reports that the junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly’s law to “protect” the Constitutional Court, granting it “a legal immunity from criticism, and power to settle conflict between state agencies,” has been published in the Royal Gazette. thus making it law.

The law “prohibits rude, sarcastic and murderous criticism against orders and verdicts made by the court, with the possible sentence of up to one month in jail and fine up to 50,000 baht.”

This law allows a partisan court to make politicized decisions without fear of any peep of criticism.

Questioning elections and the corrupted charter

4 03 2018

In an important modulation of tune, some in the media are beginning to question what the call for a junta “election” means.

Prachatai has an editorial – not common for them – which reminds readers of the twin calls made by the activists calling themselves the Democracy Restoration Group:

… The DRG has proposed two main ideas — firstly, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) must hold an election in 2018, and, secondly, it must cease its efforts to hang on to power after the election.

“When we have elections, when we have an [elected] cabinet, the NCPO has to step down by default; this is the first step of building our democracy,” DRG leader Anon Nampa said during a speech at the protest on 24 February at Thammasat University. “Second step, … all NCPO orders and announcements that limit our rights must be amended by a parliament that we elect. This is the importance of elections.”

It says the second step is being largely ignored in the media and by the broader public and advises: “Pro-democracy activists should remind the public more that the election will not lead the country to a brighter future if the military still retains power in Thai politics.”

In the Bangkok Post, Alan Dawson writes of advance election rigging, using all the state’s means and resources and a dirty tricks campaign. All designed to keep The Dictator and his junta mates in power after the junta’s “election.”

These warnings need to be taken seriously. But more attention should also be given to the 2017 constitution and its long-term rigging of the political system for the benefit of the ruling classes and their cronies. It should not be forgotten that the “referendum” for the junta’s constitution was neither free nor fair and that the constitution results from a series of mutinous and illegal actions by the military dictatorship.

Part of the “fix” that the constitution puts in place is the near impossibility for any elected government to alter the junta’s basic law. Yet any “elected” government that is not the devil spawn of the junta must do away with this corrupted charter.

Junta election, rules and agenda

25 02 2018

Under pressure the military junta is shedding blame for “election” delays by blaming others, mostly their puppets.

More recently, a different pressure release strategy is to embellish the junta’s “roadmap” by adding processes and conditions for its “election” that are likely to further drag the process out.

The Nation reports that The Dictator has decreed that he “will call a meeting of relevant parties to discuss and decide an appropriate and acceptable date for the next general election.”

Under pressure, he used his weekly national address on television on Friday to say that “after all the four necessary organic laws for the next election were published in the Royal Gazette, his Cabinet would inform the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] to invite political parties, the Constitution Drafting Commission and the Election Commission to discuss the matter.”

Most of this process is already known. So far the laws have been delayed time and again. But why the junta’s cabinet needs to tell the junta to do anything is bizarre and we aren’t at all sure that it is constitutional. The new bit is calling a meeting, which will again slow the process down.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha says:

The election date depends on the readiness and agreement of parties involved. It’s an important national agenda. We may have to commit it as a mutual contract on how we will move the country forward in accordance with the road map….

This sounds like setting conditions – yes, even more conditions – after having set all the conditions that are involved in the junta’s constitution and related laws.

As the Bangkok Post reported, The Dictator said an election delay would be because “there are circumstances such as public disorder, violent conflict, or political divisiveness like in 2014. Political divisiveness is pretty difficult to avoid in a free and fair election the junta’s election will be neither, but divisiveness is more or less guaranteed.

What the junta demands is this:

Political parties, political groups and other concerned entities will be required to make a public commitment on national unity and pushing the country ahead after the election, he said.

“A mutual contract on how we will move the country forward in line with the national roadmap will be required,” he said.

“They [political parties and political groups] have to make a commitment that after the election, we will have a government and the opposition that join hands to move the country forward following the national strategic plan,” he said.

In other words, for an election to take place, the political parties that participate in the junta’s “election” under the junta’s laws and rules must also agree to accept and implement the junta’s political agenda.

Junta gets another slap

29 01 2018

In another important legal case, the Bangkok Post reports that a Ratchaburi provincial court “has acquitted four students and a reporter charged with violating the constitutional referendum law in 2016.”

The students were in court and accused of opposing the junta’s constitution, which was made more-or-less illegal. As the Post puts it, they were accused of “collaborating to publicly disseminate content inconsistent with facts or in a violent, aggressive, impolite, seditious or threatening manner for the purpose of discouraging voters from casting the ballot or voting in a particular way on the 2016 constitution draft.” The reporter, from Prachatai, was with them in a car and accused also.

The four students from the New Democracy Movement were Pakorn Areekul, Anan Lokate, Anucha Rungmorakot and Panuwat Songsawat. The reporter was Taweesak Kerdpoka.

The “evidence” was “stickers the student brought with them … had the text: ‘Let’s vote no on Aug 7 on the future we can’t choose’.”

Reportedly, the “court saw nothing wrong with this…” and rejected the prosecutor’s case.

The one “crime” they were convicted of was “failing to cooperate with officials when the refused to give fingerprints.” For this, they were fined.

The police were ordered “to return them the seized materials.”

If these kinds of legal victories continue, we might conclude that the judiciary is peeling itself away from the junta.

Further updated: Sparks beginning to fly

28 01 2018

Quite some time ago we said that, as in the past, the spark that lights a fire under Thailand’s military dictatorship might come from something quite unexpected.

We think we might have seen that spark and it may be two events that have begun to tip the political balance. One is Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury timepieces. It isn’t so much that he’s seemingly corrupt. After all the timid middle classes and the wealthy capitalist class “understand” corruption and it is a price they are ever willing to pay so long as they can continue to prosper. And, if the corrupt are “good” people, then it’s okay. What has led to a beginning of an unraveling of this political relationship is Prawit’s arrogance about his massive watch collection and the demonstration (so far) of cover-up and impunity. This taints the junta as self-serving, grasping and certainly not “good” people.

The second spark is the continual delay in the holding of an election that is neither free nor fair. The middle and capitalist classes were fully prepared to accept the junta’s manipulated constitution, its forcing of the constitutional referendum, the tinkering with the details, a senate that maintains military political dominance and human rights restrictions. However, as well as the political repression of the lower classes, they wanted something of a say in politics via that unfair election. By delaying numerous times, the junta is displaying arrogance and a craving for power “unsuited” to the middle and capitalist classes.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The peeling away of support even sees diehard yellow shirts, the boosters for the coups of 2006 and 2014, criticizing the military junta it bet on for turning back the lower class political tide. It also sees cracks appearing in the junta’s domination and control both in events and institutions. We have posted on the “We Walk” march and its court victory. Some of the NGOs involved in that event were those that were present at the birth of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2006. For some of those yellow shirts, there is disappointment in the regime for not doing sufficient political cleansing. More disappointment comes from the decisions by the junta to allow legal pursuit of PAD and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Such legal cases are not just a disappointment but construed as a betrayal.

In this context, the re-emergence of political protest is telling. First We Walk and now the student activists. It isn’t that these students haven’t pushed the junta before. In fact, they have been regular opponents, but they have faced numerous legal cases, arrests, abductions and so on. The Bangkok Post reports their most recent event this way:

The Democracy Restoration Group, led by Sirawich “Ja New” Seritiwat and Rangsiman Rome, posted on Facebook on Friday asking people who share the same views to join them at 5.30pm at the BTS skywalk near the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

Pathumwan police said they did not try to stop the campaign so long as it did not block traffic.

Around 100 people came to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre at 5.15pm while police stood by and took photos of the participants. Many of them showed the sign “Election 2018” or show its photo on their mobile phones.

Core leaders of the group took turns giving speeches.

Interestingly, the demonstrators emphasized not just elections but watches.

Update 1: A reader emailed us saying that we missed one of the most important bits of the linked Bangkok Post story. That reader is right that we should have specifically noted that the rally brought together stalwarts of both red and yellow shirts, with ultra-nationalist yellow shirt Veera Somkwamkid and red shirt iconoclast Sombat Boonngamanong. That is an unexpected alliance. Yet it is just this kind of unusual alliance that has underpinned anti-military movements in the past.

Update 2: An updated Bangkok Post report has more from Veera. He declared: “There are no colours right now…. It’s all about joining hands and removing corruption from the country.” He added: “The problem is we cannot rely on the government because they are in fact the ones who are not transparent.” The principal organizers, the New Democracy Movement declared “it will continue to pressure the government and Gen Prayut to dismiss Gen Prawit and to keep his promise to holding the election this year. They will gather again in the same spot on Feb 10.” Meanwhile, in Songkhla, “members of 19 civic organisations walked from Hat Yai municipality to Sena Narong army camp in Hat Yai to voice their grievances over several state projects in the South and to support the [People Go Network/We Walk group].”

Heroes and villains II

24 12 2017

A recent Bangkok Post editorial chastised The Dictator for being unable to accept criticism.

Everyone knows that General Prayuth Chan-ocha gets testy when he feels criticized. As an army boss he’s long been immune to criticism as no one in that hierarchy would dare criticize a boss.

It falls to the Post to advise The Dictator “that the job of premier demands someone with a thick skin.” Quite remarkably, however, the Post thinks Prayuth may have gotten used to criticism and that, therefore, the junta’s “zeal for attacking a former Pheu Thai Party spokeswoman for her criticisms of the premier is all the more mysterious.”

Of course, it isn’t mysterious at all. The junta and The Dictator repeatedly go after critics they consider opponents of army, monarchy and regime. Political repression is an hourly and daily affair for the junta.

The Post actually know this for it says that The Dictator’s:

subordinates in the NCPO’s legal department are resorting to the extreme measure of charging Lt Sunisa Lertpakawat with sedition for Facebook posts taking Gen Prayut to task for fairly mundane transgressions … suggests the NCPO harbours a grievance against certain groups rather than assessing criticism on its merits.

Add in computer crimes and Sunisa is getting the standard repression doled out to political opponents, many of them associated with Puea Thai, Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra and red shirts.

The Post chastises the junta for attacking Sunisa with big charges when “Sunisa was exercising mere freedom of expression, a basic right guaranteed by the constitution.”

It might have praised her more for having the gumption to stand up to the villains when almost no one else dares.

But resorting to legal constitutionalism illustrates one of the core problems of current political commentary. The junta is a law unto itself but the commentariat seem to accept its laws, constitution, decrees, and “election” as legitimate when they are clearly not. The difference between heroes and villains is as clear as day.

As the military has demonstrated many times, constitutions count for nothing. Citing the junta’s constitution as “law” while the regime does anything it wants is silly and politically dumb.