Election crisis

17 04 2019

PPT recently posted on the resurrection of the notion of a “national government.” The interesting thing about this hackneyed nonsense was the admission that Thailand faced a political crisis.

An opinion piece at The Nation is disparaging:

Moves to engineer a pseudo-deadlock to justify ‘neutral’ rule ignore the will of voters….

A so-called national unity government has always been a favourite gambit for Thai politicians who lose elections. By utilising this benign-sounding concept they can sweep aside the voters’ verdict and prevent opposing factions from taking power.

It points out that:

It was sad though predictable, then, to see the Democrats’ Thepthai Senapong float the idea again, after his party suffered a huge setback in the March 24 election. Exploiting the Election Commission (EC)’s apparent inability to produce a clear result, Thepthai has sought to convince the public that a national unity Cabinet is badly needed.

His idea immediately fails the test of credibility with his proposal that former prime minister and Democrat [Party] patriarch Chuan Leekpai lead the “unity” government. No neutral observer believes that Chuan is non-partisan.

While the opinion writer still has some faith that an election result will emerge that is not concocted by the junta, it is stated:

The election was far from perfect, but the elite, military and notably the junta must accept the outcome of a situation that they themselves created. The junta should now allow its opponents the chance to form a government to run the country, as mandated by the people.

Using underhanded legal tactics and other dirty tricks to retain power is not acceptable. The people delivered their verdict via an election by whose rules all parties agreed to abide. That process and its outcome are the only effective solution to the deep and lasting political problems in this country.

That would be a breakthrough as the elite, military and anti-democrats have never accepted election results that don’t give power to them.

But, as veteran Puea Thai Party politician Phumtham Wechayachai points out,  the junta’s “Constitution and the legal framework had indeed been designed to cause complications and difficulties that would draw the nation down the path to undemocratic rule.” He added: “The political situation is on a course that shows we are going toward a dead end…”.

The dead end is manufactured crisis and continuing authoritarianism.

Election crisis and the EC on holidays

15 04 2019

There’s plenty of wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes as senators are selected – some big people are sticking their bib into this one – and even calls for a “national government,” perhaps ditching Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha as premier.

The Bangkok Post noted how this idea regularly comes up in times of crisis. We guess this means Thailand is now officially in crisis, again. That puts the last nail in the junta’s coffin. Think about it. They seized power via coup and ruled unimpeded for 5 years with the express aim of getting over political crisis. They failed. Indeed, as the Post says:

While the possibility of forming a national government these days cannot entirely be ruled out, conflicts would likely be even more prominent as parties with different ideologies compete to gain more power within the coalition.

The only reason for such a national government to come into existence is to amend the 2017 constitution which is the major cause of several serious political problems as well as the current deadlock.

That’s all the junta’s work and they succeeded in creating an unworkable electoral and political system. Maybe that’s what these thugs wanted.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reports, that the Election Commission is on holiday for new year. With an election result missing and the whole EC facing its own crisis of legitimacy, they have all gone on holidays. Boss Ittiporn Boonpracong said: “The EC will be back to work on April 17 after Songkran.”

Just what The Dictator ordered? But four days off while the agency “will have only four days before poll re-runs are held on April 21.” But, then, re-runs might just be held a week after that. Who knows? Not the EC.

Then there are the 326 complaints “in connection with prospective winners in 66 constituencies.” And there might be additional complaints over the next 9 days. The EC needs to decide on these complaints to see if more re-runs are needed. Then, “all poll re-runs must be held before the EC endorses at least 95% of official poll results by May 9.” To do any kind of professional job – not that the EC has so far – investigation and poll re-runs on that schedule is impossible. Blame the junta, it set the rules.

Yet one piece of news also suggests that some “investigating” has taken place: “17 complaints have already been dismissed due to the lack of evidence and witnesses.” Who knows if that is true.

All of this also requires tiptoeing around the coronation. We continue to be amazed at how much trouble the king has caused by his choice of days for this aggrandizing show.

The holidays and the coronation seem to be far more significant than the first completed national election since 2011 (even a rigged one).

The EC has already ordered election re-runs at six polling stations in five provinces including Bangkok, and the recounting of votes at two stations in Khon Kaen province.

How far behind is the EC? It seems that the recounts haven’t yet been conducted in two polling booths in the northeast. Even critics find this hard to believe.

In all of this, the EC faces complaints too.

Ittiporn reckons the EC is “ready to defend itself against multiple legal challenges over its performance in the recent poll, as well as face an impeachment process…”. He said: “I insist that we have performed our duties with honesty…”. Good luck with that Mr Ittiporn.

Updated: Battle lines drawn

2 04 2019

In our last post we at PPT worried about a “silent coup.” That coup just got very bellicose.

The Bangkok Post reports that Army chief and junta secretary-general Gen Apirat Kongsompong has gone nuclear in attacking just about everyone the junta fears and hates.

Clipped from Khaosod

First, sounding like a throwback to the Cold War, Gen Apirat rants about “leftists.” He singled out those students and lecturers who had studied overseas as threats to national security and the monarchy:

Those who studied democracy abroad and read other countries’ textbooks must consider how they should be adapted instead of trying to change the constitutional monarchy. Do not introduce the left-wing policies you learned and try to pretend. Other countries do not do so….

Clearly, this is an attack on Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who studied in France, and Future Forward.

He went further:

To the students, lecturers and officials who studied abroad, some of whom received scholarships from the palace, I’d like to stress that no matter what kind of democracy you have studied, democracy has been adapted to suit different cultures around the world… In the world of democracy, there are many forms of democracy….

Apirat being “democratic”

What he means is the Thai-style democracy or royal democracy, while not democratic at all, is the only kind of “democracy” that will be permitted by the Army.

In fact, that is the (non)democracy established by the junta’s constitution. The problem is that people seem to still want to elect anti-junta/anti-military parties and Gen Apirat is livid.

He warned that “politicians, lecturers and students” must obey the rules. He warned that any “refusal to follow rules would only create problems…”.

Second, Gen Apirat barked at political parties that were, he claimed, “dividing Thai people by referring to ‘democratic’ and ‘dictatorial’ camps.” In his warped world, the junta is not dictatorial. No sane person agrees with him.

He threatened another “civil war” if these people didn’t follow the rules. Some part of these “rules” seems to involve accepting that the Election Commission is doing a good job and that the “parliament” should be accepted. He seemed to imply that the parliament would be controlled by the junta’s devils aided by cobras.

Third, while acknowledging that the Army uses social media, he blasted those who use it for purposes other than for promoting the Army, the junta and the monarchy.

Fourth, he excoriated the Svengali of Hong Kong or Dubai or somewhere else whose name may not be spoken:

Some rich people did not flee although they were prosecuted and sentenced to jail. They accept the justice system, unlike someone who does not or cannot accept it and is making moves abroad…

Suffering his usual political schizophrenia, Gen Apirat then somehow managed to imagine that the “armed forces were free from politics and were professional.”

We are not exactly sure where Gen Apirat’s head is when he comes up with such lies. In this instance, he makes this ludicrous claim when he is making a political speech meant to spin lies while damning his political opponents.

But here’s a hint on the location of his location: he says the murderous military “adhered to the duty to protect the nation, religions and the monarch and followed the instructions of His Majesty the King…”.

Clipped from Khaosod

So, while channeling the Cold War, his politics has nothing to do with democracy and his head is somewhere in the early twentieth century before the 1932 revolution.

When a military thug with a record of murderous, lawless and anti-democratic interventions talks, barks and threatens in this way, we get concerned. What next? Another coup?

Update: A reader sent us a link to a link to a brief account of Gen Apirat’s meeting with the foreign media. In English, it seems less maniacal than his reported comments in Thai on roughly the same topic. The interesting addition to the above reports is his recycling of yellow-shirt narratives about the ignorant, deluded and/or uneducated masses in the countryside.

Manipulating the basic law

31 03 2019

Article 158 of the junta’s 2017 constitution states:

The Prime Minister shall not hold office for more than eight years in total, whether or not holding consecutive term. However, it shall not include the period during which the Prime Minister carries out duties after vacating office.

Article 171 of the 2007 constitution stated:

Flagrant, blatant, barefaced, overt, brazen, brash, audacious, outrageous, undisguised, unconcealed, unabashed, unashamed, unrepentant manipulation

The Prime Minister shall not serve in office more than eight years.

We know that General Prayuth Chan-ocha had himself appointed prime minister on 24 August 2014 and that he made himself acting prime minister from 22 May to 24 August 2014 when the “acting” bit disappeared. That’s 4 years, 10 months, and 10 days. If he’s hoisted into the prime minister’s seat again, we can say that he will have forcibly occupied it for 5 years.

According to the constitution, then, most sensible people would conclude that Gen Prayuth could only serve another 3 years. But those sensible people would all be wrong.

At least that’s according to the junta’s chief “legal” interpreter, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam. We might recall that Prime MInister Gen Prayuth was also recently declared, by other regime flunkies, to be eligible to be prime minister because he was not a state official. Given that Gen Prayuth had declared himself a state official, this bit of manipulation was blatant.

Wissanu’s shameless manipulation is in declaring that “Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha will not have to leave office early if re-elected [sic.] as prime minister…” because

… the prime ministerial candidate of the pro-government Palang Pracharath Party [Gen Prayuth] has served less than two years as head of government under the current charter, thus is eligible for a full term if reelected to office.

Such flagrant, blatant, barefaced, overt, brazen, brash, audacious, outrageous, undisguised, unconcealed, unabashed, unashamed, and unrepentant manipulation seems par for the course for this regime. They just keep concocting stuff to suit themselves even if that means ditching their own laws, including the constitution. We are sure that the compliant Constitutional Court would probably do the same.

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.

Post-“election” disruption I

20 03 2019

Pithayain Assavanig, the executive director and chief financial officer of Asia Plus Securities, thinks that foreigners don’t care who the next premier is or who forms the government after the election and that the fact of an election will cause investment to return to Thailand.

He could not be more wrong. The chances are that the the post-election period will be a mess, with lots of legal action, coalition horsetrading and howls about cheating.

The hapless Election Commission is likely to have even more work following the election than it has now.

On the one hand it will have to sort out the problems the EC itself will have created for all of its failures on overseas voting, advance voting and its failure to adequately investigate complaints.

On the other hand, it seems that the desperate and frustrated junta devil party, Palang Pracharath, is planning to lodge a myriad of complaints about other parties.

While the EC has been slow and slapdash in investigating complaints against Palang Pracharath, it will likely work fast on that party’s complaints, even if they are nonsensical.

It seems the party is complaining about “smear campaigns against it and its leaders as well as its prime ministerial candidate Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.” It seems the “smears” have to do with statements that the party is the junta’s party. That’s actually a statement of fact.

Palang Pracharath is also preparing to repel post-election efforts to rescind or change the junta’s constitution.

In fact, this is standard practice for the anti-democrats since the military’s earlier 2007 constitution. Previously, it was often stated that the constitution could be changed, but each time it was attempted, governments were disrupted and then brought down.

Looks like they might do that again if the party can’t get its own government in place.

The post-election period is likely to be more interesting than the pre-election period.

Updated: Secretly selecting the senate

10 03 2019

One of the biggest scams changes made to election rules was to return to the oldest military trick in the book, rigging the Senate by stuffing it full of junta puppets. In the past, the trick has been to fill the Senate with retired and serving military thugs senators.

The Nation reports that the secretive selection process continues, with 400 names shortlisted for the unnamed committee headed by Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Deputy Dictator, about to choose, with an anonymous “Army source saying a significant number of them are military officers.”

Of the 400, the anonymous committee will choose 194, with six seats reserved for serving military or police commanders. Another 50 are selected from lists approved by the junta in a process that was riddled with claims of corruption and rigging.

Just in case you’d forgotten, this “selection of senators is proceeding in line with the [junta’s] Constitution…”. As we said, its a rigged system.

Update: Thai PBS also reports that the “194 senators to be handpicked by the Thailand’s military junta … are expected to be dominated by active and retired generals with close links to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda.” It went on to report that:

Well-informed sources have told Thai PBS that, of the 400 shortlisted candidates, about 50 are close to General Prawit and were either his classmates at the armed forces preparatory school or used to work with him at the Defence Ministry or at the foundation to protect forests.

The report even names names, indicating not just picking trusted allies but nepotism likely at work.