A decade of PPT

21 01 2019

A decade has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our huge disappointment that we are still active after all these years.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners, its military dictatorship and political repression would have been a thing of the past. But political dinosaurs flourish in Thailand’s fertile environment filled with fascists, royalists and neo-feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is regressing faster than most pundits could have predicted.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor, publicizing a spike in lese majeste cases to an international audience. Instead, a decade later, we are still at it and dealing with the outcomes of royalist politics gone mad. We now face the repressive reality of the continued dominance of a military dictatorship, brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that masks and protects an anti-democratic ruling class. Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta has continued the politicization of the judiciary and is now rigging an “election” that may, one day, be held, if the king finally decides that he will allow an election. That “election,” embedded in a military-royalist constitution, will potentially be a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream.

When we sputtered into life it was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes and hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. Those perceived as opponents of the military and the monarchy were whisked away into detention, faced threats and surveillance and some have died or been “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances, and continue to do so in recent months.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy and the new monarch. The junta has supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It has colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying several symbols of the 1932 revolution, emphasizing the rise of neo-feudal royalism that leaves democracy neutered.

On this anniversary, as in past years,  we want an end to political repression and gain the release of every political prisoner. Under the current regime, hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military. The military regime is not only illegal but is the most repressive since the royally-appointed regime under Thanin Kraivixien in the mid-1970s.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, both conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a new political dark age where the lese majeste law – Article 112 – has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

From 2006 to 2017, lese majeste cases grew exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than that,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the lese majeste law has been extended. Thankfully, in 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. We don’t know why. It could be that the military’s widespread crackdown has successfully quieted anti-monarchism or it might be that the king wants no more cases to get public airings and “damage” his “reputation.”

The last information available suggest that there are at least 18 suspects accused of violating Article112 whose cases have reached final verdicts and who remain in prison.

As for PPT, despite heavy censorship and blocking in Thailand, we have now had more than 3 million page views at our two sites. The blocking in Thailand has been more extensive in 2018 than in past years. This is our 7,999th post.

PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to political repression and lese majeste than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of these issues is far more critical than it was.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through all the attempts by the Thai censors to block us. We trust that we remain useful and relevant and we appreciate the emails we receive from readers.

As in the past we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be opposed.

Updated: How’s that election coming along?

8 01 2019

Confusion reigns,” says one report. Another points to “poll uncertainty.” What is going on? No one seems to be able to say anything much at all.

However, when “debate” turns to the need (or otherwise) for a Constitutional Court opinion on the meaning of Article 268 of the junta’s constitution, then we become suspicious that there’s something of a cover-up going on. The 150 days days bit and where it is counted allows more or less “flexibility” for the junta in having the election around the coronation.

That article of the constitution can be read in various ways and the Constitutional Court will probably help out the junta.

However, we are guessing that it doesn’t really matter and that the junta may, in the end, have to delay its “election” until after the coronation of King Vajiralongkorn.

Thus, the source of any attempted cover-up is likely to have to do with the royal decree: “Uncertainty continues as to when the election will take place with the government yet to publish a Royal Decree in the Royal Gazette.”

In fact, we at PPT don’t think the hold-up is with the “government.” The deafening quiet on the decree suggests the palace hasn’t signed off. Our hunch is that the palace won’t sign off until the junta works out how to delay the election until the king’s crowned.

Remember that The Dictator repeatedly stated that there will be no “election” until after the coronation. The coronation would only be held at a date to be decided by the king.

Now that the king has decided, the junta is in a pickle if the king won’t allow an “election” until after the coronation.

We expect that the self-declared royalists of junta are now crying in their whisky and sodas, stuck for a way out, hoping the king will come to the “election” party, but realizing he may just not want an “election.”

Update: In addition to millions of potential voters being dismayed and disappointed by the failures discussed above, hundreds of thousands of students have no idea when university entrance examinations will take place. The Ministry of Education, which already changed dates to cope with a 24 February election is now waiting for the royal decree and then the Election Commission announcing a date. It seems there’s little caring for the people from those at the top.

On the junta’s rigged election

30 12 2018

Even though the military dictatorship is getting skittish about its rigged election, The Guardian of a few days ago had some bits worth quoting. Here are some of them:

Many Thais remain sceptical that the long-awaited election – pushed back multiple times by the military junta … – will even happen, let alone do much to change the political structure of the country.

Commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak:

“This will not be a fair election…. But it is a necessary first step for Thailand to regain some balance. There is a long way to go yet.”

“I see the constitution as the biggest source of political ailments and social grievances in Thailand…. It is totally crooked and it was written to perpetuate military power in politics. The senate is a junta chamber and in the lower house they have obliterated the party system to make it entirely rigged for the military.”

…[M]any fear that the election system will be so manipulated by the junta that 24 February will simply see the military returned to power through proxy political parties such as the Palang Pracharat party, recently formed by NCPO [junta] members, or will end up with [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha, the incumbent prime minister under the military regime, selected to the role again.

Academic Duncan McCargo: “the rules of the game have been rigged…”.

Civil rights and environmental activist and leader of the Commoner Party, Lertsak Kamkongsak, still waiting to hear whether the military will allow it to register:

“The whole system is messed up and totally against parties…. Prayuth will be the next prime minister for sure and this election will lead to the military government, but it won’t be completely under their control. I think they will last one to two years, and then there will be another election again…. Personally, I think it’s going to be chaos. And [it will] probably lead to another coup.”

Done and dusted?

29 11 2018

According to an opinion piece in The Nation, the military junta’s work on rigging the election is done and dusted.

Not unlike Soonruth Bunyamanee at the Bangkok Post, the unnamed author appears to have suddenly realized that the “election” is rigged, saying:

No one should have any doubts about Prayut Chan-o-cha’s future political path. Reading between the lines of his statements, it’s now plain that the function of the coming election is to legitimise and extend the general’s stay in power.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been given a free pass: “He has the backing of the junta-sponsored Constitution, which allows him to retain his post as prime minister without receiving a single vote from the people.”

Prayuth has even been bragging about this: “I talked to the legal team: I don’t need to be a member or anything…”. He can choose later which party is “honored” to make him premier.

It will be one of the devil parties, despite the fact that “… Prayut wants to be viewed as an angelic presence, hovering above the evil election fray before eventually incarnating when the winners invite him to rule the country.”

This “angelic” position will also mean that Gen Prayuth as PM can “ignore whatever campaign policies and promises are made to voters by parties.” In other words, any campaigning by the devil parties is a lie because the General-cum-new/old-PM can do whatever he wants.

As the author puts it, the “votes of Thais will be rendered meaningless.”

Further, the “hands of the people have already been tied ahead of the election. The junta’s 20-year strategic plan offers parties a stark choice: toe its policy line or be thrown out of government.”

What can Thais do in such a powerless position caused by an unfree and unfair election?

The author suggests that all that the junta’s devil parties will “win,” and the only thing left is that “Thais still have power of a protest vote.”

The recommendation is to vote against devil parties, including the Democrat Party, so as to “pull the country in a direction away from the military-backed and authoritarian regime of the last four years.”

Scam senate selection

27 11 2018

Both the Bangkok Post and The Nation report on the scam Senate and its first day of seeking “applications.” Each report says that with Election Commission officials eagerly awaiting self-nominations, it was an exceptionally quiet day, with little interest from just about everyone.

Self-applications close on Friday afternoon.

No doubt, some readers will be asking what this is about. Under the military junta’s rigging of the whole process of creating a Thaksin Shinawatra-proof electoral and constitutional system, the current sham process is for those who wish to nominate as and “an independent candidate” for the new Senate and for those who want to “represent” one of the junta-selected functional constituencies.

How is this being done? In case readers have forgotten (as we had), go to Article 269 of the junta’s 2017 constitution, one of the so-called transitory provisions, which for five years increases the size of the Senate from 200 to 250 and makes every single senator a junta selection.

It is a complicated process that involves a “Senator Selection Committee consisting of not fewer than nine but not exceeding twelve persons appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order.” That junta committee nominates “no more than four hundred persons … and … present the list of names to the National Council for Peace and Order.”

The names to the junta’s vetting committee come from the current nomination process, covered by Article 107 of the constitution:

The division of groups shall be made in a way which enables every person having the right to apply for selection to belong to any one group. The division of groups, number of groups, and qualifications of a person in each group, the application and acceptance of application, the rules and procedures for selection among themselves, the acceptance of the selection, the number of Senators selected from each group, the listing of reserve candidates, the elevation of persons from the reserve list to fill the vacancy, and any other measures necessary to enable the selection among themselves to proceed honestly and justly, shall be in accordance with the Organic Act on Installation of Senators.

Let’s skip the reciting of the Organic Law for the moment, for in the end, The junta selects 50 and another 50 as “reserves” or “alternates.” This same junta then selects another 194 from the list of 400 names and then adds:

the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, the Supreme Commander, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Navy, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Air Force and the Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police, totaling two hundred and fifty persons.

If you are still with us, the junta has thereby selected 250 of the total of, well, 250. The wrinkle in this is the current process of nomination and self-nomination for the original list of 400, of whom 244 get a Senate position. The process after nomination  – for which there’s a long list of exclusions and requirements – begins at the amphur level and has vetting and selection at provincial and national level, all controlled by officials, before being considered by the junta’s selection committee.

In other words, the whole process is contrived, controlled and rigged by the junta so that it fills the Senate with its own people. For all of the complications involved in not electing senators, the outcome is going to be a chamber that reflects the junta and its desires and that will behave exactly like the puppet National Legislative Assembly. That is, as a chamber of mechanical Japanese lucky cats, all sticking their paws up at the same time, with the time being dictated by the junta.

Lucky for the junta but unlucky for the country.

The junta’s (rigged) future

24 11 2018

Termsak Chalermpalanupap is a researcher at the government-funded ASEAN Studies Centre of the ISEAS-Yusok Ishak Institute and a member of the Institute’s Thailand Country Program.

As an initial aside, it was bemusing to see that Dr Termsak’s institutional location leads to a disclaimer that “All views expressed in this article are his own as a Thai citizen.” The Institute funds research and employs academics but seeks to institutionally remove itself from institutional responsibility. If an institution could have a spine, none would exist here.

The op-ed by Dr Termsak reckons that General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s “dream of remaining PM” is dampening any hope in Thailand that there might be (yet another) new start for civilian-led politics.

Dr Termsak suggests that “all the signs suggest his [Gen Prayuth’s] bid for power will be successful…” as the “long-awaited general election come February 2019.” Well, maybe February….

In explaining why Gen Prayuth may get his “wish” – actually, he believes it is something he deserves and others believe he must stay on to protect the royalist elite’s dominance.

Dr Termsak doesn’t see much hope of “a new beginning for Thai democracy.”

Much of the rest of the op-ed details why the junta’s “election” cannot be either free or fair.

Puppet Election Commission criticized

18 11 2018

In a follow-up to our most recent post on election rigging,, the Bangkok Post reports that the Open Forum for Democracy Foundation (P-NET) “is calling on the Election Commission (EC) to exercise independence in redrawing the election constituencies, saying it is a first step towards a free and fair election.”

P-NET is “urging the poll agency to be independent in doing its job and take into account factors such as demographic changes, public participation and voter convenience, in demarcating the boundaries of constituencies.”

In fact, these are all things that were “promised,” but the military junta’s use of Article 44 now makes the whole process opaque, secretive and manipulable.

P-NET calls the junta’s intervention “outright interference,” noting that the dictatorship’s intervention “comes after the EC completed the job and was about to publish it in the Royal Gazette.”

It adds that the junta’s intervention “may lead to the unfair carving out of electoral boundaries in the favour of certain parties, especially pro-military ones…”. The use of the word “may” is rather too weak; it seems clear that this is what the military junta is doing.

One important quibble is with the notion that boundary setting is “a first step towards a free and fair election.” As we have repeatedly pointed out, the military junta has engaged in massive election rigging. The first step in that was the 2014 coup itself, with the major effort being the rule-setting that began with the junta’s 2016 constitution, which led to a cascade of rules meant to rig the election. That makes electoral boundary interference only the most recent step.