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.





Election ≠ democracy

17 12 2017

Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey thinks the military junta is likely to allow its “election” to take place in November 2018.

Certainly, the junta and The Dictator are campaigning hard. Umesh also sees the EU capitulation to the military dictatorship as evidence that an “election” just might be held.

But issues remain. For one thing, as Umesh notes, the junta has not yet allowed political parties to complete the necessary legal requirements to allow them to campaign and then stand candidates for election. That could be a delaying tactic or it may be just an attempt to cause disarray and disorganization among political parties and preferencing the junta.

Another issue is that the formation of the Election Commission is stuck. Seven commissioners have been nominated, at least one with links to the anti-democrat stage, but the two selected by the Supreme Court seem not to have followed legal procedures. Of course, the Supreme Court has broken and bent rules in the past but the National Legislative Assembly is questioning the court.

There’s also an issue with the political parties act and the potential for changes and delays. The junta can still play around with this law using Article 44 but there may also be considerable debate at the NLA.

The bigger problem with Umesh’s view, however, is his odd view of “democracy.”

Identifying himself as a “democracy lover,” Umesh states:

Given the fact that elections are usually held on Sundays and assuming that the government plans to hold on to power until the last day it can, the last day to hold elections would be Nov 25, which would mean that the country would be back to a democratic system 343 days from today.

Of course, when the anti-democrats campaigned against the elected Yingluck Shinawatra government, they repeatedly complained that elections did not make democracy. Their argument was that election by a majority of the population ignored the minority.

In the case of the junta, however, “elections” do not make democracy because the military dictatorship has developed all the rules for the “election.” These rules have been developed by the puppet appointees of what is an illegal regime (which legalized itself). Many of those rules have been developed to produce a junta-friendly post-election regime.

The junta’s constitution was “approved” in a referendum that was unfree and unfair. And then it has been substantially changed, some of that done in secret.

The result is likely to be that, as in the period when General Prem Tinsulanonda was unelected premier, “elections” may not matter much and political parties are likely to have relatively limited power.

The junta’s reign has also seen courts and so-called independent agencies made the bastard children of the junta. In addition to the EC, a recent example is the National Human Rights Commission, completely de-fanged after years of increasing impotence and partisanship.

This fixing of the legal and electoral system has been so thorough that no election under the junta’s rule can be democratic if that word has something to do with free and fair elections.





Royal secrecy deepens

13 12 2017

King Vajiralongkorn’s reign has been characterized by fear and secrecy.

The fear has spread throughout society. Fear of getting on the wrong side of a powerful man said to be vicious and cruel. Fear of his enforcers, including the junta. Fear of doing the wrong thing. Fear of the royalists patrolling royal boundaries. Fear of not knowing what those boundaries are and how they move.

Secrecy has surrounded all official dealings, from the raft of laws (including the constitution) that have been changed to suit the king and give him vastly increased power to the cremation of the dead king.

Put all of this fear and secrecy together and it means that officials are petrified.

Prachatai reports on how this petrified state has played out in yet another bizarre lese majeste case.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the Office of the Council of State (OCS) has denied lawyers access to a document required to defend a client charged with lese majeste for allegedly defaming Princess Sirindhorn.

Sensible readings of Article 112 are clear that she is not covered by the law. Yet that has not stopped courts from ruling on lese majeste cases about her.

The document is requested because “Sirindhorn’s official title in Thai before King Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne included ‘Crown Princess’.” This leads to “dispute as to whether she was considered an heir apparent of the Thai monarch,” and thus covered by the law.

We think this is buffalo manure because, from 1972, there was only one heir apparent. But as the courts apply the law willy-nilly and in cases involving dogs and long dead kings, we see why the lawyer seeks it.

The report states:

The lawyer first requested access to the document in June 2017 but the OCS declined the request citing the Rule on Maintenance of Official Secrets 2001 and Article 14 of the Public Information Act 1997.

The OCS claims the document “is classified because information in the document could damage the monarchy if it is published.” The TLHR counters that “the document was accessible on the OCS website until at least June 2017.”

In August 2017, the court trying the lese majeste case to allow access, but this was rejected, with the court “stating that it can rule on the case regardless of the OCS document.” It also ruled that the “OCS does not have authority over the document.”

All things royal are becoming even more opaque than they were in the past. Neo-feudal Thailand is a dark, dangerous, unpredictable and daft administrative space.





On Constitution Day

10 12 2017

Constitution Day remains a holiday, but most of the meaning of the event has been drained away by palace propaganda aided and abetted by decades of royalist governments.

Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod asks: “what’s really left to really celebrate?” It is a good question.

Eight and a half decades after the 1932 revolt put the “constitutional” into constitutional monarchy, the kingdom has seen too many charters discarded. The current one is No. 20. Divide that by 85 years, you get an average lifespan for Thai constitutions of just slightly over four years.

An average car is more durable. A typical refrigerator is going to get more use.

He argues that almost no one in Thailand “a strong attachment to the Thai constitution.”

That’s only partly true. There are those who have an attachment to the first 1932 constitution. That is the one that represented the spirit of 1932 before the royalists began rolling it back and replacing people’s sovereignty with royalism.

Of course, there’s no reason to celebrate the junta’s 2017 Constitution. This document is the spirit of military despotism, paternalism and anti-democracy. We at PPT would celebrate this military charter cast into history’s dustbin, along with the aged flunkies who crafted it.

One Bangkok Post story that caught our attention for Constitution Day concerns a group of political activists who “will petition the Constitutional Court to lift one of the junta’s orders on the grounds that it is an outright violation of the constitution.”

Violating constitutions is pretty much stock-in-trade for the junta.

The Democracy Restoration Group of the New Democracy Movement, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and “representatives of people affected by NCPO Order No.3/2558 announced the move at Thammasat University on Saturday.”

That order “bans freedom of assembly and empowers soldiers to summon any person to testify and to detain people for up to seven days, among others.”

The activists seem determined to keep the pressure on the junta for its illegal rule.

And then there was another Bangkok Post story – indeed, an editorial – that seemed to fit Constitution Day for its gentle push-back on the royal re-acquisition of the old zoo, consolidating royal property and privatizing it.

It begins with what seems like a justification for the new zoo which is expected to begin construction around 2019. But then it carefully changes tack, referring to “a few concerns about the new site.” Distance, entrance fees,  lack of public transport. It then gets really interesting:

One key question remains about the future of the old Dusit Zoo after the relocation is completed….

But the [zoo] agency should be aware that any decision on the future of the zoo should be based on the history of the place.

Acknowledging that history, the Post calls for the old zoo to become “a botanical garden or a park for public use.”

That’s a rare call in a neo-feudal military dictatorship.





Waking up to military dictatorship

10 11 2017

Thailand has been a military dictatorship since May 2014. If The Dictator has his way, the military and the current junta will be in power, directly or through proxies and clones, for another 16 years.

It needs to be recalled that this has happened before. Following the massacre of students at Thammasat University on 6 October 1976, promoted and conducted by military and monarchists, a military junta agreed to appoint palace favorite Thanin Kraivixien as prime minister. That rightist premier, selected and promoted by the king, declared that “reform” would require 12 years.

Thanin wasn’t around for long, being thrown out by military boss General Kriangsak Chomanan, who himself was pushed aside by another general and palace favorite, Prem Tinsulanonda. He remained unelected premier until 1988. That’s 12 years.

So we should believe that the current arrogant leaders and their allies think 20 years is possible.

It seems that there is a gradual awakening to these plans, even though they have, in our view, been obvious for years.

For example, a Bangkok Post editorial gets testy with The Dictator:

Praising oneself while discrediting others is a classic campaign tactic employed by most politicians ahead of general elections. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seemed to be doing just that, behaving like a career politician, when he posed six much-criticised questions to the Thai public on Wednesday.

PPT has noted The Dictator’s campaigning throughout 2017.

The Post recognizes that The Dictator’s six “questions are also seen as an attempt to test the waters before deciding or revealing whether he will enter politics.”

In fact, he’s already entered politics, and well before the 2014 military coup. We well recall that he campaigned against Yingluck Shinawatra and the Peua Thai Party during the 2011 election. He began contemplating a coup against her elected government from even before that election victory.

The Post also recognizes that the junta “has set new rules on politics and has kept a firm grip on all state power…”.And it will do so for years after any “election” conducted under the junta’s rules, set by the illegitimate 2017 constitution. As the Post states:

In fact, the regime’s desire to cling on to the power it seized from the last elected government is demonstrated by certain rules specified in the constitution it sponsored.

The Post editorial continues: “Whatever plan he may be secretly hatching, it is illegitimate as long as he continues to be the rule-maker.”

This is correct, but the power-hungry generals aren’t about to do that. They have repeatedly stated that the time is not right, citing “fears” of political chaos.

The Post further observes:

The prospect of Gen Prayut as premier running the administrative branch for another four-year term while having the Senate, as a supposed checks-and-balance mechanism, on his side, is not a good thing for a democratic country.

But that’s exactly what Prem did. And, we think, that’s been the plan from the beginning.