It isn’t clear I

27 03 2019

The Election Commission is downright hopeless. It seems unable to learn from its mistakes and continues to act as if it is collaborating in a process to steal an election. No wonder it faces a challenge (that the junta will simply see off as it controls all agencies involved).

The EC has said no  further election results can be issued despite “counting the remaining 5 per cent of votes…”.  EC secretary-general Jarungwit Phumma was quoted as saying this is “due to complaints of irregularities in some constituencies…”. The EC says it has 146 complaints. It is unclear – the EC is deliberately opaque – whether this includes the 100 or so complaints it had about pre-polling. He also said that the EC would “investigate” all complaints before 9 May, the legal deadline for announcing final results.

Apparently, although this is also unclear, there will be a final vote announcement sometime on Thursday, with EC secretary-general Jarungwit Phumma saying that the EC needed “examine votes for all candidates…”.

It isn’t clear what this might mean.146 complaints to be checked by 9 May but all votes being “examined” by today Bangkok time? Is the EC flustered, hopeless at communication, poorly reported, a bunch of dunces, under orders or conniving in cheating? Take your pick and think of combinations.

Meanwhile complaints pile up about the election and the EC, with the Thammasat University Students Union having “denounced the EC for its inefficient and opaque work during the election.”

EC president Ittiporn Boonpracong found it necessary to reject “speculation that the irregularities could lead to the annulling of the election.” Elections have been annulled for far less in the past, but that was in 2006 and by a politicized judiciary on yellow shirt complaints. The situation now is likely in the hands of the junta and it will do what it thinks serves its interests.

Nothing about the EC is transparent, clear or pellucid.





Updated: Mismanaging the election?

11 03 2019

Less than a week ago, the Election Commission was defending the 12 million baht it spent on sending its commissioners abroad “in order to inspect advance voting locations and ensure poll transparency…”.

Media reported that seven commissioners took trips to various places, including including the U.K., U.S., Switzerland and Singapore. We do not know if they showed up in Kuala Lumpur.

We mention this because it has been widely reported that the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur “was apparently overwhelmed by voters.”

Soon, photographs of cardboard boxes being used as makeshift voters’ cubicles at the Embassy on the weekend.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

While many “criticised authorities in charge of organising the vote, asking whether it was legal to use the boxes, which appeared not to meet the EC’s cubicles’ standards,” the EC has quickly “clarified that using cardboard boxes as improvised voters’ cubicles in Malaysia is perfectly legal.”

Of course, readers with longish memories will recall that the 2006 election was “declared invalid by the Constitutional Court, which found that the positioning of the voting booths violated voter privacy.” This led the Court to pressure the EC to resign for its alleged mismanagement of the election. Déjà-vu?

More importantly, does this mismanagement of voting overseas suggest that the EC is incapable of managing the national election?

Update: Interestingly, the state’s propaganda arm reported heavy turnout in KL. So much so, that extra hours were added and an extra day of voting was allowed. It also reported that Deputy Secretary-General, Natt Laosisavakul “praised the embassy for setting up the voting station well.” Natt also “praised” the Embassy for extended voting hours.





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.





Back to 2005 royalism I

17 06 2013

With the royalists mounting yet another challenge to an elected government, the only thing that seems new for this lot is the use of the Guy Fawkes masks. Even these masks are a tired plagiarism of something done elsewhere.

Just to make everyone realize that absolutely nothing has changed for the royalists, the Thai Patriotic Front or Network has dredged up a ploy that was the strategy that marked the People’s Alliance for Democracy as a royalist instrument.

Yes, in a throwback move, the so-called Patriots have:

filed a petition seeking the Royal appointment of a new prime minister, citing what it described as failures by the current government on such issues as amnesty legislation, the rice-pledging policy and the Bt2-trillion infrastructure loans.

Chaiwat Sinsuwong and his small band anti-elected government ultra-royalists have submitted a “petition to the Royal Household Bureau seeking the Royal appointment of a new prime minister.”

We can only assume that this throwback action is a reference to Article 7 of the constitution. It states: “Whenever no provision under this Constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional convention in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.”PAD_King

Readers may recall that Article 7 of the then 1997 charter was also used by anti-Thaksin Shinawatra protesters in 2005 and 2006. PAD pushed the use of this article very strongly. As Michael Connors explained it in his well-known Journal of Contemporary Asia article, the call for royal intervention was persistent and became a plea for the king to sack Thaksin [Shinawatra], supported by PAD and the Democrat Party. He also notes that the Democrat Party was prepared to use Article 7 in other circumstances in 2006 (p. 158). They made another call for its use in 2012.

Article 7 was introduced to the 1997 constitution by conservative royalists just before it was promulgated, and after public hearing were completed (p. 150). Connors argues that “the effect of Article 7 was to limit the reach of all … new [democratic] claims by empowering a traditionalistic and royalist interpretation should one be so required” (pp. 150-1).

While the 2005 plea was rejected by the palace, it led to the king’s call on the judiciary to intervene following the abortive 2006 election, which eventually led to the 2006 military coup and the political struggles that have continued to this day as the royalists prefer the intervention of unelected and unrepresentative powers against elected and popular political regimes. Article 7 pits the elite against the people.





Court president as royalist warrior

8 06 2012

The Nation performs a useful service with a profile of Constitutional Court president Wasan Soypisudh, who has made it clear that the Court has its royalist marching orders. PPT picks out the significant points (all are quotes from The Nation except where there are brackets for PPT’s comments):

  • When asked if the Constitution Court was acting as a tool of the “ammart” (aristocrats), Wasant said the real head of the ammart was the prime minister, as she was the most powerful person in Thailand [PPT: He means the somnolent Yingluck Shinawatra, who is scorned by the real amart].
  • At the age of 20 he graduated with an honours degree. One of his classmates was Klanarong Chantik, now a member of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. [PPT: Klanarong has also been one of the leading anti-Thaksin officials/activists. He was a member of the military junta appointed Assets Scrutiny Committee].
  • Wasant became a trained lawyer at the firm of MR Seni Pramoj, the former premier and Democrat Party leader.
  • He passed the Thai Bar examination before turning 21. A classmate at this time was Apichart Sukhagganond, the current Election Commission chairman. [PPT: Like the other EC commissioners, Apichart was appointed the day after the 2006 military coup, and the EC has been a major player against pro-Thaksin parties].
  • Wasant was one of the judges who convicted Thaksin Shinawatra in the Ratchadapisek land case, which saw the former PM given a two-year jail term.
  • He was also a judge on the case involving members of the anti-corruption commission, who gave themselves a pay hike. The Supreme Court’s division for political office-holders sentenced the NACC members to two-year suspended jail terms.
  • Wasant voiced his opinion at a Supreme Court judges’ general meeting that the ballot booth should make the marking of voters’ ballots secret and others should not be allow anyone to see how people vote. His idea led partly to nullification of the April 2, 2006 election.
  • Wasant was also a defendant’s witness when Prasong Soonsiri was sued by a majority of Constitution Court judges for criticising the ruling that found Thaksin not guilty of concealing his ownership of shares in 2001. [PPT: Prasong is a self-proclaimed member of the palace-military cabal of coup planners in 2006 and a remarkably outspoken royalist].
  • Wasant was selected to be a Constitution Court judge on May 28, 2008.

That’s quite a royalist pedigree. It is clear why he apparently feels no qualms in breaking the law for the monarchy.





Wikileaks and palace political intervention

21 08 2011

A week or so ago PPT had one of our Wikileaks posts look at a cable concerning the the King’s Principal Private Secretary Asa Sarasin’s view from the palace regarding the run-up to events that led to the April 2006 snap election. A couple of days ago we posted on the king’s political intervention by his two speeches to judges in late April 2006, that led to the annulling of those elections. In this post we look at a cable from 7 July 2006.

In this cable, Ambassador Ralph Boyce is again recording his comments on a meeting with Asa, apparently called for a discussion of the political situation.

Background: At the time, Thaksin Shinawatra was in power, the April elections had been annulled and there was meant to be another election. Big street demonstrations had mostly ended and the anti-Thaksin struggle was being led “elsewhere.” Although there had been a bit of a political hiatus as the king reveled in the lavish celebrations of his 60 years on the throne, in early June, Bowornsak Uwanno had resigned as Cabinet Secretary-General “under pressure from an unspecified member of the Privy Council…”. Soon after, Thaksin made it clear that he would lead Thai Rak Thai into the elections. Then, Thaksin made his claims regarding an “extra-constitutional” and “charismatic figure” who was manipulating and influencing agencies established by the constitution.

In the cable, Boyce says that Asa:

“admitted that the government’s proposed election decree was on hold in the Palace. They wanted more clarity on certain issues, especially the status of the Election Commission, before the King would sign the decree…. He expected the embattled election commissioners to step down soon, and this would necessitate some delay in holding the elections.

Boyce comments that:

many Thaksin opponents have forecast that the King would not sign the decree until the controversial election commissioners were replaced. Asa stopped short of saying this, but did indicate that the Palace is not ready to go along with the current election plans.

Asa is also said to have “dismissed Thaksin’s ‘revised history’ of his audiences with the King.” Boyce notes that “Asa is one of the few people present when the King has an audience.” At the same time, Boyce says: “Asa does not always level with us, but we are inclined to buy his version of the meetings between the King and Thaksin, especially since Thaksin’s story is constantly changing.” Recall that Asa is not always said to be truthful with the public, either.

Boyce explains that “Thaksin has recently taken to claiming that the King had ordered him to leave office during his April 4 audience. Thaksin also says that the King told him on May 19 that Thaksin could never return as PM…”. Asa’s account, according to Boyce,

parallels the original story we had from Thaksin: the PM told the King right after the election that he would step down, and the King just nodded in response. Asa said that, during the May audience, Thaksin told the King that he would return to a more active role as caretaker, and the King approved. They then discussed practical issues about the replacement for the two vacant seats on the Election Commission.

The conversation then turns to Thaksin’s claims regarding political interference by an “extra-constitutional” and “charismatic figure.” Boyce calls it “Thaksin’s lightly-veiled attack on the highly respected Privy Council President Prem [Tinsulanonda].”

Asa is said to have been “quite upset by Thaksin’s comments. Asa is reported as speculating that Thaksin’s claim “might be a misguided attempt at gaining public sympathy, to keep his options open for a potential return as PM some day.” Interestingly, Asa seems to think that Thaksin is finished at this point. We could happily speculate about this, especially as Asa is said to have “complained that the main opposition Democrat Party was hopeless…,”* he didn’t believe that TRT of the Democrat Party would be dissolved by the Constitutional Court and he believed that TRT would win an election.”

Clearly, following the king’s speeches in April, the palace remains heavily engaged. In fact, Prem was about to get even more deeply involved.

________

*Boyce notes that “Democrat Party leader Abhisit [Vejjajiva] also admitted to the Ambassador last week that the party was not able to reach out as effectively to the voters and formulate a winning platform because it was so busy defending itself from Thaksin’s attacks.”





Wikileaks, palace and 2006 election

18 08 2011

Continuing PPT’s Wikileaks posts, this cable, dated 26 April 2006, refers to the king’s speeches to judges following the April 2006 election, which several opposition parties had boycotted in alliance with, and under pressure from, the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

The cable was apparently the work of U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Alex A. Arvizu. He concludes that these speeches “have tossed everything up in the air, and it will be a few days before we see where they come down.”

The king is reported as having given “two of the most direct and to-the-point speeches in recent years to the newly sworn-in judges of the Administrative and Supreme Courts.”

The cable states that in these speeches,

the King questioned the democratic nature of the April 2 general elections as well as the ‘correctness’ of dissolving Parliament and calling for snap elections in the first place. He reminded the Administrative Court that it is their job to consider these issues, and opened the possibility of nullifying the elections. He further asserted that invoking Article 7 of the Constitution to have the royally-appointed Prime Minister would be undemocratic, The King therefore called on the courts and other institutions to work together to resolve the current political chaos.”

The judges of the “three high courts (Supreme, Administrative and Constitutional) will meet on Friday to propose a way ‘out of the woods’.”

This is all reasonably well known. What seems interesting is the embassy’s perspective on the king’s position. After noting  that his  first speech  to judges of the Administrative Court, asserted that the election was “undemocratic” the cable states that the king

further questioned why no one discussed whether dissolving the Parliament and calling for a snap election within thirty days was the “correct” decision in the first place. If not, he suggested, one would need to “solve the problem,” including “perhaps nullifying the elections.”

The Constitution required an election within 60 days.

Recall that, in earlier cables, palace officials repeatedly claimed the king wasn’t about to intervene and that the courts would probably sort things out. A month later, the king has intervened and is pushing the courts to sort things out by nullifying the election. His message here is crystal clear. Just in case the judges wavered, the king added this warning: “If you cannot do it, then it should be you who resign, not the government, for failing to perform your duties.”

In speaking to the “new members of the Supreme Court,” the king stated that “he disagreed with opening the House unless all 500 MP seats are filled.” His view, not tested in any court, was that the House could not operate until every single seat was filled.

The king is reported to have “stressed that the current political state is quite a ‘mess’, and that for him to intervene would only make it messier.” So this intervention must have been a “non-intervention,” for the the king publicly “called on the three courts (Constitutional, Administrative, and Supreme Courts) to work together to ‘urgently decide, otherwise the country would collapse’.”

The top judges of the three courts almost immediately announced that they would meet “to provide an solution to lead the country ‘out of the woods’.”

What a difference a royal “non-intervention” made! The Embassy comments on the king’s actions:

His very strong statements opening his remarks at the Administrative Court, and his directive to the judges to come up with a solution, were … startling. It is hard to imagine the courts really deciding that these elections should be annulled, and even harder to imagine exactly what would follow to fill the vacuum this would create…. With the King’s imprimatur to find a solution, they [Supreme and Administrative Courts] may feel empowered to propose a bold plan to sort out this extremely messy situation.”

The judges acted with whirlwind speed and annulled the election. What followed this was a palace-organized process of getting the military in place for a coup.





Wikileaks, palace and political meddling

14 08 2011

On 28 March 2006, just a month before the king made a most decisive political intervention, the U.S.  Ambassador Ralph Boyce is, in this Wikileaks cable, telling Washington and embassies around the world that the palace is neutral and wanting to stay out of politics.

Asa Sarasin

The cable begins with the interesting note that the “Ambassador called on Asa Sarasin, the King’s Principal Private Secretary, on March 28 to deliver an advance copy of the controversial biography of the King that is slated to be published in the United States in May.” In fact, according to this academic account, Boyce had gone to considerable lengths to placate the Thaksin Shinawatra government and the palace over Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles. Providing the palace with an advance copy (apparently, Yale University Press provided two copies to the State Department) was one more step in this process.

In the meeting with Boyce, Asa maintained that the palace was concerned about:

the repeated calls from anti-Thaksin demonstrators for the King to intervene to resolve the current political impasse. Asa said that the King did not intend to intervene, since that would be a set back for Thailand’s democratic development. The Palace believes that the situation can be resolved without the King’s intervention.

That’s not exactly a statement of political integrity by a constitutional monarchy. It is merely a statement of the belief that the political crisis could be resolved without the king having to intervene. Of course, the palace was already deeply involved with the People’s Alliance for Democracy and in aligning the royalist elite against the elected government.

In fact, Asa concludes that either the courts will get rid of Thaksin or that “the demonstrations will continue unabated. Eventually, in his [Asa’s] assessment, the PM will be forced to concede to the unending opposition, and step down.” Asa is reported to have continued:

In either case, Asa said, the situation will be resolved without the need for royal intervention. It may take time, since the PM is “ignoring all the signals.” [PPT: presumably including those from the palace.]  But the Palace prefers this to the option of a premature and unnecessary interference in politics.

Boyce seems gleeful in recording his general agreement, stating that despite the Constitutional Court’s “shady reputation,” if it doesn’t rule against the legality of the election of some candidates for the Thai Rak Thai Party in the still to be held election, then the PAD will be bolstered.

PPT can’t help wondering if Boyce was being mischievous in this cable. He was well aware that the palace was highly politicized. In an earlier cable he noted that the palace did not rule out intervention. Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda had already declared that Thaksin should go. Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont had told Boyce that the political situation was “a mess” – term later used by the king – and noted Thaksin’s “corruption.”

If the news reports of the period from late 2005-April 2006 are examined, the palace’s political involvement is seen in, for example, the campaign to keep the oddball but anti-Thaksin Attorney-General Jaruvan Maintaka in her position, despite the lack of a legal foundation for her staying on. Her claim, not apparently disputed by the palace, was that she was appointed by royal decree and only the king could dismiss her. Prem was making heralded visits to the south, claiming government policies there had failed – they might have, but this was political campaigning by the palace’s senior official. He and Surayud were engaged in politicking on the annual military reshuffle in December 2005-January 2006.

There’s no need to continue. Boyce knew all of this and more and yet portrayed the palace as neutral and constitutionally correct; he wasn’t simply reporting palace positions, he was agreeing with them.

Boyce is now Vice President, Boeing International and President, Boeing Southeast Asia, where he continues to maintain his royalist and military links in Thailand.





The unmentionable is mentioned

5 05 2011

A report in the Bangkok Post on the attempt to silence political parties on the monarchy in electioneering raises several questions.

This idea, first raised by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and quickly taken up by the Election Commission (EC) who now say the virtual ban was its idea – which may be followed by a regulation – is based on the fatuous notion that the monarchy has nothing to do with politics.

In fact, as PPT has noted in an earlier post, the gagging appears to be one-sided, as the military continues its hard line stance, attacking red shirts and the Puea Thai Party as republicans, hoping that this provides a political advantage for the royalist Democrat Party should an election be called.

This is what we said in that post: “Making a regulation that prohibits politicians even mentioning the monarchy would be a huge expansion of the lese majeste repression that is already in place. PPT can only imagine that claims that a politician spoke of the monarchy would be subject to closed door hearings, with the statements not detailed (as repeating the statement might constitute lese majeste), and electoral red cards being issued against (mostly) opposition politicians. What a boon for the Democrat Party and their allies!”

The report in the Post begins by noting that :[n]early all of Thailand’s 55 political parties have signed an agreement to refrain from exploiting the monarchy to boost their popularity when campaigning in the next general election, expected to take place in June.” PPT assumes that the 3 parties that haven’t signed up are on holidays or risking charges by their failure to sign up to the monarchist contract.

In fact, while the EC claims that it wants to keep the monarchy out of politics, its action just makes the monarchy more central. Abhisit says he wants a ban on references to the monarchy, and it is easy to imagine such a ban being used against Puea Thai poll victors in yet another intervention to cripple pro-Thaksin Shinawatra political parties.

Other party leaders are not so sure about the ban. For example, “Chart Thai Pattana Party leader Chumpol Silpa-archa said references honouring the royalty in context should still be allowed. He said the constitution stated that all Thais had a duty to honour the royal institution.” Even the EC seems to court exceptions, stating: “individual parties’ written policy statements about the monarchy would not pose a problem so long as they were not repeated by politicians while campaigning for votes.” This supports the coalition parties and especially the Bhum Jai Thai Party.

At the same time, the same 52 parties were asked to sign up to an agreement that they will “respect the results of the election.” PPT is tempted to add this “promise” to our series on fixing the election. But then such a promise is largely irrelevant.

It has not really been political parties that have been the issue in disrespecting results. Sure, the perennial losers – the Democrat Party – boycotted the April 2006 election and have complained about Thaksin parties and candidates, but it is other groups that have repeatedly overthrown election results. The military by coup, the palace through its continual interventions (think Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda in early 2006, the April 2006 direction to judges on that election, and so on), the People’s Alliance for Democracy and royalists who demonstrate and oppose the whole idea of elections, and scheming business people.





Alleged judicial intervention by Prem

10 04 2011

PPT reproduces this from The Nation:

General Prem Tinsulanonda

Pasit Sakdanarong, former secretary to the Constitution Court president, alleged Sunday that the court had been lobbied to spare the Democrat Party in a party dissolution case.

Pasit alleged that someone sent a letter and made a phone call to Constitution Court President Chat Chonlaworn, urging him to help the Democrat escape solution [sic. dissolution].

Speaking during a red-shirt rally at Rajdamnone to mark the April 10 clash at the Kokwua Intersection, Pasit did not name the person who sent the letter and made the call.

But red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan tacitly alleged that Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda was referred to by Pasit.

“I would like to ask Prem if he sent the letter and made the phone call to Chat, asking the court president not to dissolve the Democrat. Pasit witnessed all of the events,” Jatuporn said.

Prem was shown in one of the items released last year, with Pasit said to be responsible for the release. This is not the first allegation of judicial intervention by Prem.  Recent allegations go back to the aftermath of the April 2006 election.