ASEAN parliamentarians on the junta and its charter

26 04 2016

We thought readers might find this media release of interest:

Regional MPs concerned by Thailand’s draft constitution and planned referendum

JAKARTA, 25 April 2016 — Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia have expressed deep concerns about Thailand’s new draft constitution, as well as a planned referendum on the charter, highlighting an apparent effort by the military government to strengthen and prolong its control over Thai politics and stifle open debate.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) criticized the decision by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to outlaw campaigns for or against the charter in advance of the referendum, slated for 7 August, and called on Thailand’s leaders to allow for a robust, public discussion of the draft.

“The Thai people are being asked to vote on the core laws that will determine how they are governed, and they aren’t even allowed to speak about them publicly, under threat of imprisonment. How can they be expected to make an informed decision under this arrangement?” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“If the junta truly believes—as it insists—that this is a matter for the people to decide, then it should allow the people to speak directly to one another about the draft’s merits and drawbacks. Without allowing for such open debate, the Thai junta is effectively attempting to force-feed this constitution to the population.”

The law governing the rules for the referendum, which was approved by the current military-appointed legislature on 7 April, mandates up to 10 years’ imprisonment for anyone convicted of disseminating false information to influence voters or otherwise disrupt the referendum. Junta leaders have also failed to clarify their plan if voters reject the constitution, with some insinuating that a failure to approve the current draft could prolong military rule further.

“People shouldn’t be thrown in jail for simply expressing their opinions. We have already seen individuals who have made comments on the charter subjected to arbitrary detention and so-called ‘re-education,’ and the referendum rules seem designed to stoke fear among the people and stifle debate further,” said APHR Vice Chair Son Chhay, a member of the Cambodian National Assembly.

“The fate of democracy in Thailand has implications for the entire region. It is critical that leaders from around Southeast Asia stand with the Thai people and speak out in support of free expression and informed debate. This draft constitution must be judged on its merits through open discussion. Attempting to gag and intimidate critics is no way to run a country and certainly no way to resolve the political polarization and strife that has characterized Thai politics in recent years,” Son Chhay added.

The draft constitution, which was released publicly on 29 March, includes clauses mandating a fully appointed Senate and enabling the appointment of an unelected prime minister. The charter gives the military broad control over administrative affairs even after an elected government is installed. In addition, clauses of the charter enable the permanent legalization of orders issued unilaterally by NCPO leader Prayuth Chan-ocha under Article 44 of the junta-drafted interim constitution.

Civil society and political parties in Thailand have criticized the draft, highlighting its undemocratic provisions, including the special place reserved for military appointees. These critiques were echoed by regional MPs.

“The fact that the constitution preserves an explicit role for the military indefinitely is particularly concerning,” said APHR Vice Chair Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives in Indonesia.

“We have seen the result of a similar setup in Myanmar, where the military controls 25 percent of seats and is able to veto constitutional amendments. It’s the very thing that the people of Myanmar and its new, elected government are now struggling to change. It seems odd that Thailand would want to adopt and adapt elements of this widely criticized model.”

Parliamentarians also highlighted the lack of protections for community rights and the environment, which were present in previous Thai constitutions. The new draft’s assertion that the state is empowered to protect certain rights provides for a sweeping mandate, which is open to abuse by ruling authorities.

“Any trappings of direct democracy, which were preserved in earlier drafts, have been eliminated. The people’s control over their own rights and affairs is severely limited as well, and that sets a dangerous precedent for Thailand’s ability to return to full democracy,” Sundari said.

“This constitution appears to be an attempt by the Thai military to subvert normal democratic processes and strengthen its hold on the political system,” Charles Santiago added. “This is yet another worrying sign for a country that has been backsliding dramatically on its human rights commitments under an unelected military government for nearly two years now.”





Prayuth, the draft charter and domination

16 02 2016

We all know that The Dictator is in California, at a US-ASEAN summit. There aren’t any other military dictators attending, even if there are some leaders who share Prayuth’s authoritarianism.

We felt that readers might find a story at The Washington Times of some interest reminding American readers and President Obama of the problems facing Thailand.

A coup-installed government writing a new constitution and opposition parties (and supportive parties) and human rights groups rejecting it and the junta.

For Americans, the article notes that “the balancing act the Obama administration has faced dealing with the new government [it is hardly new after about 21 months].” The once “key U.S. ally in the region” is now a problem: “the government’s anti-democratic tendencies and persistent courting by China have put heavy strains on the bilateral relationship.”

There’s a bit of repeating things about the DOA undemocratic charter and the junta’s demands and threats:

Many people are afraid to directly criticize the draft constitution because of the regime’s frequently shifting punishments against free speech, enforced by threats to seize assets and military trials for civilian dissidents who express themselves.

Prayuth’s tantrums are mentioned: he grumbled, he labeled journalists “stupid,”  threatened to have the country “depart from this world, from the international community.”

It quotes Michael H. Nelson, a research fellow at Thammasat University, who reckons the military plans to hang on, in some form, for another four years. Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the Faculty of Political Science at Ubon Ratchathani University, essentially agrees: “It is more than likely that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military junta will remain essentially in power, even if we have elections in 2017, albeit with a new prime minister…”.

Burin Kantabutra, a columnist, is also quoted as saying: “I fear we are headed towards the political system of the People’s Republic of China…. I think that post-charter, postelection Thai politics will be a train wreck…”.

A “scholar of Southeast Asia who asked not to be identified because of his research” [hmmm] explains that the “military is too backward, hopeless at government and an embarrassment…”. That scholar reckons this means there will be an election.

PPT reckons that it might be a reason for not having an election.





Two border tales

8 12 2011

Readers may be interested on two reports related to Thailand’s borders:

1) The Irrawaddy has a report on the Thai industrial and port development project at Tavoy/Dawei in Burma. PPT has mentioned this Italian-Thai corporation-led development previously, here, here, here and here.

This report is of a visit to the area by a “fact-finding mission” from the Foundation for Ecological Recovery. Beerawat Dheeraprasart, FER’s chairman said “he is worried about the environmental impact of building the massive seaport.”

FER reported “that the Thai Investment Board has offered a substantial sum of money to build the Tavoy Deep Seaport and Industrial Zone.” FER worried about issues of local participation and environmental impact and compared it to the troubled Map Ta Phut Industrial Zone in Rayong, although the Burma project is said to be “eight times bigger than …[Map Ta Phut].”

FER sees the investment in Tavoy as an effort by the Thai investors as an attempt to flee the troubled Map Ta Phut project.

2) The other report is on the violent border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia earlier in 2011 by the International Crisis Group. The report, which also reflects on ASEAN’s role, is titled Waging Peace: ASEAN and the Thai-Cambodian Border Conflict (the link is to the Executive Summary, from where the PDF of the report can be downloaded).

The ICG argues that the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) used the issue of Cambodia’s attempt to list Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site “to whip up nationalist sentiments against the subsequent Thaksin [Shinawatra]-back[ed] government and Cambodia in 2008, halting border demarcation and setting off the deadly bilateral confrontation.”

The role of ASEAN is said to break “new ground by deciding to dispatch observers to monitor a conflict between member states.” Well, kind of, for the deployment of border observers has yet to take place, mainly because Thailand’s Army is obdurate, a point noted in the report.





Updated: Elections, observers and boycotts

25 03 2011

In MCOT News, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban is mentioned twice on rejecting foreign scrutiny.

First, reflecting the fact the the military already presented the government with a fait accompli, Suthep has been forced to agree that “said Indonesia, in its capacity as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), or any other country, should not meddle in the border committee meeting.” The military had refused to accept this, so the Abhisit Vejjajiva government is unable to move on any resolution to the disputes on the Cambodian border.

Second, Suthep has also disagreed with the idea that Thailand “seek international observers to monitor the upcoming general election…”. That was his response to a report that the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), “planned to invite election observers from international organisations” to observe the elections.

Suthep made this a nationalist issue, wondering “why the UDD does not respect Thailand’s national sovereignty but respects foreigners by inviting them to be involved in the country’s internal affairs.” Suthep apparently wants nothing to do with foreigners, saying the whole idea was “inappropriate.”

It is curious that the current government and its backers are so spooked by suggestions of international observation.

The yellow shirts are also opposed to any third party involvement with the border dispute with Cambodia. As for international observers for the elections, if Sondhi Limthongkul has his way, the idea would be redundant. Sondhi has called on the PAD-born New Politics Party to boycott any elections and to campaign for a no vote when people cast their ballots. Readers will recall that PAD successfully called on opposition parties to boycott the April 2006 elections and for voters to cast a no vote (effectively a vote against the Thai Rak Thai Party). This was a crucial element moving the country towards the 2006 coup and beginning a a process of judicialization that began with the king’s call for the judiciary to sort out the disputes that followed the boycotted elections.

While the Wikipedia article just noted refers to this political intervention by the king as “an unusual but socially unifying step in declaring the landslide elections undemocratic, the election was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court…”, this is anything but true. The action set in train a series of events and decisions that have seen Thailand embroiled in 7 years of political disputation and crisis. Sondhi’s call for a boycott by the NPP is already causing dispute, but this time within the yellow shirts.

The Nation refers to a “split within the leadership yellow shirts’ leadership.” The NPP’s leader Somsak Kosaisuk said “the party’s executives and branch heads had resolved at their meeting on Tuesday to field candidates in the election.”

Somsak said NPP “is required to abide by the Political Party Act and the party’s own regulations.” Now PPT is not sure why Somsak and his yellow shirts have suddenly become believers in election laws, although Somsak appeared willing to consider Sondhi’s call, presumably if it gains any political traction.

Somsak does, however, make a point that sits oddly with the opposition to “foreign interference” when he notes that the “New Politics Party was set up in accordance with a resolution by PAD members from all over the country, as well as some 6,000 PAD members in the United States – not just from the five PAD leaders…”. Like the current government, it seems there are “tame” foreigners (we assume some of these PAD members are holding the documents of foreign countries) who are politically useful.

More significantly, Somsak seems to view the NPP as part of a grassroots movement while Sondhi sees it as a tool for himself and Chamlong Srimuang and the murky backers of the PAD. These latter leaders are also busily denigrating the very idea of elections and elected politicians. Sondhi said: “If the election is allowed to go ahead, we will see a return of beasts from hell…”.

It seems to PPT that Sondhi is worried that pro-Thaksin parties will do better than the current regime thinks they will. That said, Sondhi and others have also been attacking Abhisit also.

Sondhi claims that “the PAD leaders have resolved that we will campaign for people all over the country to not vote…”. Sondhi has never really been committed to NPP; that’s why it is led by Somsak, who was one of the early leaders of PAD, but never a major public figure. PPT expects taht Sondhi and his cronies will get their way. Questions remain: will a rightist boycott have any public support, and are there are darker forces behind this move.

Update: The Jakarta Globe has an interesting take on the border observers issue.





Predictable over-reactions, the threat to ASEAN and war

7 11 2009

The Bangkok Post (7 November 2009) has two stories worth considering together on the current Thailand-Cambodia dispute.

The first (“Recalling ambassador seen as ‘over-reaction’ in dispute”) sets out the reactions from a series of diplomats and concerns that Thailand, as the chair of ASEAN is sparring with another member state, threatening ASEAN, the Mekong Summit and the united voice of Southeast Asian countries in dealing with big powers. Professor Charnvit Kasetsiri, who has long tried to be a moderate and reasonable voice on Thailand’s relations with its neighbor is also cited. Of course, the cited former Thai ambassador disagrees.

Cited in the second story (“Borwornsak backs PM’s retaliation”) is  law academic Bowornsak Uwanno, who is also the head of the King Prajadhipok’s Institute (the main royalist institution that seeks to deny Thailand’s democratic history) . Regular readers will know that PPT has been critical of a couple of academics who seem to fit a long “tradition” of being for hire by governments of various persuasions. Bowornsak seems to fit the category, having jumped from a senior position in the Thaksin government to the military’s side and as a royalist supporter of the military-palace government led by the Democrat Party.

The all too predictable Bowornsak supports the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s “retaliation.” However, he also warns that “could be the starting point of a fall” of ASEAN. That starting point probably had more to do with the legacy of the ASEAN old guard who brought in Burma, but the point remains that the coincidence of this current dispute between the chair country and another member is indeed potentially disintegrating.

In The Nation, ASEAN boss and Democrat Party member Surin Pitsuwan also expresses “concern over the escalation of tensions between Cambodia and Thailand, appealing to both countries to exercise maximum restraint,” and pointing to the dispute’s potential for “undermin[ing] the credibility of Asean…”.

In the Bangkok Post, and continuing the predictable line, a Thai military leader predicts “But if the war really breaks out, Thailand will be the winner.” What can PPT say that isn’t predictable?

Update: Further on war, under the somewhat misleading headline “Situation in Si Sa Ket normal” (7 November), it is reported that “villagers in Bhumisalon border village nearby the Preah Vihear ancient temple of Cambodia had built 15 bunkers at the village school. The bunkers are for safety of the school’s teachers and students in case the war between the two countries takes place.”





ASEAN human rights and Thailand

30 10 2009

PPT recommends Awzar Thi’s column “Beware of ASEAN rights diplomacy” at his Rule of Lords page at UPIAsia.com. While we posted on some of these issues earlier, we find Awzar’s analysis most enlightening and comprehensive.

We notice his comment:  “Rights diplomats fear to speak out because they might step on officials’ toes or risk their status with fellow diplomats. They sacrifice their ability to communicate on critically important issues on the streets in order to keep their cherished places at the table. This is why, for instance, some groups have failed to speak out against the use of the lèse majesté law to silence and imprison people in Thailand, when in principle they ought to have not even hesitated.”

Sounds like Amnesty International to us. They still refuse to comment on lese majeste and refuse to answer polite emails. They have never responded to PPT.





Normal operating procedures

2 10 2009

Also available as งัดกฎหมายออกมาบีบบังคับประชาชน จนเคยตัว

PPT has posted previously about the normalization of repression in Thailand. This process continues unabated with little opposition.

The Bangkok Post (2 October 2009: “Govt to use security act during summit”) reports that the “government will again use the Internal Security Act during the 15th Asean Summit to be held in Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan provinces from Oct 23 to 25…”. This is now standard operating procedure for the Democrat Party-led coalition government. In The Nation’s report, however, it is stated that “Army chief Gen Anupong Paochinda said the ISA will be enforced between October 12 and 27 in nine sub-districts of Phetchaburi’s Cha-am district and four sub-districts of Prachuab Khiri Khan’s Hua Hin district.” He also states that he expects no trouble.

This is an astounding demonstration that the use of this repressive law is now standard procedure. It is remarkable that it now goes unquestioned.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva claims this use is part of the rule of law. But this is using a draconian law, drafted and passed by a military-backed government, for political gain by a party with hollow claims to be interested in both human rights and the rule of law. For a statement on the ISA’s negative impact on human rights, see here.

The signal is clear when Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon is put in charge of security and using the ISA, which was hurriedly put in place when the military-appointed government in late 2007. Soldiers will join police in ensuring the safety of Asean leaders during the meetings.

Remarkably – well, it isn’t really, because this is also becoming standard procedure – it is reported that the “security act might also be invoked in the capital if red-shirt protesters rally when the summit takes place…”.

The ISA has become a law that the government can now use to repress legitimate political protests and rallies that it doesn’t like. The government argues that it doesn’t stop rallies, but the imposition of the ISA amounts to repression, threat and restrict. The use of the ISA is legal but it is still repression. It is rule by law, not rule of law and it is not part of any democratic processes.

Update: Reuters report here.