Further updated: Yuletide lese majeste

22 12 2020

There’s been quite a lot of commentary on the protests, some motivated by the avalanche of lese majeste cases and some by the fact that the end of the year begs for reviews.

One that caught our attention is by Matthew Wheeler, Senior Analyst for Southeast Asia at the International Crisis Group. It is quite a reasonable and careful rundown of events prompting the demonstrations and the call for reform of the monarchy.

The lese majeste cases pile higher and higher. In a Bangkok Post report on people turning up to hear lese majeste charges, eight are listed: Arnon Nampa, Intira Charoenpura, Parit Chiwarak, Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, Nattathida Meewangpla, Shinawat Chankrachang, Phimsiri Phetnamrop, and Phromson Wirathamchari.

We can’t locate the latter two on the most recent Prachatai graphic that listed 34 activists charged under 112, but that graphic does include five with names withheld. For us, this brings the total charged to 34-36, but it may well be more.

There was some good news on lese majeste. It is reported that, after more than 4.5 years, a ludicrous 112 charge against Patnaree Chankij have been dismissed. The mother of activist Sirawith Seritiwat, the Criminal Court on Tuesday dismissed the charge. Her one word “jah” in a chat conversation was said to be the cause of the charge but, in reality, going after her was the regime’s blunt effort to silence her son.

A second piece of reasonable news is that the Criminal Court also dismissed charges of sedition brought by the military junta against former deputy prime minister Chaturon Chaisaeng on 27 May 2014 six years ago under Section 116 of the Criminal Code and the Computer Crimes Act. This was another junta effort to silence critics.

As seen in recent days, equally ludicrous charges have been brought against a new generation of critics.

Update 1: Thai PBS reports that the Criminal Court acquitted nine members of the Pro-Election Group who had been charged in late January 2018 with poking the military junta: “Section 116 of the Criminal Code, illegal public assembly within a 150-metre radius of a Royal palace and defying the then junta’s order regarding public assembly of more than five people.”

The defendants were Veera Somkwamkid, Rangsiman Rome, currently a party-list for the Kao Klai party, Serawit Sereethiat, Nattha Mahatthana, Anon Nampa, a core member of the Ratsadon Group, Aekkachai Hongkangwan, Sukrit Piansuwan, Netiwit Chotepatpaisarn and Sombat Boon-ngam-anong.

The court ruled that:

… protesters complaining about the postponement of general elections cannot be regarded as incitement to public unrest. It also said that the protesters had no intention to defy the ban against public assembly within 150-metres of the Royal palace.

Of course, the charges were always bogus, but the junta’s point was to use “law” for political repression.

Update 2: The Nation reports that there were, in fact, 39 defendants who were acquitted.





Still no royal decree

14 01 2019

As far as we can tell, there’s still no royal decree that would allow the Election Commission to set a date for the junta’s “election.” Despite all its rigging, the junta must be coming to realize that this delay will cost pro-military parties. Voters will see that the junta is rigging an election they don’t even want, leading to something the junta wants to call a “democracy,” but which will be a sham.

Already, protests are expanding. While still relatively small, the protests show the junta that it is losing votes by the day. The protestsers declared:

Today we have almost completely run out of patience with the duplicity and the repeated attempts at excuses, and with the accusations to silence the media and the people calling for the fundamental rights of citizens. We present this ultimatum to the NCPO Government:

  1. No delay: the election must be held no later than 10 March 2019 because otherwise, the ECT will not be able to announce election results within 150 days of 11th December 2018 when the Organic Law on the Election of MPs was promulgated, thus making the election unconstitutional and invalid.
  2. No cancellation: the election must not be cancelled by tricks, excuses, or legal technicalities, even though there are attempts to do this today and there will be in the future.
  3. No extra time for them to remain in power through the constitution written to give them an advantage, whether by using 250 votes from the appointed senate to support their hold on to power, or by using its status as the government with complete authority over the budget, or by shifting government officials around without scrutiny during the election campaign, or by discrimination favouring the political party that was set up to keep them in power. This can all be held to be election fraud.

With the Army chief overbearing and threatening, his stance was challenged. Thai Raksa Chart’s Chaturon Chaisang “lashed out at army commander Apirat Kongsompong for accusing people campaigning against the delay of being ‘troublemakers’.” Chaturon said “freedom of expression is a civil right and that as long as the law is not broken those who exercise free speech are not making trouble.”

The Army’s response suggests the tack it is likely to take as tensions mount. Its spokesman Col Winthai Suvaree “defended Gen Apirat’s remark, saying the army chief was concerned about the atmosphere as the nation prepares for the King’s coronation events on May 4-6.” Clearly, coronation trumps elections while the palace seems uninterested in elections.

The Bangkok Post notices that the junta’s response to criticism is mimicking that for the August 2016 referendum on the constitution. That was a sham referendum. But, with constitution in place and the senate selection underway, as the protesters point out, Thailand could well be looking at a military dictatorship with the junta-selected senate acting as an NLA and the junta going on and on. That would be with with support from the palace. In other words, nothing changes.





Unfree, unfair election date set (probably)

8 12 2018

With major parties boycotting its meeting at the Army Club, the military junta talked at representatives some 75 political parties, of which the Bangkok Post observed “almost none of them with even a remote chance of winning a seat…”.

The meeting saw the junta pronouncing that:

it will lift the ban on political activities on Tuesday when the Act on the election of MPs takes effect. Parties may then resume the work necessary to prepare for the general election as the Feb 24 poll date has been officially confirmed.

Well, sort of. The Election Commission still has to officially announce the date, but we shouldn’t expect anything out of the ordinary from that puppet agency. It has been ordered to make the announcement on 4 January.

On boycotting the junta’s lecture, Chaturon Chaisang of the Thai Raksa Chart Party, said his party:

shunned the meeting with the NCPO [the junta] and the EC because the regime has no business discussing the rules and preparations for the election as the matter should be left to the EC and political parties to discuss.

Of course, Chaturon is absolutely correct. But the junta cares little for rules, ethics or law.

The military junta also announced its timetable:

Election decree issued: 2 January

Official EC announcement of election date: 4 January

Candidacy applications and party lists of possible prime minister: 14-18 January

EC announcement of candidates: 25 January

Overseas voting: 4-16 February

Voting for those living outside their constituencies: 17 February

Election date: 24 February

Last day for election results announcement: 25 April

Last day for junta to finalize appointed senators: 28 April

Parliament convenes: 9 May

Junta deputy premier Wissanu Krea-ngam said that on 28 December, “the junta will stop proposing legislation to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA).” The NLA will only cease enacting legislation on 15 February, meaning just 9 days prior to the election.

The timetable is interesting in that it is exceptionally tight, disadvantaging small and new parties and challenging the bigger parties as well. At the same time, it is unlikely that overseas voters can expect ballot papers just 9 days after the announcement of candidates.

We might also worry that the two months from election day to the official announcement can be misused by the junta. The junta selection of senators, also two months after the election, will be completed after the results of the election are know, allowing the junta even more opportunity to manipulate the selection.

And, the junta stays in place throughout this period, manipulating and scheming.





Updated: The election splurge I

2 12 2018

A couple of days ago PPT quoted Chaturon Chaisang who complained that the military junta was “going to take advantage over others until the last minute.” His comment was not just about electoral boundaries.

On cue, after splurging on rubber planters, the junta has come up with yet another way to use taxpayer money to improve the electoral appeal of its devil party.

Yesterday it was reported that the Ministry of Finance announced that the military government approved a “value-added tax (VAT) refund to shoppers who spend up to 20,000 baht … next year in a bid to boost domestic spending amid murky economic prospects.”

This decision is “expected to cost the government 6-7 billion baht in forgone revenue…”.

That comes following the junta’s 40 billion on its eponymous Palang Pracharath scheme for the current financial year, and the now “86.9-billion-baht splurge on low-income earners, the elderly and retirees” that was originally reported as 63 billion. And that’s just a fraction of the funds that the junta has poured out (for little economic impact).

Is anyone keeping track of this huge spending?

But back to the VAT handout.

When can shopping occur? 1-15 February.

When is the current most likely date for the junta’s rigged election? About a week after the shopping blitz.

Who is targeted? Sino-Thais who will spend for Chinese New Year.

Remarkably, it is reported that the puppet Election Commission “has insisted it needs to examine the law to see if the government’s proposed value-added tax (VAT) refund for next year’s Chinese New Year shopping gives a pro-government party undue political advantage ahead of the next election.”

Indeed, that sentence says it all. The suspicions are the charges.

Critics have pointed out the obvious: “that the programme is likely to allow the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) to capitalise on the popularity of the refund and gain an unfair advantage over rival parties at the poll.”

Of course, similar rebate schemes and tax deductions have been offered before, but we do not recall any such scheme being scheduled a week prior to an election (while noting the date has not been officially set).

EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma said the “commission would take a look at the law to see if claims of an unfair advantage have substance.”

Let’s see if the puppet can cut the strings. We are not optimistic.

Update: In a remarkable state effort to pile buffalo manure as high as a Bangkok condo, Revenue Department spokesman Pinsai Suraswadi has come up with one of the smelliest piles in a while. He has stated that the so-called Shop for the Country tax deduction – that’s the now “regular” deduction allowed to shoppers, not the VAT scam mentioned above – is not meant to boost “big retailers” but rather “is largely designed to help farmers…”. This surprising claim is made because “purchases of eligible items will directly help farmers facing the low prices of their products, including tires made from domestic rubber, books, e-books, and OTOP items purchased directly from certified OTOP sellers.” All those farmers producing e-books and regular books…. Really, this and other fabrications emanating from the seemingly desperate military junta are no better than an average 4-year-old could come up with.





Boundaries managed II

30 11 2018

As a note to our previous post, where we wondered about complaints on boundaries, the Election Commission reports that it received 98 complaints it received across 33 provinces. Somehow we missed all of this amidst the other rigging going on. Sorry.

The EC has now had its “revised” boundaries published. What’s been the reaction?

If you are a Bangkok Post reader, you might think that only the Puea Thai Party has made a quiet complaint. One of its reports refers to “Subdued responses,” while this is modified a bit in a later report would have its readers believe that only the Puea Thai Party and an academic expressed mild concerns.

The Nation, however, tells its readers that “politicians from major political parties yesterday cried foul at the constituency mapping done by the Election Commission (EC), claiming that a particular party was favoured through alleged gerrymandering.”

It refers to this as an “uproar.”

The first politician cited in the report is from the Democrat Party. Former Sukhothai MP Sampan Tangbenjapol reckoned that the EC had come up with an “unforeseen electoral map” based on a new option not “previously offered only three choices for voters and candidates to see.” Sampan lamented that this is just the beginning of the “election,” but “already there’s this lack of transparency.” Sampan complained of “some irregularities in the new drawing.”

He urged “voters not to yield to corrupt representatives and to stand up against dictatorship in this election.”

Puea Thai’s Prayut Siriphanit “admitted that the maps could impact Pheu Thai candidates in those [reallocated NE] areas.”

Chaturon Chaisang complained that the junta order to the EC meant opaque decision-making:

The order was made even though the agency had already completed the task, with constituency boundaries in line with the opinions offered by local voters and MP candidates.

“The new drawings were done behind closed doors. A handful of people just proposed a new option via some expressway and they miraculously got what they’d asked for,” Chaturon wrote on Facebook. “So, they are just going to take advantage over others until the last minute.”

Redrawing boundaries is described as a “serious threat for political parties. If a party’s stronghold is separated into two constituencies, for example, that party could lose the election in one or both of those constituencies.”





The impossibility of a free and fair election

5 11 2018

PPT has felt a little lonely over the past few years as we have repeatedly pointed out that the military junta’s “election” cannot be free or fair.

So it is that we are gratified to read in The Nation an account of a seminar that comes to the same conclusion.

“Towards a Free and Fair Election: Situation in Thai Society” at Thammasat University discussed the path to the next general election. As PPT usually has it, this is the arranged, crafted, fixed and rigged election being held by the junta, hoping it can cement its political rule. “Hoping” is likely to involve any measure necessary to steal the election.

The “speakers at a panel discussion … held the opinion that a free and fair national vote without the influence of the ruling junta seems unlikely.” As well as refusing to (so far) “lift the ban on political activities,” the junta is accused of having “extend[ed]… its control over the Election Commission (EC),” resulting in “an ‘unfair’ system.”

Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch stated:

To be free and fair, there must be equal access to national media, resources, a fair election-supervising authority, as well as political freedom of electorate, candidates, and political parties…. But as freedom of expression, association and assembly – the main characteristics of a democratic society – remain blocked, Thailand should have other countries coming to observe the electoral process….

The junta has already rejected the idea of observers as amounting to an assault on the national “face.” Of course, the junta also wants not witnesses to its electoral shenanigans.

Puea Thai’s Chaturon Chaisaeng also “said he did not think the upcoming election would be a free and fair one.” He observed: “The bans on political campaigning when the election is drawing near point to a lack of democracy and fairness.”

Of course, those bans do not apply to the junta and its associated anti-democrat parties.

Gothom Arya, a former election commissioner, “also called on the EC to help prevent people in power from taking advantage over other political players in the run-up to the next election.” He accused the junta of interfering with the EC.

For PPT, it is not just a matter of the junta stopping its control of the EC, telling it what to do. The problem is that the EC is not independent and its members will “naturally” work for their bosses.

Will the junta’s election be fair? No. Will it be free? No. Could another party do well enough to “win”? Perhaps, but it seems unlikely. But even if an anti-junta party triumphs, it will be forever hamstrung and tightly restricted by the junta’s (non) independent agencies, rules, laws and a myriad of controls put in place by the military junta.





Updated: Rap against the military dictatorship

27 10 2018

There is a series of three articles at The Nation that report the military dictatorship’s predictable response to a group of 10 rappers and their popular video that raps the junta.

The video, at YouTube in two versions, has had close to 6 million views. There have been millions more on Facebook.

In the first report, Deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul declaring that the song may be breaking the law and that “officers from the Technology Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police will check out the lyrics to see if they violate any junta orders.”

Yes, the junta’s laws, not real laws, but the politicized repression and suppression shrouded in law. Confirming this, the political policeman added that the “rappers would also be summoned to testify whether they had intended to cause any chaos or violate any National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) orders…”.

The junta’s cop warned: “… musicians not to do anything that risks violating the country’s laws, as it wouldn’t be good for them or their families if the songs were deemed to violate the law…”.

Threatening opponents and their families is standard practice under the military dictatorship.

A few hours later, a second report states that the political police were to use the Computer Crimes Act against the rappers. It accuses the rap of breaking the political law that “prohibits computer information inconsistent with the truth, undermines national security or causes public panic…”. In this, “truth” is defined by the junta.

As might be expected, in one of his first public statements, new government spokesman, the anti-democrat Buddhipongse Punnakanta, claimed that the junta’s opponents were “behind” the video. Of course, anti-democrats like him and his bosses cannot conceive of any person being capable of independent thought.

The third report summarizes events and the song that denounces the junta. It notes that the rap was released on an important date: 14 October, being the 45th anniversary of the October 1973 uprising against a military dictatorship. The YouTube video also depicts 6 October 1976 royalist violence with an image of a student hanging from a tree being beaten, as in 1976.

Reflecting on the junta’s “truth,” one of the rappers stated: “As artists we want to reflect the truth of the society we are living in under dictatorship. Thailand seems to be caught in a loop of dictatorship. We want to voice what the majority cannot say directly.”

The video is dedicated to the victims of the state’s crimes.

Update: With the military dictatorship in full panic mode over the popularity of this rap, Puea Thai’s Chaturon Chaisaeng is reported to have warned the junta against arresting the performers of the anti-junta song. He said said that “if the Rap Against Dictatorship (RAD) group was arrested, it would backfire against the government to the point where the government could fall.”





Doubling down on double standards III

2 10 2018

It is reported that “[c]alls are mounting for Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha [The Dictator] and the four cabinet ministers who are at the helm of the Palang Pracharath Party to step down due to a potential conflict of interest in the lead-up to the election.”

“Potential”?? Isn’t that “actual”? And hasn’t this been happening for several months? Even years? In fact, the 2014 coup and, the constitution referendum and all the rules acceded to by a puppet National Legislative Assembly have been a mammoth election rigging scheme.

Prime Minister’s Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool and his cheating buddies have “claimed the four ministers will not abuse their authority during the campaign.”

Look! Flying pigs!

Even the yellowish former Election Commission activist Sodsri Sattayatham observed that “the cabinet positions afford the four ministers the opportunity to act improperly in their own interests.”

But that’s exactly the point! They expect to be able to do this.

Sodsri says they are not “legally required to step down, it is political etiquette that they should resign from ministerial posts when deciding to step into politics…”.

Huh? “Step into politics”? These guys have been politically engaged forever! A coup and a junta is a very big political intervention. Sodsri is engaging in yellow nonsense about “good” people and “bad” politicians.

And laws? What does the junta care for laws? There are constitutional requirements about standing for election, but none that prevent the junta from rigging the election – something the constitution itself does.

Of course, the junta’s constitution does not prevent any junta member from being prime minister or, as we quickly read it, from being ministers in the next government. There are constitutional requirements about how minister should behave when an election is to be held. But it would seem that the junta’s regime is immune from constitutional requirements. It keeps its NLA, keeps making decisions that bind a future government, etc, all things restricted by the constitution. But double standards apply to the junta.

We did notice that The Dictator should not be able to serve as prime minister because he has violated two requirements of the constitution: he lacks the required integrity and he has failed to comply with ethical standards. By leading a coup, he should be disqualified on these grounds. But this junta is subject to double standards.

We also noted that a prime minister “shall not hold office for more than eight years in total, whether or not holding consecutive term” (section 158). That means supporting The Dictator will likely mean he can serve only about 3 to 3.5 years, depending on when the “election” is held. That will be some relief for many.

Puea Thai’s Chaturon Chaisang is right that “the ministers … must refrain from disbursing money in ways that might seem as though they are attempting to gain political support, as well as stop approving long-term projects and stall transfers of officials.”

That’s what usually applies when an election is pending and is required under the 2017 constitution, but that would require standards other than the junta’s double standards.

Meanwhile, the unrestrained ministers are in full campaign mode declaring double standards apply to them.

The Bangkok Post also reports that one of Palang Pracharath’s still “covert” members, Somkid Jatusripitak “has defended four cabinet ministers who are facing mounting criticism over potential conflicts of interest after taking the helm of the Palang Pracharath Party.”

Somkid and his master

Of course he does. They are his boys. He recruited them and came up with the strategy for the party and how it will seek to maintain The Dictator in place following rigged elections.

Somkid went further, campaigning for his boys and their/his party, saying all four are “deserving of support…” and he implies that they will stand for election. We think they are barred from that, but it may be that he expects and has promised them that they will be unelected ministers under a new junta-based government.

Somkid also explained that the constitution does not apply to the junta, stating that “several government projects cannot be stalled any longer…. They [the four ministers] must speed up their efforts and follow through on those projects, which can serve as a key foundation for the future of the country…”. Section 168 will not be applied to the junta and its men.

But junta legal manipulator Wissanu Krea-ngam seemed less sure than he was and “suggested the four ministers should tread carefully and avoid any actions that could be perceived as a conflict of interest.” He said, “[b]ased on the charter, they must act neutrally.”

This highlights the obvious double standards. If pressure is maintained, we wonder if the truculent Gen Prayuth will eventually have to ditch them for fear of the obvious rigging being rather too obvious and damaging to his campaign for the premiership.

Rather oddly, we see that the Democrat Party’s Abhisit Vejjajiva agrees with PPT when he observes that “the charter indicates those in office need to quit within 90 days of the charter being promulgated if they want to contest the poll. Those who fail to resign are not expected to play a part in the election.”

He’s right to observe that “the Palang Pracharath Party … is … trying to evade the spirit of the charter.” But there’s more. They are trying to avoid the constitutional requirements.

At PPT, we are no supporters of the junta’s constitution, which needs to be thrown out and rewritten as a “people’s constitution,” but it is satisfying to see that those who rigged that charter are now being caught by it.





Rip up the junta’s basic law

16 06 2018

The Bangkok Post reports that representatives of Future Forward Party and Puea Thai Party “agreed at a forum that changing the whole charter is a top priority for their parties after the poll.” This amounts to a tearing up of the junta’s anti-democratic constitution.

Meanwhile, while Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva also believed that the junta’s constitution was a problem, as might be expected, he talked of amending it, not ditching it as a deeply flawed charter. Likewise, he did not think this a “top priority of the new government…”.

We don’t think the Democrat Party is particularly concerned about the junta’s charter but knows that the charter is likely to be a major election issue whenever the junta decides to hold its rigged election.

They also acknowledged that “the charter is written in such a way that change is almost impossible by following the normal process.”

 Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of Future Forward said:

The whole 2017 constitution should be scrapped as it is undemocratic and passed by a referendum that lacked transparency. Moreover, the charter also forces future governments to stick with the junta’s 20-year national development blueprint….

Chaturon Chaisang of Puea Thai said that the “national strategy will impose additional burdens on future governments as they will be required to comply with the new law.” If they fail to follow the junta’s plan, they could go to jail.

Chaturon “urged all pro-democracy parties to join in this task” of getting rid of the junta’s charter and its 20 year plan.

In contrast, as the Bangkok Post reports, while admitting that the charter and junta plan are “impediments,” Abhisit seemed happy enough to go along with the junta’s plan, altering it when the context changed. Indeed, he seemed supportive of the plan saying “anyone who has better plans than the government’s 20-year national strategic plan must present them to the public.” He seems to not have an alternative.





Updated: Selectivity in the judicial system

22 05 2018

“Selectivity in the judicial system” is another way of expressing the notion of double standards. Several recent stories in the Bangkok Post highlight the junta’s continued emphasis on legal mechanisms to selectively repress its political opponents.

The first Bangkok Post story is about a civil court having “temporarily disposed of a civil case against Suthep Thaugsuban and 39 others for impeding the 2014 general election, pending the outcome of a criminal case against them.” Essentially, the court decided to ease the pressure on Suthep while other criminal cases are ever so slowly sorted out.

One of the oddities of this case is that it is brought by the EC which itself managed to impede the election through the decisions and actions of its then members.

A second Bangkok Post story tells of Puea Thai’s Watana Muangsook, Chaturon Chaisang and Chusak Sirinil being “charged on Monday with sedition for holding a press conference” that criticized the military dictatorship. It is the military that filed the case.

The notion that rights that even appear in the junta’s own constitution are ignored by the junta to claim sedition for relatively mild criticism is yet another example of double standards.

Five other party leaders were charged with violating the ban on gatherings for attending the press conference.

Pheu Thai’s secretary general Phumtham Wechayachai was mild in his response to the charges: “This government abuses the laws. They use laws to prevent people from investigating (them)…”. He added that none of those charged had broken the law.

But that’s the point. Under a military dictatorship the law is whatever the junta decides it will be.

Phumtham asked why it was that speaking “about the government’s performance for the last four years and how unsuccessful they are” should constitute an attempt to overthrow the regime or to incite insurrection.

Well, again, the dictatorship can decide what it wants. There’s no “legality” involved, just the whim of The Dictator. In this instance, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, campaigning vigorously to defeat parties that may not campaign, sees a chance to stick yet another dagger into the country’s most successful political party.

And finally for this account of double standards, the third Bangkok Post story is of three junior officials being charged by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) “the illegal purchase of Alpha 6 narcotics detectors 10 years ago.”

In fact, these devices are more or less the same at the GT200. Both are devices shown to have failed and to be scams, but widely purchased by official agencies including the military. Some 1,358 GT200 and Alpha 6 detectors worth 1.137 billion baht were bought by various agencies. Their use was vigorously defended by senior Army officers, including Gen Prayuth, and Army spokesmen

Five years ago, following convictions in the UK on these scam devices, PPT asked: will the Thai military brass and bosses of other agencies that purchased – often at inflated prices – will also be held accountable. The answer seems clear: not when the military runs the show.

Double standards and legal selectivity rule. Ask Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. One of his “borrowed” luxury watches costs more than an Alpha 6 at inflated prices. Maybe there’s a connection?

Update: We are pleased to note that the Bangkok Post has an editorial that takes up most of the points we made above.