Nitirat on the junta’s constitution

9 04 2016

Nitirat has been quiet for some time. Its website shows its last post was 20 May 2014, two days before the coup. The junta’s constitution seems to have changed this.

For those who read Thai, the group’s take on the draft charter is here. The criticisms made of the charter are detailed and lengthy.Nitirat

For those using English, The Nation reports that Nitirat “objects to multiple aspects of NCPO-driven draft [charter].”

The statement noted several flaws:

  • the draft would allow the the junta “to continue to wield absolute power through Article 44;”
  • the allocation of senate seats to the military brass and the police chief meant the junta would continue to influence administration;
  • a senate that is junta selected would facilitate the junta’s role in administration; the impunity granted to the junta “from taking responsibility for any of its actions before or after the charter takes effect” is a travesty;
  • the “single-ballot election system, saying it would distort the intentions of voters;”
  • the” indirect election of senators” means the senate is disconnected from the people and is undemocratic;
  • an elected government “would not have the power and independence to make policy and run the country…”;
  • the “Constitutional Court and independent agencies were also allocated too much power because they would have the authority to check the Lower House, the Senate and the Cabinet…”;
  • in a remarkable innovation, the “court also would have the power to call a meeting of Parliament, the prime minister, the Supreme Court president, the Administrative Court and other relevant bodies to make decisions on issues not covered by the charter.”
  • amendments to the charter are difficult, “requiring the votes of more than half of the Lower House and more than one-third of the Senate, while the Constitution Court would have a supervisory role…”.

All that shows that the charter is the junta’s plan for the military and “good people” – i.e., anti-democrats – to maintain an authoritarian Thailand for years to come.

With an important update: Chuan, charter and corruption

4 04 2016

Social media posters are asking why the Democrat Party’s Chuan Leekpai is not being sent to re-education for his entirely negative comments on the junta’s draft charter.

The Bangkok Post explains why he misses out on re-education. Chuan spoke “at a seminar on the draft charter organised by the Constitutional Court…”.It was also attended by other anti-democrat big shots including junta charter minion Meechai Ruchupan.

We imagine that his comments will get the junta riled and they might do something stupid (they usually do), but can a Constitutional Court event be dubious.

We are not about to support Chuan, but some of his comments were accurate. This is what he said about the constitution:

… the new constitution must not push the country backwards.

He said its progress has been stalled at times, but a retrograde step must be prevented.

[Update: We mixed up the following quote; it is now corrected.]

… he did not think the Meechai version is an improvement on previous constitutions.

“… we should not move backwards because we’ve already come a long way…”.

He also stressed the importance of an election for the development of democracy.

While Mr Chuan commended the draft charter’s rigorous measures to stamp out corruption, he noted a constitution is not intended specifically for anti-graft purposes.

Chuan then got weird and coup-loving. Remarkably, as a senior member of a party that boycotted two elections and has a history of bringing down governments since its formation, Chuan “stressed the significance of an election for cultivating democracy.”

Even more astonishing was this advice to the junta and its supporters: “Don’t run away from elections. If there are problems, fix them…”. The military junta is clearly trying to “fix” an election, but this bit of advice on the importance of elections seems bizarre from a coup supporter.

Chuan stated his support for the coup. He “noted the reason behind the coup on May 22, 2014 was partly that people responsible for safeguarding the law [and constitution] failed to carry out their duties properly.” He says he “wanted the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to explain to the public why they seized power so the public knows the truth…. It was the failure to respect the constitution and the rule of law…”.

Much of that failure to respect the law was by the Democrat Party and its allied anti-democrats.

Meanwhile, anti-Thaksin Shinawatra activist Jade Donavanik, who was “an adviser to the Meechai charter drafting panel … [and] a former member of the previous Borwornsak Uwanno charter drafting panel,” was at the seminar and stated that “the panel could not work independently as the other four of the so-called five rivers of power — the NCPO, the NLA, the cabinet and the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) — could influence how the draft charter was shaped.”

When Meechai spoke he spent his time explaining that the charter was about combating “corruption,” instilling “discipline among people and deal[ing] with lax law enforcement.”

2014 and the (further) rise of authoritarianism

6 03 2016

A reader points out that PPT has neglected a couple of academic articles at the Journal of Contemporary Asia. We have now looked at the papers, apparently the first to come out in a special issue of the journal. The issue is to be titled: “Military, Monarchy and Repression: Assessing Thailand’s Authoritarian Turn,” edited by Veerayooth Kanchoochat and Kevin Hewison. Both articles at the publisher’s website are of great interest.

The first is available for free download. Eugénie Mérieau contributes “Thailand’s Deep State, Royal Power and the Constitutional Court (1997–2015),” which the JCA blog says “is an important article assessing the way in which a conservative elite has ruled Thailand and how it seeks to manage succession.”

The abstract for the article is as follows:

This article challenges the network monarchy approach and advocates for the use of the concept of Deep State. The Deep State also has the monarchy as its keystone, but is far more institutionalised than the network monarchy accounts for. The institutionalised character of the anti-democratic alliance is best demonstrated by the recent use of courts to hamper the rise of electoral politics in a process called judicialisation of politics. This article uses exclusive material from the minutes of the 1997 and 2007 constitution-drafting assemblies to substantiate the claim that the Deep State used royalists’ attempts to make the Constitutional Court a surrogate king for purposes of its own self-interested hegemonic preservation.

The second paper is by Chris Baker, titled “The 2014 Thai Coup and Some Roots of Authoritarianism.” Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall. His abstract states:

Thailand is the only country currently ruled by a coup-installed military government. The 2014 coup aimed not only to abolish the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra but also to shift Thailand’s politics in an authoritarian direction. While the army authored the coup, the professional and official elite played a prominent role in engineering the coup and shaping political reforms. This article examines some historical antecedents of this authoritarian turn, first in the broad trends of Thailand’s modern political history, and second in the emergence and political evolution of the Bangkok middle class.

Academic commentary on Thailand

13 02 2016

Readers may find some interesting and useful commentary in these two contributions by academics:

James L. Taylor, Adjunct Associate Professor, Anthropology & Development Studies, University of Adelaide in Australia,”Thailand’s military regime continues to tighten its grip

Eugénie Mérieau, PhD candidate at National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations, Paris, France, “The Constitutional Court in the 2016 constitutional draft: A substitute King for Thailand in the post-Bhumibol era?

Both are freely available and reflect on important issues.

First takes on the junta’s draft constitution

30 01 2016

PPT hasn’t had a chance to look at the draft 270-article, 95-page constitution in any detail, but there are commentators who have (a PDF of the draft can be downloaded, in Thai). While most of the provisions have been flagged in recent weeks – at last the most controversial, we thought we’d combines some of that commentary here.

In the Bangkok Post, the anti-democrat agenda of the drafters and junta is made clear by the aged military flunkey Meechai Ruchupan: “”Given the limited time, we have drafted the best constitution within the 2014 interim charter’s framework. We want it to be the charter that can efficiently suppress corruption and does not whitewash wrongdoers…”. He referred to the draft as a “reform constitution.” In the Khaosod report linked below, Amorn Wanichwiwatana, spokesman of the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee, said the redesigned election system, will “prevent parliamentary dictatorship…”. He added: “It won’t be majority rule…”.

The CDC and junta are pandering to the anti-democrats and the fearful middle class. The anti-democrats will probably be happy (but see below), although the Democrat Party may be less so. However that party is able to lie in any bed.

One of the provisional clauses gives the military an extra three months in power, which The Dictator will have asked for. However, if the referendum dumps the charter, then military rule will be around for as long as the junta wants. In another interesting transition arrangement, if the charter gets up in the referendum, Article 44 remains in place through to a new government being formed. In essence, the draconian Article 44, which empowers the military junta to do anything it wants, stays in place. This allows considerable interference in referendum, election and the formation of any new government.

Pravit Rojanaphruk has an article at Khaosod that has a listing on some of the main (and, by now, well known) aspects of the military junta’s charter, in his sub-headings: Unelected Prime Minister and New Electoral System; Rise of Constitutional Court and Unelected Agencies Over Elected Government; Unelected Senate, Lack of Public Participation and a Less-Than-Democratic Charter. He also has some commentary.

Nipit Intarasombat of the Democrat Party doesn’t quite say it, but the charter tries to take Thailand back to a period of small parties, coalition building and busting, unelected premiers and vote-buying. The old political schemer and chief Privy Council meddler General Prem Tinsulanonda must be as pleased as Punch to have his political system essentially resurrected in this draft charter.

Nipit declares that the outside prime minister a threat: “This is unprecedented, and nowhere in this world can we find [such rules]. It allows for an outsider to become prime minister without being elected,” adding that the voting system “was designed in such as way as to ensure that no single party will ever gain outright majority in election…”.

The Puea Thai Party’s Chaturon Chaisaeng, saw the remarkable political power allocated to the Constitutional Court in legal terms:

“Having the power to define what constitutes a crisis and to use that power [over an elected government] is a serious dismantling of the check-and-balance system of the three branches under a democracy,” Chaturon said. “In getting it to try to solve [political] crises, the court will be increasingly dragged into politics. This is outside the democratic system, and will itself more easily induce crises.”

In fact, the new powers for the Court and for other independent bodies are to create a substitute for the monarchy’s political role, no longer considered reliable. Royalists and the elite figure they can maintain conservative control of the Constitutional Court.

Interestingly, a senior adviser for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee and regularly on their stage in 2014, Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, also a former member of the now defunct National Reform Council, told the Bangkok Post that “the structure of parliament set out under the draft charter is flawed and outdated and goes against the principles of democracy.”

We are sure there’s plenty more commentary to come.

Replacing the king I

12 01 2016

Article 7 of the 1997 and 2007 constitutions has been controversial. This has been because it has been a rallying cry for every anti-democratic movement since the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

Article 7 of the 1997 charter was 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, supported by both PAD and the Democrat Party. He also notes that the Democrat Party was prepared to use Article 7 in other circumstances in 2006. They made another call for its use in 2012 and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee tried again in 2013-14.

As Connors explains it, Article 7 was introduced to the 1997 constitution by conservative royalists just before it was promulgated, and after public hearing were completed. He 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.

Today The Nation reports that the current Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) says that it has “removed the highly controversial Article 7 from the draft charter yesterday as the commission entered its final week of work.” According to the report, the CDC “expressed the opinion that it was inappropriate that the revered [sic.] Royal institution would make such a decision, so power was transferred to the Constitutional Court to make the final judgement in cases of deadlock.”

In effect, the power that has resided with the conservative monarchy is now to be transferred to an unelected body that it arguably the most conservative, royalist and politicized of all such institutions. It does this to insulate the royalist elite from both elected governments and from a doddery king and from any future king who may not be as predictable and trustworthy as the elite would want.

Protecting the judiciary

26 07 2015

It has become increasingly common for the judiciary to “protect” itself. This “protection” appears to have originated as the red shirt movement developed and became critical of the obvious double standards displayed by the judiciary following the 2006 palace-military coup.

The judiciary has been manipulated to become an important arm of the royalist elite in maintaining its rule, taking on some of the work of the king as he allocated it more responsibility in dealing with the elite’s perception of threats from electoral politics.

A recent example of this self-protective behavior is the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a “one-year prison term, without suspension, imposed on Pheu Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit and former party MP Kiat-udom Menasawat for defaming former Constitutional Court president Wasan Soypisudh.”

Wasan’s defamation lawsuit “said they wrongfully accused him during a press conference on June 8, 2010, of acting inappropriately and lacking judicial ethics and impartiality.” We have more on Wasan’s bias below.

Earlier, the Criminal Court had “found the pair guilty of defamation and sentenced them to one year in prison, suspended, and fined them 50,000 baht.” Wasan and several of his royalist buddies were enraged and the Appeals Court “lifted the suspension, ruling the defendants had intentionally insulted the judge and discredited the judiciary, despite being well-educated and holding political positions. The Supreme Court upheld that decision.”

As if to emphasize double standards, the “Supreme Court overruled an Appeals Court ruling and acquitted former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban … of defaming Prommin Letsuridej, a former executive of the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party in 2006. The court also upheld the prior acquittal of former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Ong-art Klampaibul of the Democrat Party on similar charges.”

Back to Wasan. He was, until 2013, a politicized judge at the head of a politicized Constitutional Court. PPT has had several posts on his activities. The Constitutional Court has been irretrievably biased in favor of the royalist elite. This court has been shown to be corrupt and colluded with members of the elite, including in the palace. The Constitutional Court repeatedly acted as the judicial arm of the royalist elite, most notably in its actions to dissolve various pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties and politicians and in its protection of favored parties and groups. Its actions to stymie legal constitutional change have been some of the most biased and ludicrous cases ever seen in Thailand.

The court’s politicized decision-making has been central to the political conflicts of the past decade and Wasan has even stated the biases of the court:

At a seminar on the court’s role in keeping the balance in Thai politics, he referred to the court’s resolution to dissolve the People Power, Chart Thai and Matchima Thipataya parties [the 2008 judicial coup]. If various groups had not staged so many rallies at the time, the decision might have been different, he said. “If the country at that time had been peaceful, the government and the opposition could have joined hands, the country could have moved forward, and I believe most of the judges would have decided not to dissolve the parties,” he said. “But the country at that time was chaotic and the Constitution Court had to use its judgement to maintain law and order,” he said, adding however that the court was under no pressure.

Wasan did more than any other judge to politicize the Constitutional Court. His politicized career included strong connections with  the Democrat Party, having interned with  are long. The report states the royal leader of the early Democrat Party, Seni Pramoj.

As a Supreme Court judge, it was Wasan who dished out the two-year imprisonment term on Thaksin for allegedly assisting his wife in the Ratchada land purchase deal.

He also played a role in stripping red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan of his parliamentary election victory by ruling that his incarceration on bogus charges meant he was ineligible.

Was he defamed? Not if it is considered that the defendants told the truth about a corrupt and biased judge. Yet the judiciary wants to protect its capacity for politicized interventions.


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