Protecting the politicized constitutional court

27 11 2017

Prachatai reports that the junta’s puppet lawmakers have approved a junta law that will give “more power and protection to the Constitutional Court.”

Why would 188 of the dutiful National Legislative Assembly members vote as a block (with just 5 abstentions and not a single opposing vote) for this law?

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

Apart from the fact that the NLA slavishly slithers after the junta, the Constitutional Court is considered an important bulwark of conservatism, royalism and anti-democracy. Since King Bhumibol’s political activation of the courts in 2006, the Constitutional Court has often played a king-like role, being the institution to “sort things out.” Its decisions have been highly politicized.

 

Giving the Court more powers is in line with ideas about establishing an interventionist institution that can proactively and retroactively punish political oppositions challenging the established order.

The NLA also “protected” the Court from “people who make ill-intentioned criticism of the Constitutional Court, including those who post such criticisms online.”

There has been criticism of the NLA’s work.





Updated: The local elections ploy

13 11 2017

The six questions ploy was used a couple of days ago. Described in the Bangkok Post as one question from General Prayuth Chan-ocha: “Is everybody all right with my staying around as leader indefinitely to keep politicians in their proper place, by which I mean under our boots?”, the questions caused angst among those who want elections.

To assuage that angst, junta member and anti-democrat legal sage to the military junta Wissanu Krea-ngam suddenly said that there might be local elections and that this might see the ban on political party activities lifted.

The junta got rid of local elections when it had its coup in 2014. Occasionally it has raised hopes that these might return, saying local elections should be held before a national “election.” Nothing came of this because, at base, the junta wants no elections it can’t be sure of controlling. Despite the militarization of local government, the junta still can’t be certain that it can ensure its people win local elections. So it hasn’t done anything about them.

So Wissanu’s sudden claim lasted less than 48 hours. Even he was only talking about elections in some places where the junta reckoned it has a constituency, like Bangkok.

Then Puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA) deputy chair Phirasak Phochit threw his spanner in the works and explained that local elections required that “investigations” into “local officials who have been suspended over allegations of graft before planned local elections are held.”

The involves “a large number of officials” who, since the coup, officials, “working for provincial administration organisations (PAOs) and tambon administration organisations (TAOs), have been suspended or transferred to inactive posts after the government launched a serious crackdown on corruption in state agencies.”

They haven’t been charged, let alone convicted, but The Dictator used Article 44 to purge these administrations. Most of those purged were considered supportive of political opponents of the junta, red shirts or Thaksin Shinawatra fans.

Further scuttling the elections notion, puppet Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) spokesman Chartchai Na Chiang Mai had a spanner to throw too, and said a swathe of laws “relating to regional governing bodies need to be amended before local elections can take place…”.

He implied that “if early local polls are to be held, it is essential to amend the five laws to ensure compliance with the new constitution’s provisions covering local administration organisations,” which probably means that the laws for the national “election” would then be delayed (again), despite assurances to the contrary.

After the local election laws were amended, they would then go to the tiresomely slow NLA. Chartchai said the NLA “must race against time if the government wants to pave the way for local elections…”. The NLA members do not race on anything except to collect salaries and allowances.

Another glitch, not yet mentioned is the lack of an Election Commission.

We are not holding our breath on any “election” soon, at any level.

Update: The almost non-existent (anti) Election Commission has decided that it must “ask the Constitutional Court to rule if it is responsible for organising local elections.” What a sham this ridiculous institution is, even in “caretaker” mode. The EC doen’t know what is does. The “laws” under the junta have apparently confused it:

EC [caretaker] chairman Supachai Somcharoen said while the charter requires the EC to hold local elections, the organic law governing the agency says its role is to oversee and ensure the local polls are clean and fair.

It seems the EC hadn’t even thought of local elections until the junta murmured something about them.





Updated: Double standards and lawlessness in the justice system

1 10 2017

PPT has regularly been posting on the gross failures of the justice system. Thailand’s justice system has long been pretty awful, but since the 2006 military coup that awfulness has been compounded by the fact that particular courts have become little more than political tools for the royalist elite and, in recent years, the military dictatorship’s instrument.

For this reason Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey’s op-ed “Hypocrisy of double standards” is an important statement on a defining failure of the justice system.

Writing after the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions decision to imprison former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, where “[t]he court’s verdict did not state whether the rice pledging policy implemented by Yingluck and her government was wrong but only stated that she neglected her duty in curtailing corruption in the scheme.”

If this is the courts definition of malfeasance, then PPT can’t think of a premier for several decades who wouldn’t be held guilty, including the current military one. But this use of the law is reserved for Yingluck as the military dictatorship wanted to be rid of her.

As Umesh observes,

The verdict left some room for appeal but less than 24 hours after it was handed down, the military government that overthrew the Pheu Thai-led government of which the Shinawatras were the key backers came out with new rules that force any appeal to be lodged by the convicted person and not through lawyers. To make matters worse, the statutory limit on the case, which is usually about a decade or so, is a lifetime.

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

He adds that in most jurisdictions, “new rules are effective only after they are put in place, but this is Thailand and in Yingluck’s case the rules were effective retroactively.”

Of course, applying rules and laws retroactively has been a hallmark of military juntas. For example, juntas regularly absolve themselves of criminality when they overthrow governments and constitutions. A more egregious example was the use of Announcement No. 27 (2006) of the then junta  to dissolve Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party in 2007 using the junta’s Announcement retroactively. It was the junta’s Constitutional Tribunal – its Constitutional Court – that concocted this decision (while at the same time acquitting the parties that supported the coup).

On the current retrospective use of rules and laws, naturally enough it is royalist-military stooge Meechai Ruchupan, head of the junta’s Constitution Drafting Committee, who said the new law, which was only published in the Royal Gazette on 28 September and took effect the next day, applied in Yingluck’s case. As Umesh states, this “basically closes the door on any appeal by Yingluck against the verdict and leaves no room for her to return to Thailand in the foreseeable future unless she’s willing to be behind bars.”

Umesh continues:

The case has raised more questions than it has answered. Many on the street believe that all these rules being put in place by those in power have a single aim of trying to curtail the power and marginalise the once powerful Pheu Thai Party. And to further cement this possible misconception [PPT: we can’t possibly imagine that this is a misconception] is the fact that other political parties are being left to do what they like and their party members and leaders are not being prosecuted even when they are in breach of the law.

To illustrate the double standards at work, Umesh points to the case of anti-democrat leader, coup plotter and “former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who has been accused of violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code by committing misconduct or dereliction of duty for his handling of the 6.67 billion baht project to build 396 police stations under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government…”.

As he notes, that case began before Yingluck’s case, and had dragged on and on:

Little has been heard about it since May 2015 when Mr Suthep was still a monk and once after that when the anti-Pheu Thai “independent” National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) decided to change one of its outside members because Mr Suthep claimed he was biased against him.

This outside member was none other than Vicha Mahakhun, the NACC subcommittee chairman in charge of investigating Mr Suthep’s misconduct. Mr Vicha was hired as an outside member after he retired from the chair of the subcommittee in which he had implicated Mr Suthep.

But here’s double standards twist: Why is there no related case against Abhisit? After all, he was the premier when the alleged malfeasance took place.

While this dereliction of duty case continues to drag on, Democrat Party leader Mr Abhisit, who was Mr Suthep’s immediate boss, is basically left off the hook. There is no such case because Thailand’s judicial system is rigged, politicized and subject to the whims and desires of the military junta.

Umesh concludes:

All this gives the impression that those in power are trying to come up with a million explanations for their snail’s pace of investigation into those aligned to the people in power, but to the general public this kind of move is nothing more than what has been repeated a million times over the past decade — the implementation of double standards.

The blatant breach and different interpretation of rules for different sides makes one wonder how this country can achieve its goal of reconciliation and move on.

The junta’s answer is probably something like: “Just give us a few more years to embed double standards so deeply that they will be the only standards.”

Update: We hit the publish button a little too quickly as we wanted to write more about lawlessness. The best example of the courts acting against the law is lese majeste. There have been several cases where persons have been charged with lese majeste against royals, dead and alive, who are simply not covered by the law. The most recent case of this legal ridiculousness was just last month where courts and the Office of the Attorney General have agreed to proceed with a case involving Princess Sirindhorn who is not covered under Article 112.





Updated: Don’t criticize a politicized court

27 09 2017

The Constitutional Court has been around since 1997, is remarkably well-funded and is highly politicized. Since its decision on Thaksin Shinawatra in 2001, its decisions have gone with the status quo.

Those politicized decisions have been criticized. No longer, if the junta’s minions get their conservative way.

Prachatai reports that the junta’s puppet Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) “has revealed that the Constitutional Court will be protected with a law restricting criticisms against it under the new organic law.”

Under the bill, the Constitutional Court will be “protected” from acts of contempt of court. Other courts are already “protected” with fines and up to seven years in jail.

Exactly what constitutes contempt is not at all clear but the CDC says that people who “criticize” the Constitutional Court “in ill-intended manners, which includes those who post such criticisms online” will be subject to large fines and imprisonment.

With the monarchy “protected,” the courts “protected,” and the junta slapping down all opponents, the political space in Thailand is as narrow as it has been for decades.

Update: Prachatai reports that, as expected, the puppet CDC “submitted the draft Organic Act on the procedures of Organic Act on Constitutional Court to the the [puppet] National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for an approval…. The NLA accepted the draft in principle with 198 votes in favour and three abstiens.”





Inside sucking noises

7 07 2017

PPT hasn’t previously commented on the junta’s decision to spill the Election Commission and create a new Commission with new members. The main reason we have ignored this is because it is like watching a movie with no good characters. It’s bad guys vs. bad guys; no white hats, just black hats.

The military junta is an abomination and the EC is a bunch of self-important jerks who did all that they could to prevent and election in 2014. The EC is anti-election. So what is there to support in any of this? Its going through the swill at the bottom of the barrel.

However, a report at Prachatai is of some interest. The EC, which has seen its members jumping about and saying how terrible it is that they are losing their positions, has decided on a counter-attack.

The report states that on 4 July 2017, the EC “initiated an investigation into 90 members of the NLA [that’s the puppet National Legislative Assembly] over alleged conflict of interest in their stock holdings.”

Up until this point, as far as PPT can recall, the puppet EC has had no interest in the puppet NLA. Thus, its action can only be interpreted as some inside politicking to keep lucrative posts.

It might be said that this action has only become possible after the passage of the junta’s constitution, but that also means that the action can only apply to activities by the NLA since the constitution was promulgated. So probably not much action possible at all. It is mostly bluster by the unhappy EC members.

One of the most reprehensible anti-election commissioners is Somchai Srisuttiyakorn, who must be especially miffed as he did more than others in binning the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, facilitating the anti-democrats and getting the military in place.

He says his lot is forming a committee “to investigate the issue with a two-month time frame. If the commission find reasonable suspicions, the ECT will submit the case to the Constitutional Court for a final judgement.”

At the very same time, the EC continued to make up rules that make any “elected” government that is not military-backed weaker than ever before.

The EC is a waste of political space and of taxpayer funds. Its a remora that seems to have lost its host.





Nothing changed IV

8 04 2017

Forget the constitution, it is Article 44 that still matters.

The Bangkok Post reports that the day after the somewhat bizarre constitution-granting show, The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced the use of his dictatorial powers to allow him to make the “selection of new Constitutional Court judges and members of a committee linked to the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG)…”.

Ostensibly because “the law pertaining to them under the new constitution has [not] been completed,” the use of Article 44 means that the shape of the most important and most highly politicized court is going to be maintained as the junta’s plaything.

The order means that “Constitutional Court judges must be selected within 45 days.”

While there are rules about senior judges “approving” appointees, it is pretty certain that the appointees will be rapid royalists with a penchant for military government and not much time for electoral politics and politicians (the latter being a dirty word in yellow shirt and junta argot).

Both the judges and the Auditor-General Committee will “serve a single term of seven years.”

That committee “will nominate a new auditor-general for consideration by the NLA “for a single term of six years, the order states.”

That all allows plenty military influence for a long time to come.





Updated: Moving from military dictatorship to military domination

5 04 2017

The Bangkok Post quotes the junta and its minions in saying that a “general election will be held in November next year [2018] at the latest now that the date has been set for the promulgation of Thailand’s 20th constitution, according to the roadmap set by the National Council for Peace and Order[they mean military junta].”

That calculation is based on a “schedule announced in the Royal Gazette on Monday,” which has the king finally and with great pomposity, signing the junta’s much amended and still secret constitution tomorrow.

By that calculation, an “election,” under the junta’s rules and direction, must be held “19 months from that date or no later than Nov 6, 2018.”

Frankly, given that the junta promised “elections” 12 months after it illegally seized power in May 2014, we will believe it when it happens.

But as we have said before, the “elections” will change very little. A few countries like the USA will accept a military-backed but formalistic “elected government,” and that will be seen by some as a plus.

In fact, as planned at the moment, the military and junta will remain the power in Thailand, much as it was through the 1980s. But back then it was General Prem Tinsulanonda ruling with strong palace-backing and a military-dominated senate. This time it will be whoever the junta wants in the premier’s seat backed by the junta’s constitution and its multiple unelected bodies, including the unelected junta.

The Dictator seems reasonably sure that the constitution will be signed tomorrow: “As far as I know, [the king] will sign the constitution on April 6 and I will countersign it as prime minister…”.

Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Meechai Ruchupan appeared somewhat disoriented in his comments. Acknowledging that Article 44 powers will continue, he babbled that the “power cannot be used in violation of the core principles of the constitution. Nor can it change the new charter itself.” Of course, that would depend on interpretations by the Constitutional Court and other bodies developed by and beholden to the junta.

Then on the ban on political party activity, Meechai seemed befuddled, saying he “believes it will be eased after the political party bill is enacted” and then adding: “In any case, they can run their normal operation.” We are not sure what “normal” is and we are sure that the parties don’t know either.

Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, spokesman of The Dictator, noted that:

Members of the cabinet, NCPO [junta], NLA [puppet assembly] and NRSA [puppet National Reform Steering Assembly] who want to run for MPs must resign within 90 days after the new charter comes into effect. The rule applies only to MPs, not senators or cabinet ministers.

He added: “Once the constitution comes into effect, enacting a law will be more complicated and public hearings and opinions of related government agencies must be taken into consideration…”.

It will be “more complicated” for the junta even if the “complications” were designed by the junta. But Article 44 doesn’t get complicated at all. It just stays and its use is legal before and after “elections.”

In the end, the junta’s road map is a representation of how to move from military dictatorship to continued military domination of politics. That’s the plan, the road map. We retain some hope that the people will reject the dons of the military mafia.

Update: Meechai was certainly addled on political parties, so the junta has made things clear. Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan said “restrictions on political parties’ activities will not be eased even after the enactment of the new constitution.” He added: “Please wait until things become orderly. There is still about one year left [before the poll is held]…”. About a year? Or about two years? The Nation reckons the election date remains unclear.