Further updated: Bombs, “elections” and anti-democrats

27 05 2017

No diehard anti-democrat wants the military junta to hold an “election,” even one that is fixed in a way that allows the military to continue to control politics for years to come.

At the Bangkok Post, Surasak Glahan admits to being

mystified by [anti-democrat] Suthep Thaugsuban’s plea last week for Prime Minister and NCPO [junta] head Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to keep the top job for five more years without the need for elections. He must have drunk himself in oblivion, I thought, as critics and even some supporters of the regime started to voice their rebukes over its failure to deliver in key areas, from the economy to so-called national reform, security to happiness-making, as the NCPO marked its third anniversary on Monday.

But then, when trying to wear the hat of either the military or one of its No.1 cheerleaders like Mr Suthep, who led street protests in 2013-2014 that gave the pretext for the coup, I began to realise that the NCPO has delivered numerous achievements.

He goes on to list these “achievements”:

… there has been drastic political reform. A new constitution was drafted by accidental hero jurists, appointed by the military, and smoothly passed in the [rigged] referendum last year.

The new charter will entrench the military power for at least five more years, allowing it to select 250 senators who will be much more powerful than their predecessors.

Decentralisation has been compromised. Elections of local administrators have been frozen.

The charter and several NCPO orders have lurched Thailand backward into a political system applied four decades ago…. If you are nostalgic about the past, now it is your chance to live it.

… military-appointed lawmakers … know best what needs to be drafted to govern the ways we live without having to consult us or seek the nod from our representatives. Notably, they have invented and revised laws to save us from cyber crimes and other security threats. We just have to sacrifice our privacy and risk being branded as criminals.

The most outstanding … victory was its ability to successfully remove all the hurdles put up against the 36-billion-baht submarine procurement plans by previous elected governments.

The list is long and I have to stop here before feeling suffocated.

You get the picture. More and more military rule and political repression.

The prospect of the military staying in power for years also means that military factionalism is assured. Military factionalism is probably linked to recent bombings.

Yet the military is blaming others. So are the anti-democrats who see the bombing as an opportunity to extend military rule. For the military and the anti-democrats, as allied groups, the “natural” enemy is anyone considered Thaksin Shinawatra-related.

So Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul is named. Naturally enough, he denies it and he “condemned those who were involved in the hospital explosion.” He adds that he “would have bombed Government House, not a hospital…”. His view is that the culprits are in the military.

That said, Ko Tee sought another opportunity to anger the bears in green, poking them with a claim that “he is mobilising resistance against the government.” He says these are “civilian warriors” training in the jungle. But, he says, his group is small and not yet ready to attack the “bandits [junta] out of the country…”.

**The other supposedly anti-regime “suspects” are a couple of former generals in their 70s and 80s, associated with Thaksin.

**Neither General Prayuth nor General Prawit Wongsuwan seem to have been particularly to be involved in cabinet discussions and considerations of the bombing. Indeed, that both have been away from Bangkok speaks louder than words.

Bombs might be about army factionalism yet the general interest of the anti-democrats and military is retained: no elections.

Update 1: We managed to garble a sentence or two and have rewritten and marked this with **.

Update 2: PPT was struck by a single line in an op-ed by Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey:

One has to consider who is the real beneficiary of these kinds of unrest. Is it the people who are looking forward to elections or is it the people who want to hold on to power?





ASEAN lawmakers on Thailand’s authoritarian path

22 05 2017

We reproduce this in full from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights:

ASEAN lawmakers: Thailand moving in the wrong direction three years on from coup

JAKARTA – Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia warned today that Thailand is moving in the wrong direction three years after the country’s military overthrew the last democratically elected government.

On the third anniversary of the 2014 coup, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) reiterated concerns over arbitrary arrests, persecution of government critics, and restrictions on fundamental freedoms. The collective of regional lawmakers said that moves by the ruling junta have dealt lasting damage to Thailand’s long-term democratic prospects, and urged military leaders to return the country to elected, civilian rule as soon as possible.

“In the past year, this military regime has further strengthened its hold on institutions to the detriment of both democracy and the economic well-being of the country. Its actions since taking power appear aimed at systematically and permanently crippling any hope of democratic progress,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“To put it bluntly, Thailand is headed in the wrong direction. With the military firmly in the driver’s seat and a new constitution that guarantees it a central role in politics for years to come, Thailand appears further from a return to genuine democracy than at any point in recent memory. Meanwhile, investors are increasingly nervous about the control exerted by elites in managing the country. The damage incurred will have severe, long-lasting consequences that will not be easily undone.”

A new military-drafted constitution, officially promulgated on 6 April, contains anti-democratic clauses, including provisions for an unelected prime minister and a wholly appointed upper chamber of parliament. A version of the charter was approved by voters in a controversial August 2016 referendum, which APHR criticized at the time as “undemocratic.”

“With its new charter, the Thai junta has designed something akin to Myanmar’s ‘disciplined democracy,’ a flawed system where the generals still hold key levers of power and are able to pull the strings from behind the scenes,” said APHR Vice Chair Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia.

“This is a real concern for all those hoping that the Thai people will be able to enjoy democracy and prosperity in the future. In order for Thailand to truly return to democracy, the military needs to step aside, allow for genuine elections, and commit to remaining in the barracks, rather than meddling in politics.”

Since seizing power on 22 May 2014, the military-led National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has placed severe restrictions on political activities and arbitrarily arrested hundreds for speaking out against it. Journalists, human rights defenders, and former politicians have been among those subjected to arbitrary detention and mandatory “attitude adjustment” at military and police facilities.

“The situation for human rights in the country has deteriorated. In the past three years, we have witnessed steadily increasing repression and a clampdown on basic freedoms. These developments are especially concerning in the context of a broader erosion of democracy and rights protections across the ASEAN region,” said APHR Board Member Walden Bello, a former Congressman from the Philippines.

“After repeated delays to promised elections, it’s not clear that the generals who currently hold power have any intention of giving it up for real. There are also real concerns among the international community about the continued use of Article 44 and its implications for accountability and human rights,” he added.

Article 44 of Thailand’s interim constitution enables the NCPO chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, to unilaterally make policy and override all other branches of government, and Prayuth has used this sweeping authority to restrict fundamental freedoms.

Political gatherings remain banned, a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly. Meanwhile, political parties are prohibited from holding meetings or undertaking any political activity.

The country has also witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of individuals arrested and charged under Article 112, Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté statute, which outlaws criticism of the monarchy. Over 100 people have been arrested on such charges since the NCPO took power.

Press freedom has also come under attack. A new media bill, approved by the National Reform Steering Assembly, was repeatedly criticized by journalists and press freedom advocates. Though the final version of the bill forwarded to the cabinet earlier this month eliminated controversial proposed licensing requirements for media workers, it still includes provisions for government officials to sit on a regulatory body tasked with monitoring and accrediting media. This provision would undermine media freedom and constitute undue government interference into the affairs of the press, parliamentarians argued.

“The military government must recognize that a free, independent press is critical to a functioning democracy. It must also do a better job listening to civil society, including by ensuring adequate consultation with relevant stakeholders on all legislation,” Eva Sundari said.

“As Thailand moves into its fourth year under military rule, it is now more urgent than ever that concrete steps be taken to right the ship. Junta leaders need to understand that their actions, which fly in the face of international human rights norms and democratic standards, are no way to achieve a peaceful, prosperous future for Thailand,” Charles Santiago said.





Release Pai XII

6 04 2017

The (in)justice system in Thailand continues to behave as the junta’s messengers.

Prachatai reports that on 5 April, the Region 4 Appeal Court confirmed the ruling of the Court of First Instance not to release Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, who faces a fit-up on lese majeste charges.

The court agreed with the other court that releasing New Democracy activist Jatuphat was impossible. They concurred that the activist had mocked the authority of the state without fearing the law and is facing other charges for violating the Public Referendum Act and the military junta’s ban on political gatherings.

The court stated that “the suspect could try to interfere with evidence or jump bail if he is released.” He certainly didn’t jump bail when he briefly had it earlier.

Sawatree Suksri from Thammasat University’s Faculty of Law “pointed out that one goal of bail is to allow defendants to fight their case fairly.” That’s the point. The junta, the palace and the courts are not interested in justice or legal fairness.

She said that “[b]ail allows defendants to seek and develop evidence for their case more freely, and to consult with their lawyer privately.” That’s the point. The junta, the palace and the courts are not interested in justice or having a defense against lese majeste. They just want to lock defendants up for years.

Sawatree says that “bail assists defendants to seek justice to the best of their ability, bail rejections should be an exception rather than the rule.” In lese majeste cases, where there is no justice, are the rule.

We can be sure that the repeated refusal of bail is the junta’s decision and may well reflect the position of the palace. Both are seeking to send a message that political activism is out and that even pointing to something that is accurate but critical of the monarchy must be considered a political abomination. Neither group has a track record suggesting respect of the law.





Constitution to be revealed

4 04 2017

All media have dutifully reported that the king, who we guess is back from Germany or will be soon, will “formally enact the new constitution on Thursday, which also marks the anniversary of his dynasty’s reign over Thailand.”

That seems entirely appropriate in the sense that the regime came to power following a military coup that murdered the previous king.

But the symbolism doesn’t end there. It links the junta’s and king’s constitution to the monarchy. His father only seemed to take an interest in constitutions early on, when the hated Generals Phibun and Phao forced one on him and he had threatened to abdicate. After General Sarit ran his royalist coup, the king knew he wasn’t bound much by them. In 1991, he faxed the draft back and forth and said it was “good enough.”

The fact that citizens have “yet to see it in its entirety” is said to make the charter “unique.” It is that since the draft was “approved” in August 2016, in a “referendum” that was “organized by the military regime,” but after that, the king “instructed the drafters in January to alter some provisions in the charter, changes were approved by the junta’s rubber stamp parliament, but the document itself was never released to the public.”

More than that, the “referendum” itself was a sham event: “critics say many who voted for the draft did so because the junta never made clear what would have happened had they rejected it, and opponents of the charter were routinely punished for campaigning against it.” Punishment included fines and jail, along with numerous threats and a heavy military presence.

Another feature that marks out this charter is that it allows the military to control politics for years to come.

For all of that, “[a]ccording to a palace statement … [the k]ing … will preside over the ceremony at 3pm in the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall.” Presumably, at some time after that, the citizens who are supposed to accept the bogus constitution will finally learn what is in it and, more interestingly, how the king has benefited from the changes he demanded.

To link the monarchy and the military to Buddhism, “[a]ll temples throughout Thailand are instructed to toll their bells at that hour to celebrate the occasion.”

We are sure “celebrate” is the wrong term. In fact, a dirge would be more appropriate as electoral democracy is to be buried by the junta.





UN Human Rights Committee findings

29 03 2017

The UN Human Rights Committee has published its findings on the civil and political rights record of countries it examined during its latest session. These findings are officially known as “concluding observations.” They contain “positive aspects of the respective State’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and also main matters of concern and recommendations.”

All of the reports generated for Thailand’s review, including the Concluding Observations are available for download.

The Committee report begins by welcoming Thailand’s “submission of the second period report of Thailand, albeit 6 years late, and the information contained therein.”

There are 44 paragraphs of concerns and recommendations. There’s a lot in it: refugees, enforced disappearances, Article 44, freedom of expression, torture, constitutional issues, arbitrary detention, the National Human Rights Commission, military courts, problems in the south, repression during the constitutional referendum, defamation, computer crimes, sedition and much more.

We just cite the comments on lese majeste:

37. The Committee is concerned that criticism and dissention regarding the royal family is punishable with a sentence of three to fifteen years imprisonment; and about reports of a sharp increase in the number of people detained and prosecuted for this crime since the military coup and about extreme sentencing practices, which result in some cases in dozens of years of imprisonment (article 19).

38. The State party should review article 112 of the Criminal Code, on publicly offending the royal family, to bring it into line with article 19 of the Covenant. Pursuant to its general comment No. 34 (2011), the Committee reiterates that the imprisonment of persons for exercising their freedom of expression violates article 19.  





Updated: Going after grannies

9 03 2017

The junta doesn’t discriminate when attacking and repressing its opponents. Age, gender and location are no barriers to repression.

Over the past couple of days, it seems the military dictatorship has turned its attention to repressing grannies.

A story at Prachatai reports that 20 villagers in Udornthani have ended a court case by pleading “guilty for violating the junta’s public gathering ban for supporting a referendum monitoring campaign.”

They could not afford to fight the case, so decided to plead guilty. Eight of the villagers are aged over 60 and several suffer chronic illnesses.

The “Udon Thani Military Court ruled that 20 villagers from Sakon Nakhon province were guilty of violating NCPO Head Order 3/2015, the junta’s ban on public assemblies of five people or more.”

The military court “sentenced the villagers to 1 month in jail each and fined each 5,000 baht” but reduced this “to a 2,500 baht fine and a 15 day suspended jail term” after the guilty pleas.

The case came “after the villagers took a photo with a banner from the Anti-Electoral Fraud in the Referendum Centre, the constitutional referendum monitoring centre run by the red-shirt movement.”

The junta and its military thugs considered them scary red shirt grannies. How low can the junta go? Very, very low.

Prachatai points out that:

During last year’s referendum, at least 143 people across eight provinces were prosecuted for violating NCPO Head Order 3/2015 after joining Anti-Electoral Fraud in the Referendum Centre’s campaigns. 74 of them decided to sign an agreement promising not to participate in any political activity in exchange for an end to their prosecution. Some pled guilty in courts to have their sentence reduced.

The arrests were a means of deterring anyone who considered the “referendum” somehow real and wished to participate in any way other than agreeing with the junta’s “constitution.”

That “approved” charter has since undergone changes and is still not approved by the king (he’s busy undoing royal titles for monks). It was meant to herald and “election,” and that is being delayed again and again so that the junta can further consolidate its position.

Update: Another Prachatai story notes that the military junta has “celebrated” International Women’s Day by pressing charges against seven women who are villagers opposing a local gold mine in Loei Province. The report states:

On 16 November last year, Ponthip Hongchai led 150 villagers in a protest at Khao Luang Subdistrict Administration Office where local officials were revising a request from Thungkham Limited, a gold-mining company, to extend its mining license. The protesters urged the office to immediately end the revision process.

On 18 December, a police officer accused Ponthip and six other female villagers of violating the junta’s ban on public assembly. 16 officials at the administration office also accused the six of coercing them into cancelling the revision process.

The seven will be summoned again on 30 March to hear whether a general-attorney [attorney-general] will indict them.

The Tungkum Company has had significant regime support and the junta see the villagers as having support from anti-regime activists.





Unusual, extraordinary, exceptional

23 02 2017

The amendments to the junta’s draft constitution remain secret. At last, the media is beginning to notice that this secrecy and the processes involved are strange.

Khaosod quotes legal scholar Jade Donavanik who said that it is “unusual for constitutional revisions to be submitted for royal consideration without first disclosing them to the public…”.

He added that this was especially the case since the draft charter was “approved by public referendum.” Of course, that referendum was a farce and a PR show by the junta, so it has no particular reason not to alter a document “approved” in such a sham referendum.

But the law professor did hedge, saying such secrecy “could be acceptable under certain conditions…”. What conditions might these be? Jade isn’t clear, at least not in this account. PPT can’t think how any constitutional changes could be kept secret in the modern world.

Jade did say: “It’s an extraordinary circumstance…”. It is indeed. He continued: “I’m not sure if this has ever happened in history, but I suppose it probably happened before in exceptional cases such as this one.”

We can’t think of a previous situation like this, ever, but if readers can help, let us know.

Thailand’s serfs must wait for the king to tell them what he demanded and what he got. And, they can do nothing about it. When the secrets are revealed, under threat of lese majeste, we assume that no critical commentary will be permitted.