Updated: Nothing seems to change

19 02 2019

The reporting over the last few days seems to suggest little has changed in over a decade of military coups, elected governments illegally thrown out, scores of deaths and mass street demonstrations.

In observing this, we are leaving aside the continuing speculation regarding Thaksin Shinawatra’s failed bid to make a (semi-) royal fruitcake a prime minister. Those guesses range on a spectrum from the events were out of the box to ordinary, that they weakened the king or made him stronger, that the king knew what was going on or he didn’t, and even resurrect some perspectives from the 1950s to try to explain various scenarios. And there’s still the misleading view that Thailand is somewhere on a road to democracy. And that’s all from the same source in several articles.

But back to the nothing-much-changes idea.

First, we see The Dictator showing himself for his Palang Pracharath Party and the party using his picture on campaign posters while he remains deeply engaged in all kinds of state activities, spending and so on.

Meanwhile, his former boss, brother-in-arms and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda has “defended his [now] boss … by insisting that junta leader-cum-Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha should not step down before the royal coronation takes place in two months.”

Here the point being made to the electorate is that only The Dictator and the military can be “trusted” as loyalists. It was the anti-democrats of the People’s Alliance fro Democracy that proclaimed loyalty as a political issue of the era by donning royal yellow.

Second, to make the point about loyalty, none other than anti-democrat Suthep Thaugsuban is quoted as declaring that only a vote for his party (and pro-junta parties) “can prevent Thaksin Shinawatra from returning to power through its proxy parties…”. That’s a refrain widely heard from the anti-democrats for over a decade. And, Suthep appears to be admitting the electoral strength of the pro-Thaksin parties, something seen in every election from 2000 to 2011, when elections were free and fair.

Suthep’s claims that the anti-democrats could keep Thaksin’s “proxies” out saw him drawing on the experience of the repressive actions of the junta in forcing through its 2016 constitution draft in a “referendum.” Perhaps he expects/hopes for similar cheating in the junta’s “election.”

And third, Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who himself wielded war weapons against red shirt protesters in 2010, and who refuses to rule out another coup, has again declared that he will not be controlled by “evil” politicians.

After the military budget increasing 24% under the junta, the notion that it might be cut by an elected government prompted the evil but loyal Gen Apirat to order the “ultra-rightist song ‘Nak Phaendin’ [Scum of the land] to be aired every day on 160 Army radio stations across the country…”. This anti-communist song from the 1970s – another period when the military murdered hundreds in the name of the monarchy – was to be played twice a day. It was also to be played at the Ministry of Defense and and in all Army barracks:

The Army chief reasoned [PPT thinks that word is incorrect] earlier that the anthem broadcast was aimed at encouraging everyone to be aware of their duties and responsibilities towards the country.

The “duties” he means are to protect the monarchy and murder opponents of the military-monarchy alliance.

He was supported by Deputy Dictator, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who supported the notion that politicians are “eveil” and deserve death at the hands of murderous loyalists. He said: “Listen to the song that the Army chief mentioned. Listen to it.”

Apirat partially revoked the order later, with the song continuing to be broadcast inside the Army Command at noon. As former Thammasat rector and historian Charnvit Kasetsiri expressed it,

Other than calling for a return to absolute monarchy, they’re now rehearsing ‘Scum of the Earth,’ too? History will repeat itself if we don’t learn from it. And where will that path take us? Better or worse?

It leaves Thailand in its ultra-conservative, ultra-royalist time warp.

Clearly, the Army commander and the Defense Minister are campaigning against pro-Thaksin parties and for The Dictator and the party of the rightists, Palang Pracharat.

That’s not new. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, then head of the Army, demanded that voters reject Thaksin parties in 2011. However, this time, the threat is louder, nastier and very, very threatening.

Nothing much changes.

Update: PPT noticed that the Election Commission has issued a warning that “posting text, sharing or commenting on messages that defame political candidates violates the Computer Crime Act.” So how will the EC respond to Gen Apirat’s condemnation of Puea Thai and other pro-Thaksin parties as “scum” and actively campaigning against them? As a puppet agency our guess is that it will do nothing.





Waiting for the royal decree, repressing and cheating

18 01 2019

The guessing game about the missing royal decree and the election date continues.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has joined in, slapping the Election Commission back in its place, proclaiming that “March 24 would be the most suitable poll date compared to other potential dates such as March 3, 10, and 17. The earlier dates do not leave enough time for election campaigning…”.

Recall that when the royal decree did not emerge on 2 January, as promised by the junta, the junta repeatedly stated that the EC was responsible for choosing a date. Now it seems that’s not the case.

Interestingly, Wissanu also loudly declared that he “believed the royal decree calling for the election of MPs is likely to be announced in the Royal Gazette next week.”

Let’s see.

A footnote to this suggested date is “if the poll is held on March 24, the EC will have less than 60 days to endorse at least 95% of the poll results.”This, some say, may leave the EC with “little time to investigate election law violation cases and issue yellow or red cards to election candidates and poll winners who violate the poll regulations.”

That may suit the junta and its devil parties.

Meanwhile, the junta’s security authorities are honing the skills they developed during the rigged 2016 constitutional referendum.

A Prachatai report recounts a story of “people claiming to be plain-clothes Special Branch police officers” seeking to limit the political freedoms and participation of those the junta considers opponents.

Mimicking the repression and silencing of 2016, the plainclothes men”visited Body Fashion (Thailand) Ltd., Bangplee Industrial Estate, Samut Prakan Province” where they demanded access to three “Triumph International Thailand Labour Union members: Konchanok Thanakhun, Tueanchai Waengkha and Pimai Ratwongsa.”

These officers were intent on letting the unionists know that they are under surveillance. They wanted to “discourage” the unionists from participating in pro-election protests. In another action of intimidation, they took photos of the unionists.

The unionists had previously been arrested in 2016 after they “campaigned with members of the New Democracy Movement and distributed leaflets providing information on the constitution referendum.”

Cheating, lying, rigging and repression seems normal for the military junta.





More charges dropped

16 01 2019

On Wednesday, the Bangkok Military Court “dismissed the case against 19 leading red-shirt members charged defying the ban on political gatherings in organising the launch of a centre to monitor the 2016 charter referendum.”

Like the recent case against academics and others in Chiang Mai, the court’s decision follows the junta’s “revocation of its order prohibiting a political gathering of five or more people.”

The junta’s charges were not necessarily meant to do more than repress and intimidate, so even if the charges are now dropped, the effect of the charges was to prevent the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship from monitoring the junta’s rigged constitutional referendum and to prevent campaigning against the junta’s constitution.

Sound familiar?

Of course, all charges like this should now be immediately dropped.





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.





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.





On the junta’s “election” I

16 09 2018

As one academic wag put it recently, if the junta’s party/parties lose the upcoming “election,” then it may turn out to be a “good” election. Like Human Right Watch’s unsolicited advice  for the junta on its “election,” such commentary is missing the point or at least doesn’t make much of the real issues with this “election.”

HRW says: “Thailand’s military junta should immediately lift restrictions on civil and political rights so that upcoming national elections can be free and fair…”. Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director implores: “The government should rescind restrictive orders and restore freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”

HRW says “[l]ocal activists expressed concerns … that independent monitoring of elections will not be possible under current conditions.” And observes that the “junta forcibly blocked efforts to monitor the constitutional referendum in 2016 and prosecuted many people involved in such activities.”

And HRW says that to “ensure that the upcoming election will be a genuine democratic process, the United Nations and Thailand’s friends should press the junta to”:

  • End the use of abusive, unaccountable powers under sections 44 and 48 of the 2014 interim constitution;
  • End restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly;
  • Lift the ban on political activities;
  • Free everyone detained for peaceful criticism of the junta;
  • Drop sedition charges and other criminal lawsuits related to peaceful opposition to military rule;
  • Transfer all civilian cases from military courts to civilian courts that meet fair trial standards;
  • Ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work, including by dropping politically motivated lawsuits against them; and
  • Permit independent and impartial election observers to freely monitor the election campaign and the conduct of the elections, and issue public reports.

That’s all fine and good, and the junta deserves criticism for all of its political repression. However, to look at elections as a campaign, vote and its counting is to miss too much. Yes, elections matter, but so do context, laws and rules that structure how those processes occur.

It should not be forgotten that the junta has spent more than four years ensuring that the context, laws and rules do not allow an election to be free and fair in Thailand. The junta’s repression has enabled it trample its political opponents and split them apart. It has worked to exile, jail, co-opt or suffocate the leaders of oppositions. It has also put in place rules and laws that mean that are meant to strangle any non-junta loving party that might form a government. It has rules in place that prevent a non-junta government from actually governing.

Likewise, it should not be forgotten that even when the parties the junta has sought to crush and limit gained power through elections in the recent past, the judiciary, military, anti-democrats and the powers that be have prevented them from governing. It is so much easier to do that under the junta’s rules.

Freedom to campaign, to vote and to speak are all necessary (with or without and election pending), but these don’t make for a free and fair election.





How to “win” an “election” II

13 08 2018

It isn’t just PPT wondering about the desperation rigging of the junta’s already rigged “election.” Khaosod examines some of the concerns:

As the junta backs efforts to rewrite laws, overturn norms and stack the deck with loyalists, whispers that it could attempt to subvert next election are growing louder.

PPT hasn’t been whispering, we’ve been shouting for many months.

But fear not, the man who became secretary general of the Election Commission after his predecessor was fired by the junta leader, Police Col. Jarungvith Phumma says his “independent” agency won’t be “involved in manipulating the vote in favor of junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seems intent on remaining in power.”

This is the EC that has seen “the dismissal of all commission members, the firing of its outspoken former chairman and a bid to select voting inspectors by junta-appointed lawmakers.”

And, as Khaosod points out:

The only time the public has cast a ballot in over four years was far from a healthy democratic exercise. For the August 2016 referendum on the new junta-backed constitution, campaigning against it was criminalized, virtually no monitors were allowed to observe and an unusual vote-tallying system was put in place.

Junta opponents worry about “bogus voters, tallies or trashed ballots.” Others point to “false vote counting at polling stations, ghost voters and tampering with the electronic process of aggregating the final vote count.”

While “Pongsak Chanon, the Thai coordinator for the Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Elections” thinks “the proliferation of smartphones and cameras” prevent outright fraud, we think he’s wrong. The junta will do whatever is required to get the result it wants. When he says “it’s hard to cheat systematically” he’s forgetting all the rigging that’s already gone on, with more to come. Think of Cambodia.

Those who think the EC wouldn’t dare engage in massive fraud are living in a fantasy world. They have already engaged in a massive manipulation of voting rules.And, the junta is certainly prepared to do whatever it feels needed. Think of the constitution referendum.

The elite forces that have manipulated the judiciary and murdered with impunity has little to fear. At present, the junta’s plan is to “win” without being ballot box stuffing gross, but, if necessary, it will do what it thinks necessary.