Blame junta, Meechai and the EC for crisis

20 04 2019

Wasant Techawongtham is a former news editor at the Bangkok Post. His op-ed today, summing up the Election Commission’s and military dictatorship’s finagling of the “election” result is worth a read.

That there are much bigger countries running huge elections without all of the screw ups Thailand has seen is a point made by Wasant and several others. Its also a running theme on social media. That’s not to say that elections in Indonesia and India have been free of problems. But those problems seem to be handled by EC’s that have shown better skills, more transparency and a deal more independence than Thailand’s puppet agency.

In Thailand, the election held a month ago, Wasant says, “will undoubtedly go down as Thailand’s messiest — some would say dirtiest — in its political history.”

nearly a month since Thai voters cast their ballots, Thailand is stilled mired in controversies, many of which emerged even before counting at polling stations was completed.”

As well as all of its bungling and failures, Wasant considers the “most astounding aspect has to be the EC’s admission that it has not yet decided on what formula to use to calculate the number of party-list MPs for each party.”

What has led to this mes? He has the answer: “This is clearly a direct result of the machination set in motion by the military regime to prolong its grip on power through a disguised transition from a military dictatorship to a form of ‘Thai-style democracy’.”

Wasant points to the overly complicated 2017 constitution, “approved in a sham referendum.” As we at PPT have noted, that constitution “design” was so determined to keep out the Thaksinites that it is now widely spoken of as a disaster and in need of immediate rewriting.

He adds that everyone knows that the charter was designed for the junta’s party. As he says, a mouthpiece for the “military-proxy Palang Pracharat Party” has publicly stated of the constitution: “It was designed for us.”

EC performing seals

On the EC, he observes:

The EC’s refusal to make a definitive ruling on how to apportion party-list MPs is seen as a transparent attempt to finagle a way to increase the number of MPs on the pro-junta side.

But with everyone looking on, it doesn’t have the guts to ram through its apportionment formula. Instead, it has passed the hot potato to the Constitutional Court, hoping for an unsavoury ruling in its favour.

As we at PPT have long said, Wasant states, “the EC is merely a tool and vehicle to deliver an electoral victory to the junta.”

And this is where he names names: “The mastermind behind this shameful political theatre, meanwhile, has gone missing…. Meechai Ruchupan is the man. He is said to be a legal wizard who has loyally served several military and military-backed regimes.” It was Meechai “who was able to satisfy the military’s specifications for a new charter.”

Wasant wonders why the military’s “constitution drafting genius” is MIA or AWOL. Meechai did much to satisfy the junta and they are responsible for “this political quagmire…”.

We at PPT have no idea where he’s gone into hiding, but we’d prefer never to have to see this interfering old man again. A “genius” he isn’t. A handy and complicit tool to be sure, but after yet another screw-up for the military he admires, let him fade from his inglorious history of anti-democratic destruction.

We also have more than a sneaking suspicion that crisis and delay is useful for the junta. Delaying has been a defining element of its dictatorship. Maybe it just goes on and on.





With a major update: Junta cheating deepens

20 03 2019

As the “election” approaches a frustrated and desperate junta is engaging in pretty much open cheating. It is being aided by its allies including the military.

The military is threatening and repressing political campaigners. Rightist television presenters are showing concocted “recordings” to sabotage anti-junta parties. Palang Pracharath is photoshopping images to make it appear they are holding huge rallies. The military is ordering units out to support Palang Pracharath.

All of this is illegal. Where’s the police, the Election Commission and the courts? In the junta’s pocket.

Clearly, election rigging has become outright cheating for the junta and for The Dictator.

It is a disaster for the Thai people.

Update: Given the blatant electoral cheating by Gen Prayuth and his allies, it seems appropriate to go back to a leader in The Economist from about five days ago and reproduce parts of it here, as a record of the rigging and cheating undertaken over the five years of the junta’s (mis)rule:

… On March 24th Thai voters will elect a new parliament, putting an end to five years of direct military rule…. But the MPs they pick will have nowhere to meet. King Vajiralongkorn has appropriated the old parliament building, which stands on royal property, for some unspecified purpose that, under the country’s harsh lèse-majesté laws, no one dares question. The military junta has yet to finish building a new parliament house.

That the newly chosen representatives of the Thai people will be homeless stands as a symbol for how hollow the election will be, and how contemptuous the generals are of democracy, even as they claim to be restoring it. They have spent the past five years methodically rigging the system to ensure that the will of voters is thwarted, or at least fiercely circumscribed. In particular, they want to foil Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister, now in exile, whose supporters have won every election since 2001. The result will be a travesty of democracy in a country that was once an inspiration for South-East Asia. It is bad news not only for the 69m Thais but also for the entire region.

Since ousting a government loyal to Mr Thaksin in a coup in 2014, the generals have imposed an interim constitution that grants them broad powers to quash “any act which undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economics or administration of state affairs”. They have carted off critical journalists and awkward politicians to re-education camps. Simply sharing or “liking” commentary that the regime deems subversive has landed hapless netizens in prison. Even the most veiled criticism of the monarchy—posting a BBC profile of the king, say, or making a snide remark about a mythical medieval princess—is considered a crime. And until December, all political gatherings involving more than five people were banned.

The junta’s main weapon, however, is the new constitution, which it pushed through in a referendum in 2016 after banning critics from campaigning against it. Even so, the generals could persuade only a third of eligible voters to endorse the document (barely half of them turned out to cast their ballot). The constitution gives the junta the power to appoint all 250 members of the upper house. And it strengthens the proportional element of the voting system for the lower house, at the expense of Mr Thaksin’s main political vehicle, the Pheu Thai party. It also says the prime minister does not have to be an MP, paving the way for Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta leader who does not belong to any party, to remain in power. And it allows the general to impose a “20-year plan” to which all future governments will have to stick.

The manipulation has continued throughout the campaign. Politicians and parties at odds with the junta have found themselves in trouble with the courts or the Election Commission. Another party loyal to Mr Thaksin, Thai Raksa Chart, was banned outright. The army chief has issued a writ for libel against the head of another party who, after being followed by soldiers wherever he went, complained of the shameful waste of taxpayers’ money. Campaigning on social media is restricted to anodyne posts about the parties’ policies and candidates’ biographies. Politicians fear that minor infringements of such rules will be used as an excuse for further disqualifications.

But all these strictures do not seem to bind Mr Prayuth and his allies. Before political gatherings were allowed again, he paraded around the country addressing huge crowds in sports stadiums. (These were not political gatherings—perish the thought—but “mobile cabinet meetings”.) The Election Commission has ruled that he can campaign for a pro-military party, which has named him as its candidate for prime minister, even though government officials like him are supposed to be neutral in the election.

All this is intended to ensure that Mr Prayuth remains prime minister, despite his inertia and ineptitude. Under him, economic growth has slowed. Household debt has risen. According to Credit Suisse, a bank, Thailand has become the world’s most unequal country. The richest 1% of its people own more than two-thirds of the country’s wealth. Corruption thrives. The deputy prime minister explained away a big collection of luxury watches last year, saying they were on loan from a conveniently deceased friend.

Worse is to come….

Thailand’s civilian politicians have lots of ideas about how to tackle these problems…. It is Mr Prayuth who, despite wielding almost unfettered power, seems lost for inspiration. The junta has promised to revive the economy by improving infrastructure, but few of its plans have come to fruition. The only thing the generals have to show for five years in office is a heavy-handed scheme to retain power….

… Thais deserve much better—starting with a genuine election.





Fake neutrality

26 02 2019

It seems that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is seeking to give a false impression that he is “neutral” on the junta’s selection of senators. The Dictator-prime minister-candidate-general has appointed his deputy and allyhas appointed his deputy and ally, the watchman, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, to head the selection committee of senators. No other members of the “selection committee” were named.

Gen Prawit said the 194 senators they would pick would “not include active military officers or those who are close to retirement…”. However, Gen Prawit “did not rule out retired military officers from the choice.”

Gen Prawit did not comment when asked about the obvious conflict of interest, where the junta’s rules and constitution give the junta the power to select “the senators who would, in turn, pick a prime minister and Gen Prayut is one of the PM candidates…”.

Gen Prayuth, who has previously spoken in support of the yet to be appointed senators, claimed a “democratic” mandate for the conflict of interest, pointing to the flawed and undemocratic constitutional referendum.

Handing over the task of picking the senators is a way for Gen Prayuth, who expects to be selected premier after the vote, to appear “neutral.” But this is an illusion. Prayuth and his junta established the rules as a way for Prayuth and his junta to maintain power.





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.