Updated: Disdain for parliament

4 06 2019

An Army engineer

Following five years of rolling back electoral politics and election rigging, not everything went the way the Army’s political engineers imagined. Yes, they came up with a less democratic constitution in 2017. Less democratic than the previous not so democratic one engineered after the 2006 military coup. Yes, they came up with a bunch of laws that connected to the undemocratic constitution that made it virtually impossible to prevent military political interference or even dominance for years to come.

Where this came unstuck was on 24 March when constituency voters chose parties that were anti-junta. It was only the puppet Election Commission, supported by the biased Constitutional Court that the junta even gained a hope of bargaining its way to a lower house majority by cobbling together up to 20 parties into a Palang Pracharath-led coalition. But not even that is in place, less than 24 hours before parliament selects a “new” prime minister.

The bloody hands of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha are set to grab premiership (again), thanks to the junta’s Army engineering that allows for a junta-picked and appointed Senate being likely to vote as a block for The Dictator, along with his Palang Pracharath Party. This despite various pleading for the Senate to not act as the junta’s puppets.

The Democrat Party and Bhum Jai Thai Party may come on board with the junta – as they are desperate to do – but only after all of the bargaining for cabinet posts has been completed. It is looking likely that the selection of the PM will go ahead with a government having been concocted by the junta and its puppet party.

This means that six weeks after the election, Thailand continues to be administered by the junta. It hardly has a “government” in place as so many of its ministers scurried off to Palang Pracharath and the Senate. For The Dictator, his face will be saved, but only momentarily.

Remarkably, but defining of the whole process of coup to election charade, this political theater of a joint parliamentary sitting choosing a PM will likely take place without Gen Prayuth even showing up, let alone saying something to parliament.

According to Khaosod, Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam has stated that “there’s no need for junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to show up tomorrow when parliament convenes to elect a new prime minister.”

We suspect that the prickly, arrogant premier-in-waiting is doing a Prem (again). He hardly ever showed up for parliament, treating it like a junior school where politicians squabbled and fought and he floated above it, buoyed by royal barami. Like Gen Prem, Gen Prayuth exhibits nothing but disdain for parliamentary politics.

With “lower house speaker Chuan Leekpai [having] promised on Monday to allow MPs ample time to debate the qualifications of PM candidates before going to the vote,” we are sure that Gen Prayuth sees this as several levels below his exalted status. He had hoped that parliament would be a bunch of yes-men and -woman and that he would be able to ignore them for a few years, leaving them to squabble and fight over the leftovers from the junta’s plate.

But the voters have thrown that plan into disarray, and Gen Prayuth, if he gets up tomorrow as expected, he can expect criticism. And that’s something that he has never learned to deal with.

And just in case you were wondering, “Deputy PM Wissanu also specified to the media Tuesday that Prayuth and the rest of the junta will remain in their positions until a new cabinet formally reports to its first day of work.”

So whatever happens tomorrow, it is Prayuth in the premier’s seat for the near term. If he gets his way tomorrow, we don’t expect that he will enjoy the medium term. Bookmakers are taking bets on the date of the next coup. He’ll hate the idea of parliament even more than he does now.

Update: According to a report in Post Today, about half of the Democrat Party’s more extreme MPs have decided to screw their party and bed down with the junta’s party. This is either a threat to the rest of the MPs to come on board with the junta and The Dictator or its another large nail in the coffin of this hopeless party.





Junta in trouble?

1 06 2019

The military junta had five years of rigging the “election.” Yet, thanks to voters, despite the rigging and with everything on its side including a puppet Election Commission, the junta’s party seems to be in trouble.

While a week or so ago it looked like Bhum Jai Thai and the Democrat Party were set to run into the junta’s waiting arms, something’s gone wrong.

It may still work out that these two anti-democrat parties coalesce with Palang Pracharath and form a 20+ party coalition. That would still be our bet. But, such a government would work with a wafer thin majority. At present, negotiations are over various matters but mostly revolving around ministerial seats, are creaky.

Bhum Jai Thai seemed set to join the junta’s party and government, but pulled back as a battle erupted in the Democrat Party over support for the military junta. It seems the Democrat Party needs another meeting to sort their position out. They want three ministerial seats.

Meanwhile, there have been rumors that Palang Pracharath is itself wobbly:

There have been reports that a 30-strong group led by Somsak Thepsuthin was threatening to quit PPRP unless it received the Agriculture Ministry portfolio, which the Democrats are also believed to covet. Mr Somsak denied the reports.

Even if the junta gets the Democrat Party and Bhum Jai Thai on board, governing a huge coalition is going to be a constant struggle for the junta. And that can be exceptionally expensive.

One response has been a renewed discussion of minority government. This notion was first raised by anti-democrat junta supporter Paiboon Nititawan before the election. He’s pushing the idea again, saying that “For budget-related bills, we can have both the Senate and the House of Representatives vote on them by stipulating Section 270 of the charter…”.

Of course, this would be a desperate measure as governing on a day-to-day basis would become difficult. And, the idea that the executive could govern without having much at all to do with parliament would be a politically divisive strategy.

Another idea that also comes of desperation is that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha can be selected as prime minister next week and then dissolve parliament and wait a considerable time before calling another election.

Finally, there’s the idea of another coup.

Whichever way you look at it, the junta is faced with difficult decisions. In effect, its five years in power amount to a massive political failure.





On the road to nowhere (new)

24 05 2019

Is wasn’t hard to predict the final “election” result. PPT predicted a junta “win” a long time ago. The “win” was never in doubt as the whole process was rigged.

HRW’s Sunai Phasuk put it this way:

The March 24 general election was structurally rigged, enabling the military to extend its hold on power. While maintaining a host of repressive laws, the junta dissolved a main opposition party, took control of the national election commission, levied bogus criminal charges against opposition politicians and dissidents, and packed the Senate with generals and cronies who will have the power to determine the next prime minister, regardless of the election results.

What wasn’t clear is that the bumbling generals would be snookered by the electorate. Thai voters, despite all the rigging and repression still voted for anti-junta parties, with the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Puea Thai Party winning a plurality.

Despite this, the junta’s puppet party, Palang Pracharath, will head up a coalition of some 20 parties. While a great deal of bargaining has gone on, pro-military parties like Bhum Jai Thai and the anti-democrat Democrat Party were always likely to saddle-up with the junta – after all, they have supported it for years and worked for its coup back in 2014.

In a throwback to December 2008, when the military midwifed a government led by the Democrat Party’s Abhisit Vejjajiva, it is reported that there was:

a meeting between Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha], his deputy Prawit Wongsuwon, Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Democrat secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on at a military camp in Bangkok…. They discussed coming together to set up a government with the PPRP as the main party, the sources said, adding that given the atmosphere of the meeting, the “deal” to form the next government is almost sealed.

The wheeling and dealing is over who gets what. Bhum Jai Thai wants a bunch of potentially lucrative cabinet slots that all seem focused on benefits for the Buriram clan. The Democrat Party wants anything at all that will allow it to look stronger than its horrid election result suggest.

Following the junta’s clear message, via the Election Commission and Constitutional Court, that it intends to grind the Future Forward Party into political dust, the deals were more easily struck, with most of the remora micro-parties and even the middle-sized parties rushing into the octopus-grasp of the junta.

How strong that grasp will be is yet to be tested. A 20-party coalition is a recipe for instability or for massive corruption in keeping it together. There’s also the “Prem model” who tried to ignore party and parliamentary bickering and ruled as a cabinet-led government. Like Gen Prem, Gen Prayuth has a tame Senate. In fact, the Senate looks rather like the puppet National Legislative Assembly of the past few years.

A weak coalition government with an autocratic premier suggests that The Dictator will require strong support from extra-parliamentary sources – the king and the military. Neither is likely to be maintained without cost and deals.

Back in the 1980s, the main threats and support for Gen Prem were extra-parliamentary, and despite the image of a period of stability, saw several coup attempts.





Updated: Feckless fools

29 04 2019

The Election Commission is a hastily cobbled together sham and a joke.

After the re-run of the “election” in Nakhon Pathom province, on Sunday  EC commissioner Chatchai Chanpraisri announced that “the Future Forward Party had won over the Democrat Party by 65 votes.”

The Democrat Party challenged this announcement and provided figures showing its candidate won by four votes. Today EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma “admitted … the Democrat account was accurate.

EC deputy secretary-general Sawang Boonmee “said the incorrect results announced on Sunday were unofficial and were made before the counting tally had been completed.”

What a mob of feckless failures this EC is. The are incompetent and stupid. That’s probably not the EC’s fault as much as the junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly selecting hopeless incompetents for the task of ensuring the junta “won” the “election.”

Update: It seems the feckless fools are also cheats. That seems to be the implication of Future Forward’s response to the Nakorn Pathom fiasco. The party is “pressing for a poll rerun … to set the record straight after claiming Sunday’s ballot recount was riddled with inaccuracies.” As well as the inaccuracies, the party also pointed to “a 20-second blackout while the ballots were being recounted…”. Blackouts seem to have been remarkably common during vote counts.





Election crisis

17 04 2019

PPT recently posted on the resurrection of the notion of a “national government.” The interesting thing about this hackneyed nonsense was the admission that Thailand faced a political crisis.

An opinion piece at The Nation is disparaging:

Moves to engineer a pseudo-deadlock to justify ‘neutral’ rule ignore the will of voters….

A so-called national unity government has always been a favourite gambit for Thai politicians who lose elections. By utilising this benign-sounding concept they can sweep aside the voters’ verdict and prevent opposing factions from taking power.

It points out that:

It was sad though predictable, then, to see the Democrats’ Thepthai Senapong float the idea again, after his party suffered a huge setback in the March 24 election. Exploiting the Election Commission (EC)’s apparent inability to produce a clear result, Thepthai has sought to convince the public that a national unity Cabinet is badly needed.

His idea immediately fails the test of credibility with his proposal that former prime minister and Democrat [Party] patriarch Chuan Leekpai lead the “unity” government. No neutral observer believes that Chuan is non-partisan.

While the opinion writer still has some faith that an election result will emerge that is not concocted by the junta, it is stated:

The election was far from perfect, but the elite, military and notably the junta must accept the outcome of a situation that they themselves created. The junta should now allow its opponents the chance to form a government to run the country, as mandated by the people.

Using underhanded legal tactics and other dirty tricks to retain power is not acceptable. The people delivered their verdict via an election by whose rules all parties agreed to abide. That process and its outcome are the only effective solution to the deep and lasting political problems in this country.

That would be a breakthrough as the elite, military and anti-democrats have never accepted election results that don’t give power to them.

But, as veteran Puea Thai Party politician Phumtham Wechayachai points out,  the junta’s “Constitution and the legal framework had indeed been designed to cause complications and difficulties that would draw the nation down the path to undemocratic rule.” He added: “The political situation is on a course that shows we are going toward a dead end…”.

The dead end is manufactured crisis and continuing authoritarianism.





Democrat Party going home?

6 04 2019

It’s likely a homecoming. Reports in both The Nation and Bangkok Post refer to meetings of the Democrat Party or a faction of it. In essence, the reports are of the anti-democrat, People’s Democratic Reform Committee, aligned members electing to return to the junta.

This should come as no surprise, especially as the red/pro-Thaksin versus yellow/junta/royalist divide has been reasserted by the latter group.

While several pundits reckoned the election marked the end of that divide, its muscular reassertion as a series of attacks on pro-democracy parties, now identified as, variously, left-wing, pro-Thaksin, foreign-influenced and anti-monarchy, has been intense.

Some 30 Democrat Party members, including some who were elected, has “voiced support for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to continue running the country in a government led by the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), according to Thaworn Senneam.” The Nation reported that former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai attended part of the meeting.

The group included other PDRC stalwarts Chitpas Krisdakorn and Atavit Suwannapak­dee. This PDRC aligned group is now going to press the party executive to take the party back to its natural political location. That is, with the military, the junta and the anti-democrats.

This is a challenge for the party as disgruntled anti-democrats could easily act as cobras, threatening the existence of the party.





Eulogies

29 03 2019

The Bangkok Post seems to be lamenting the “loss” of Abhisit Vejjajiva over several articles in recent days. This probably has something to do with the long relationship between the newspaper and the Democrat Party.

Over the years that Abhisit has been its leader, the newspaper has repeatedly published loving stories and interviews with Abhisit. Or it may be that the board of directors and major shareholders (they overlap) are Abhisit’s kind of people – royalist plutocrats.

The fact that Abhisit was never able to win an election, that he was responsible for the deaths of scores of civilians and that his toxic reputation “led” the Democrat Party to arguably its biggest ever loss at the polls doesn’t seem to have come between the affectionate newspaper and its favorite anti-democrat.

Meanwhile, the Puea Thai Party has delivered a eulogy for the Election Commission and the junta’s “election,” with secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai saying it was “one of the dirtiest in Thai politics.”

Comparing it with the 1957 election that allowed Gen Sarit Thanarat to come to dictatorial power, Phumtham “accused the EC of holding an ‘disorganised’ election with confusing results which called into question the [EC’s] credibility and efficiency…”. He  accused the junta of intimidation and pointed to rampant vote buying.

He could be right, but where does this leave the country? Prachatai has one useful and somewhat frightening response to that question.

PPT thinks that the next pressure point is when the EC begins to allocate red cards. If the rumors about this are correct, Puea Thai may see 25-30 of its candidates disqualified and 10-15 for Future Forward. If that happens, the constituency result could be overturned with knock-on changes to party lists, delivering government to the junta’s Palang Pracharath.

Such cheating would not be at all surprising from this regime.





Race to coalition

26 03 2019

While the “election” results are still the subject of complaint, both Puea Thai and Palang Pracharath are racing, neck-and-neck, to announce a coalition. Remember that this is in a context where the final result has yet to be confirmed.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[a]t least six pro-democracy parties led by Pheu Thai will hold a briefing on their intention to form the government even without Bhumjaithai or the Democrats on Wednesday morning.”

It is reported that Puea Thai (unofficially 137 seats) will come together with Future Forward (87), Seri Ruamthai (11), Prachachat (6), New Economics (6) and Puea Chat (5). Together, that’s 252 seats, enough to form the government, which is formed in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the junta’s Palang Pracharath is reported to be putting a coalition together to take government. To do this means that it must congeal with the Democrat Party, Bhum Jai Thai and one of the parties listed as possible Puea Thai coalition members.

Puea Thai promises an announcement at 10 am Bangkok time.

This is not what the junta expected. Perhaps it should have, given that its design on the electoral system intended coalition governments.

If Puea Thai announces a coalition that allows it to form government, the junta has several choices: (i) accept that but try to control through the constitution, judiciary and senate; (ii) lure away one of the Puea Thai partners or cobra politicians; (iii) use its lackeys in the judiciary and Election Commission to alter the “election” outcome by disqualifications and dissolutions; or (iv) another coup.

Interesting times.





Further updated: Counting begun

24 03 2019

Counting in the junta’s election has begun after the polls closed at 5 pm Thailand time.

There have been widespread reports of polling official failures, vote buying, and a plethora of other problems and cheating. Many of these events, while widespread, have not all looked like massive and organized cheating. The only arena where there appears to have been organized cheating is in numerous reports of vote buying, especially from the northeast.

That said, Khaosod reports that there are sufficient reports of irregularities for the “[v]ice president of P-Net, the People’s Election Network, Laddawan Tantivitayapitak … expressed concern about the Election Commission’s efficiency…”. She said: “I’m still reluctant to say I’m confident this [election] will be in order…”. With counting yet to come, there are more opportunities for irregularities and cheating.

Khaosod stated that:

perhaps the most serious, a video news report suggested improper vote manipulation by the army. In a Thairath TV reporter’s clip, a military officer is seen inside the polling area watching each of his subordinate vote in Bangkok’s Phaya Thai district.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reported some efforts to prevent votes for Future Forward. The Nation reported voter fraud.

It remains to be seen how interested the EC will be in fraud against anti-junta parties and how hard they will go after them for alleged offenses. The latter is a way to change results.

Update 1: At just after 8 pm Thailand time, the results of about 44% of vote counted show Puea Thai and Palang Pracharath more or less neck in percentage terms, with the former ahead in terms of constituency seats won. Results vary at Khaosod, Bangkok Post and Vote62, but the biggest movers seem to be Future Forward, which has done reasonably well, Bhum Jai Thai, which has done a lot better than expected, and the Democrat Party, which has done very badly. Overall, for the constituencies, five parties have taken most seats on current count.

The result seems to be that if Palang Pracharath gets together with Bhum Jai Thai, it has sufficient seats to combine with the appointed senate and hoist Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha back into the PM’s seat. But the outcome also promises considerable instability.

Update 2: PPT just saw the EC’s unofficial results from just after 8 pm, which makes a stab at constituency and party list: Puea Thai (153), Palang Pracharath (139), Future Forward (78), Bhum Jai Thai (63), Democrat Party (35), and then others.

That’s about what might have been expected from the rigging. As noted, Future Forward and Bhum Jai Thai did better than many expected and the Democrat Party has crashed.





Predictions and oddities

22 03 2019

There are a ton of articles about making predictions about the outcome of the election and there will probably be a lot more over the next 24 hours. Some are pretty awful, some are better and some are oddities.

One real oddity is a report about the police’s “X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner” round-up – seriously, that’s the name – which has been going for a while now. It began as a blatantly racist “Operation Black Eagle,” targeting “negroes.” Immigration police deputy chief Maj Gen Itthipol Itthisaronnachai said the 490 foreigners had been rounded up to “protect” the election. He declared: “As you know, this is the period right before the elections.” Maybe he’d been drinking.

Most pundits reckon that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will be returned as premier following the election. What is less clear is how many seats his Palang Pracharath Party will win.

Even with enormous rigging and cheating, it is looking like the junta’s own party may not do very well at all, with some predicting as few as 50 seats. That would, for the junta, amount to a defeat. It would mean that the junta and Prayuth would have to rely on other devil parties such as Bhum Jai Thai and Action Coalition for Thailand. But even that may be insufficient and will mean that the Democrat Party, never a poll winner, might hold the balance of seats.

It may be that the lower house is dominated by pro-Thaksin Shinawatra and anti-military parties that can snipe at the cobbled together pro-junta government. It would be messy and open the way for Puea Thai to claim that the electorate has been robbed.

Will Gen Prayuth covet the premiership enough to deal with all these parties and his electoral “defeat”? Is he prepared for the loss of face and the bickering and bartering? Is he prepared to show up in parliament to be harangued by opponents?

If he isn’t up for it, then pundits say another election will follow. We doubt that, simply because the military brass are unlikely to see that as changing anything much at all. We’d predict another coup, and pretty soon after the vote.