Secret constitution amendments

15 02 2017

Readers will recall that the military junta’s “constitution” was sent to a process it described as a “referendum.”

Despite that exercise in (false) legitimacy, the junta then had to withdraw the draft constitution to make changes demanded by King Vajiralongkorn, said to increase his powers.

During the amendment process, the exact changes were kept secret.

The Bangkok Post reports that Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has declared that the secret “[a]mendments to the constitution … have been completed…”.

The “handwritten copy of the constitution, in the form of an accordion-style scroll by the Bureau of Royal Scribes and Royal Decorations of the Secretariat of the Cabinet, was also scheduled to be completed today.” Then it is sent to the king for another look at it.

The Dictator has not requested an audience with the king, so we can guess that the changes have been made to the “constitution” in a way that will please the king.

We think it is remarkable that the secret amendments will be announced by the palace rather than the junta. Wissanu stated: “The Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary would disclose the content of the amendments to the public…”.

That seem to us to be something quite novel, even for royalist Thailand.





Scary king

3 02 2017

In a new article at The Conversation, Eugénie Mérieau of Sciences Po has an assessment of King Vajiralongkorn and the constitution (the space is open to choose the military’s interim one or the draft, passed in a “referendum” but being amended military one). Readers will find it of interest. We don’t agree with all of it.

For example, she begins with a claim that the newbie king has “disregarded the provisions of the Thai constitution and its conventions to an extent unprecedented in the modern history of the nation.”

We think that’s going a bit far. His father wasn’t much troubled by these things, despite Mérieau’s view that he exercised constitutional powers “rarely and with caution.” And, as indicated above, which constitution? If it is the draft one, he has exercised a right granted to him. He didn’t “interfere” in constitution making but exercise powers that foolish royalist regimes have granted the monarch.

In terms of succession, his delay did leave Thailand without a king, but that had happened previously and the then prince was engaged in a PR exercise that actually eased his path to the kingship. As in the past, royal powers were exercised by a Regent.

That this left The Dictator ruling by decree changed nothing; he was doing this before the delayed succession.

We do agree that the changes he wanted are important and worthy of criticism. They are clearly a movement of constitutional power to the king. Mérieau might also have noted that the king now has the power to appoint the Supreme Patriarch.

We agree that there is a movement away from notions of constitutional monarchy and towards a monarchy that is institutionally very powerful. That is scary.





Charter changes are secret

23 01 2017

The Bangkok Post reports that the draft constitution has been returned to National Legislative Assembly and the Constitution Drafting Committee for changes demanded by the palace.

The amendments demanded by the king are to be written into the charter “by a special 11-member committee in line with observations from the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan said on Monday.”

We would assume that the special committee has already been directed on what changes are required by the palace and acceded to by the military junta. It is reported that the “amended version of the new constitution must be returned to … the [k]ing within one month for royal endorsement.” (Of course, “endorsement” is now a euphemism.)

The report then has a truly amazing claim: “As for the observations from the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, the new charter amendment committee agreed they could not yet be disclosed publicly…”.

The Thai public are not permitted to know how the “constitution, which was drafted by the CDC, [and] was approved by referendum on Aug 7 last year” is being changed and why.

Sure, they will eventually find out what has been changed, but they can’t know about it now and presumably won’t know until it is already “endorsed” by the very person who wants it changed.We did previously explain that the “referendum” was a PR stunt.

That, folks, is Thai-style democracy.





Military-led “reconciliation”

23 01 2017

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post reported: on the junta’s plan and bureaucracy for military-led “reconciliation.” It is seemingly a part of the broader 20 year plan that the junta has for the on-going domination of Thailand’s politics it now seems to label as “rounded democratisation.”

We imagine that a “rounded democracy” is something like “Thai-style democracy” or “guided democracy.”

In its highly complex system of committees, super-committees, buzzwords and hocus pocus, the matter of “reconciliation” will, according to General Prawit  Wonsuwan, involve “plans to compile opinions from all sides over three months on what should be done to bring about national reconciliation.”

The “brainstorming period” will lead to a report and then “the next step to improve national unity,” involving an MOU, or as The Dictator put it, “a truthful social contract, under which you do what you say.”

This MOU notion has already rejected by the anti-democrats and military allies like Suthep Thaugsuban. Others of his ilk, like Kasit Piromya seem to want the military to sign up to the MOU. His position is supported by others from pro-Thaksin Shinawatra groups who want the military to pledge no more coups and, in some versions, never overthrow a constitution ever again.

Prawit’s response was lame:

“There is no need for the military to sign it. I can assure you that nobody wants to stage a coup, except when the country is mired in conflict and lack of understanding. No soldier wants to do this…. Nobody wants to do this (stage a coup), except when the country is in a stalemate…. I’ll tell you what. Without the people’s support, nobody can stage a coup. There is no need to fear a coup if there is no support for it from the people….

There are several problems with this coup. Leaving aside Prawit’s nonsense self-justification, we know from Thailand’s history that plenty of officers are willing to seize power.

But the broader problem is the notion that “no more coups” is paired with a view that there should be no more overthrowing of the constitution. That’s dumb, now, when Thailand has a terrible draft constitution that is the military’s constitution. In fact, when Prawit says he doesn’t want another coup is because the current junta has set rules that allow only a “rounded democracy” that is no democracy at all and gives all power to the military and monarchy.

The proof of this is the dominance of military brass on the “reconciliation” control committees.

In response to criticism of that from many quarters, Prawit got lamer still, saying “that should not be a problem because the armed forces are politically neutral and they don’t have conflicts with any side.”

We’d be laughing if that wasn’t such buffalo manure. What the senior brass will do is manipulate and manage to get the outcome The Dictator wants.

And what’s that? Two articles in The Nation are virtually advertorials for the junta. In one of them (the other is linked above), PM’s Office Minister Suvit Maesincee, formerly Director of Sasin Institute for Global Affairs at Chulalongkorn University and one of Thaksin’s and Somkid Jatusripitak’s proteges gives a “hint.”

Suvit and Somkid  have collaborated in developing the junta’s 20-year strategy, and Suvit states: “Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s leadership was also a crucial factor in supporting the implementation of the Thailand 4.0 vision.”

We get the message. Thailand’s future is The Dictator’s future and he’s going to be around for some time to come.





More power to the king

19 01 2017

Reuters recently had a story about unconstitutional constitutional amendment made “constitutional.”

Oddly, the report makes the claim that the amendments demanded by King Vajiralongkorn were “requested.” Even more oddly, the authors of the report mistakenly believe that the draft constitution is “military-backed.” In truth, it is the military’s constitution. While it is true that this charter “is a vital part of the ruling junta’s plans to hold a general election” but it seems they are wrong in assuming that that sham election will be held “at the end of this year.” No one thinks that likely (not even the rest of the report).

The most bizarre notion in the report is that the “election” will “return Thailand to democratic rule following a 2014 coup.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The junta is determined to ensure that electoral democracy does not return and that it and future military leader retain control of the state.

The report states that this royal “intervention is rare for a sitting Thai monarch, who are granted limited formal powers but wield significant political influence.” Perhaps the Reuters writers need to read The King Never Smiles, even if it is banned in royalist Thailand.

The Economist is much better on what is actually going on.

It begins by noting that the “ruling junta … has been cooking up a constitution which it hopes will keep military men in control even after elections take place.” It notes that the charter went to a “referendum made farcical by a law which forbade campaigners from criticising the text.”

The report explains the changes demanded by the king:

The generals say the palace has asked them to amend a rule which requires the monarch to nominate a regent when he leaves the kingdom (probably because King Vajiralongkorn plans to spend much of the year reigning from his residences in Germany). They also say they will revise an article which makes the constitutional court the final arbiter at times of political crisis—a role which had traditionally fallen to the king—as well as an article which introduced a requirement for some royal proclamations to be countersigned by a minister.

The notion of “tradition” is false – in fact, it is the military that has usually been the “final arbiter.” These amendments are likely to cede far greater power to the new king.

On his intervention, the report states:

Under King Vajiralongkorn’s father the palace preferred to maintain the fiction that Thailand’s monarchy holds a symbolic role which is “above politics”, even while it meddled energetically behind the scenes. The bluntness of King Vajiralongkorn’s intervention—and the determination it reveals to resist relatively small checks on royal power—is both a snub to the junta and a worry for democrats, some of whom had dared hope that the new king might be happy to take a back seat in public life.

The report raises constitutional questions about the intervention. It says the interim constitution “allowed for the king to reject the draft constitution in its entirety but appeared not to provide for the possibility that he might ask to strike out lines he did not like.”

Interesting times, again, and a developing story that will further define some of the relationship between the junta and the king. As he showed as a prince, the king is likely to continue his erratic behavior as king. It is likely that getting his way now will encourage increased interventionism.





HRW chastised by military junta’s toadies

14 01 2017

The Nation reports that the junta’s government has “contested claims in a summary on the human rights situation in Thailand released by Human Rights Watch (HRW)…”. The junta reckons the “allegations were outdated and unfair.”

The junta’s toadies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared: “The authors have expressed their views with no updates of the latest status of each issue and, therefore, without taking into consideration progress and efforts made in the country…”.

The MFA’s lamentable statement continues:

There has been significant progress regarding the Government’s [they mean the military junta] efforts on the Roadmap towards restoring a strengthened and sustainable democracy [they mean the much delayed “election”], social harmony [they mean jailing opponents] as well as political stability [they mean repression]. Thailand is now in the second phase of the Roadmap where the Government is currently forging ahead [they mean delaying] with comprehensive reforms to lay a strong foundation in order to achieve a genuine democracy [they mean a Thai-style non-democracy] as well as undertaking legislative reforms. Over 190 laws have been promulgated with a view to addressing chronic problems from the past, including inequality and human rights issues such as gender equality, human trafficking, illegal fishing and labour rights. Such foundation will facilitate the proceeding to the third phase of the Roadmap, whereby the general elections will be held [they mean may be held], and ensure long-term political stability after the new Government [they mean a junta-friendly regime] takes office.

We’d like to be able to say that the folks at MFA are forced to make such silly and untrue statements because they are under the thumb of the junta. Unfortunately, we know that the MFA is populated by royalists and other anti-democrats who support the junta to the hilt.

Human Rights WatchThe HRW account is from its recently released World Report 2017. It begins:

Thailand’s military junta increased its repression and failed to restore democratic rule in 2016…. A new constitution, adopted in an August referendum that was marked by a crackdown against its critics, effectively entrenches unaccountable and abusive military rule.

That seems a reasonable summary of those events. It goes on, quoting HRW’s Brad Adams:

Thailand’s human rights crisis has worsened over the year as the military junta has tightened its grip on power and led the country deeper into dictatorship…. Rather than leading the country back to democratic rule, the junta has increasingly persecuted critics and dissenters, banned peaceful protests, censored the media, and suppressed speech in the press and online.

Again, there’s no argument on these points. The report continues, discussing the junta, saying it:

has banned political activity and public gatherings, made expression subject to criminal prosecution, censored the media, conducted hundreds of arbitrary arrests, and detained civilians in military detention.

That’s all certainly true and it adds that there remain 1,800 cases awaiting trial in biased and unfair kangaroo courts run by the military itself. Further,

The junta has arbitrarily and aggressively used the lese majeste … laws to prosecute people for any expression deemed critical of the monarchy. Since the May 2014 coup, Thai authorities have charged at least 68 people with lese majeste [we think this is too low an estimate as it seems to leave out all of the palace-related machinations associated with the prince-cum-king].

There is much more: “zero justice for past state-sponsored abuses,” the “killing and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders and other activists” and the increased use of “defamation lawsuits under the Penal Code and the Computer Crimes Act to retaliate against those reporting human rights violations.”

And the MFA bleats about “improvements.” The Ministry is a sad joke. The junta is further entrenched and human rights are down the drain. Thailand remains in a very dark and scary place.





Concocting constitutionalism

13 01 2017

The Bangkok Post describes The Dictator as “furious” about reporting on the relationship between the king and the junta’s government.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems to be in a lather over perceptions that the king has stepped beyond the bounds of his constitutional position. Prayuth reckons the reason for this is that the media hasn’t reported on the king’s demands of the government carefully enough.

It is very hard to believe that the media in Thailand would not be exceptionally careful about how they report anything about the monarchy. After all, they have to be very wary of the draconian lese majeste law, wielded like a child’s bat at a piñata by this military regime.

The Dictator insisted that “the [k]ing did not ask the government to amend the new constitution as reported by the media.” In full tantrum mode, Prayuth said he was “angered” by the alleged misreporting.He diagnosed the “problem” as the “local media … feeding off foreign media reports, saying this had caused damage, without elaborating.”

We can only guess that the “damage” is either to Prayuth or to (fake) notions of constitutionalism. Perhaps Prayuth has received a literal or verbal boot to his posterior from the palace. More likely, he’s reflecting a position that the junta learned from the 2006 coup and that is to distance the palace from the military thugs who have hijacked power.

We recall the efforts that Prayuth and his band of constitutional criminals went to after the 2014 coup to declare the palace’s distance from the junta. Smashing the constitution in 2006 was seen by pretty much everyone as the work of General Prem Tinsulanonda and a bunch of palace insiders as co-conspirators, with the king and the queen welcoming the coup leaders just hours after the illegal event. That was an eye-opening event for many in Thailand and took royal stocks to lows not seen since the mid-1970s.

This is why Prayuth and his junta wanted to makes sure that the palace was seen as somewhat distant from their illegal acts.

So Prayuth is worried that the new king’s actions in telling the government to changes aspects of the constitution he’s miffed about is being seen as constitutional meddling. It is exactly that, but that’s not the message Prayuth or the palace wants out there, even if the media’s reporting has been accurate.

In other words, Prayuth is constitutional fence mending after the the fact of meddling.

He declared that “he had never said the [k]ing had asked the government to amend the new charter awaiting royal endorsement.” He attacked the press: “How could you report that the [k]ing had asked the government to amend the charter? It’s not true…”.

It is true, but not the preferred story. As the Post story says,

Reporters responded by saying that the prime minister had said on Tuesday that the [k]ing had advised that there were three to four provisions that need to be amended to fit in with the monarch’s power.

Prayuth retorted:

I said His Majesty had spoken to the Privy Council, not directly to the government…”. He went on to weave the story: “The Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary sent a letter about the [k]ing’s observations to the government and the government agreed to make changes to the constitution of its own accord….

That story might be true or it might not, but it hardly matters for the facts of what’s happening. For Prayuth it matters because the junta wants to wipe the king’s fingerprints from constitutional meddling. We feel sure that the notion that the junta “agreed to make changes to the constitution of its own accord” is clearly a concoction.

So contorted and so legally dubious is this process of constitutional meddling that the junta has had to make several retrospective changes to the interim constitution.

The National Legislative Assembly has rushed the changes through to “allow the government to ask for the new constitution back from the [k]ing so revisions can be made.”

Once those retrospective changes are made, then the draft constitution, “approved” by a “referendum,” can then be changed to suit the king.

The Dictator may feel that concocting constitutionalism is like a magician’s card trick and no one will notice, but it’s too late, everyone saw the king.





Chipping away at 1932

12 01 2017

Several times since we began in 2009, PPT has marked the 1932 Revolution by reprinting the first announcement of the khana ratsadon or People’s Party.

Democracy Monument, BangkokIn recent years the anniversary of this event is barely noticed, buried by a the celebration of various historically insignificant royal anniversaries. While there has been a long-term effort to erase 1932 from school books and the public mind, under the military junta there has been a determined efforts to make invisible an event it consider horrendous for reducing royal powers and granting sovereignty to common people. Moreover, the junta and palace have been writing laws that reverse important changes made in 1932, not least in limiting the powers of the monarchy under the constitution.

One of the nominated changes is to allow the king to decide if he needs a regent when he is flitting back and forth to his home outside Munich.

The current order by the king to change aspects of the draft constitution, “approved” in a “referendum,” is an example of how the very notion of a constitutional monarchy is being rolled back.

The junta may have been surprised by the king’s demands, but they are unwilling to tell him to go to hell. That could be because they are in dispute with the king but feel he should get his way for the moment. It might be that the junta is happy enough to have General Prem Tinsulanonda lose some influence. It may be that the junta wants to further delay an “election” and this is their excuse. It could be that the junta may feel that its legitimacy depends entirely on the monarchy. It might be that the junta believes that a feudal Thailand a la pre-1932 is appropriate for a 21st century Thailand. Or it might be all of these.

Whatever is going on, it’s clear the junta has asked how high the king wants it to jump. It is rushing ahead with the demanded changes.

The Nation reports that quotes junta lawyer Wissanu Krea-ngam as sayin: “Now, … the situation in the country has changed, so they will have to be amended to meet the situation. Otherwise, we will be using principles that were written in 1932…”.

He’s clear on what’s being done here. As a reminder, in 1932, Article 5 stated:

If there is any reason that the king is unable temporarily to carry out his duties, or is not in the capital, the Committee of the People will execute the right on his behalf.

How things have changed and they’ll change further in the next few days.

Readers might ask why the junta wasn’t getting the king’s view as it developed its constitution. Wissanu says: “The clauses to be amended were not paid attention to before the referendum, because drafters had only copied them from the previous constitution.” Yet, you would think a royalist regime would have been talking with the soon-to-be-king. Maybe he was more interested in his concubines and fake tattoos than the work of rolling back 1932 constitutionalism. Perhaps he only realized the potential problems of the regency when Prem got the job back in October.

The chief of the charter drafters, Meechai Ruchupan might have been a bit contrite about causing the king some angst, but he’s still talking draft constitutions and says the proposed “amendment would give the [k]ing the option of either appointing or not appointing a regent should he not reside in the Kingdom.”

Another of the royalist dopes, Somchai Sawaengkarn, of the puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA), ignoring constitutional history and practice,  babbled about it not being “necessary to name a regent because modern communication methods have made it easy and convenient to work remotely. The charter should be amended to meet this environment…”.

In another report, Meechai blathered that the demanded changes were “in line with proposed changes to the charter sought by the government…”. That is so nonsensical that it suggests he’s lost his marbles or is a great liar. It could be both. If the changes were “in line,” why the seeming panic and back-filling now?

Recalling Article 5 from 1932, this is what the same article looks like in the draft constitution:

16. Whenever the King is absent from the Kingdom or unable to perform His functions for any reason whatsoever, the King will appoint a person as the Regent and the President of the National Assembly shall countersign the Royal Command.

If this is to change, what does it mean for related articles? The other relevant articles state:

17. In the case where the King does not appoint the Regent under Section 16, or the King is unable to appoint the Regent owing to His not being sui juris or any other reason whatsoever, the Privy Council shall submit the name of a person suitable to hold the office of the Regent to the National Assembly for approval. Upon approval by the National Assembly, the President of the National Assembly shall make an announcement, in the name of the King, to appoint such person as the Regent.

18. While there is no Regent under Section 16 or Section17, the President of the Privy Council shall be Regent pro tempore. In the case where the Regent appointed under Section 16 or Section 17 is unable to perform his duties, the President of the Privy Council shall act as Regent pro tempore….

Our immediate question is what happens if the king dies or is badly injured and can’t appoint a regent? Another crisis and military intervention to again fix the rules and manipulate constitutional principles and practice?

The new king may well end up creating a republican military that “remembers” what motivated the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. That would be positive in the long run….





Further updated: Royal meddling continues II

11 01 2017

This post updates our earlier post on royal constitutional meddling.

In the Bangkok Post, the king’s demands become “advice” and the report adds:

Under the interim charter amendment bill proposed by the government, when the prime minister submits the new constitution for royal endorsement and if the King makes observations about any charter amendments within 90 days of the new charter being submitted, the prime minister must ask for the document back so amendments can be made at the King’s behest.

Afterwards, the prime minister will resubmit the amended new charter for royal endorsement within 30 days of the document being sent back to the prime minister.

The report states that Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam stated that “in principle the charter provisions that are to be amended are Sections 5, 17, and 182.” Looking at the draft, section or article 5 does not seem to involve the king, section 17 does, and section 182 relates to the countersigning of laws.

In another report, Wissanu suggests that changes to these articles will have wider impacts on other articles in the constitution.

So much for claims about the “will of the people” being expressed in the “referendum.”

If these really are the parts to be amended, they suggest major changes and increases to royal power are likely, further rolling back the post-1932 efforts to constitutionalize the monarchy.

Update 1: Interestingly, the efforts to block sites like PPT, including Facebook pages of critics overseas, is the heaviest we have seen for many months. We can only assume that the junta is either deeply embarrassed or not wanting any negative commentary on the king and his efforts to have the draft constitution changed.

Update 2: The Nation has a story stating that one article the king demands be changed relates to “Article 3, which involved a new stipulation: ‘Should the King not reside in the Kingdom or should the King not be able to perform his duty for any reasons, the King shall or shall not designate a regent by his preference and such a command shall be countersigned by president of the Parliament.’ The passage was to be added to the existing Article 2 of the charter.” This change would allow the king to act officially wherever he is – presumably at home in Germany.





Royal meddling continues I

10 01 2017

New king, same old political meddling. This time, however, Vajiralongkorn’s meddling is public and embarrassing for the junta. It is also revealing of how the “referendum” was a junta plaything that can be thrown aside whenever it or the king wants.

Khaosod reports that General Prayuth Chan-ocha has stated that the king “has asked for changes to the constitution approved by the public in August relating to his powers.” It is reported that the king told members of his privy council of his demands.

Prayuth said “three or four issues would be amended in the section involving the authority and role of the king.”

As the report points out, issues of the “authority and role of the king” occur throughout the 279 articles of the draft and it is unclear which articles are up for amendment. Social media speculation focuses on Articles 5 and 6.

How will the king’s demands be met? Prayuth says”he would use his self-granted absolute power under Article 44 to amend the 2014 interim charter to make it possible to change an already approved constitution…”

Prayuth must be deeply embarrassed by this turn of events. Some might suggest a power struggle is underway and others might consider it is the new king getting a chance at his political oats.

The Dictator is being dictated to, and that will frustrate him. He reckons it will take up to four months to make the changes, and while he denies it, this will further delay the “election.” Additionally, when the changes go back to the king, he can take another 90 days mulling it.

We suspect that Prayuth has invested so much in the succession and royal legitimacy that all he can do is bite his lip. We find it hard to conceive of a republican Prayuth turfing the recalcitrant king out.