Electioneering vs. the junta’s use of the state

21 02 2019

After going after the Thai Raksa Chart Party, the junta seems worried that the Future Forward Party is an electoral threat that demands junta attention, using state bodies to harass. Two cases now confront Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the leader of the party.

Police have said they are seeking the prosecution of Thanathorn andn two other Future Forward Party executives, over a speech made in June last year that he posted on Facebook, criticizing the military junta.

This legal action is against Thanathorn and two senior colleagues in the party. Police state:

“We will send both the case for prosecution and the suspects to the attorney-general,” said Pol Lt Col Krit Seneewong Na Ayutthaya, an investigator on the case from the Technology Crime Suppression Division.

Thanathorn and his colleagues “face five years in prison under the Computer Crime Act for ‘uploading false information’…”.

The party rightly points out that the information in the speech was all publicly-available information.

Thanathorn stated: “It’s obvious that as the election approaches, the case is being rushed ahead … We’re ready to face whatever challenge comes our way…”.

In another case, Thanathorn is accused of posting “false information which appeared in his profile on the party’s website – a violation which could see him banned from politics for 20 years.”

According to information on Thanathorn’s profile on the party’s website, “he served as the president of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) for two consecutive terms between 2008 and 2012.” This was incorrect. He was “president of the FTI’s Nakhon Nayok chapter between 2007 and 2011.”

The Election Commission’s deputy secretary-general Sa­waeng Boonmee is now involved. If it locates “false information … and a complaint is lodged with the EC…, the watchdog will then look into the motive for keeping the false information on the website for five months…”.

This could “be deemed as an act of fraud and could violate Section 73(5) of the law on the election of MPs,” which means ” a jail term of up to ten years and/or a fine of up to 200,000 baht, and they will have their rights to run in elections suspended for 20 years…”.

Thanathorn has been critical of military rule and this marks him as a target for the military junta. That his party is doing better than some expected seems to have caused the junta to activate its puppet agencies to limit the party’s electioneering.

Law and the challenge for the Constitutional Court

21 02 2019

The fallout from Thaksin Shinawatra’s ill-fated attempt to have Ubolratana nominated as the Thai Raksa Chart Party prime ministerial candidate continues.

The Bangkok Post reports that the party’s defense before the Constitutional Court has three parts:

First, the party has no hidden agenda and its nomination received consent from Princess Ubolratana to stand as the TRC’s prime ministerial candidate.

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

Secondly, the party will show the term “hostile” does not cover the party’s actions. In their view, the term covers communism and rebellions under Section 113 of the Criminal Code.

Lastly, the EC’s complaint is unlawful because the agency failed to follow a due process by conducting a probe into the issue….

To understand the “charges,” it should be recalled that the puppet Election Commission unanimously and very rapidly decided to recommend the dissolution of Thai Raksa Chart based on “evidence” that included:

the Feb 8 royal announcement, the party’s letter notifying the person it proposed as the prime ministerial candidate and the party’s letter allowing Parliament to consider approving its candidate as PM.

In this context, Prachatai’s interview with Sawatree Suksri, a law lecturer with the Faculty of Law at Thammasat University “on the legal status of the Royal Command and its interpretation” is important reading.

She is adamant that the so-called Royal Command or Proclamation is not law, despite its use as such by the EC and anti-Thaksin forces. She states:

If anything is to become law, it has to follow the country’s legislative system. Thailand has a codified system of laws issued by the legislative branch, or the executive branch in the case of a royal ordinance, or the administration in cases of secondary laws where this is allowed by the fundamental laws. Because of this, the royal command is not a law, because it did not go through legislative procedures.

Sawatree adds: “the content of the Royal Command is not an order, but a recommendation.”

In other words, the use of King Vajirlongkorn’s royal proclamation on his elder sister is now a test of the judiciary. If the Constitutional Court acts appropriately and legally, it would reject the EC’s use of the king’s proclamation. If it stays true to it royalism, it will change the very meaning of law in Thailand, taking the country even further towards a neo-absolutist regime.

Controlling media

19 02 2019

It seems that “fake news” is news that someone influential doesn’t like. A report on the military junta and “fake news” caught our attention.

The junta is reported as ordering “state agencies to issue immediate clarifications to counter distorted news in the run-up to the March 24 election.”

Deputy junta spokeswoman, Col Sirichan Ngathong said “[c]ertain pieces of information made available to people were embellished to give certain political camps the upper hand over their rivals…”.

The junta will use state agencies and its media resources to “prevent or curb distortion.” That sounds a heck of a lot like controlling the news for the junta’s party, Palang Pracharath.

With its own party running in the election and its head, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha as that party’s candidate, having the junta and “government agencies are working together to maintain peace and order and related authorities will meet people to disseminate correct and accurate information” sounds a lot like manipulating the media and using state resources for political advantage. This manipulation is made clearer still when it is candidate-prime minister-dictator-general-prime minister Gen Prayuth who is issuing the instructions.

The Election Commission should be investigating. It won’t because it mostly acts on the junta’s instructions.

While on the EC, a reader wondered if the silent partner in Palang Pracharath, Somkid Jatusripitak hadn’t said just a little too much about the political manipulation of the junta when he was quoted in a recent Bangkok Post story (see the clip on right).

We guess the EC won’t be interested in that either.

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.

Updated: Targeting The Dictator

15 02 2019

At least two legal moves that target the prime ministerial candidature of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha for Palang Pracharath are in the works.

The Nation reports that a “[p]ro-red shirt lawyer Winyat Chatmontree has … petitioned the E[lection] C[ommission] to consider disbanding the Phalang Pracharat Party, whose founding, he alleged, had outside influence.” That “outside influence” is identified as The Dictator. Winyat argues that the party is essentially a creation of the military junta and Gen Prayuth.

Winyat argued that the EC should “disqualify Prayut as a candidate for the post-election premiership because he is the incumbent premier and head of the National Council for Peace and Order and thus a state agent, and as such is legally prohibited from seeking any ministerial post.” He’s referring to section 98 of the junta’s constitution.

Winyat poked the EC, saying that it should make its decision speedily, as it did in the Thai Raksa Chart case, and thus avoid being seen to apply double standards. Doing otherwise, Winyat said, could see the EC “accused of being negligent in their duty.”

Meanwhile, as reported by the Bangkok Post, former policeman and leader of the Seri Ruam Thai Party, Pol Gen Seripisut Temiyavet:

… will ask the Election Commission to disband the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party for nominating the man who seized power in a military coup as its prime ministerial candidate.

Pol Gen Seripisut said:

 I’d like to ask Khun Prayut: You seized power from someone else. Although you’ve been granted a royal pardon, is your action deemed hostile to the constitutional monarchy?

He also urged the EC to be evenhanded in making an expeditious ruling.

As a puppet agency, it would seem unlikely that the EC will act against The Dictator. After all, the “investigation” of Palang Pracharath’s banqueting case has conveniently been “forgotten.”

Update: Thai PBS reports that Winyat’s petition was made for the Puea Thai Party.

Further updated: Doubling down on Thaksin I

13 02 2019

With Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Raksa Chart Party in danger of dissolution for nominating Ubolratana as its PM candidate, the party and other Thaksin parties are well and truly on the defensive.

In an election that is now about loyalty, it is no surprise to see more royalist action against the party.

Khaosod reports that the party now stands accused of “inappropriately displaying” the king’s portrait as it tried to apologize for its previous “error.” So powerful is royalism in Thailand that this caused the police to rush to the party’s headquarters.

The police were hot on the trail of the party for displaying “a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn displayed with krueang thong noi, a flower arrangement only used to memorialize … royals.”

A senior officer and several policemen went to “Thai Raksa Chart headquarters to make sure the portrait was being displayed correctly.”

Who knew this was the job of the police?!? Drugs, murder, slaughter on the roads and making sure everyone displays the royal portrait with the correct flowers.

For royalists, this was just further evidence that the party must be destroyed as inappropriately pro-royal.

Update 1: The Nation reports that the Election Commission has already sent its case to the Constitutional Court, calling for the dissolution of Thai Raksa Chart.

Update 2: Reporting the same move by the EC, the Bangkok Post cites EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma as stating that: “The act [nominating Ubolratana] is deemed hostile to the constitutional monarchy…”. This statement will echo through the junta’s election. Whatever one thinks of the failed move by Thai Raksa Chart, the notion that the party can be dissolved without knowing the exact charges against it is weird, even for royalist Thailand. Party leader Preechaphol Pongpanit stated: ‘We still don’t have the details of the allegations or what’s being submitted to the court…. I still stand by our position that we’re innocent.” The EC did not even meet with the party leadership before making its recommendation.

More fallout news

12 02 2019

It is reported that the Election Commission had:

recommended on Tuesday afternoon that the Thai Raksa Chart (TRC) Party be dissolved for allegedly drawing the monarchy into politics, but at 6pm the EC president told the Bangkok Post that the decision was yet to be finalised.

As in much that it has done and decided not to do, the EC seems to be making it up as it goes along and/or doing what it is told.

Apparently, the “evidence” it is using to decide “on the proper punishment” for Thai Raksa Chart includes:

the Feb 8 royal announcement, the party’s letter notifying the person it proposed as the prime ministerial candidate and the party’s letter allowing Parliament to consider approving its candidate as PM.

The dissolution of the party would mean:

that none of its candidates can run in the upcoming election. The election law requires a candidate to belong to a party for at least 90 days before the election, leaving them with no time to switch.

Meanwhile, Princess Ubolratana has commented (she can’t possibly be sanctioned, except by her brother):

I’m sorry that the sincere intention to work to help the country and our Thai people had caused problems that had seemed unlikely to occur in this day and age….

We are not sure what day and age she means. Perhaps a neo-absolutist military dictatorship?