Progress to free and fair elections?

21 06 2018

The UK’s Foreign Office has let down its prime minister badly. Based on Theresa May’s comments to The Dictator, we assume the Foreign Office provided incorrect briefing information.

As the self-styled buffoonish British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met with Thailand’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai (who is under a corruption cloud), May talked with the military dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power by a coup.

As bad as it appears for May to shake hands with such a thug, May blundered. Her spokesman stated:

The Prime Minister [May] urged continued progress towards free and open elections in Thailand in line with international standards, including restrictions on political parties being lifted at an early stage….

Such a statement is bizarre. “Continued progress” suggests there has been movement to “free and fair elections.” There has been no such movement. Worse, there can be no free and fair election under the rules established by the junta. It is simply impossible.

The comment on lifting “restrictions” on political parties is equally disturbing. “Restrictions” are political repression, bans and the crushing of parties as the junta prepares for its own “elections” to result in its own parties running the country, with The Dictator still in charge. And, what is “early”? It’s been more than 4 years already.

Either Boris has lobotomized his Foreign Office, May bungled or its another example of Conservative desperation as Brexit approaches meaning trade with anyone will be sanctioned.

Meanwhile, The Dictator can be the Cheshire cat and continue to rig his “election” and expect the West to accept it.





Hitting Puea Thai, using populism

20 06 2018

Report after report has recounted how the military dictatorship is hoovering up Puea Thai Party politicians for its own parties.

The most recent we saw told the story of former Thaksin Shinawatra-linked politicians working for the junta canvassing in the northeast trying to entice and bribe politicians to join up with the junta.

After a trip to Loei, Suriya Juangroongruangkit (same family as Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit) and Somsak Thepsutin are heading into Nakhon Ratchasima “to try to convince former Pheu Thai MPs to switch their allegiances to a party supporting [Gen]Prayut[h] Chan-o…cha to be an outside prime minister after an election.” The offers are to join the Palang Pracharath Party and are said to target “three members of the Rattanaseth clan: former [party] list-MP Wirat and two former constituency MPs, Tassineeya and Athirat.”

Suriya and Somsak “are publicly leading the campaign to woo Pheu Thai members into the new political camp.”

The other element of this pilfering of politicians is the junta’s continuing efforts to destroy the Shinawatra clan and the Puea Thai Party.

The Bangkok Post reports that former foreign minister Surapong Towijakchaikul “has been sentenced to two years in prison for issuing a passport for Thaksin Shinawatra.”

The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions “ruled him guilty of malfeasance under Section 157 of the Criminal Code and the 2000 anti-corruption law.”

Surapong has appealed, but the message is clear: support Thaksin and we will screw you. Malfeasance is highly debatable under the law but the court decided that he was guilty because Thaksin was subject to “an arrest warrant on national security charges.” We take it that this means lese majeste. That charge is trumped up. But the yellow shirts and junta prevail over law.

The claim that Surapong’s “actions allowed Thaksin to travel freely and live abroad and the Thai government could not ask a country to expel or extradite him on the charge of not having a passport” is complete nonsense given that Thaksin has other passports.

When the court states that Surapong had “weakened the judicial procedures and court sanctions” and argues that he “tarnished the reputation of the country,” we can only point to the 2014 military coup that was illegal and caused serious damage to Thailand’s reputation (and still does). Yet the courts have always accepted that coups are retrospectively legal because the criminals make them so.

That effort to “legally” target the Shinawatra clan and Puea Thai sees more Supreme Court action against Thaksin.

While the junta pilfers politicians from Puea Thai and uses the judiciary against recalcitrants, the junta continues to pilfer political tactics from that party.

When The Dictator orders the execution of a prisoner, he captures some of the notion of populist appeal.

Gen Prayuth declared that “most people thought it [state execution] should remain in place,” he was appealing to fear. When he says:

The death penalty is legitimate. Many cases of severe crime have happened. Capital punishment exists to guarantee national peace and teach lessons. It is a necessity for us and people want it….

The Dictator is targeting the same vein of fear that had Thaksin receiving support for the reprehensible War on Drugs.

Take from Thaksin and Puea Thai while crushing them has been on the top of the junta’s agenda from the time that it planned the coup.





The coronation delay and more royal propaganda events

20 06 2018

The Dictator has stated that there will be no “election” until after the coronation. The coronation will only be held at a date to be decided by the king, and probably has been decided, but is still to be announced.

This is not the first time he has said this. Back in July 2017, he stated that the timing for the next general “election” was for him to contemplate. He said the timing needed to be “appropriate.” That could mean a time when he thinks the military junta can be assured of its outcome. But he went on to state that the “election” would “definitely be after the ceremony for King Rama IX’s cremation and King Rama X’s ceremonial accession to the throne.”

So Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s most recent statement should not be a surprise.

At the same time as reporting this, the Bangkok Post lists a series of events that coincide with the run-up to the king’s birthday. The junta is nothing if not a royal-promoting and propagandizing:

Meanwhile, the administration is preparing to hold activities to celebrate His Majesty the King’s 66th birthday on July 28.

The activities will be held July 22-28 in Sanam Luang, Prime Minister’s Office Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said after a meeting to discuss events to mark the King’s birthday.

The government is in the process of relaying information about the activities to the King.

He said provinces will also hold their own events to mark the occasion.

On July 28, a procession of offerings for him and a blessing ceremony for the King will be held. Gen Prayut will represent the Thai people in an address to honour the King at 7pm.

At Sanam Luang an exhibition of photos showing voluntary activities under the “Tam Kwam Dee Duay Hua Jai” (Do good deeds by hearts) project, in line with the King’s guidance, will be held.

The pictures will be gathered from activities taking place across the country.

Mr Suwaphan said people are invited to bring their own pictures showing their involvement in the project to be displayed at the exhibition.

On July 27 and 28, free skills training will be held, including how to make garlands, Thai sweets and herbal drinks.

Low-priced food and beverages as well as low-cost products will also be on sale at the events.

Cultural and entertainment performances will be staged during this period.

Provincial authorities will hold activities to celebrate the auspicious occasion at their own discretion, the minister said.

As the events coincide with Asarnha Bucha and Buddhist Lent days on July 27 and 28 respectively, Buddha’s relics would be moved to Sanam Luang from the National Museum to let people pay homage, said Mr Suwaphan.

 





All that is old is new again

19 06 2018

“New” is a relative term. What is new for a 10 year-old may be old for a 70 year-old. For those now piloting Suthep Thaugsuban’s Action Coalition of Thailand Party the really old conservative ploy of calling for a “national government” is promoted as if a new idea, not one recycled from previous conservatives and fascists.

Whenever such a call is launched it usually suggests that Thailand’s politics is deeply conflicted. And so it is again.

Party puppet leader Anek Laothamatas made an “appeal” to his party’s arch-enemies in Puea Thai. If the report at Khaosod is to be believed, Anek called on the “political rivals [to] bury the hatchet and form a ‘unity government’ after the next election.”

Worryingly, this former “scholar” – in Khaosod’s reporting he is transformed into a “veteran law scholar”- made his call based “inspiration” drawn from “last week’s historic meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un…” as his inspiration.

Anek is said to have told reporters: “Even North Koreans and South Koreans – they fought till millions were dead – managed to reconcile. Even Mr. Donald Trump and Mr. Kim Jong Un managed to reconcile.”

It seems Anek is a seer rather than a scholar of any sort, concocting a conclusion to recent events. That unused train station at the DMZ must be suddenly busy!

For the anti-democrat vision of “reconciliation,” the ACT’s fortuneteller “called on all key political parties to form a government in which they will share power and work for the good of the country.” For him, there should be “no opposition elements.”

He mimics dictators of the present and the past.





Rigged elections better than no elections?

18 06 2018

Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod had an op-ed a couple of days ago that causes us to consider again the question of rigged elections being better than no elections at all.

Pravit essentially sees the formation of  “the ultra-conservative, ultra-royalist and ultra-nationalist Action Coalition for Thailand … [as] a sign that something is on the right track.” For him, ACT is “promoting its ideology to potential members and voters, and this is not a bad thing.”

He adds that this “is a positive development because Thai politics needs to be more ideology-driven and less dependent on outsized personalities and the notion of supporting the ‘lesser of two evils’.”

Although Pravit acknowledges that ACT is in fact led by “a very outsized personality. Suthep Thaugsuban,” he reckons other “key members took to the floor to espouse the party’s core doctrines of holding the monarchy above everything, ultra-nationalist oaths and aspirations for broad reforms.”

Pravit doesn’t say it, but the People’s Democratic Reform Committee also had plenty of other speakers on its stage.

So Pravit’s argument is not going so well… But, he does have a point: “… it is absolutely preferable to have fellow citizens trying to convince others to support them at a ballot box by peddling their ideas instead of mobilizing people to paralyze the capital…“. He adds: “… shifting that conflict and ideological struggle into electoral politics is a welcome development.”

It is difficult to disagree that an electoral system is better than dictatorship (not a point Pravit explicitly makes) or that electoral competition is not a better way to solve political disagreements than having the military murder protesters or protesters beating each other up or using gangs of thugs to disrupt protests by other groups.

Yet the idea that elections will simply resolve deep-rooted conflicts is naive. After all, it was elections that resulted in yellow-shirted street mobilizations. The reason was because the royalists, supported by elites, tycoons, palace and military, would not accept election results. They eventually rejected the notion of one-person, one-vote and majoritarian-based representative government.

That’s why the current, junta-developed constitution, its electoral rules and its so-called independent agencies and mechanisms have been put in place. The idea is that only one result can be permitted and that will be the victory of anti-democrats in a rigged election.

If they should happen to stumble and not get their preferred “election” outcome, what is to stop them rising again?

In cheering for a rigged election, Pravit goes too far in implicitly accepting that rigging and the anti-democrat agenda as the junta has enforced it. His hope may be that the anti-democrats do stumble and that a government more representative of those groups repeatedly beaten down may triumph is one most democrats would share. But, in the end, for the military dictatorship, in the short to medium term it looks like heads we win, tails you lose.





Rigging the future

17 06 2018

The military dictatorship is not just seeking to rig its “election” but also Thailand’s political future. One major element of this latter rigging is the illegitimate constitution and associated laws and agencies. Another element is the so-called strategic plan that is a political straightjacket for any future government for two decades.

The junta-appointed assembly has recently resolved to establish a “committee to vet the junta’s proposed 20-year strategic plans.” Exactly what this might mean when the National Legislative Assembly is a puppet that always – always – supports the dictatorship is anyone’s guess. Our guess is that it is about providing the junta’s political straightjacket with fake legitimacy.

The NLA now has a “38-member committee to look into the details of the plans…”.

For the junta, as its legal remora Wissanu Krea-ngam told the assembled marionettes that:

having binding 20-year plans is appropriate for Thai society, as a new generation of Thai children will be born and grow up nurtured under future government policies that reflect the present junta’s plans.

He believes that is a good and noble idea, reflecting the warped political “vision” that emerges in those associated with dictatorships.

Wissanu added that “various national strategic plans … [have] room for adjustment … every five years.” By this he means that a junta-appointed “national strategic planning committee can inform the parliament and adjust the plan accordingly.”

In other words, future governments will remain under the control of a junta plan and a junta committee. Wissanu proudly declared that “the bill … would ensure that future governments cannot endorse policies that contravene the plans.”

The “national plans cover six areas devised by committees entirely appointed by the junta: national security [no fiddling with the military]; national competitiveness; human resources development; social equality; the environment and quality of life.” Most of those things might sound reasonable but all are defined by unelected puppet committees writing junta-defined and approved “plans” that seek to:

… turn Thailand into a develop country within 20 years; stress peace and order at all levels of society; reinforce loyalty to the nation, state and the monarchy; and change Thai attitudes to be more disciplined, ethical and honest.

The proposals intend, as one marionette explained it, to make “Thais … able and good…”. This stresses the anti-democratic notion of moral persons.

According to another report, the puppet NLA is going through the motions for the media and to suggest “legitimacy” but, in reality:

[u]nder law, the chamber has 30 days to decide on the plan after receiving it from the Cabinet. Unlike normal legislation that requires three readings during which the NLA could make changes, the Assembly cannot alter the strategy and can only either approve or drop it.

It is an sham assembly, providing sham legitimacy for a junta that is rigging Thailand’s political future.





Rip up the junta’s basic law

16 06 2018

The Bangkok Post reports that representatives of Future Forward Party and Puea Thai Party “agreed at a forum that changing the whole charter is a top priority for their parties after the poll.” This amounts to a tearing up of the junta’s anti-democratic constitution.

Meanwhile, while Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva also believed that the junta’s constitution was a problem, as might be expected, he talked of amending it, not ditching it as a deeply flawed charter. Likewise, he did not think this a “top priority of the new government…”.

We don’t think the Democrat Party is particularly concerned about the junta’s charter but knows that the charter is likely to be a major election issue whenever the junta decides to hold its rigged election.

They also acknowledged that “the charter is written in such a way that change is almost impossible by following the normal process.”

 Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of Future Forward said:

The whole 2017 constitution should be scrapped as it is undemocratic and passed by a referendum that lacked transparency. Moreover, the charter also forces future governments to stick with the junta’s 20-year national development blueprint….

Chaturon Chaisang of Puea Thai said that the “national strategy will impose additional burdens on future governments as they will be required to comply with the new law.” If they fail to follow the junta’s plan, they could go to jail.

Chaturon “urged all pro-democracy parties to join in this task” of getting rid of the junta’s charter and its 20 year plan.

In contrast, as the Bangkok Post reports, while admitting that the charter and junta plan are “impediments,” Abhisit seemed happy enough to go along with the junta’s plan, altering it when the context changed. Indeed, he seemed supportive of the plan saying “anyone who has better plans than the government’s 20-year national strategic plan must present them to the public.” He seems to not have an alternative.