UN Human Rights Committee findings

29 03 2017

The UN Human Rights Committee has published its findings on the civil and political rights record of countries it examined during its latest session. These findings are officially known as “concluding observations.” They contain “positive aspects of the respective State’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and also main matters of concern and recommendations.”

All of the reports generated for Thailand’s review, including the Concluding Observations are available for download.

The Committee report begins by welcoming Thailand’s “submission of the second period report of Thailand, albeit 6 years late, and the information contained therein.”

There are 44 paragraphs of concerns and recommendations. There’s a lot in it: refugees, enforced disappearances, Article 44, freedom of expression, torture, constitutional issues, arbitrary detention, the National Human Rights Commission, military courts, problems in the south, repression during the constitutional referendum, defamation, computer crimes, sedition and much more.

We just cite the comments on lese majeste:

37. The Committee is concerned that criticism and dissention regarding the royal family is punishable with a sentence of three to fifteen years imprisonment; and about reports of a sharp increase in the number of people detained and prosecuted for this crime since the military coup and about extreme sentencing practices, which result in some cases in dozens of years of imprisonment (article 19).

38. The State party should review article 112 of the Criminal Code, on publicly offending the royal family, to bring it into line with article 19 of the Covenant. Pursuant to its general comment No. 34 (2011), the Committee reiterates that the imprisonment of persons for exercising their freedom of expression violates article 19.  





Money for nothing I

16 02 2017

Many readers will have already seen Prachatai’s report on the iLaw study of the apparently unconstitutionality of some members of the military junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly. We say “apparently” because the details of “leaves” taken are considered “secret.”

The point made by iLaw – Prachatai’s report doesn’t seem to get it quite right – is that the stipulated requirements of the Assembly are that in order to receive the substantial salaries they receive, the puppets are mandated to attend one-third of voting sessions in the Assembly. The requirement to attend a stipulated number of voting sessions is mandated by the military’s interim constitution at Article 9(5).

Clipped from iLaw

Clipped from iLaw

The big noise in all of this is that, yet again, The Dictator’s brother, General Preecha Chan-ocha, features. Preecha appears to play by his own “rules,” engaging in all kinds of nepotism, while pocketing the loot of his relationships and his military position, with impunity. Preecha is included in the graphic above, with 4 + 1 attendances.

We can also extrapolate a little on these findings. By not attending for the stipulated proportion of voting meetings, prima facie, membership of the Assembly is ended. Thus, by continuing to receive a salary for doing nothing or very little, such members are potentially engaging in an act of corruption. It can also be suggested that any Assembly actions they take are also unconstitutional. In essence, decisions the Assembly has taken, that these members have been involved in – when they managed to attend – may also be deemed unconstitutional.

We can surmise that, because “leaves” are secret, because The Dictator’s brother is involved, and because the junta’s work is at stake, that an announcement will be made that the non-attendees were “on leave.”





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.





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.





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.





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.





Military dictator blind to irony

15 12 2016

According to Prachatai, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, The Dictator, has used his dictatorial powers under Article 44 of the military’s dictatorial interim constitution to “terminate three public agencies responsible for facilitating dialogue between civil society and the state.”

Apparently not recognizing the irony of his dictatorial actions, The Dictator terminated the Office of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council, the Political Development Council and the Law Reform Commission of Thailand.

The Dictator declared “that the three organisations have already ‘served their purposes’ and that their the staff should be transferred to other public organisations.”

Authoritarian Thailand, directed and disciplined by the military junta, has no need for advice on anything. Law reform is not required as the junta can do anything it wants and is putting in place measures that pass control of law to the royalist elite. Political development is off the agenda as the military dictatorship is drawing up a 20-year “plan” for ongoing authoritarianism.

Using absolute powers granted by a military coup, The Dictator has squashed reform agencies, even if the three had been taken over by royalist ninnies. We guess The Dictator just loathed the idea of these names hanging around when his “reform” is winding the calendar back to darker days.