Thaksin, monarchy and the pardon (again)

18 11 2011

Predictably, there is a huge ruckus in the mainstream media and amongst the royalist bloggers and social media activists regarding the still strange story of a “closed door” cabinet meeting that has apparently come up with a draft royal decree that might allow Thaksin Shinawatra to be included in the king’s birthday list of thousands usually released following a pardon, along with about 26,000 others in jail and facing jail.

The story originates from Democrat Party parliamentarian Sirichoke Sopha and is now a rallying call, arguably bigger than alleged mismanagement of floods, for the anti-Thaksin, anti-Red Shirt, anti-Puea Thai Party and pro-royalist opposition.

As important background, PPT urges its readers to consult Bangkok Pundit’s account of the history and process of mass pardons associated with birthday and anniversaries associated with the monarch. Pundit points out that the pardon issue is not exactly new, mentioning earlier posts on discussions of the topic. Interestingly, Pundit observes that: “Last year’s Royal Decree for Royal Pardons [under the Democrat Party-led government] had a provision that it applied to those aged over 60 and have a period of imprisonment not exceeding three years…”.

In addition, vociferous and dogged anti-Thaksin activist Kaewsan Atibhodhi is quoted as having noted that the requirement to have served one-third of a sentence was also removed by that government. Kaewsan stated: “Especially regulations that may be to the advantage of Thaksin is the regulation that those aged over 60 and who have less than 3 years of their sentence for the 2007 pardon there was condition that must have served one-third of sentence, but in 2010 the government removed his condition so for 2011 the Yingluck government has the freedom to choose either the 2007 pardon regulations or the 2010 pardon regulations as they prefer…”.

In short, the current government has indeed chosen the 2010 regulations. Presumably Kaewsan and other activists didn’t jump up and down when the Democrat Party made these changes because they knew that Thaksin would be specifically excluded. Now, however, they have gone ballistic.

In the current struggle, the initial claims by the Democrat Party, taken up by the media, focused on the “secret” nature of the cabinet meeting. But aren’t all cabinet meetings behind closed doors? Apparently not. One Bangkok Post opinion seems to imply they are not: “Unlike the approval of similar decrees by previous governments, this draft to seek a royal pardon for convicts on His Majesty the King’s 84th birthday this Dec 5, was approved in a meeting behind closed doors.” Funny, we don’t recall the Abhisit Vejjajiva government being “transparent” in its decision-making in the cabinet. This is perhaps now a triviality associated with this reporting, but every media endlessly parrots it. None seem to mention the legal changes made by the Democrat Party.

Reading the newspapers now has a decidedly retro feel to it, with all of the anti-Thaksin groups suddenly roused from their focus on alleged floods mismanagement, law suits and rehabilitating the Army. For example, the Bangkok Post has a story that cites the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that explains “it will meet soon to decide what action to take against the proposed pardon.” Most analysts had written PAD off, but as PPT has argued, this is premature. PAD’s boss, Sondhi Limthongkul is also cited, and is reported to have “deplored the pardon plan which he said has piled pressure on the monarchy.” Sondhi claimed “the Pheu Thai Party was blatantly trying to destroy the rule of law…”. Calling this “despicable,” Sondhi declared that PAD would “not sit idly by.”

Meanwhile, the report states that more than “20,000 people signed up to a Facebook account opened by well-known television news anchor Kanok Ratwongsakul … to voice opposition to the decree.” Kanok is one of the anti-Thaksin and anti-Red Shirt mainstays of the mainstream media and closely associated with the anti-Thaksin Nation Group (see here and here). As can be seen in its annual report (a large PDF), both he and his wife held important positions at the NBC of the Nation Group.

Kaewsan is also reported. He said his “Siam Samakkhi group also protested against the royal decree proposal.” He (now) claims that the “royal decree was unconstitutional because it ran counter to the court’s ruling.” He shouts: “How dare you exercise the limited power of the executive to overpower the judiciary for the interest of one man.” That argument will have political clout, but Kaewsan neglects that the decree is a draft that has yet to be approved – as a first step – by the Council of State who look at issues of constitutionality.

Ignoring that step in the legal process, Kaewsan “called for the whole cabinet to be impeached, saying if it stayed, it would amend the constitution to free Thaksin from many other corruption cases. He also recommended Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra be impeached and said that as the prime minister, she could not deny responsibility for the planned decree.”

Kaewsan’s call was supported by yellow shirt, hard-core royalist and appointed senator Somchai Sawaengkarn who joined with the Siam Samakkhi Group (again). Somchai has been behind lese majeste allegations against several political opponents, including Thaksin. Somchai was supported by yellow-shirted Bangkok Senator Rosana Tositrakul who has a long record of opposing the current administration and its supporters. She was vociferous in not wanting an election in 2011, fearing a loss for the royalist party.

Also roused is Tul Sitthisomwong, a long-time PAD activist who is repeatedly identified in the media as “leader of the multi-coloured shirts.” The Nation reports that Tul has already “lodged a complaint with the Council of State against the draft decree. He said opponents of the decree would hold a rally at Lumpini Park today to air their opposition to pardoning Thaksin.”

Rounding out the reconstitution of royalist and anti-Thaksin oppositions, business and academics are reacting. The Bangkok Post claims: “Business leaders are uncomfortable with the cabinet’s approval of draft royal decree for a royal pardon that could include Thaksin Shinawatra, saying it could add political risk at a time when businesses are already suffering from floods.” It seems that capitalists fear more political instability.

Predictably, the Bangkok Post reports that a “large group of academics has joined the growing chorus opposed to the Pheu Thai-led government’s proposed royal decree to pardon jailed convicts on the King’s birthday.” Apparently “large” is less than 90 academics nationwide. Their attempt to be novel on this issue is to claim that the release of “convicted drug and corruption offenders … would further widen the wedge in society, undermine national security and create chaos.” Of course, their spokesperson is from the royalist political science faculty at Chulalongkorn University, which has been remarkably yellow. They even predict “nationwide chaos next year…”.

Of course, the Democrat Party joined these calls, claiming the draft decree “would undermine the justice system and divide society further.” PPT always finds such claims about social division and rule of law laughable when they come from this party, which perpetuated and enhanced “division” as the tool of royalists and in defending the rules and laws of the military junta. Abhisit “confirmed that his party would fight the proposal to the end as it would bring about national disunity.” What he means is that Thaksin remains the devil incarnate and the “national unity” expressed in votes can be ignored. And, he’d so love to have some outside force lift him back to the position he knows he deserves as premier.

The Democrat Party is already looking at impeachment on this case, along with the alleged flood mismanagement where, as reported at The Nation, it has already “lodged an impeachment motion against Justice Minister Pracha Promnok…” and six other Puea Thai Party parliamentarians, several of them red shirts.

So just as the floods have seen a rehabilitation of the military, the pardon issue promises a reconstitution of the yellow-shirted alliances of 2005-06. And, the legal challenges to yet another elected government begin.

Nowhere is this rounding up of anti-Thaksin elements clearer than in the call by PAD for yellow “civil society” to “wake up” and for royal action. Suwat Aphaiphak, PAD’s long-time lawyer saidd “PAD is likely to turn to the National Anti-Corruption Commission for help, as the royal decree is against several NACC laws. Any opposition to the draft from the NACC will provide enough grounds for the Privy Council not to forward the amnesty decree to His Majesty for endorsement.”

Suwat’s call to the Privy Council was supported by “Preecha Suwannathat, former law dean of Thammasat University and an ex-Democrat MP,” who “said the proposed changes would violate the law” and said “he hoped the Privy Council would exercise good judgement when vetting the draft decree if the government insisted on proposing it to the King.”

Interestingly, Suwat claimed that street demonstrations would not be the way forward as “nobody can match the power of the red shirts who are looking forward to the return of Thaksin.” So, as the lessons of recent years have been digested, the action will shift to judicial areas, where the royalists have considerable support.

Another take on this issue is from the red shirt sympathetic who are scratching their heads as to why the Thaksin issue is raised now. PPT has already posted Ji Ungpakorn’s challenge, much of which we agree with. Somsak Jeamteerasakul has said “the government should exercise laws for the public interest instead of that of an individual. He said many pro-Thaksin red shirt protesters had not been treated fairly. It was not right for the government to draft the decree to help Thaksin…”.

In what now can only be a footnote to the rapidly gathering political action is the question of “why now?” The mainstream media has been saying it is because the government’s popularity is declining, it must act now on Thaksin. PPT doesn’t buy this line. Of course, the government has to have a draft amnesty decree in place by the time of the king’s birthday and this important anniversary. It may have been delayed by the floods, but we are still left to ponder why it is that the Puea Thai government has decided to be deliberately provocative when it knows that this action will re-galvanize its opponents.

Forget the election

21 06 2011

It is probably already time to move beyond the election. Why? It seems that while the Democrat Party has seemingly descending into a negative campaign, this is not simply a desperate attempt to turn the flow of votes to the Puea Thai Party. Rather, this approach is part of a campaign to destabilize any pro-Thaksin Shinawatra government that results from the election.

The past few days have indicated the broad shape of this campaign. First, the military brass have shown that it won’t countenance a Puea Thai government for long.

Second, the attacks on red shirts that are unceasing and the provocations directed to them are attempting to provoke more violence. Keeping senior red shirts locked up continues as Jatuporn Promphan and Nisit Sinthuprai have again been denied bail. Keeping your opponents locked up may be a pathetic strategy, but it does show where the courts stand.

Third, there is a broad and coordinated attack on Yingluck Shinawatra and Puea Thai. PPT has mentioned the Election Commission investigating “heckling.” The EC has now even encouraged Suthep Thaugsuban to lodge an official complaint. This approach is now going further, with the People’s Alliance for Democracy petitioning the EC to dissolve the Puea Thai Party. The reason given is that the party is said to be “under the directives of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who is under a five-year political ban.”

We don’t expect that this will go far as the EC would probably also need to dissolve Bhum Jai Thai and several others. PAD might like that, but we suspect it isn’t desirable to throw out potential political allies. Even so, we think the dissolution route is likely.

A further attack is the revived Securities and Exchange Commission investigation that we mentioned in an earlier post. It is now clear that the pressure on the SEC was not just from PAD’s Tul Sitthisomwong and the rabid anti-Thaksin lawyer Kaewsan Atibhodhi. The Bangkok Post reports that the pressure has come from caretaker Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij. He is said to have “demanded the Securities and Exchange Commission clarify within one week the legal position of Pheu Thai No.1 list candidate Yingluck Shinawatra.” Korn is apparently urging the SEC to reconsider the legality of Ms Yingluck’s shares report in the asset concealment case against Thaksin.” He stated: “The SEC has not clarified all questions…. My legal team inspecting the case has found evidence of possibly illegal acts.”

There are two items in this report that demand attention: (1) should a caretaker minister be making political orders? and (2) Korn is back in bed with his PAD buddies. Expect much more of this linking of the Democrat Party and its allies from 2005, even if some reckon PAD has gone off the party.

This is clearly the beginning of a campaign to render a Puea Thai government – if there is one – weak, prior to getting rid of it. If Thailand had ground hogs, it would feel like the movie and Bill Murray would play Prem Tinsulanonda.


We are still not surprised

21 05 2011

Following up on PPT’s earlier post, the Bangkok Post has a story that says: “Yingluck Shinawatra, Pheu Thai’s top party-list candidate, has the right to stand in the July 3 general election as long as she has not been convicted of a criminal offence or sentenced to imprisonment, Election Commission chairman Apichart Sukhagganond says.”

But the devil is in the detail of the report.

The EC’s Apichart “said the EC was obliged to accept her application if there was no such court ruling on the day she applied. Pheu Thai’s candidates on the party list system were registered with the EC on Thursday.” He then added that “any complaint against Ms Yingluck’s candidacy must be filed with the EC within 10 days of registration. After that, the EC would endorse her candidacy and any complaint against it has to be filed with the Supreme Court.”

Apichart stated that Yingluck’s involvement in the Thaksin Shinawatra assets seizure case “does not amount to a criminal case.”

As we noted yesterday, veteran anti-Thaksin campaigner Kaewsan Atibhodhi, a former member of the junta’s Assets Scrutiny Committee, said Yingluck could face three charges of perjury. He “also called on the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to take legal action against Ms Yingluck.”

The Post reports that “NACC member and spokesman Klanarong Chanthik yesterday said the authority to handle the perjury case against Ms Yingluck rests with the Office of the Attorney-General…”.

In addition, even if Yingluck was found guilty of perjury, the Post reports a source saying this “would be only a civil offence, which would not affect her candidacy.”

PPT doesn’t think the yellow-hued will let this rest yet. The Post cites “Wirat Kalayasiri, a Democrat [Party] candidate in Songkhla, said the party would not ask the EC or the relevant authorities to look into Ms Yingluck’s alleged involvement in the Thaksin assets seizure case.” Very nice of them, perhaps, but he added: “others might come forward and lodge complaints.” And Democrat Party fellow traveller and rabid campaigner against all that is red-shaded, “Bangkok senator Rosana Tositrakul said that even if Ms Yingluck did not violate the law directly, it cannot be said that she is faultless in this case.”

PPT is looking for a fat lady who can sing, but we can’t see or hear her yet.

Why we are not surprised I

20 05 2011

PPT was not at all surprised to read in the Bangkok Post that “legal questions haunt Yingluck [Shinawatra].” It is almost as if the Post has hit the campaign trail, along with the usual cast of characters and what we like to call the mainstream media.

In this case, the story on the front page is not the red shirt rally or the other events that marked the one-year anniversary of the bloodletting of 19 May 2010, but the story of the continued celebration of the use the judiciary to hack away at Thaksin Shinawatra and his past (and future?) election victories. The remarkable bias in the presentation is further seen in the fact that the headline photo in the online version is not of Yingluck but of Abhisit Vejjajiva.

On the political use of the judiciary, the problem for the judicial spoilers is that they demonstrate, again and again, that double standards apply and that votes simply don’t need to be counted.

In the story, the Post cites a Sondhi Limthongkul-associated news service on a “new controversy” on Thaksin’s assets case that “could lead to her being disqualified from the election.” It is claimed that “Yingluck may be prohibited from applying to be a candidate if it is found she has violated Section 102 of the constitution which prohibits a person whose assets have been ordered seized by the courts, a person who is unusually rich or a person whose assets have increased in a dubious way from applying for election candidacy.”

And who does the Post go to for a comment? None other that prominent anti-Thaksin lawyer Kaewsan Atibhodhi, a former member of the military junta-established Assets Scrutiny Committee. While he says this case is not a problem for Yingluck, he then makes a claim that Yingluck “may face three charges of perjury pertaining to when she testified before the court about the assets seizure case, when she testified before the ASC and when she made a statement about share transfers when testifying before the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).”

Kaewsan seems to be urging a court to hear them. As far as PPT can tell, no such cases currently exist.

Of course, Puea Thai Party representatives wave off the assets case, saying that “the court ordered the seizure of Thaksin’s assets, not Ms Yingluck’s assets so the court’s verdict would not affect her election candidacy.”

So the election campaign has kicked off with attacks on the opposition by the military, the imprisoning of a Puea Thai candidate, a murderous attack on a Puea Thai candidate, Abhisit claiming that a vote for Puea Thai is unacceptable to the elite and now the judicial card is thrown of the table. How high are the odds to be stacked against the opposition?

Just to be clear: PPT is not arguing against the application of the law. What we are saying is that the application of the law in Thailand appears like politics by judicial means. It looks lop-sided, biased and unfair. Perception will eventually matter a heck of a lot, and we suspect that it is this kind of bias that leads to frustration, anger and rebellion.

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