Updated: King finally endorses royal decree on election

23 01 2019

As most readers will know, after a three week delay, the king has finally signed the royal decree calling an election.

The immediate questions are: (1) Why did he delay? Is he working with the junta or just demonstrating his disdain for the electoral process? Or was he demonstrating his power? and (2) What date will be chosen? We expect the Election Commission to go with the military junta’s preference and select 24 March.

The questions that follow these are: (1) When will The Dictator announce his intentions? (2) How much more election rigging will there be? (3) Will there be outright cheating such as ballot box stuffing? and (4) Will the EC investigate existing allegations of electoral fraud against Palang Pracharath?

Update: One question answered: its 24 March, the junta’s preferred date, but probably the only date really available. Even so, things will be very tight indeed.





Junta thugs threaten pro-election activists

22 01 2019

While Prachatai reported that pro-election activists avoided a clash with the newly-reformed anti-democrats and X-men who oppose pressuring the king to endorse the election decree, one pro-election activist was attacked.

Akechai Hongkangwarn was attacked and bashed by three men and another issuing orders to the attackers. He was “assaulted … after leaving a rally demanding timely elections…”.

An ardent junta critic and former lese majeste prisoner, Akechai said “three men wearing motorcycle helmets attacked him at about 7pm after he left the campus to eat dinner. He sustained wounds to his head, face and arm.”

He added that “the assailants only fled after a group of Asian tourists rushed to his aid.”

Junta thugs have been tailing and attacking Akechai for some time. They are likely to acting on the orders of military supporters of Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.





Promising the royal decree

22 01 2019

The Bangkok Post reports:

A highly placed source in the EC said Monday the commission was under immense pressure to set an election date. The most viable options for holding the ballot are now either March 10 or March 24.

Without the royal decree calling for the election, the Election Commission (EC) cannot set the date for the poll, said the source.

And, again, The Dictator has declared that the “royal decree calling the election will soon be published in the Royal Gazette.” Previously, 23 January was the new predicted date for the delayed decree for the long-delayed election.

Army commander, Gen Apirat Kongsompong, said to be close to the king, “believes the royal decree announcing the polls will be published soon as required by the constitution…” The comment on constitution seems to refer to the general 150-day deadline set for holding the election after the final organic law.

Let’s see what happens tomorrow, but many are pessimistic.

Political scientist Prajak Kongkiarti “said it will not bode well if the Royal Decree is not issued this week…”. If the decree is not issued, then Prajak predicts the junta’s election “will likely be held after May 9…”. That’s unconstitutional but Prajak predicts the use of Article 44: “However, that would mean we enter a political black hole where the Constitution is meaningless and no rules are the norm other than Article 44.”





A decade of PPT

21 01 2019

A decade has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our huge disappointment that we are still active after all these years.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners, its military dictatorship and political repression would have been a thing of the past. But political dinosaurs flourish in Thailand’s fertile environment filled with fascists, royalists and neo-feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is regressing faster than most pundits could have predicted.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor, publicizing a spike in lese majeste cases to an international audience. Instead, a decade later, we are still at it and dealing with the outcomes of royalist politics gone mad. We now face the repressive reality of the continued dominance of a military dictatorship, brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that masks and protects an anti-democratic ruling class. Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta has continued the politicization of the judiciary and is now rigging an “election” that may, one day, be held, if the king finally decides that he will allow an election. That “election,” embedded in a military-royalist constitution, will potentially be a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream.

When we sputtered into life it was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes and hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. Those perceived as opponents of the military and the monarchy were whisked away into detention, faced threats and surveillance and some have died or been “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances, and continue to do so in recent months.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy and the new monarch. The junta has supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It has colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying several symbols of the 1932 revolution, emphasizing the rise of neo-feudal royalism that leaves democracy neutered.

On this anniversary, as in past years,  we want an end to political repression and gain the release of every political prisoner. Under the current regime, hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military. The military regime is not only illegal but is the most repressive since the royally-appointed regime under Thanin Kraivixien in the mid-1970s.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, both conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a new political dark age where the lese majeste law – Article 112 – has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

From 2006 to 2017, lese majeste cases grew exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than that,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the lese majeste law has been extended. Thankfully, in 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. We don’t know why. It could be that the military’s widespread crackdown has successfully quieted anti-monarchism or it might be that the king wants no more cases to get public airings and “damage” his “reputation.”

The last information available suggest that there are at least 18 suspects accused of violating Article112 whose cases have reached final verdicts and who remain in prison.

As for PPT, despite heavy censorship and blocking in Thailand, we have now had more than 3 million page views at our two sites. The blocking in Thailand has been more extensive in 2018 than in past years. This is our 7,999th post.

PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to political repression and lese majeste than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of these issues is far more critical than it was.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through all the attempts by the Thai censors to block us. We trust that we remain useful and relevant and we appreciate the emails we receive from readers.

As in the past we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be opposed.





The king’s forces and their X-men

20 01 2019

The noise level on the king’s failure to sign the royal decree that is required for an election is beginning to increase. Much of the increased volume seems to have to involve the military.

An AP report on last week’s Armed Forces Day parade has Army Commander Gen Apirat Kongsompong making what is said to be “routine exhortations of loyalty to the king and the country.” It might be “routine” but the times are anything but routine and Gen Apirat is the king’s man.

His “routine” speech could have been made in 1885: “We will sacrifice our physical and mental strength to protect the country and revere the king, and look after the people…”. Royalist, paternal and completely ignoring government.

The report also recalls that it has been Gen Apirat threatening those demanding an election date.

This is important given that the military seems to have (re-)mobilized groups to oppose the pro-election activists.

On this, the Bangkok Post reports that pro-election activists were “denounced” by “students” at Ramkhamhaeng University. Some of the pro-election activists were fearful and backed away, while others moved the rally to Thammasat University from the area of the Democracy Monument.

A group calling itself “Unity Before Elections was attempting to organise a rival demonstration in a bid to silence…” the pro-election activists.

Groups with military links, the “Council of Ramkhamhaeng University Students and the Network of Ramkhamhaeng Students Protecting the Institution [monarchy] and the People” demanded that the pro-election activists cease “fomenting conflict…”.

Invoking the monarchy, Kittipong Thaenkhun, described as being president of the Council, said pro-election activism was wrong “as the country prepares for the coronation of Rama X…”. He added that: “Imposing a deadline for the royal decree to come out…” was “inappropriate.”

Another Bangkok Post report says the group’s statement declared that “no one should be trying to stir unrest as the country was about to witness a very important royal ceremony — the coronation…”. It added that the “royal decree was the prerogative of … the King and it was highly inappropriate for anyone to demand to know when the decree would be issued.”

Khaosod reports that “[i]t is unclear who’s behind the group.”

However, pro-election protest leader Sirawith Seritiwat said he “believes the counter-protesters are agent provocateurs organized by the military to incite violence.” He linked them to the Internal Security Operation Command.

The Unity before Election group is led by Pansuwan Na Kaew, “a former leader of a faction supporting the People’s Democratic Reform Committee…”.

These self-proclaimed X-men are doing the military’s work.





Monarch and missing items

19 01 2019

There are a couple of pieces related to the monarchy that are worth reading this weekend.

The first piece is on missing monuments.

As well as the “missing” royal decree needed for the 2019 election, there’s the “missing” monuments to the 1932 revolution. One is the 1932 revolution plaque. Another is the Laksi monument to the defeat of the 1933 royalist revolt.

In a post at his blog, exiled activist Ji Ungpakorn writes about the latter:

The latest casualty is the Lak-Si Democracy Monument, north of Bangkok, which commemorates the military victory against the Boworadet royalist rebellion one year after the revolution. This monument was removed at night, under the watchful eyes of soldiers, in late December.

He argues and explains that the “history of the crushing of the royalist rebellion shows why the royalists wish to destroy the monument.” His brief history of the popular movement and military actions to defeat the royalists in 1933 is important. He concludes:

Conservatives have constantly tried to cover up and dismiss the history of the 1932 revolution. That is why most Thais probably have never heard of the 1932 plaque or the Lak-Si monument. That is also why the conservatives built the moment of the deposed king Rama 7 in front of the present parliament after the 6th October bloodbath in 1976. It is like building a monument to King George in front of the US Congress!

Ji has earlier written on the plaque’s destruction.

The second piece is by Edoardo Siani in the New York Times. It is about how the “junta has tightened its control while trying to bask in the popularity, mystique and beliefs that surround the monarchy.”

While it is a bit difficult to agree that Vajiralongkorn came to the throne “he inherited a nation in chaos.” By that time, the chaos of political activism of previous years had been replaced by a dull repression and sullen political quiet.

Apart from that, Siani has some useful insights on monarch and military. Noting that the military is likely to remain politically predominant following any “election,” Siani observes:

Still, some measure of change may be in the offing. The army has a new chief, and the Royal Command Guard, which answers directly to the king, is expected to gain in authority. Since acceding to the throne in December 2016, King Rama X has also asserted his own authority, claiming more prerogatives for himself.

Change often implies progress but in this prediction, Siani is predicting regression, even if royalists see something else:

Rama X is said to have picked the dates for his coronation. The ceremony will take place at the same time, in early May, as his father’s coronation in 1950, but will last only three days, not five, as back then. A sign of modesty, perhaps, but above all a statement that the late king’s legacy will be carried on. By the time King Rama X is coronated, Thailand will have exited the dark dusk of the ninth reign. Or so the astrologers say.

PPT’s resident astrologer reckons the signs are of a long political dusk leading to a long, dark night for Thailand’s democrats.





Lese majeste in 2018

16 01 2019

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have a useful analysis of the use of lese majeste in 2018.

They begin with the background:

Since late 2016, in the aftermath of the passing of King Rama IX and the accession of King Rama X, prosecutions of lèse majesté cases or the violation of the Penal Codes Section 112 spiked sharply. The witch huntor vigilante actions taken against people who hold different views led to prosecution of dozens of lèse majesté cases.

In fact, since the 2006 military coup, there have been several “spikes.” After that coup, during the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and then since the 2014 coup.

For 2018, there’s not just been a precipitous decline in cases, there’s been none:

The year 2018 saw a number of changes to the enforcement of Section 112. No new cases invoking Section 112 have been prosecuted in 2018 (as far as we know). Meanwhile, several ongoing lèse majesté cases have been dismissed, particularly cases under the review of civilian courts, though this does not necessarily indicate more freedom to exercise the right to free expression in Thailand. Even though the authorities are now reluctant to press lèse majesté charges, charges invoking other laws including the Computer Crime Act or “sedition” per Section 116 continue to be an important tool to restrict freedom of expression and purge dissenters.

TLHR see the cause of this decline as being in the palace:

These changes can be directly attributed to the royal succession. It has not stemmed from the authorities or personnel in the justice process realizing the many protracted problems caused by the enforcement of Section 112. It has also not stemmed from more respect for human rights in Thailand.

Remember all those royalists who used to make excuses for that nice old man, good King Bhumibol, lamenting that he really disliked 112, but those nasty politicians and military types just wouldn’t listen? King Vajiralongkorn has shown how much buffalo manure that propaganda line was.

Sulak Sivaraksa wrote that Vajiralongkorn “instructed the Chief Justice and the Attorney General to bring to an end to prosecutions invoking Section 112 and to not allow it to be used as a political tool.” It seems that on this point, Vajiralongkorn has more sense than his father. That’snot to say that there weren’t dozens of lese majeste cases directly related to Vajiralongkorn such as the spate around his separation from his consort in late 2014 and early 2015.

One result of Vajiralongkorn’s intervention is outlined:

The Attorney General’s directive dated 21 February 2018, addressed to high-ranking officials of all levels in the Attorney General’s Office, instructs all units of the public prosecutor’s department to receive and review immediately investigation reports filed by inquiry officials regarding Section 112 cases. The public prosecutors are then instructed also to furnish the Office of the Attorney General a copy of the police investigation report in each case and not to make any decisions about these cases. They are informed that it is the Attorney General who will decide as to whether the cases will be filed in Court or not. Now the rank-and-file public prosecutors no longer have the power to order prosecution of 112 cases.

The other impact that this change from the top has brought has been that several cases have been dropped, even when those accused have entered a guilty plea. Sometimes the defendants have been convicted of other offenses or were already serving long jail terms.

TLHR conclude:

Amidst changes in the status, role and content of the laws concerning the monarchy in 2018, any expression of thought in public, including any criticisms based on factual information, could be construed as a sensitive comment and could be deemed “crossing the line” in Thailand.

Change seems to have taken place in ‘form’, though the ‘substance’ of the law remains the same.