A junta win

28 12 2020

One of the main aims of the long period of junta rule was to produce rules and manage politics in a manner that wound back the clock to a pre-1997 era of electoral politics.

Their efforts meant that the post-junta regime could finagle a national election “victory” and make use of the junta-appointed Senate to ensure that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha could continue as prime minister. At the same time, the regime had delayed and delayed local elections so that it could ensure that it had measures in place that prevented national election-like “surprises.” Of course, it also used the Army and ISOC to control civilian administration and arranged for the Future Forward Party to be dissolved.

When the post-junta regime got around to local elections, the result provided evidence that the electoral wind back had been successful.

While initial commentary focused on the “failure” of Move Forward. In fact, while the party didn’t win any Provincial Administrative Organization chair positions, its candidates took more then 50 PAO seats and received 2.67 million votes.  This was on a voter turnout of just over 62% – low compared to the national election.

As time has gone on, commentators have become more incisive in assessing the results. Thai Enquirer wrote of a return to old-style politics, with political dynasties controlling local politics. A Bangkok Post editorial also focused on these factors, commenting: “About 40% of the winners of the PAO elections, Thailand’s first local elections in some seven years, are old faces, with the ruling Palang Pracharath Party making a big sweep in more than 20 provinces, followed by Bhumjaithai, almost 10, and Pheu Thai, nine.”

Recently, Peerasit Kamnuansilpa is Dean, College of Local Administration, Khon Kaen University writing at the Bangkok Post, has explained the big picture. He asks: “Are these elections really meaningful?” He concludes: “The net result is business as usual for PAOs, and Thailand will still be the prisoner of a highly centralised local administration.”

Helpfully, Peerasit lists the reasons for the failure of local democracy, all of them focused on junta/post-junta efforts to turn the clock back. He observes that the junta/post-junta has co-opted “local governments to become agents of the central government…”. He explains:

Following the 2014 coup, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), under then-army chief Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha upended a foundation of Thai democracy by issuing an order to suspend local elections. The politically powerful junta then began to co-opt all locally elected politicians and local government officials to become centrally appointed representatives of the central government.

This process began with NCPO’s Order Number 1/2557, in which one prescribed role of the locally elected leaders was to become partners of the military junta in restoring peace and order to the country. This made them complicit in undermining local governments in exchange for being able to legitimately keep their positions for an unspecified period of time without having to undergo the process of competing with other local candidates to secure the consent of the local citizens to allow them to serve. In other words, if they played ball with the junta, they would not need to face elections.

This “co-optation was then delegated to the Interior Ministry. This change obligated the leaders and the executives of all local governments to be accountable to the central government, thus becoming de facto representatives of the central government. Consequently, local leaders then had an allegiance to the powers in the central government.”

His view is that a promising decentralization has been destroyed: “In effect, the central government is — and has been — committed to failure from the beginning, by creating weak local government organisations.”

The people are not fooled and he reports data that “revealed that, when compared to other types of local governments, the PAOs were perceived as less beneficial than all other types of local governments within the surveyed provinces.” PAO level government is a processing terminal for the regime:

… PAO’s primary function has remained: serving as a conduit of budget allocation to be “authorised” by the provincial governor. This budgetary control by the governor is actually a smokescreen for influence by the central government of 76 provincial budgets, accounting for a very large amount of funding.

While yet another decline in Thailand’s democracy can be lamented, the fact remains that this is exactly what the junta wanted when it seized power in 2014.

 





The virus ate my elections

18 06 2020

School children who fail to submit a homework assignment sometimes come up with poorly fabricated excuses. This has resulted in the reference to one excuse, “the dog ate my homework.” As Wikipedia explains, the “claim of a dog eating one’s homework is inherently suspect since it is both impossible for a teacher to disprove and conveniently absolves the student who gives that excuse of any blame.” In colloquial use, it means that no one believes the childish excuse.

As the Bangkok Post reports, Deputy Prime Minister, the execrable Wissanu Krea-ngam has come up with a similar childish and dopey excuse for another delay in local elections.

He said the further delay was because the “budget earmarked to finance them [was] now shifted to fight the Covid-19 pandemic…”.

Wissanu and Gen Prayuth

Many people can’t even remember when the last local elections were held, but the regime certainly doesn’t want them anytime soon.

His excuse was for local administrative organizations, saying they “have no budget to pay for poll expenses now and it remains unclear if there is leftover money anywhere in the central fund which could be transferred to the organisations.”

A couple of days later, the normally supine Election Commission of Thailand suddenly developed some spine and declared it was ready for local elections and had budget. EC secretary-general Pol Col Jarungvith Phumma the agency was just waiting for the regime to allow elections to take place.

The junta worried that local elections may turn into a referendum on the junta/post-junta regime.

We can only agree with Puea Thai Party spokesman Anusorn Eiamsaard who lambasted the puppet Wissanu, saying that the regime has “tried to suspend political activity in the country for the past six years to make local governments weaker and boost the power of the Defence Ministry…”. (Maybe they have German hotel bills as well.)

Anusorn added: “This attempt to freeze the country will destroy its people…”. Wissanu’s lame and slimy excuse is just another example of the regime’s desperation to hold onto power, to repress and to silence the people.





Updated: A rigged election awaits

6 09 2018

It looks increasingly like that the military junta has decided on its rigged election in the first half of 2019. Things may change, but one indicator is the ditching of local elections.

These had previously been mentioned as needing to be held before the junta’s national election. Back in June, the junta was reportedly preparing to hold local elections as a way to “test the waters” ahead of its “election,” then being touted for February 2019. Now it is reported that honorary unofficial junta spokesman Meechai Ruchupan, touted as head of the Constitutional Drafting Committee, says the Election Commission simply lacks “sufficient time to make preparations” for local elections.

Now we thought that the constitution was well beyond drafting stage, so wonder what Meechai is doing but guess it is watching the drafting of bills resulting from the charter. Even so, we didn’t know he was also directing the EC. But as an Interfering Old Man, he always feels entitled to tells lesser persons what to do.

Meechai revealed that the six draft bills governing local elections haven’t been “scrutinised by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA)…”. He added that “it remains unknown at this stage if the election of district councillors will continue…”. In other words, there may be a period where local government has no councilors at all. We assume this means Article 44 will have to be used by The Dictator to enable local government to continue in the interim period.

That his junta twin Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam agrees with Meechai confirms that local elections are off for this year.

Another sign of a forthcoming “election” is the promulgation of even more policies to keep voters onside with the junta.

Update: We note that at The Nation, Wissanu is quoted as saying: “If the general election is held in February 2019, local elections will take place around May 2019…”. At the same time, he is also saying that the junta has agreed that political parties (who are not in the junta’s pocket and already at work) will be able to “campaign” for 60 days and he gives a December lifting of the ban. Again, this points to late February, perhaps, maybe.





Coronation and Prayuth

23 06 2018

On his UK junket, The Dictator was wheeled out before an adoring bunch of Thais – those the London Embassy regularly mobilizes for royal visits, royalists all. Usually meant to confirm the highness of the visitor, on this occasion, being exalted and pandered to caused Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to become loquacious.

The Dictator talked of royals and elections.

He lied that Queen Sirikit “is in good health but that it is not convenient for her to attend public events now due to her advanced age.” No one believes this but Prayuth can hardly say she’s on her death bed or that she is incapacitated or suffering dementia. Royals just stay “healthy” almost until they are pushing up daisies.

He was not likely to be lying when he spoke of the king – to do so would be dangerous, perhaps deadly. It is not the first time that The Dictator has spoken of and for the king previously.

Gen Prayuth stated that the king “has commanded his coronation ceremony be held economically…”. Gen Prayuth added that the king “commanded that it be held in a frugal not wasteful manner but asked that it align with traditional custom…”. Whatever that means…. Coronations have not always been extravagant.

Oddly Prayuth then said that the “coronation is expected to be held before the general election in February.” A couple of days ago, he said something different.

But this time he implied that it is the king who may be delaying the “election” due to the coronation. Prayuth said: “When the right time comes, … [the king] will consider signing [off on the date of his coronation]. He will take into consideration the general situation in the country…”. He added: “If it is peaceful and orderly, he [the king] would be pleased [to see the coronation held]…”.

Just to add to the picture of collusion and collaboration between king and palace, The Dictator stated that the king “has shown faith in the government’s ability to accomplish the task.” Like Prayuth, the king was said to “want … Thailand to be a disciplined country where people are instilled with a sense of voluntary sacrifice…”.

Finally, Prayuth, again referring to the king, said “the poll would fall in May at the latest but that February would be the most suitable month.” Local elections would follow national polls, not take place before them. (In fact, this was never really an options, just a junta talking point.)

We are betting on May, at the earliest, so long as The Dictator – and, apparently, the king – reckon Prayuth can deliver the appropriate and rigged result.





Further updated: Junta disorganized or just organizing

14 06 2018

We are beginning to wonder if the military junta is factionalizing as it gets both excited and frosty about its “election.” Organizing, vacuuming and spending are growing hot while some in the junta are decidedly cold about the whole idea. Or so it seems. Is it that orders also flow to the junta and that these are not especially clear?

After saying it wouldn’t, the junta is now said to be “set to hold its first meeting with politicians at the end of this month…”.

In the first linked report, from just a few days ago, one of the lonely civilians associated with the junta, Wissanu Krea-ngam, cast doubt on the “pressing need for talks,” which he said has “subsided.” He then said the junta “remains adamant they will happen.” But he couldn’t say when.

Now Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan says the talks are back on, and on schedule.

Prawit says The Dictator has assigned him to “chair the first meeting with political parties and the Election Commission to discuss which activities the politicians would be allowed to undertake prior to the election scheduled for February next year.”

Wissanu had also cast doubt on February as an election date.

But Prawit was clear that it was the junta that would tell the parties what they could do and that that wouldn’t be much. Certainly, campaigning will continue to be banned (except for The Dictator himself) and political meetings remain off the agenda.

“Election” delays remain highly likely. We are guessing April at the earliest although the junta will delay if it believes its parties can’t “win” its own rigged elections.

Update 1: The Nation reports that Wissanu met with puppet “legislators, charter drafters and the Election Commission … to seek solutions to problems arising from NCPO Order 53/2560, which amends the Political Party Act,” but that the meeting saw no solution to the junta’s decision to prevent political parties from getting organized. It passed the ball back to The Dictator, suggesting he use Article 44 to “temporarily allow political parties to seek new members…”.

Update 2: The reports on lifting bans on political party activities and on local elections are confusing and contradictory. Take reports in The Nation and the Bangkok Post as examples. The headlines on each story are directly contradictory. Reporting the same doorstop press conference with the Deputy Dictator, one says bans are to be lifted and the other says bans are to stay. Reading these accounts it seems that the ban stays until all “election” related laws are passed into law. What isn’t clear is how long that will take. On local elections, the EC says if they are held, this should be three months before the national “election.” Those elections also await laws being passed. It is anyone’s guess what dates are being considered by the junta.





Local elections “this year”?

11 06 2018

After essentially telling the nation that the military junta’s “election” was off the much-touted “road map,”  the Bangkok Post reports that an unnamed source says the junta was “preparing to hold local elections this year as it wants to ‘test the waters’ ahead of the national election expected next February…”.

We have doubts about this “source” and the claims. For one thing, almost no-one expects an election in February. For another, talks about local elections are not new, but have gone missing for several months. It was back in November that Wissanu Krea-ngam said local elections would be held within 45 days of bills to amend six laws relating to regional governing bodies being enacted.

We have heard little about those bills and laws. This report states that “the Council of State, which is the government’s legal advisory body, has finished scrutinising six legislative bills relating to local elections.” They would then go to the junta’s cabinet and then to the National Legislative Assembly before going through the formal approval process.

If that is true, it would mean that local elections could probably be held – if the junta so decrees – by very late this year or early next year. And, that could easily delay national elections even further.

The most recent mumbling about local elections “comes as the government [junta] is likely to reinstate several more local leaders put on suspension pending corruption probes in what is seen by critics as a ploy to achieve political aims at the general election.”

Another unnamed source, this one at the Election Commission, said the junta has ordered the Local Administration Department, which is under the authority of Gen Anupong Paojinda, “to prepare local elections as the government [junta] wanted to assess local support for the government [junta] and parties.”

As it was several months ago, local polls are seen as a way to “ease public calls for a speedy return to democracy.” According to this source, “the results of local elections will be factored in when the government [junta] makes a decision to hold the general election…”.

Given that most political parties are unable to do much at all at present, local elections would be easy for the regime to control and manipulate and would be a chance for it to promote pro-junta parties ahead of the national election it plans for them to “win.” It would also be an opportunity for the junta to ensure it has its people in administrative place for controlling national elections at the local level.

In this context, should local elections be held, the real fight will be to prevent the junta from expanding its bootprint even further at the local level.





By and for the junta: arranging elections and law

12 01 2018

As well as the military dictatorship’s election stitch-up gathers pace, the junta is also stitching up the legal system.

On elections, the Bangkok Post reports that the puppet National Legislative Assembly is sitting, waiting and breathing heavily awaiting the junta’s decision on how it will fix local elections. It is the junta that comes up with the laws. The NLA fiddles with them and then passes them almost unanimously.

Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda revealed that the “amendments will be made to raise the standard of candidates vying for seats…” in local elections. There’s a pattern here: this is the “good” people thesis.

On “fixing” the law, the Bangkok Post also reports that the same puppets will likely pass “about 50 Section 44 orders into law to ensure they remain in effect after the dissolution of the [junta]…”.

In other words, the junta’s use of the unaccountable and dictatorial Article 44 is to be chiseled into the law forever (they hope). Recall that Article 44 gives The Dictator the power to override any laws and regulations he wants.





Push and shove on “elections”and a disingenuous junta

3 01 2018

Some commentators argue that the junta needs an election in order to embed all the conservative changes it has made. That would be so if its preferred people can actually “win.” Certainly the bigger political parties are dead keen for an “election,” even if conducted under the junta’s rules. More direct military rule in an extremely narrow political space does them no good at all.

The mainstream media is mostly pushing for an election. Even some activists reckon any election is better than a extension of the junta’s political nastiness.

All of these “pro-election” groups know that “the regime is paving the way for a military-backed political party which will draw members of existing parties to back it and support Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and the regime to stay in power after an election expected in late 2018.”

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has questioned the (ever changing) election roadmap, doubting that an “election” can be held by November.

The Puea Thai Party’s Chaturon Chaisang reckons the “political landscape this year will be dominated by efforts to prepare for the NCPO [junta] to return to power after the poll” via a “nominee” party. He’s dubious the “election” will be held in November.

Former People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Suriyasai Katasila reckons its back to political polarization. He reckons an election will not take place until 2019.

As a kind of response, the Bangkok Post reports that “[e]lections for local administrative organisations (LAOs) are likely to be organised from May to July…”. The junta has used the local election card previously. This time there might be more to it. No parties involved and all the electoral bodies in the provinces firmly in the junta’s hands. The Post says General Anupong Paojinda “has been confirmed the LAOs elections would take place before the national poll…”. Maybe.

What is certain is that the military is determined to harass “politicians” (who aren’t members of the junta).

In a contrived event, all four regional army commanders “warned politicians against canvassing for support during the festive period while revealing soldiers have been deployed to shadow certain targets.”

One of the commanders, Lt Gen Wijak Siribansop, added that he’s most “concerned about academics, whom he said cannot be barred from voicing their views.” The military have been “talking” with academics in the north. The demand: “Do not try to touch on politics…”.

Lt. Gen. Kukiat Srinaka “revealed officials have been sent to secretly shadow targets in the 1st Army Region’s jurisdiction.” Lt Gen Tharakorn Thamwinthorn, “in charge of the Northeast, said his officers work with other agencies to monitor prime targets…”. He added that he disdained “politicians” and was keen to “apprehend them…”.

After all of this threatening and discussion of illegal acts by the deeply politicized military, Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich “insisted the army will act as a neutral player in the political sphere.” Jeez, what would it be like if they did insist they were taking sides? Probably not that different.

It’s a stitch-up.





Going to the goats

29 11 2017

Prime Minister and junta boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha went south in what some say was a campaign trip and a publicity exercise.

It did not go well.

The Dictator’s mobile cabinet meeting took him to Pattani and Songkhla where many promises were made and billions of baht in infrastructure and other projects highlighted.

Listening but not hearing

With his jet black Chinese Politburo hair and Prem Tinsulanonda-style, “royally-bestowed,” but invented “traditional” suea phraratchathan looked suitably 1980s as he campaigned for his “election,” whenever he decides to bestow one on the Thai people.

The Dictator promised to do something about falling rubber prices. Interestingly, because of their political profile in supporting anti-democrats and The Dictator’s military coup, the rubber growers seem to have Prayuth on a string. Thailand’s rubber price follows market prices which were high earlier in the year. The Dictator wants to shore up his political support among growers.

After those efforts, things went south.

General Prayuth seemed to throw doubt on local elections, telling “local administrative organisations not to merely focus on elections…”.

The police and military lit into 500 protesters opposing a coal-fired power plant project in Songkhla’s Thepha district. With images of the authorities pushing people to the ground, “16 people, including four leaders, of the  were arrested Monday after their rally resulted in three injuries during a clash with police.”

Can that one vote?

Many of the protesters also fall into the groups that (previously) supported the junta and the coup. They are now finding out what it means to be considered oppositional. Predictably, The Dictator defended the authorities and their violence.

The Dictator was also short-tempered with potential voters and was accused of being deaf to locals. Worse, The Dictator and his “government” were “perceived as ‘unfriendly’ to residents.”

In another incident, The Dictator launched a pail of “vitriol at a fisherman during his visit in Pattana’s Nong Chik district on Monday when Paranyu Charoen, a 34-year-old fisherman, asked the prime minister to change fishing regulations to increase the number of days that fisherman can put to sea.”

Prayuth’s PR people soon apologized “for his foul temper.”

The Democrat Party sought to make political mileage, saying Prayuth did not understand “the problems of fishermen…”.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist and devout yellow shirt Chaiyan Chaiyaporn warned the junta “to abstain from being a political player.”

It is a bit late for that. What he means is that the junta should not get involved in political campaigning so that it may continue to dominate politics following any “election.”





Gotcha moments on “elections”

21 11 2017

Talk of “elections” continues. One report has a deputy premier – the hopelessly military entangled “legal expert” Wissanu Krea-ngam saying local elections would be “held within 45 days of bills to amend six laws relating to regional governing bodies being enacted…”. That’s meaningless, and anyway, it will be The Dictator who decides. And if it is done, is 45 days sufficient for an election? We guess it is under the military dictatorship, which prefers unfree and unfair polls where it knows the outcome in advance.

Another report is of the virtual impossibility of “qualifying” parties for a national “election.” Chart Thai Pattana Party director Nikorn Chamnong points out that “the political party bill raises concerns … as its Article 141 requires parties to report any change of membership to a not-yet-appointed registrar within 90 days of its enactment.”

In fact, that deadline “will be in early January, but no party has been able to file its report because they are restrained by the junta order that bans political gatherings of five or more people.”

Is this the plan? No parties can run candidates because the parties will be in breach of “rules”? Or is it that the “elections” are going to be delayed further?

Hun Sen seems to have decided that elections are rubbish, even for justifying his authoritarianism, and the Chinese have agreed and see authoritarianism in Cambodia as their win. It is an unusual direct intervention by China into domestic affairs but a step further in its “diplomacy” in the region.

Thailand’s dictatorship, too, could decide to be allied to China and be authoritarian for years to come. Elections wouldn’t need to bother the military regime at all.