Silence on monarchy

4 02 2021

We have been trying to get to this post for a week or so. In the meantime, as we have collected news stories, it has grown and grown.

Among the demands of the democracy movement were constitutional reform and monarchy reform. When they come together, it is in parliament, where constitutional reform, law reform and lese majeste reform is meant to be considered.

On monarchy reform and especially reform of Article 112, the usual royalist rancor and “opposition” spinelessness has been on display. Khaosod reported a while ago that “[o]nly one opposition party is planning to raise the issue of the excessive use of the royal defamation offense when the Parliament reconvenes for a censure debate…”.

That is Move Forward, and a couple of their MPs have expressed reservations and fears. Move Forward plans to criticize the use of the draconian law to intimidate political dissidents. The party plans to “push for reforms of libel laws, including lese majeste…”.

Spineless politicians

Other opposition parties panicked, and even walked back on their censure debate which mentioned the political use of the monarchy. Puea Thai stated that while the “formal motion of the no-confidence debate accused PM Prayut Chan-o-cha of ‘using the monarchy as an excuse to deepen the division in the society,’ … the party has no plan to raise the issue of the lese majeste during the censure debate or support the law’s amendment.” A spokesperson added “We didn’t include monarchy reforms in the motion either. We only wrote it broadly, that PM Prayut damages the confidence in democratic regime with the King as Head of State.”

That sounds remarkably like backpedaling with a political spine gone to jelly. Former political prisoner Somyos Prueksakasemsuk observed: “… Pheu Thai still lacks moral courage. It will only worsen and prolong the problem of political divisions.”

Acknowledging the status quo of decades, it was observed that “discussions about the monarchy during a parliamentary session are generally discouraged,” adding: “There are restrictions … we cannot mention His Majesty the King unnecessarily…”.

Khaosod reports that there’s a parliamentary regulation that “bans … ‘referencing … the King or any other person without due cause’.”

The Seri Ruam Thai Party also ran from the lese majeste law and monarchy reform. Thai PBS reported opposition chief whip Suthin Klangsaeng as saying they are “fully aware of the sensitivity surrounding the [m]onarchy, but he insisted that the opposition will refer to the [m]onarchy during the debate while trying to be very discreet and referring to the institution only if necessary.”

The part of the motion causing all the royalist angst states that Gen Prayuth has not been “…upholding nor having faith in a democratic system with the King as the head of state; undermining and opposing democratic governance; destroying the good relationship between the monarchy and the people; using the monarchy as an excuse to divide the people and using the monarchy as a shield to deflect its failures in national administration.”

Of course, the regime’s supporting parties are opposing any discussion of the monarchy and lese majeste. These parties announced they will “protest if the opposition makes any reference to the [m]onarchy during the censure debate…”. Government chief whip Wirat Rattanaseth said “he would feel uncomfortable with any reference to the Monarchy in the opposition’s censure motion which, in essence, says that the prime minister referred to the Monarchy to deflect accusations of gross mismanagement and failures in national administration.”

In the military’s Palang Pracharath Party royalist fascist Paiboon Nititawan emphasized that the pro-military/royalist parties will invoke parliamentary rules to silence any MP discussing the monarchy. He was especially keen to silence critics of the lese majeste law. He declared: “Our party’s policy is to defend the monarchy.” On the broader issue of constitutional reform, the Bangkok Post reports that Paiboon demands that “any provision related to the royal prerogative should not be changed at all, regardless of which chapters they were in.” No change to anything related to the monarchy. We recall that the last changes made to the king’s prerogatives were made on the king’s demand and considered in parliament in secret.

Democrat Party spokesman Ramet Rattanachaweng said MPs had to toe the royalist line: “Everyone knows what their duty is, because we’re all committed to the institutions of Nation, Religions, and Monarchy.” He said his party will oppose amendment of the lese majeste law. Why? “…[O]ur party has no policy to amend it, because we are not affected or damaged by it directly…”.

The parliamentary royalists were cheered on by mad monarchist and royal favorite Warong Dechgitvigrom who declared “he would regard attacks on lese majeste law – or any move to amend it – as an attempt to overthrow the monarchy.”

Soon after this pressure – and plenty more behind the scenes – the opposition buckled. Thai PBS reported that they “agreed to remove a reference to the monarchy, which the government may find provocative, from its censure motion to avoid protests from coalition MPs.” This came after a meeting  to resolve the conflict over the motion. The meeting was chaired by House Speaker Chuan Leekpai.

Puea Thai leader Sompong Amornvivat was reported as pedaling backwards and was reported to have promised “that he will withdraw the motion and rewrite it.” He later denied that he had made this promise and the opposition pushed on with the motion.

Back at the debate about parliamentary (non)debate, Thai PBS had a story about royalist allegations that Sompong had broken his promise to delete the reference to the monarchy in the censure motion. Palang Pracharat MP Sira Jenjakha “threatened to file a lèse majesté charge with the police against opposition MPs who sign in support of a censure motion…”.

Government chief whip Wirat Rattanaseth “warned today that the opposition‘s refusal to delete the offending reference may lead to protests in parliament, to the extent that the debate may be disrupted and end prematurely.”

The last time the royalists disrupted parliament. A Bangkok Post photo showing a Democrat Party member grabbing a policeman’s throat.

Thai PBS took sides, declaring that “Thailand is bracing for unprecedented chaos [not really, see above] in Parliament later this month when the opposition shatters a deep-seated taboo by citing the monarchy in its censure motion against the prime minister.” It asserts: “Involving the monarchy in the no-confidence motion has sparked angry accusations from the government camp that this constitutes a grave insult to the revered institution.”

In response, the Bangkok Post reports that the regime “has formed a legal team to monitor the upcoming censure debate for inappropriate references to the monarchy…”. The person in charge of this is quisling former red shirt Suporn Atthawong, a vice minister to the PM’s Office whose own 112 case sems to have been forgotten. The regime’s legal team will “gather false allegations made during the debate against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and cabinet ministers and lodge complaints with police.”

The threats have come thick and fast. The regime is furious. Presumably the palace is too. What they want is to roll back politics to the golden era when the king was never discussed, by anyone, except the seditious.





112 threatens Thailand

16 01 2021

The Nation has a report on a recent statement by Piyabutr Saengkanokkul as secretary-general of the Progressive Movement.

Referring to the youth who have been demonstrating for reform and lamenting the rise of lese majeste repression, he states: “We cannot leave the ‘future of our nation’ to be charged with violating Article 112…. They are sacrificing their freedom and lives to fight for democracy.”

He argues that Article 112 of the Criminal Code is “problematic in all aspects, including the severity of punishment, and its interpretation and enforcement by authorities.”

He went on to urge “members of Parliament, as representatives of the people, to use this opportunity to cancel the criminal offence of defamation, whether it covered royalty, foreign leaders, ambassadors, shrines, or ordinary people.” He believes that “[d]efamation should be made a civil offence rather than a criminal offence…”, which would be inline with international practice, adding “that no one should be jailed for exercising their freedom of expression…”.

Piyabutr added that the “Move Forward Party he co-founded in 2019 had decided to leave the lese majeste law off its agenda, but this had left a scar on his conscience…. However, the situation had now changed and it was time to support the popular push to revoke Article 112…”.

He’s right.





Updated: More arrests

1 01 2021

Prachatai’s Facebook page reports another arrest, including another lese majeste charge, and another denial of bail:

TLHR reported that, at 17.30 yesterday (31 Dec), the police searched the house of an admin of the Khana Ratsadon Facebook page and confiscated their phone, yellow duck calendars, and commemorative medals.

The admin was then taken to the Nong Khaem Police Station and was later charged with royal defamation under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, claiming that the calendars contain messages and images which is an insult to the monarchy.

TLHR said that, during the arrest, the officers did not present an arrest warrant and inform the person of their rights.

The police has also denied bail for the admin, and required them to request bail when they are taken to court for a temporary detention request.

The Criminal Court will re-open on 2 Jan, and they are currently detained at the Nong Khaem Police Station.

Update: The Nation reported this arrest and 112 charge. It states that the charge relates to “a Ratsadon calendar on his table,” which “included pictures of Ratsadon’s icon – a rubber duck – as well as messages [alleged to be] mocking issues pertaining to the monarchy.” Initially refused bail, on Saturday, the Taling Chan Criminal Court decided to allow the detention of the suspect but then belatedly “granted him bail … [when] an MP of Move Forward Party offered a bail bond.”





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.

 





Judicial intimidation and repression

6 12 2020

We have known for some time that the loyalist Constitutional Court brooks no criticism. However, its recent political decision allowing Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s free gifts from the Royal Thai Army, despite the words against this in the constitution, means the court and the regime are going to be busy dousing the critical commentary of the kangaroo court.

A story at Thai Enquirer is worth considering. It points out that, after the court’s decision, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, a secretary to the Office of the Prime Minister, warned protesters associated with the new People’s Party and the Move Forward Party “to not create trouble and respect the high court’s decision.” In addition, the Constitutional Court “issued a statement urging people to avoid criticism that could lead to prosecution…”. It stated that “a person shall enjoy the liberty to express opinions, but criticism of rulings made with vulgar, sarcastic or threatening words will be considered a violation of the law.”

It is difficult not to be sarcastic when characterizing the decisions made by this cabal of politicized regime crawlers and fawners.

The story observes that the “impermissibility of judicial criticism … is a growing concern and has been on the rise since the May 2014 coup d’etat…”. It notes that “[t]hreats to critics have become commonplace.”

Recent high-profile cases include “two academics were summoned by the Court for making comments critical of court decisions.”

Sarinee Achavanuntakul, an academic wrote an opinion piece in Krungthep Turakit arguing that judges were “careless” in their interpretation of election law after disqualifying a Future Forward Party candidate from running in the March 2019 election. Kovit Wongsurawat, a lecturer at Kasetsart University, also received a letter from the Court over an “inappropriate” tweet.

This trend is described as “alarming,” and makes the case that charges of contempt of court are “used in the same fashion as other draconian and authoritarian laws such as lese majeste and the Computer Crime Act to curb dissent.”

The use of courts for political repression is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.

In the case of the Constitutional Court, its powers are more or less unbounded; it has the power to issue summons to anyone without due process. Guilt is determined on the spot.” The story adds that “[u]nder Section 38 of the Organic Act on Procedures of the Constitutional Court, judges have the power to limit criticism–and have the authority to remand the accused to as much as a month in prison.”

Described as “a thuggish attempt to call dissenters before the Court,” this power to repress is likened to the junta’s  “attitude adjustment sessions.”

It concludes that “[t]ogether, the Court and the regime are demanding no less than silence before, during and after a case appears before it.”

By seeking to intimidate, the article suggests that the Constitutional Court “risks the further erosion of public legitimacy, as their actions chip away at what remains of democratic mechanisms in Thailand,” adding that this “growing intolerance of judicial criticism is another painful reminder of how far Thailand has fallen and that this behavior by the Court has become normalized.”





Military and their (slave) conscripts

10 11 2020

One of the policies that attracted voters to the Future Forward Party was to get rid of military conscription in peacetime.

Rangsiman Rome of the Move Forward Party has revealed that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has dumped the “military conscription bill by refusing to endorse it.”

The bill was meant “to create professional armed forces that are smaller but more efficient. The number of recruits will be lower but they will be trained more intensively.”

Of course, as has been pointed out many times, including at PPT, what the military brass wants is no so much conscripts, but slaves. Not that long ago, Wilat Chantarapitak, a former Democrat Party MP and former advisor to a parliamentary anti-corruption committee, said the conscription system is “riddled with corruption because more than half of the conscripts end up as servants in the houses of senior officers or in military cooperative shops.”

The stories of conscripts being flogged, enslaved and exploited are common and several conscripts die in circumstances that the military almost never satisfactorily investigates or explains. Yet, as the Post notes, “[o]ver the past six years, demand for conscripts by the armed forces was on the rise, from 94,480 in 2013 to 104,734 in 2019.”

And, as soon as Rangsiman revealed The Dictator’s move, it was reported, sadly, that another two conscripts “were found dead in their bases in the Northeast.” In one case, the mother of the deceased stated that “he was pinned to the floor while his hair was cut and hit in the back. Chili and salt were put on his back…”. The other reportedly dies in a military prison.

A feudal institution maintains not just its loyalty to a feudal monarch but to feudal (mal)practices.

 





Substantive reform

30 09 2020

Building on years of struggle by other activists and exiles, the great success of the student-led movement has been in initiating a discussion on the monarchy. A couple of recent reports highlight this.

Rangsiman Rome is no longer a student, but he was one of those students who stood up to the junta after the 2014 coup. Those demonstrating now draw inspiration from the opposition Move Forward MP.

Thai PBS reports he has proposed a “new deal” between “the people and the monarchy” to make Thailand becomes a “real democratic constitutional monarchy.” This, he says, requires “a new Constitution, written by an elected charter drafting assembly.”

In speaking of the monarchy, he’s observed: “What’s happening does not benefit ordinary people. They know these things would not happen if the monarchy was truly constitutional…”.

He wants “public scrutiny” of the monarchy with it being “supervised by an elected government body, like any other organisation under the Constitution.” He wants the people to be soverign and the monarchy to “stand … alongside democracy…”.

During his speech, conservative, royalist junta party MPs sought to silence him, to no avail.

Debate is also on the agenda outside parliament. Prachatai reports about a panel discussion on 15 September at the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, Thammasat University titled: “If politics were good, how would we discuss the monarchy”?

The report observes that “[a]ddressing the issue of the monarchy straightforwardly is a very rare sight in this country, especially after the 2014 coup when prosecution of critics of the monarchy intensified.”

Read the report of the discussion and marvel at how far the students have moved Thailand’s politics.





Moving the country towards a dead end

25 09 2020

The king has come and gone and about the only notable thing seems to have been a meeting between the king, queen and Pojaman na Pombhejara (formerly Shinawatra), at least according to social media.

While the king and queen were doing their “duties,” constitutional change was front-and-center elsewhere.

A few demonstrators conducted an exorcism in front of the Army headquarters on Wednesday “to rid the country of senators chosen by the junta.” This was followed yesterday with a  mass rally outside outside parliament. The “pro-democracy group says the current charter was put in place by a military junta and is undemocratic. They are calling for amendments specifically to clauses which allow the military-appointed senate to vote for the prime minister.”

Inside parliament, the junta selected and appointed senators, “many of them generals and military officials, escaped from parliament on Thursday by boat and the back-exit rather than face angry pro-democracy demonstrators after they voted to postpone amending the constitution.”

The junta’s party, coalition and senators combined to vote 432 to 255 “to set up exploratory committees to study potential amendments to the military-drafted constitution instead of amending the charter on Thursday night.”

The opposition parties walked out of parliament “in protest with the leader of the Move Forward Party, Pita Limjaroenrat, calling the vote ‘a way to stall for time’ and said that parliament’s decision on Thursday was moving the country towards a dead end.”

In fact, the dead end was the junta and its constitution.

Getting out of that means more pressure: “Anon Numpha, a key protest leader, told reporters and protesters that now was the time to step up protests and called for more rallies in October.”





Talking king things

14 09 2020

In a piece of (what we think is) good news, The Nation reports that Padipat Suntiphada, a Move Forward MP and chair of the House Committee on Political Development, Mass Communications and Public Participation has agreed to a “safe” dialogue on the demands made by protesters. This includes discussion of reform of the monarchy.

The dialogue is scheduled for 22 September and is “aimed to provide an intimidation-free ‘safe zone’ for the students to share their opinions on reform…”.

Self-crowned

After decades of an enforced void on serious discussion of the monarchy, punctuated only by ridiculous royalism, this is a welcome opening.

It is reported that he discussion will include the 10 Demands on:

… reform of the monarchy.  It seeks to, among other things, scrap the lese-majeste law, defund the royal family and bar the palace from expressing political opinions.

(In fact, there’s no demand to “defund the royal family.” Rather, the demand is “reduce the amount of the national budget allocated to the King in line with the economic conditions of the country.”)

Rightist royalists will be very uncomfortable and some will become belligerent.

The article states that this will be:

the first time ever that monarchy reform is raised in Parliament and comes after protest leaders broke a decades-long taboo by challenging the palace’s status in public during protests in Bangkok early last month.

In the past, when the monarchy has been discussed, parliament has usually gone into secret session.

Padipat “said the forum will be a two-way dialogue between proponents and opponents of royal reform and other issues” in a “framework was designed by the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University.”

The regime has been seeking to silence student discussion of the monarchy. including arresting many it considers protest leaders. Its “youth forums” have tried to limit discussion to “curriculum improvement, environmental issues and job opportunities for students. The core demands made by protesters are not being discussed.”

Padipat says he “hoped this panel’s forum would lead to another level of discussion in Parliament and has plans to hold more forums in other regions.” That, too, would be a huge step forward over the enforced adulation of the past.





Students push 10 demands

27 08 2020

If you thought the students would back down on their 10 demands for bringing the monarchy (back) under the constitution, then you would be wrong.

The Bangkok Post reports that leaders from the Free Youth Group, including “Panasaya Sitthijirawattanakul, a leader of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, forwarded the 10-point manifesto compiled at a demonstration on Aug 10 at Thammasat University to Move Forward Party MP Padipat Suntiphada who is the chairman of the House Committee on Political Development, Mass Communications and Public Participation.”

Panasaya believed that “the government should consider their 10 demands” for reforming the monarchy

As this was going on, students from the same group were being arrested: “Ford Thatthep and James Panumas … were arrested and taken to Samranrat station yesterday on seven charges including sedition…”.

The arrest count is increasing, with police having “issued arrest warrants for 15 leaders of an anti-government protest on July 18 at the Democracy Monument. Thirteen of them have been arrested.”








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