Constitutionalism and neo-feudalism

3 09 2019

Atiya Achakulwisut has an op-ed of note with the Bangkok Post. It deserves wide consideration because she raises uncomfortable issues that have been avoided by the mainstream media when discussing Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s un/anti-constitutional oath given before the king, as premier and for his ministers. We will mention just a couple of points here, as teasers to encourage readers to read her op-ed if they haven’t done so already.

She comments that Gen Prayuth’s omission of a sentence pledging to uphold the constitution in his oath began “as a gaffe but has taken on a mysterious tone as no explanation has been given.” We don’t think it a “gaffe, but it is the “mystery” that warrants attention. Making the mystery far less mysterious, last week, the king’s support for the premier and his ministers in an ostentatious ceremony. As usual, the king was cavorting in Europe, meaning the ministers bowed and prostrated before a photo of the monarch. But the message from the king was crystal clear, even if Atiya reckons the event added to the “mystery.”

For the feudal lord

She then raises an important issue:

At this point, it is not clear if the failure to utter the complete oath constitutes a breach of the constitution. However, the Office of the Ombudsman believes this to be the case and forwarded a complaint to the Constitution Court.

Moreover, it’s also not clear what implications the incomplete oath will have on the government’s policies and actions if the oath slip is found to be against the constitution.

And then Atiya gets to the point:

It also does not help that the oath-taking controversy concerns the monarchy and a willingness on the PM’s part to abide by the constitution. Both are sensitive issues in Thai politics.

… Although the opposition is set to launch a general debate against the premier about the oath gaffe on Friday, the government is suggesting that the session be conducted behind closed doors as it concerns the monarchy.

She reinforces this point by pointing to an online-arranged effort by some activists to challenge/know “whether it’s against the law not to stand during the royal anthem in theatres…”.

It seems that a backlash against rising neo-feudalism may (re-) emerge.





Denying constitutionalism, affirming neo-feudalism II

27 08 2019

Thailand has reached yet another political crossroads.

The military dictatorship was responsible for the 2017 constitution. The charter as designed by the junta was meant to maintain the junta in power for years to come. Unlike the 1997 constitution, it was never meant to be an imperfect effort to democratize the nation and to give average people a say in governance. The 2017 charter was an exercise in maintaining the power and position of the ruling class.

The king demanded changes to the junta’s constitution – and got them. The changes he wanted shifted power towards the palace.

Self-crowned

But this was not enough. The king wants more. He’s keen to remake Thailand as a neo-feudal political system with him at the pinnacle.

As we posted a week or so ago, the failure of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to say all of the oath required by the constitution is very likely the king’s idea. Under the provisions of his own constitution, Prayuth was meant to say:

I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.

He babbled something along these lines with the struck through words left out. In other words, it is the king that matters, not the constitution.

We guess the king reckons everything went skewiff for the monarchy when a constitution was foisted upon it in 1932.

There’s been controversy over the oath, with parliamentary debate likely and complaints made. Yet, today, the king has made his position crystal clear. As Khaosod reports it:

the King has instructed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his cabinet to hold true to their oath and solve the country’s problems earnestly.

In messages presented to cabinet members in an elaborate ceremony at Government House today, King Vajiralongkorn also expressed moral support for the government and urged it to be strong. The messages were personally signed by … the King.

Prayuth and the cabinet members received copies of the message one by one in front of a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn.

For the feudal lord (clipped from Khaosod)

Yes, that’s right, the king is off in Europe and thinks so little of the constitution and people’s sovereignty, he reckons some certificates for ministers, his expression of support and a portrait of himself will see off the opposition and “his” government will not have to worry too much about the constitution. Rather, the government will serve the king, not the people (or even the whole ruling class).

Meanwhile, it seems the Ombudsman somehow missed the message. As the Bangkok Post reports, that office has sent the oath issue to the Constitutional Court. We guess that court will do as expected and affirm that king and government may ignore the constitution.

That’s the political crossroads. Are Thais now willing, after more than 70 years of royalist preparation, to ditch constitutionalism and return to a modern, reinvented feudalism or neo-feudalism?

This is where all of the political action against electoral democracy of recent years has led. Under the leadership of palace, military and yellow shirts and supporters the question is now how far people are willing to discard their rights and what remains of a ragged political system in favor of an erratic and grasping king and his spineless minions.





Updated: On that oath

15 08 2019

The oath taken by the military-backed government’s new ministers – many recycled from the military junta’s government – goes on.

The oath is sworn before the king, and as everyone knows, the junta’s own constitution states:

Section 161. Before taking office, a Minister must make a solemn declaration before the King in the following words: “I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.”

When this regime’s ministers were sworn in, the last sentence was omitted.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

No one is prepared to say why. Normally talkative ministers like Wissanu Krea-ngam have avoided talking about it. Opposition politicians and serial complainers have rightly stated that this is a serious breach of the constitution. Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has mumbled that this omission was “unintentional.” He refuses to resign and says that he will wait to see what the Ombudsman says about not declaring an intention to uphold the constitution.

Puea Thai Party MP Cholnan Srikaew told the Bangkok Post: “We don’t think it was a case of carelessness. Rather, it may have been [the prime minister’s] intention to evade significant phrases in the oath…”.

Based on the silence, evasion and embarrassment, we think that Gen Prayuth may have been told what he was to say at the palace. When the oath was first raised, Gen Prayuth “insisted … the oath was in compliance with the charter and, most importantly, in line with … the King’s advice that the government stay committed to serving the country and the people.” Add to this Wissanu’s first remonstrance, we think it is a pretty fair guess that the PM and ministers followed royal command:

Wissanu on Thursday said he would rather not answer the questions when asked by reporters whether the incomplete oath would affect the cabinet or whether the prime minister must seek a royal pardon. “One day you’ll know why we shouldn’t talk about it,” he said.

When a reporter asked him to explain for “knowledge’s sake”, Mr Wissanu said: “This is not ‘knowledge’ but something no one should stick his nose into.”

This means the agitation on the oath is not just a political issue but an issue regarding taking a stance regarding the further rolling back of Thailand’s political history and 80+ years of practice.

Update: The Bangkok Post, now calling the oath neo-feudal edit a “slip,” reports that “Chief Ombudsman Wittawat Ratchatanan said a review of the petition will take about two weeks and that the Ombudsman’s office will rule on the legitimacy of the oath on Aug 27.” Recent cases handled by this office have involved coffee shops, prices at airport restaurants and airport luggage. Ombudsman Wittawat is an Army General and Royal Guard with no experience outside the Army until he became Ombudsman in 2012. He has served with all of the former junta members and the last time he was asked about investigating anything to do with Gen Prayuth, he ran a mile. So there is no reason to think that this general will find against another general who is his boss, no matter how clear the constitution. (It would be good to be proven wrong on this assessment.)





Further updated: Thanathorn’s future bleak

23 05 2019

Future Foward’s Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is is trouble. With the Constitutional Court deciding 8-1 [see update 2] to hear the case against him, Thanathorn’s political future looks bleak indeed.

Having done so well in the junta’s election, pro-junta supporters and the junta itself identified Thanathorn as a potential threat to their order, seeing him as a second generation of popular politicians promoting popular reforms. That is, a politician who looked to political troglodytes like a new Thaksin Shinawatra. They have decided to be rid of him sooner rather than later.

The Constitutional Court has agreed to hear the complaint filed by the Election Commission “which accused him of breaching election laws by owning stakes in a media firm.”

If he is found guilty, Thanathorn could face up to 10 years in jail and lose his seat in parliament.

But even before that, the Court has “suspended Thanathorn’s MP status, effective immediately, while the judges deliberate on the case.”

There are a bunch of other junta and “activist” inspired cases pending against Thanathorn and his party.

We expect him to be found guilty and that the party will eventually be dissolved. These were the junta’s aims even before the election.

Crystal-balling, one knock-on from this decision is that the wavering middle-sized parties would now seem more likely to flop to the junta’s side in a coalition government.

Update 1: PPT watched Thanathorn’s defiant speech after this announcement. This speech is briefly reported at Khaosod. Thanathorn said the EC/Constitutional Court case “appears to have been rushed under suspicious circumstances.” He declared: “I do not agree with the decision of the court…. I want to ask the public … am I being afforded justice?” He claimed that the EC “subcommittee tasked with investigating the matter had yet to conclude its inquiry when the main commission forwarded the case to the court for deliberation.”

Defiantly he emphasized that he remains “a prime ministerial candidate for his party.” And he remained defiantly anti-junta.

Update 2: Prachatai reports that “9 judges of the Constitutional Court decided unanimously to accept a request by the Election Commission of Thailand, which accuses Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of violating the law by holding shares in V-Luck Media Company. In accepting the ECT request, the Constitutional Court also ruled 8-1 to suspend Thanathorn’s MP status until the case is settled.” This suggests that the Court will likely find against Thanathorn when it hears the case.

This report also points to double standards: “On 29 April, the Pheu Thai Party, Future Forward’s ally, filed a complaint with the Election Commission to investigate if Chanwit Wiphusiri and Somsak Sukprasert, MPs of the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party, also hold stakes in media companies. However, the Election Commission still has not taken up the complaint.”

Further, “The Ombudsman requested the [Constitutional] Court to investigate if it is a violation of the Constitution for members of the Senate Selection Committee to appoint themselves to the Senate, including Gen. Thanasak Patimaprakorn (Deputy Head of the NCPO), Adm. Narong Pipatanasai (Deputy Head of the NCPO), ACM Prajin Juntong (Deputy PM and Deputy Head of the NCPO), and Pol. Gen. Adul Sangsingkeo. However, the Court announced on 23 May not to take up the case.”





Blame the EC

3 05 2019

As the Constitutional Court accepts the “Ombudsman’s request for a ruling on the constitutionality of the Election Commission’s formula to calculate party-list MPs for political parties and will rule next Wednesday,” the EC continues a quiet and opaque process of disqualification.

It has “disqualified 11 former MP candidates of eight parties, effectively excluding another 12,000 votes from party-list MP calculation.” That’s 17 disqualified in this manner. While none were winners, the question is: How does this impact the “formula” that is itself under challenge?

Meanwhile, Future Forward are hitting back on the repeated complaints by Srisuwan Janya. Eleven candidates have filed complaints with the police. According to the report, they argue that Srisuwan has mischievously and falsely accused each of them of being media owners.

They claim that:

some of them did hold shares in media companies but the companies had long since closed and their names were still on the shareholders’ registry. Some of them … hold shares in companies which operates printing and publication services but are not mass media. The rest hold shares in firms which had not done anything for more than five years, which he said are regarded as closed by law.

This seems to be common in all of the cases and takes its lead from the EC’s own pre-election disqualification of a Future Forward candidate prior to the election. Blame the EC.





Opaque stuff

28 04 2019

Of course, under Thailand’s military junta, there’s been a lot of things that is not explained, are  opaque and behind closed doors. Like election results.

However, a couple of recent reports deserve mention for their lack of transparency.

First, the now more or less broke State Railway of Thailand has “decided to grant the concession for the 220 billion baht high-speed rail project linking three major airports to the consortium led by Charoen Pokphand Group (CP).” The decision means the SRT has only a couple of weeks to submit the draft agreement to its board of directors.

For CP, this is yet another triumph that will make it even more powerful and will drive the link to China, so close to the heart of its controlling family. Yet the project has been been criticized.

The story on CP, the junta and the EEC has not be fully explained. That the project is heavily promoted from the public purse requires investigation,

Second, there’s been some perplexed commentary on why the Ombudsman has become involved in making decision regarding constitutional matters. The links between that office and the junta need to be unpicked.

Third, no thanks to the junta, the Bangkok Post the Bangkok Post has shone some much needed light on the Election Commission’s recent fad for using “media ownership” as a means for eliminating some successful anti-junta candidates from the “election.” What remains unclear is how a candidate from Future Forward could be disqualified under these media provisions when his company did no media work.

If the junta gets its way, there’s another four years of wheeling, dealing and no transparency.





…and on and on

26 04 2019

For a while, everyone was waiting to see if the Ombudsman would recommend nullifying the “election,” the Election Commission continues to chip away at the result.

It didn’t. Oddly, though the Ombudsman decided “to ask the Constitutional Court to rule whether some provisions of the MP law involving the allocation of party-list MPs are constitutional…”. Yes, they are asking again, after the Court rejected the EC’s petition on this.

Confused? So is PPT. We are not sure of anything much at all about this “election” and its results. Perhaps the whole thing is some kind of charade?

What is clear is that the EC is continuing, ever so slowly, to chip away at the result of the junta’s “election.”

For example, the EC seems to be taking seriously a complaint lodged against the qualifications of Seri Ruam Thai Party leader Pol Gen Seripisut Temiyavet. Surawat Sangkharuek accused Seripisut “of lacking the qualifications to apply to be an MP candidate” because he was once “temporarily dismissed from the police force in 2008 during the Samak Sundaravej administration.”

Of course, Seripisut has been critical of the junta and joined the coalition announced with Puea Thai after the election.

He “shrugged off the petition and described the individual who sought the probe as a ‘hired gun’.”

Meanwhile, the EC is going ahead with its party list count that rewards micro-parties and the junta. Doing this risks never-ending law suits.

The EC insists, despite seemingly contradictory statements, that it will confirm a 95% result on 9 May.

It’s a mess.





Updated: EC votes for Prayuth

21 03 2019

EC performing seals

The Nation reports that the Election Commission has “voted unanimously to dismiss the complaint against the junta chief’s prime ministerial nomination, saying the process had been lawful.”

This refers to a complaint made by “lawyer Winyat Chatmontree last month to disqualify Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha from the contest. Prayut was a state servant [official] and should not be qualified for the nomination…”.

The EC decided, unanimously, that The Dictator-prime minister-junta boss’s “nomination was in line with the law, without giving an explanation.”

This follows the Office of the Ombudsman issuing a “ruling” that the prime minister, paid by the taxpayer, issuing orders, making laws, jailing and repressing in the name of the junta was not an official.

Bizarre decisions indeed. The performing seals at the EC didn’t even bother to “explain” their nonsensical “ruling.” But, that’s in line with so much that has been warped and abused in this junta “election.”

Update: As reported at Prachatai, the iconoclastic Sombat Boonngamanong has had something interesting to say about the unofficial prime minister and junta boss. He has pointed out that in a ruling on his case with the junta, the “Supreme Court … considered [[Gen Prayuth] a government official.” Sombat went to the EC before its most recent unanimous decision “to submit a letter saying that he was willing to be a witness in the case of Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha.

He insisted that NCPO [junta] had sued him on the grounds that Gen Prayut is a government official and the Supreme Court has already ruled in favour of the NCPO.” Sombat insisted that “Prayut[h] is not a government official…”. If that is the case, then “Sombat’s sentence for failing to report to the NCPO under NCPO Order 3/2014, should be cancelled.” The logic here is that if “the Head of the NCPO is not an official, as the Ombudsman found, Sombat did not have to follow the NCPO Order. However, the Court of First Instance, the Appeal Court, and the Supreme Court all ruled that Gen Prayut, as the head of the NCPO, has legal authority and is therefore an official.”

Now that the EC has followed the Ombudsman, what does that mean for the courts rulings in every case the junta has brought? Given that this is the junta’s Thailand, probably nothing, but Sombat is showing how crazy the system has become.





PM not an official claim officials who are officials

14 03 2019

State officials and junta appointees are becoming impossible to fathom as they concoct decisions that assist The Dictator in his efforts to be premier after the junta’s rigged election.

The latest remarkable decision is reported by Khaosod:

Though [Gen] Prayuth [Chan-ocha] travels the world representing Thailand and meeting heads of state, the state ombudsman today ruled that the prime minister is, in fact, not a government official. The Ombudsman Office’s unanimous ruling therefore meant the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party did not violate regulations by nominating Prayuth to be its candidate.

So astonishing was this for PTT that we wondered if Khaosod had mis-translated the ruling. But no, a check of Khaosod’s Thai reporting and its references to articles of the constitution show that the reporting is accurate.

To support its decision, the Ombudsman’s Secretary-General “explained” that:

being a government official requires four characteristics: being legally elected, possessing active law enforcement authority, being under the state, and receiving regular payment.

The office determined Prayuth didn’t meet two of the criteria as he wasn’t elected, and his junta operates outside of state authority.

Bizarre calisthenics by officials who are officials ruling that their boss is not an official is staggering. What else can we say? All of the articles in the junta’s constitution, requiring premier and prime minister to do all kinds of official things now seem redundant. Perhaps the election itself is redundant.





NACC a sad joke

16 07 2018

Thailand has a bunch of agencies that the media repeatedly refers to as “independent.” Article 215 of junta’s constitution defines these as:

An Independent Organ is an organ established for the independent performance of duties in accordance with the Constitution and the laws.

The performance of duties and exercise of powers by an Independent Organ shall be honest, just, courageous, and without any partiality in exercising its discretion.

They are: the Election Commission, Ombudsmen, State Audit Commission, National Human Rights Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

As far as we can see, none of these agencies is in any way “independent” of the junta. Most of their actions are the stuff of puppets.

When it comes to the NACC, it has proven itself a weak, toady, puppet organization, incapable of fulfilling its legal duties.

We pick on the NACC because an anti-corruption NGO has “renewed its call … for the national anti-graft body to speed up its probes into a luxury watch scandal facing Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and the money-laundering allegations against a former national police chief [Somyos Pumpanmuang].” The Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand says it is three months since it published an “open letter asking the National Anti-Corruption Commission [NACC] about progress made in its probes…”.

It seems that the NACC only responded about a week ago, stating that the “two cases is that they still are in the fact-finding stage…”. Since then, zilch, nothing, silence. We might add that the “investigation” of Gen Prawit goes back to December 2017. Pol Gen Somyos was first revealed as being involved with the owner of the Victoria’s Secret Massage parlor back in January this year. Now boss of the Football Association of Thailand – where was he in the cave drama? – Somyos “borrowed” 300 million baht from the brothel boss.

ACT puts the obvious question: why [is] the NACC is taking so long to wrap up these two particular cases?” As we have said, ACT points out that these are not complicated cases.

In response, referring to the Prawit “investigation,” an anonymous “NACC source … revealed that a committee handling Gen Prawit’s case had finished questioning all witnesses, but the local dealers of those luxury watches had refused to provide the NACC with any information about the serial numbers of the watches in question.”

That might have something to do with tax evasion, but that’s only a guess. In any case, this is where the NACC was in May and sounds rather like an excuse for foot-dragging and the great cover-up for the Deputy Dictator.

There was silence on the case investigating Somyos and scores of others.

ACT rightly asks: “… how could the public trust the NACC to handle even more complicated cases in the future?” We haven’t trusted it for several years now as it became the political plaything of the junta, doing some of its dirty work, disrupting the Puea Thai Party and making life difficult for politicians and activists the junta finds oppositional. In other words, the NACC is a tool for political repression and displays not a skerrick of independence.