Remembering Meechai’s previous work

1 11 2015

Back on 15 May 1994, the Bangkok Post had a Sunday Perspective column regarding the constitutional developments during the time following the 1991 military coup that removed the elected government led by Chatichai Choonhavan.

Titled “A Fledgling Democratic Process at a Standstill,” (no hyperlinks available) it discusses the lack of progress on a new constitution following the May 1992 uprising against General Suchinda Kraprayoon and “other NPKC leaders, known collectively as Class 5 graduates of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, who intended to dominate Thai politics indefinitely.” The column continues:

MeechaiThe junta leaders appointed a committee headed by Meechai Ruchupan and Osoth Kosin to draft two constitutions with provisions for them to perpetuate and share political power with
their allies.

The 1991 constitutional draft was made the law of the land amid across-the-board protests….

“Should the Constitution be found imperfect or undesirable, it can be amended later, junta sources said. [as they said in 2007 as well]

The result of that constitutional process led by Meechai was the May 1992 uprising and massacre of civilians.

Following the May Uprising, there was more debate, and with Anand Punyarachun again an appointed premier, Meechai got into the act again, as a senator:

Senator Meechai Ruchupan, an expert in constitutional law, wasted no time proposing drafts he claimed to be democratic.

Although Meechai may be well-intentioned, the inquisitive media and the general public think otherwise.

The Meechai constitutional drafts were found to be the 1974 charter with some minor alterations. For example Article 169 reads:

“0n administrative affairs, the Cabinet members are individually accountable to the House of Representatives in matters pertaining to ministerial performance; However, they are held collectively accountable in matters pertaining to Cabinet policy.”

Compared to Senator Meechai’s proposed amendment:

“In administrative affairs, Cabinet members are to abide by dictates of the Constitution. They are to follow the guidelines as stated in Article 108. They are individually accountable to the
House of Representatives in ministerial matters and collectively accountable in matters pertaining to the general Cabinet policy.”

Naturally in a politics where royalists were seeking to dominate, Meechai’s regressive and anti-democratic proposals got support, in terms that seem very familiar today:

Senator Sompob [Hotrakit], lauding Sen Meechai’s initiative, said the proposed draft would prevent parliamentary dictatorship….

How was this to be engineered? Again, familiar territory. One proposal was for appointed senators:

… proposals were made for senators to come from diversified professions with the Royal appointments countersigned by either the chairman of the Privy Councillors or the Prime
Minister.

At the time, a Democrat Party MP Preecha Suwannathat, said to be “a legal expert who graduated from Thammasat University in the same class as Senator Meechai” stated that “Senator Meechai goes back in time, invoking the obsolete 1968 constitution which allowed permanent officials to become actively involved in politics…”.  That charter was a military document drawn up by a regime that had, by that time, dictated for a decade, and would stay until 1973.

And so it went on. Readers will get the picture. Essentially, the proposals being concocted by Meechai and his hand-picked Constitution Drafting Committee are but the most recent in a long line of proposals, several of them coming from Meechai himself, to embed a constitution for the ruling elite based in the military-monarchy alliance. The difference this time is that Thailand’s constitutional future is in the hands of a military junta that is more determined to get its way.





Thaksin, monarchy and the pardon (again)

18 11 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Updated: Only the beginning

27 02 2010

Update: The Nation today (28 February 2010) leads with several stories on the new cases that will flow from the Supreme Court decision. View them at The Nation’s website.

*

PPT has several times posted of the Thaksin Shinawatra assets case as being seen by many as a “final showdown” and of some on the government side, at least for a time thinking that the “final showdown” might also involve a confrontation with red shirts. But there was no red shirt rallying, apart from small gatherings to listen to the long reading of the verdict on 26 February.

As it turns out, the “final showdown” was just part of a process. Here we are not joining the chorus that is simply saying that the verdict did not end political conflict. Rather, we are saying that the verdict is one step by the military-backed Abhisit Vejjajiva government to destroy Thaksin, demobilize his supporters and maintain a less liberal political regime that has, as its central mission, the maintenance of the monarchy.

PPT has already posted on how the military leadership is standing firmly behind its royalist governmen t. We have also posted several times on the authoritarian trend in the Abhisit government. The success that the government has had in establishing its repressive power is evidenced, for example, by its ability to deploy military in security operations over the past couple of weeks without having to use the Internal Security Act.

Why do we say it is just the beginning of the “war” against Thaksin and the red shirts? Here is some of the evidence, in addition to the strengthening of the security state mentioned above and in earlier posts.

First, the verdict was a rather brilliant piece of media performance, which is meant to show investors and the international community that there is “rule of law” in Thailand (see here and here). By not confiscating all of Thaksin’s assets, these groups may feel more comfortable that justice has been done and that the case was not merely political. What is still unclear, however, is whether the funds can and will be returned any time soon.

Second, royalist academics have already come out to warn, worry and re-start their activities that target red shirts as dangerous and violent republicans and of boosting the government’s security state drift (see here). The People’s Alliance for Democracy joined this chorus while crowing that the court had accepted the yellow shirt arguments. The military remains deployed for civil strife.

Third, The Nation (27 February 2010) reports that as a result of the Supreme Court verdict, Thaksin and his family now potentially face “at least 10 separate criminal cases…”. Readers can see these 10 cases listed in the article. They include cases related to what must now be false assets declarations several times when Thaksin was premier.

More broadly, the decision on the assets case now allows the government to go after a raft of former Thai Rak Thai politicians – most of whom are still serving a 5-year ban from politics – and seek to destroy any thoughts they had of a political comeback.

This is not idle speculation for the Bangkok Post (27 February 2010) reports that Preecha Suwannathat, a former dean of Thammasat University’s Law Faculty said that the verdict meant “all members of the two Thaksin cabinets would have to be held accountable. This was because Thaksin could not have abused his authority alone. The former cabinet members could face criminal charges.” His view was supported by National Anti-Corruption Commission member Wichai Wiwitseree, who said “the verdict rendered the cabinet members and civil servants who served during Thaksin’s tenure liable for legal action.

Indeed, in a speed totally unheard of in the Thai government and justice system, “NACC member Vicha Mahakul said his body had appointed teams to take action against the cabinet members and civil servants in question.”

The process of destroying what the yellow shirts called the “Thaksin regime” is continuing, perhaps with even greater strength in terms of conviction and desire and in terms of the use of the judiciary to do as first exhorted back in April 2006 – cleaning up the “mess” as the king described it. But more than the Thaksin regime, the political and legal cleaning must deal with the red shirts and their supporters if it is to be a victory for an Ancien regime that never forgets its enemies.








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