And, how’s that “election” coming along?

24 12 2017

As regular readers will know, PPT hasn’t joined the boostering about a junta “election” taking place next November. As it has turned out, all of the enthusiasm for a junta “election” has quickly faded.

In what should now be obvious to all, the military dictatorship has had The Dictator use his dictatorial powers – Article 44 – to provide advantages to “new” parties. The “balance” is now so far titled in favor of “new” parties that the junta might even be able to smell its (first) “electoral” victory.

The military bosses might be sniffing the political air a little too soon. After all, the Bangkok Post reckons that the recent use of Article 44 is “doomed” because “any misuse of power to benefit any particular group or help the military remain in power could take the country closer to the already ticking timebomb.”At the same time, the Post notes what General Prayuth Chan-ocha has done:

… paving the way for the formation of new political parties, possibly parties that have been rumoured to be in the making with the aim of the military transferring its powers if and when elections are held 336 days from today.

What was more surprising was the fact that under our dear leader’s abuse of power this time, all party members who want to keep their membership have to submit a letter to confirm their choice of party leader and pay their membership fee within a period of 30 days or lose their membership.

The 70-year-old Democrat Party, for instance, may lose the bulk of its nearly three million members….

Moreover, the party law previously exempted members of existing parties from paying a membership fee for four years. But the Section 44 order has nullified that and ordered both old and new parties to collect a membership fee for 2018 from at least 500 qualified members within 180 days, from April 1 to the end of September.

… What Gen Prayut has done with his use of the magic wand is give new political parties a month’s head start as they are allowed to start by March 1 against April 1 for existing parties.

This move looks set to help political parties and individuals who support the military, such as the likes of street protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban and Paiboon Nititawan, a former senator appointed by the military.

It is all pretty straightforward and is in line with every other move the military junta has made since its coup. It is preparing to maintain power and influence over Thailand’s emerging semi-authoritarian politics for another 15 or so years, at least.

The old political parties can cry foul but they are daft if they continue to publicly say that the junta is only now rigging the “election”; that’s been its grand game since the coup.

The Nation also added some important points:

The order also schedules the new deadline for political parties to complete their administrative work, which brings into question whether the election scheduled in November next year was still possible. The political parties Act, which was promulgated in early October, will come into effect only on April 1, 2018, according to the junta order yesterday.

The Article 44 order allows executive party members to continue in their positions but allows existing party members to choose whether to remain with the same parties.

If current party members want to keep their party membership, they must submit letters to confirm that choice to the party leader and pay a membership fee between April 1 to 30 next year or they will lose their status. Observers said the short period of time raises practical difficulties.

Moreover, the party law previously exempted the members of existing parties from paying a membership fee for four years. But the Article 44 order has nullified that and ordered that both old and new parties collect a membership fee for 2018 from at least 500 qualified members within 180 days or from April 1 to the end of September.

That timeframe makes it highly unlikely that elections will be able to take place in November, as announced earlier by Prayut.

As we have stated many times, the junta will hold its “election” when it can achieve the result it expects and wants.





Troubles for the junta II

19 12 2017

If the junta plans a transition to a slightly different form of rule following its “election,” it seems to be struggling to maintain political control and direction. Yesterday we posted on some of these issues and challenges. Today we look at how some of these are playing out and some other issues and challenges.

A big issue is when the military dictatorship will ease the ban on political organizing in order to permit the junta’s “election” and how the junta will arrange the military’s continuing political domination. After claims of the formation of a “military party,” those involved have denied that anything is planned (well, sort of).

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, one of the few civilian’s in the military’s government has denied claims that he’s going to lead a military political party. At the same time, the be-watched Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan seemed less sure. Checking his new Casio watch, he said “he had no idea if a military-back political party was being set up or if Mr Somkid would lead it.”

Prawit’s penchant for pricey horographs threatens the junta by showing that it is corrupt, practices double standards and maintains impunity. All of this worries the middle class. It is that class that has been the bedrock of junta political support.

One of the most poignant demonstrations of military cruelty and its institutional impunity has been the death of cadets and recruits. The family of Pakapong “Moei” Tanyakan has rejected a meeting with the military to be told of a military inquiry “investigation” into their son’s death in which the military had already publicly exonerated itself. Such brutality and its sweeping under the carpet are increasingly seen as unacceptable, not least by the middle class.

Then there are the splits within the anti-democrats and with the junta. The usually supine Abhisit Vejjajiva, while still refusing to attack the junta, wants an election, even if it is the junta’s election. So he’s attacking his former deputy and Democrat Party alpha male Suthep Thaugsuban for proposals that might delay an “election” and/or might presage a Suthep-supported alternative political party in the south, gobbling up support that might have gone to the Democrat Party. Any pro-Suthep party is likely to throw weight behind a junta-dominated government post-“election.”

The junta appears befuddled in dealing with political allies of the past although splits in old parties might be considered to benefit any new military party. It is more “comfortable” repressing red shirts.





Troubles for the junta I

18 12 2017

The military dictatorship, keen to extend its political role into the future, is running into a series of problems that suggest struggles over power will intensify as political jockeying for position deepens.

Corruption cases, previously ignored, swept under the rug or “investigated” to exoneration are now getting under the junta’s skin. One recent case is the death of a military cadet where the usual excuses for such deaths are not being accepted.

More challenging because it targets the Deputy Dictator is General Prawit Wongsuwan’s extensive  watch collection. His latest attempt at explaining his unusually expensive watches is about a dead “friend”:

According to Gen Prawit’s close aide who asked not to be named, Gen Prawit is under pressure as he does not know how to make the public believe the Richard Mille watches belonged to his friend.

If his “friend” is dead, then Prawit’s story of “borrowing” watches is unlikely to be verified. If the “friend” existed but is now dead, we assume Prawit might claim to inherited the watches.

The point, though, is that the scandal and chatter won’t go away.

More revealing are the splits that seem to be appearing in the yellow-shirted alliance of anti-democrats who have supported military dictatorship.

While Suthep Thaugsuban continues to support military rule and seeks its extension, his Democrat Party and the broader yellow shirt movement have become critical of the junta and its attempts to entrench its rule.

The Bangkok Post reports the former PAD leader Somsak Kosaisuk as railing against a “military party.” Somsak and Democrat Party MP Watchara Phetthong reckon there’s a “plot to set up a new party in support of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.” The vehicle is claimed to be “a military party which will support Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak as party leader while the name of the party will include the word Pracharath, the government’s public-private collaboration…”.

Somsak warned that “military-backed parties of the past, including the Manangkasila and Samakkhitham parties, had failed because the people did not accept them.”

Somsak’s history is not all that comprehensive, but leaving that aside, Watchara mangles it when he says “Gen Prayut should follow the example of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, who said ‘that’s enough’ when he was invited by parties to take the premier’s post once again.” He seems to forget the huge pressure to get rid of Prem, including threats about “revealing secrets.”

Even if their history is a bit off, the idea for a military party may not stymie a Prem-like reign for The Dictator. As in the Prem period, the Democrat Party may not be opposed to that.

But the kerfuffle also shows that the regime remains troubled. It is seeking ways to cement its influence but finds the political alliances and parties cumbersome and confounding.





The PDRC and Suthep

16 12 2017

Two recent news reports mention Suthep Thaugsuban and his People’s Democratic Reform Committee.

The report that got most attention was about Suthep and his anti-democrat colleague Paiboon Nititawan seeking changes to the organic law governing political parties, arguing for “fairness” for all parties. As all commentators have noted, this is an attempt to delay the “elections.”

Suthep and friends

Suthep has repeatedly called for the military dictatorship to remain in power, so this call is aimed at that end. The puppet National Legislative Assembly says it will hear from Suthep and Paiboon.

The second report, in the context of judicial double standards, is a tiny piece of what appears to be brighter news. At the end of a report on Jatuporn Promphan, it is briefly noted that the Phatthalung Provincial Court sentenced a former senator and PDRC key figure Thawi Phumsingharach and 10 supporters “for disrupting an advance vote and election officials in the province back in 2013.”

Thawil was slapped with a five-year prison term, and the others received from one to five years “for their role in obstructing the Muang district poll on Dec 28-31 and preventing the provincial election commission from performing its duty.”

We assume they are appealing.





Further updated: Pots and kettles I

11 12 2017

There’s an English saying about the “pot calling the kettle black.” It means something like people should not criticize someone else for a fault that they have themselves. In Thailand, when discussing current politics, it is sometimes difficult to determine which is a pot and which is a kettle, and the blackness seems equally deep and sooty.

So when we read the Bangkok Post: and discover one confirmed and frequent liar being called out by another of similar ilk we do get to wondering.

Government spokesman Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd and (anti)Democrat Party rich leader and Korn Chatikavanij have been going at each other.

According to this report, by Veera Prateepchaikul, a former editor of the Bangkok Post sides with Korn:

Lt Gen Sansern, who is also acting director-general of the Public Relations Department, accused former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, without naming him, of being an opportunist craving media space with an intention to lead the public into believing the government has not been doing anything.

The publicity which appeared to upset the spokesman was just Mr Korn’s recommendations to the government on how it could help rice farmers shore up rice prices during the months of November and December when the main crops were to be harvested.

We can understand criticism of Korn on rice policy; after all, he’s never been assigned any work in a rural area, although he now claims “four years” of work on a rich kid botique rice marketing scheme (read about it here, which begins with an incorrect assertion about what Thais think of rice. We think he means his rich brethren).

What was more interesting, though, was Korn’s licking of the pot:

Korn said the government should be more open-minded and receptive to divergent opinions as several policies could help farmers.

He lectured the spokesman and urged him to distinguish friend from foe and not to sow the seed of conflict.

He also reminded the lieutenant-general that there are people outside the government who are loyal and have good intentions toward the country.

Korn is reminding the dictatorship to be nice to its political allies, which includes the coup-loving and coup-provoking Democrat Party.

Apparently Korn has “discovered” and recommended a variant on the long-standing rice pledging scheme that pays a guaranteed minimum price for rice (a plan implemented by others in the past).

Even if Korn is recycling policy, he’s also telling the junta to be gentle with friends.

Seemingly to emphasize this, former Democrat Party leader and former prime minister Chuan Leekpai has demanded that party members not be “persistent” in “asking the regime to lift its ban on political activities…”.

Chuan and “other party executives agreed party members should not keep demanding political restrictions be lifted.” He stressed that if there are delays, the junta should be blamed. But he is also wary of poking his bear-like friends in the junta.

Chuan, who supported to military coups and judicial activism to bring down elected governments then banged on about “democracy.” The “real obstacle” to “democracy” is “people who do not uphold democracy…”.

As far as we can tell, the Democrat Party is chock full of people who do not uphold democracy, including Chuan himself. The Democrat Party has a long history of supporting royalist anti-democracy. Indeed, that was the reason the party was formed.

Update 1: Interestingly, Chuan seems keen to advise the junta on its political base (shared with the Democrat Party). Worried about that base, Chuan “appealed to premier [General] Prayut Chan-o-cha to address falling household income in the South.” Chuan showed that under the junta, average incomes had fallen substantially in several southern provinces.

His advice has been taken up, at least according to the report: “Based on Mr Chuan’s petition, the government had announced a policy of boosting people’s income in a bid to pull the country out of the so-called middle-income trap.”

Chuan worries that the junta makes the Democrat Party look bad as they are seen as political allies.

Update 2: In another political reminder to the junta, anti-democrat leader and “former” Democrat Party deputy leader Suthep Thaugsuban has re-emerged to announced “that he would release a video clip showing the group’s fight during 2013-2014 ‘to commemorate the fight that we fought together’.”

While he did not explain who the “we” were, his latest move suggested to some commentators that he wanted to address the junta. His group supported the junta and allegedly invited them to take office during the months-long protests.

Observers “believe Suthep wanted to remind the junta of their fight and the purpose of their fight” and to oppose the junta’s plan to establish its own political party, which is said to “contradict the PDRC’s initial purpose.” He’s also worried that the junta is “losing” the south.





Anti-democrats get off lightly (again and again)

1 11 2017

Red shirt activists have spent months and years in prison for their alleged “crimes.” Seldom do yellow shirts of the PAD, People’s Democratic Reform Committee and similar anti-democrat activists get similar treatment from the establishment’s courts. After all, these groups were on the “winning” side and many were closely allied and aligned with the royalist military.

Confirming this, the Bangkok Post reports that the Criminal Court convicted medical doctor Rawee Maschamadol, one of four leaders of the so-called People’s Army and Energy Reform Network (PAERN).

But the court only sentenced him to eight months in jail and fined him 6,000 baht for “colluding in illegal assembly and causing public chaos.” More than this, it suspended the sentence for two years. No jail time for anti-democrats.

The charges related to the occupation of a PTT Plc building during the mass anti-democrat street rallies in 2014, led by the (anti)Democrat Party’s Suthep Thaugsuban and related fascists of the yellow-shirted royalist movement.

(Recall that, in February, the “Civil Court ordered the four co-leaders of the PAERN to pay almost 10 million baht to PTT Plc for damages caused by its occupation of the company’s property during the protests in 2014.  The four are Dr Rawee, Thotsaphon Kaewthima, Itthabun Onwongsa and Somkiat Pongpaiboon.”)

There were reportedly 105 co-defendants in the current case, and just two others were given jail terms of a paltry “two months and 20 days, without suspension, for offences committed during the occupation.” Another “defendant was acquitted. The remainder, including the three other co-leaders, were given two-month jail terms, suspended for two years, and fined 2,000 baht each.”

We assume their wrists are smarting from the taps the court has “inflicted” in making politicized rulings.





Updated: Double standards and lawlessness in the justice system

1 10 2017

PPT has regularly been posting on the gross failures of the justice system. Thailand’s justice system has long been pretty awful, but since the 2006 military coup that awfulness has been compounded by the fact that particular courts have become little more than political tools for the royalist elite and, in recent years, the military dictatorship’s instrument.

For this reason Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey’s op-ed “Hypocrisy of double standards” is an important statement on a defining failure of the justice system.

Writing after the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions decision to imprison former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, where “[t]he court’s verdict did not state whether the rice pledging policy implemented by Yingluck and her government was wrong but only stated that she neglected her duty in curtailing corruption in the scheme.”

If this is the courts definition of malfeasance, then PPT can’t think of a premier for several decades who wouldn’t be held guilty, including the current military one. But this use of the law is reserved for Yingluck as the military dictatorship wanted to be rid of her.

As Umesh observes,

The verdict left some room for appeal but less than 24 hours after it was handed down, the military government that overthrew the Pheu Thai-led government of which the Shinawatras were the key backers came out with new rules that force any appeal to be lodged by the convicted person and not through lawyers. To make matters worse, the statutory limit on the case, which is usually about a decade or so, is a lifetime.

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

He adds that in most jurisdictions, “new rules are effective only after they are put in place, but this is Thailand and in Yingluck’s case the rules were effective retroactively.”

Of course, applying rules and laws retroactively has been a hallmark of military juntas. For example, juntas regularly absolve themselves of criminality when they overthrow governments and constitutions. A more egregious example was the use of Announcement No. 27 (2006) of the then junta  to dissolve Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party in 2007 using the junta’s Announcement retroactively. It was the junta’s Constitutional Tribunal – its Constitutional Court – that concocted this decision (while at the same time acquitting the parties that supported the coup).

On the current retrospective use of rules and laws, naturally enough it is royalist-military stooge Meechai Ruchupan, head of the junta’s Constitution Drafting Committee, who said the new law, which was only published in the Royal Gazette on 28 September and took effect the next day, applied in Yingluck’s case. As Umesh states, this “basically closes the door on any appeal by Yingluck against the verdict and leaves no room for her to return to Thailand in the foreseeable future unless she’s willing to be behind bars.”

Umesh continues:

The case has raised more questions than it has answered. Many on the street believe that all these rules being put in place by those in power have a single aim of trying to curtail the power and marginalise the once powerful Pheu Thai Party. And to further cement this possible misconception [PPT: we can’t possibly imagine that this is a misconception] is the fact that other political parties are being left to do what they like and their party members and leaders are not being prosecuted even when they are in breach of the law.

To illustrate the double standards at work, Umesh points to the case of anti-democrat leader, coup plotter and “former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who has been accused of violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code by committing misconduct or dereliction of duty for his handling of the 6.67 billion baht project to build 396 police stations under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government…”.

As he notes, that case began before Yingluck’s case, and had dragged on and on:

Little has been heard about it since May 2015 when Mr Suthep was still a monk and once after that when the anti-Pheu Thai “independent” National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) decided to change one of its outside members because Mr Suthep claimed he was biased against him.

This outside member was none other than Vicha Mahakhun, the NACC subcommittee chairman in charge of investigating Mr Suthep’s misconduct. Mr Vicha was hired as an outside member after he retired from the chair of the subcommittee in which he had implicated Mr Suthep.

But here’s double standards twist: Why is there no related case against Abhisit? After all, he was the premier when the alleged malfeasance took place.

While this dereliction of duty case continues to drag on, Democrat Party leader Mr Abhisit, who was Mr Suthep’s immediate boss, is basically left off the hook. There is no such case because Thailand’s judicial system is rigged, politicized and subject to the whims and desires of the military junta.

Umesh concludes:

All this gives the impression that those in power are trying to come up with a million explanations for their snail’s pace of investigation into those aligned to the people in power, but to the general public this kind of move is nothing more than what has been repeated a million times over the past decade — the implementation of double standards.

The blatant breach and different interpretation of rules for different sides makes one wonder how this country can achieve its goal of reconciliation and move on.

The junta’s answer is probably something like: “Just give us a few more years to embed double standards so deeply that they will be the only standards.”

Update: We hit the publish button a little too quickly as we wanted to write more about lawlessness. The best example of the courts acting against the law is lese majeste. There have been several cases where persons have been charged with lese majeste against royals, dead and alive, who are simply not covered by the law. The most recent case of this legal ridiculousness was just last month where courts and the Office of the Attorney General have agreed to proceed with a case involving Princess Sirindhorn who is not covered under Article 112.