On the EC’s failures

18 04 2019

The Election Commission is a festering sore on the junta’s “election.” It has failed to convince no one that it is independent. Worse, it has not shown any capacity for administering a competent election process, even an election rigged by the junta.

There have been several actions taken to protest the EC’s failures. One of the most eye-catching has been that by “student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who arranged dozens of pairs of shoes outside the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, spelling out the Thai initials of the Election Commission.” The association of the EC with feet is damning of the agency.

Meanwhile, at New Mandala, legal scholar Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang of the Faculty of Law at Chulalongkorn University concludes that “Thailand’s 2019 general election is a spectacular disaster.” He adds that “the integrity of this election is irreparably damaged,” and heaps blame on the EC. In doing this, Khemthong looks at the EC’s history of anti-democratic behavior.

On the current EC, he observes:

The fifth and current Election Commission (2018–present) was installed by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA). Its appointment history underpinned suspicions prior to the 2019 election that the body would collude with the NCPO. Those suspicions were confirmed when the Commission refused to investigate a campaign finance scandal involving the NCPO’s proxy, the Phalang Pracharath Party, but swiftly dissolved Thai Raksa Chart, one of Thaksin [Shinawatra]’s proxies.

Khemthong states that “there is broad consensus that the Election Commission is unfit to fulfil its assignment.” But for all of its failures, this EC remains largely unaccountable – except to its puppet masters in the junta.

On stealing the election VIII

12 04 2019

Again, with apologies to the publisher, we need to reproduce, in full, The Economist on stealing the “election”:

HE TURNED TO the crowd outside the police station, lifted his eyes to the heavens and raised three fingers. This salute, a sign of resistance to tyranny in “The Hunger Games”, a dystopian series of novels and films, is the kind of gesture that has made Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the leader of Future Forward, a political party he founded last year, wildly popular with young Thai voters. Inside the station, Mr Thanathorn was charged with sedition, assisting criminals and taking part in an illegal assembly.

The rap sheet relates to a protest in 2015 against the military junta which, in theory, is now on the verge of returning Thailand to civilian rule. The authorities say Mr Thanathorn helped to arrange the protest, which was illegal only under the extremely restrictive rules the junta placed on all political activity. If convicted he could face seven years in prison and a ban from politics. It is his second criminal case. Last year he was charged with computer crimes for critical comments about the junta he made in videos streamed on Facebook. He denies wrongdoing. Future Forward came third in last month’s election; the junta says the charges are “entirely unrelated to current political events”.

Thus continues the generals’ blundering campaign to keep control of the country. Since seizing power in a coup almost five years ago, they have schemed to keep allies of Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister ousted in a prior coup, out of power. They pushed through a new constitution which skewed the electoral system and gave them the power to appoint a third of the members of parliament. Intimidating and imprisoning critics like Mr Thanathorn was supposed to help smooth their allies’ path to power.

Since the vote on March 24th, however, things have not been going smoothly for the junta. Although the party set up to back it got more votes than any other, a coalition of seven parties opposed to the generals, including Future Forward, claimed to have won a majority in the lower house of parliament. That is not enough to prevent Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta leader and prime minister, from keeping his job, since he can rely on the votes of the appointed upper house. But it is an embarrassment, and will make it hard for him to govern.

Hence a series of measures intended to undermine the democratic coalition. Even before polling day the Election Commission had helped the junta by excluding a party linked to Mr Thaksin. On the day itself inconsistent vote tallies and unexpected delays did little to inspire confidence. The commission’s latest act of meddling concerns the 150 seats in the lower house that are awarded under an obscure system of proportional representation. It seems, in effect, to be setting a lower threshold for tiny parties to win seats than bigger ones, fracturing parliament and imperilling the democratic front’s majority.

Little is clear, since the commission has not yet announced how it is distributing the seats. It has until May 9th to issue the final results. Those will change further if it disqualifies any winners of the 350 seats awarded to the candidate with the most votes in each constituency. Its rules on campaigning appeared designed to trip up politicians by, among other things, forbidding candidates from mentioning the royal family, severely limiting the use of social media and specifying how big certain placards could be. The commission has announced that it will investigate 66 victorious candidates, without specifying which ones. The junta, meanwhile, is trying to quell criticism of the commission, charging activists who have documented its bias with libel.

The continuing manipulation of the election could drag Thailand into turmoil. Political deadlock might even give the army an excuse to call off the restoration of democracy. Apirat Kongsompong, the army chief (Mr Prayuth surrendered the post a few months after the coup) is non-committal. Earlier this month he told journalists, “Staging a coup isn’t easy. It depends on the situation. Right now, it looks like things are going well.”

Updated: On stealing the election IV

5 04 2019

The New York Times has a detailed report on the aftermath of the junta’s long “election.” It sees the junta as “clinging to every advantage it can to gain an edge through the election.”

It adds that “the junta gave itself many of those advantages, as it put in place a new Constitution and electoral system after seizing power in a 2014 coup…. Those changes gave the generals sweeping influence over Parliament itself, and over an Election Commission with great power to bar candidates and target lawmakers for ejection.”

When pundits seem surprised that the junta’s Palang Pracharath did “better than expected” in the “election,” they might be better asking why it did so badly when the junta served up a rigged election. If the party had done better, then the junta wouldn’t have to be seen as now stealing its own election.

Recall that after the 2006 coup, the military and its government had just over a year to overcome the appeal of the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party and was successful in reducing the 2005 result for Thai Rak Thai of 56% of the popular vote to 37% of the constituency vote for People’s Power Party in 2007. In 2011, Pheu Thai received 48% of the vote while it got about 23% of the 2019 vote. But, the voting system in 2019 was vastly different and Pheu Thai only stood in about 70% of constituencies. At the same time, the main anti-Thaksin party vote reduced from 32% in 2011 to 24% in 2019. That’s why the junta is in trouble now.

A pattern is identified by the NYT report, citing Verapat Pariyawong a visiting scholar at SOAS: “Palang Pracharat ran on the idea of maintaining stability and continuity and the others ran on the basis of restoring democracy…. The majority of Thai voters went for the idea that we need to restore democracy.”

The report also mentions the bumbling EC. Its decision to order a few recounts and several re-votes in some constituencies dos little to dissuade people from seeing the agency as hopeless or tainted.

The report concludes that “whatever the outcome of the vote, the Constitution gives the military the authority to shape Parliament’s membership in the months and years ahead.”

Update: As well as trying to improve the expression in our paragraph above on statistics, we want to point readers to a blog discussion The Fate of Pheu Thai in the 2019 Elections. This is by two numerate political scientists who crunch the numbers and pretty much ignore the politics (and possible vote problems) but still have useful data. We can’t help thinking that the comparison is better made with 2007, but then we are mainly interested in the politics.

Using “loyalty” against Future Forward

2 04 2019

Readers will no doubt recall that, prior to the junta’s “election,” there were a blizzard of complaints to the Election Commission regarding the Future Forward Party. The allegations included claims that Future Forward was insufficiently royal or even anti-monarchy.

At the time, we speculated that the junta’s polling, usually done by military agencies like ISOC, was showing that Future Forward was doing better than anyone had thought possible.

Now that it has done that well and has aligned in a possible coalition with pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties, the dirty tricks deepen. The yellow social media campaign against Future Forward has been especially nasty and pervasive. It is almost as if the yellow lot hate Future Forward more than Puea Thai.

Thai PBS reports that Future Forward party secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul has been forced to defend “himself against allegations that he made comments hostile to the Thai Monarchy.”

Piyabutr said that the allegation stemmed from some “doctored” parts of an academic lecture on “Politics, Justice and Monarchy” back in February 2013.

He declares that the “allegedly hostile” were concocted and that “he had not mentioned the Thai Monarchy…”. Rather, he had:

talked about the principle of having a Constitution by explaining that, in accordance with the international democratic system, the Monarchy must be above and should not get involved in politics and that the position of the Monarch, which is inherited, must be in line with the democratic system.

Piyabutr made the obvious point “that his accusers … intended to engender hatred towards him.” Of course they do. That’s how the monarchy is used to oppose democrats and democracy.

Interestingly and bravely, Piyabutr explained how lese majeste has been used:

… over the past 14 years, charges of lèse majesté have been abused to cause social disunity and mutual hatred between people, providing excuses for the military to seize power.

He then made a statement that will confuse his opponents:

In a democracy, we can prefer different political parties or politicians.  We can compete politically within the rules without using the Monarchy to attack one another or cause hatred….

The confusion for the yellow opponents will be that they do not understand or want a democracy.

Piyabutr was responding because another of those manufactured “civil society” groups has complained to the Election Commission. Calling itself the “Political Civic Group,” the concocted group has petitioned the EC to dissolve Future Forward Party “for trying to subvert the monarchy.”

The self-declared “president” of the “group,” Surawat Sangkharoek, “submitted pictures and video clips of the party’s rallies to the EC as evidence to back up the group’s claim…”.

Surawat madly claimed that the “EC should acknowledge the FFP as a threat to national security and the monarchy…. The party is a den of anti-monarchists, whose members have used anti-monarchy rhetoric to instigate hatred against the revered institution…”.

We have an uncomfortable feeling that the EC might act against Future Forward in order to steal the election for Palang Pracharath, The Dictator and the junta.

A royal vote that counts

1 04 2019

Interesting to see that Bloomberg is reporting what all Thais know and very few are willing to say (lese majeste law, repression, fear, self-censorship and royalism all at work).

It notes that King Vajiralongkorn’s public trashing of Thaksin Shinawatra just a week after “an inconclusive national election, making it more likely that a pro-military party would form a government.”

The king, once thought to be close to Thaksin, said Thaksin’s flight from Thailand is “an extremely inappropriate behavior…”.

Forthrightly, Mahidol University’s Punchada Sirivunnabood observed: “It’s a significant signal that one side is viewed as more favorable than the other…. Everything points to a favorable outcome for the pro-military party and its allies. They’ll be successful in forming a government, but it will be difficult for them to maintain its power and last a full term.”

Neo-feudal Thailand works in ways that never allow the people’s voice to be heard for very long.

Changing the vote outcome is on a par with demanding changes to an interim constitution that, for all of its faults and all of the repression around it, was “approved” in a referendum. Again, the people’s votes counted for nothing. The king’s “vote” is the one that matters.

Updated: The king “votes” again II

30 03 2019

King Vajiralongkorn has signaled that he will not have a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Puea Thai led government.

Matichon reports on a new royal announcement, commanding Thaksin to relinquish all of his royally-bestowed decorations.

Of course, this probably has to do with Thaksin’s liaison with (former) Princess Ubolratana, but the political message is clearer than anything that has emerged from the Election Commission.

Update: All major English-language media (here, here and here) now have this story on yet another of the king’s political interventions.

The Post notes that the ostensible reason for removing Thaksin’s royal decorations was the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions sentencing of Thaksin on 21 October 2008 over the Ratchada land case. It also notes that the statute of limitations on that case “has already expired…”.

As The Nation does, Khaosod also observes the connection to the election and the Army’s removal of Thaksin’s “name … from the school’s hall of fame and stripped him of his Chak Dao alumni achievement awards.”

The Nation’s story, which is from AFP, also makes these points:

King Vajiralongkorn had issued an announcement on election eve calling for Thais to support “good” people to prevent “chaos” — a declaration replayed right before polls opened on March 24.

The monarch also sent jitters across the country in February after a party linked to the Shinawatras nominated Princess Ubolratana as a candidate for prime minister — which he swiftly called “inappropriate” in a royal rebuke….

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, but the palace holds unassailable powers and is shielded from criticism by a harsh royal defamation law [lese majeste].

Military warning

28 03 2019

The military is warning politicians associated with the parties that say they could form an anti-junta coalition government.

The military leaders and police chief joined together “to announce the post-election stance of the armed forces and the police, saying they supported governance by good people in accordance with the guidelines of King Rama IX.” In fact, it was the current king’s “guidelines,” quoting his dead father.

That’s another statement that Palang Pracharat should form the government and make Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha prime minister for the next 3-4 years.

Their second warning was to these same anti-junta parties, which they believe are all pro-Thaksin Shinawatra, was another royalist battering of Thaksin. That is especially threatening.

Claiming no political motive – buffalo manure – Gen Pornpipat Benjasri, chief of defence forces, confirmed that “the board of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School alumni foundation had removed the name of Thaksin from the school’s hall of fame and stripped him of his Chak Dao alumni achievement awards.”

This is a message that Thaksin – and those associate with him – are disloyal to the throne. They used this message before the junta’s “election” and are now threatening that they want “good” people – loyalists – not “bad” people like Thaksin.

Gen Pornpipat pointed to Thaksin’s disloyalty, declaring:

I believe that fellow people know the reason well and have seen it through websites and social media. One thing affects military morality and doctrine. If there is offence and unawareness of what is high and low, it is time for us to make a decision….

Another translation:

The media and Thai people may already know that answer from many websites and social media…. But it disturbs the ethics and values of the armed forces is any action that amounts to insulting and disrespecting higher entities.

Not so clear in English translation, but every Thai knows exactly what he’s saying and know the implied threat.

He went on: “The honourable Chak Dao Award is an award of honour. Awardees must retain their honour. If there is proof that any of them cannot do this, we must withdraw it.”

The military is saying Thaksin is disloyal. Those who associate with him are disloyal. No government that includes pro-Thaksin parties will be tolerated. It is a dangerous time for Thailand.