Puangthong Pawakapan

Executive Summanry

  • The aim of the 2014 coup d état in Thailand goes beyond toppling the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
  • By putting in place a new Constitution, the old centres of power are aggressively reconstructing the electoral system in their favour. The new political game deviates from the majoritarian principle and will instead ease the way for extra-parliamentary powers, including the armed forces, to intervene in politics.
  • The new Constitution and an election will not return Thailand to full democracy. Although the new Constitution seeks to legitimize the position of the old centres of power, this will not be enough to guarantee stability for the new regime.
  • Military power in politics will remain, and military control in some form will likely stay after the election.
 
INTRODUCTION
 
The aim of the latest coup in Thailand which took place on 22 May 2014 and which was carried out by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) goes beyond the simple ousting of the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. The electoral victories of Thaksin’s parties, the Palang Prachachon in 2007 and the Pheu Thai in 2011, informed the royalist elite that they could no longer afford to abide by the principle of majoritarian democracy. The discourse of anti-majoritarian democracy, crusaded by the anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirt movements, is now adopted by the military-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC). Instead of trying to win the hearts and minds of the electorate by introducing popular and positive policies, the entrenched elite appears to prefer an aggressive manipulation of the electoral system through rewriting the Constitution.
 
Seven months after the coup, key actors have disclosed their ideas for the new Constitution, making their heretofore unseen agenda more apparent. The revelation indicates that the new Constitution will be similar to the semi-democracy model that Thailand adopted in the 1980s. On the one hand, the structure that is being discussed, when implemented, will certainly prevent an emergence of strong and popular elected government. The appointed Senate will be the agent of the conservative elite and will play a vital role in that capacity. On the other hand, the new Constitution will provide the military with legitimacy to intervene in politics. Even if the junta holds general elections in early 2016 as it has declared that it will do, the top brass will continue to exert major influence over events.
 
A NEW POLITICAL RULE
 
In a previous ISEAS Perspective, I have argued that Thailand’s pro-coup entrenched royalists distrust electoral democracy, politicians and rural-voters. The anti-rural voter discourse was in fact central to
 
the Yellow Shirt campaigns led by the People’s Democratic Reform Council (PDRC) and its predecessor the People’s Alliance for Democracy. The coup is an opportunity for them to put construct a new political game where the electoral power of majority voters is reduced. In late December 2014, members of the military-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) revealed that the new charter will allow for a non-elected Member of Parliament to become prime minister. “We will not require the PM to be an MP or a member of any political party”, said CDC spokesperson and a staunch anti-Thaksin royalist, Kamnoon Sidhisaman. The change, if it happens, will be a step backwards for Thai politics. According to the so-called People’s Constitution of 1997, a prime minister must be an elected MP. It was one of the major demands made by democratic movements in the 1980s and 1990s, and was aimed at preventing military interference in politics. The inclusion of this requirement in the 1997 constitution was considered a major advance of Thailand’s democratization.
 
Moreover, the CDC wants the new Constitution to grant the Senate more power. Senators are to be able to propose reform bills and even scrutinize the profiles of nominated cabinet ministers before the prime minister submits the list for royal approval. The CDC also favours giving senators authority to vet the profiles of heads of all governmental organizations and to publish the details. In effect, the Senate will be a dutiful agent of the conservative powers in their attempt to steer the new game.
 
The set-up of the Senate proposed by the CDC reveals the conservative elite’s determination to consolidate their power over parliamentary politics. This ambition has been noticeable since the coup in 2006, which tore up the 1997 constitution. Previously, the clause on the Senate in the 1997 Constitution stated that all senators must be directly elected by the people. The coup-sponsored 2007 Constitution altered that. Of the 150 senators, 76 were directly elected while the rest were appointed. According to Mr. Kamnoon, the presently expected Constitution will increase the number of senators to 200, half of which will be appointed and the rest “indirectly elected”, which mean in effect that they are appointed, as I shall explain below. Mr. Kamnoon has said that senators are to be drawn from five groups: the first four are appointed and the fifth group “indirectly elected”.
 
The first group will be comprised of former leaders of the three power pillars. They are the twelve living prime ministers (Thaksin will no doubt be excluded), a small number of former House Speakers who are not members of a political party, and former court presidents. Members of the second group will be former high-ranking government officials. The third will involve chairpersons and representatives of certified professional organizations, such as the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Medical Council of Thailand. The civil sector, including agricultural cooperatives, labour unions and people’s organizations will form the fourth group.
 
Though the process of selection of the first four groups is not yet determined, a majority of the appointed senators will most likely represent the old power centres. This was the case with the anti-Thaksin group of “40 senators”, almost all of whom were appointed by the military-sponsored constitution of 2007. They were the major obstacle to the Pheu Thai’s party’s attempts to amend the Constitution and it was they who sought opportunities to have the Yingluck government impeached by the Constitutional Court.
 
The charter drafters claim that the fifth group of the senators will be “indirectly elected”. However, candidates of this group will first be “selected or screened” by professional councils before they are eligible to stand for election. Considering that most existing professional councils in Thailand are Bangkok-based middle class and aligned with the conservative powers, this fifth group will in no way be able to claim that they represent broad-based participatory politics. In essence, the whole Senate will be dominated by old power structure. The Senate is to be a supportive mechanism for a royalist government and at the same time act as a destabilizing force against a popular-based government.
 
While the new Constitution will expand the size and power of the Senate, the size of the House of Representative will become smaller. It will aim at creating a factional parliament and a weak government. Electoral candidates will not have to be affiliated to a political party which will mean that parliament will be filled with many small parties and with independents. Since the inclusion of this clause in the 2007 Constitution obviously failed to deter victories of Thaksin’s parties, the new Constitution can be expected to have measures that are more stringent than before.
 
According to the 2007 Constitution, the House of Representative had 500 members: 375 of whom were elected by voters and the other 125 appointed according to party-list proportional representation. The new Constitution, according to Borwornsak Uwanno, the chief of the CDC, the total number of MPs will not exceed 480 members, and 200 of these will be party- list MPs. Borwornsak has also proposed a new system for proportional calculation of the party-list MPs, claiming that the new system will favour smaller political parties.5 The Democrat Party will certainly be the beneficiary of this new system.
 
Furthermore, the judiciary and independent organizations such as the National Anti- Corruption Commission, are expected to continue as political tools counteracting democratization. Double standards will remain their practice, and noisy calls among pro-democracy scholars and voters for true reform of these organisations will not be heard by the CDC. Public participation in the charter drafting process has been a sham. The royalist elite have realized full well that their Constitution will fail to gain majority support from Thai voters. Therefore, Vishnu Krue-ngam, one of the key charter drafters and a deputy prime minister, has explicitly opposed a public referendum for the final draft of the new charter.
 
OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLE
 
The new game that the conservative powers are creating is like old wine in new bottle, however. It bears the signature of 1980s Thailand under the premiership of General Prem Tinnasulanond (1980-1988), who is currently chief advisor of the King. The constitution of 1978 allowed non-elected MPs, including a serving military officer, to be a prime minister. Parliament thus came to be filled with numerous small and factional political parties. Prem became a prime minister when he was still an army commander. Though he retired from the army in August 1981, his entrenched influence in the armed forces as well as his being the palace’s favourite were key factors keeping weak political parties subservient to his command.
 
The Senate also acted as a protective shield for Prem’s government. All 225 members of the Senate were selected by him and dominated over by members of the armed forces and top bureaucrats. The number of senators was at least 3/4 of that for the house of Representatives, but interestingly, the House Speaker came from the Senate. Senators also held similar power to that of MPs. Throughout his eight-year term, Prem never faced a single no-confidence motion in parliament. Because of his image as Mr. Clean and a staunch royalist image, the royalist elite and the middle class believe Prem’s period was a golden period for Thailand, when corruption was low and the communist threat was in decline. His policy of Export- oriented Industrial Strategy led to the country’s impressive economic growth in the late 1980s. Though Thailand is termed a semi-democracy under him, and the military dominated the parliamentary system, the royalist intelligentsia and the Bangkok middle class are still nostalgic about Prem’s era.
 
Even though the new Constitution will certainly produce a pseudo-democracy, it will offer legal legitimacy, as weak as that may be, for the old centres of power. Be that as it may, the new electoral system and new Constitution will be enough to encourage western communities to grant recognition to the new system and to normalize relations with it. This is indeed needed to steer Thailand out of economic stagnation.
 
A LONG-TERM STAY FOR MILITARY
 
Based on the above revelation by the CDC’s members, it should not be surprising for Thailand to have a retired military leader as a prime minister after the next election. It should not be surprising either for the NCPO to continue to exist and the martial law to remain in place after the election. The NCPO’s interim constitution says nothing about the dissolution of the NCPO. So far the media have not raised the question to the junta leaders either. Recently, the junta leaders insisted that the martial law will stay indefinitely. After the election, they may claim that martial law and the security forces are necessary tools to assist the elected government in running the country. They are possibly well aware that a new Constitution alone will not be enough for them to hold on to power because the anti-coup populace will not recognize its legitimacy. Without the repressive martial law to help them, they will face protests from various groups, including pro-democracy activists, the Red Shirts, southern farmers and even the pro-coup PDRC and PAD. The last two groups have grudged that after their heavy-invested campaigns to topple the Shinawatra governments, they were left without a fair share of the cake.
 
Besides, telling the Thai military to stay professional and stop interfering in politics does not make any sense to them. They have always believed that the armed forces are vital for the country’s peace and security. Prem’s New Year praise for General Prayuth and armed forces chiefs clearly shows the military mindset in Thailand. He said that the May 22 coup was a contribution to the national interest called for by the situation. He even encouraged Prayuth to proceed with courage because soldiers would never abandon the people.8
Re-establishing military power in politics is essential for the future of the armed forces, especially when Thailand is going through a transition from a long reign of King Bhumibol to the tenth king of the Chakri dynasty, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. A claim of being a true defender of the throne has always been the raison d’’etre of the armed forces. In return, the endorsement of the highly revered King Bhumibol is essential for the coup makers to claim sovereign legitimacy. But such a raison d’etre may not be sustainable with a less popular monarch.
 
The 2006 coup paved the way for the military to reclaim their role and legitimacy after they lost them in the violent suppression of the people in 1992. The latest coup provides a greater opportunity for them to entrench their power in the social and political lives of Thai society. Defence budgets have skyrocketed, reportedly increasing 135% since 2004. Before the 2006 coup, defence budget increases fluctuated around 3% to 5%. After the 2006 coup, the defence budget rose sharply from 85.93 billion baht in 2006 to 170.17 billion baht in 2009 and to 184.74 billion baht in 2014. Purchases of new weaponry faced no scrutiny, nor objection from political parties. After the 2014 coup, many high-ranking military officers were awarded positions in the cabinet, the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Committee and the board committee of many state enterprises. The armed forces have indeed been the biggest beneficiary of the coups. It is therefore fair to say that they will not fade from politics easily or voluntarily.
 
On the contrary, martial law will prevent the anti-military movements from regaining momentum. Besides, history informs us that to topple governments, either military ones (as in 1973 and 1992) or elected ones (as in 2006 and 2014) massive support from the Bangkok middle class is required. The fact is that rural people are the majority in Thailand but their actions have never been able to bring down a government. Even the biggest popular movement of the Red Shirts, which staged a three-month protest in Bangkok in March-May 2010 failed to force the government of Abhisit to dissolve parliament. Instead, they were mercilessly cracked down upon.
 
Unfortunately, the Bangkok middle class people currently still supports the junta despite its poor performance. Some analysts believe that a severe economic slowdown is likely to hit Thailand in 2015 and be a great challenge for the NCPO. Economic hardship may turn the pro-coup middle class into an anti-military movement. However, history tells us that economic hardship is not always a sufficient factor for triggering Thailand’s middle class uprisings. When the country was hard hit in 1984 by economic crisis, which led to the baht devaluation by the government of Prem Tinnasulanond, and in 1997 by the financial crisis, they did not yield a popular uprising. Corruption charges and self-serving dictatorial rulers tend to be crucial factors effectively mobilizing the middle class to topple the government.
 
Besides, in the current view of the conservative middle class, the NCPO’s dictatorship should be excused for its failings because it is a necessary method for wiping out the Shinawatra family’s power and for leading the country through a thorough reform. This does not mean that the middle class will remain loyal to the NCPO forever, though. Serious mistakes by, and corruption charges among the elite are needed before the middle class can get enlightened.
 
CONCLUSION
 
The prospect for Thailand’s democracy is dim. The conservative middle class and its movements have helped usher the old powers, especially the military, back on to the centre stage of Thai politics. The longer Thai society remains deeply divided, the more expansive military’s power will be. The new Constitution, the new electoral system, the judiciary and the armed forces will help them retain their domination. Thailand will evolve into a full authoritarian regime in disguise. This is not one of the reasons the NCPO claimed for staging a putsch but it is the great consequence that Thai society will have to live with.
 
 
Puangthong Pawakapan was Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS from 17 July 2014 to 14 January 2015. She is Associate Professor at the Department of International Relations, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University. This issue of ISEAS Perspective is part of ISEAS’ Thailand Studies Programme.

 

Note: Prachatai English cut  all footnotes from this article due to technical problem related to the website. 

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A group of pro-coup nationalist Thais rallied in front of the US Embassy in Bangkok, calling on the US to stop interfering in Thai politics after Daniel Russell, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, criticized the imposition of the martial law during his visit to Bangkok. 
 
The group calling themselves “The Network for the Protection of Thais’ Benefits and Dignity” gathered at the US Embassy on Wednesday and read a statement to the embassy. 
 
In the letter, the group urged the States to stop interfering in Thai politics, directly and indirectly and respect the Thai sovereignty. 
 
“Thailand has been independent continuously since the Sukhonthai Kingdom. Thai people love the nation. No country ever interfere in our domestic affairs,” it said. 
 
“[The Kingdom of Thailand] has been independent for almost 800 years and today Thai people are very proud and we are proudly nationalists because nationalism is the immunity for Thai people. The Kingdom of Thailand has good relations with all countries as you can see that there are embassies, consulates, and other international organizations from all countries around the world, having their offices in Thailand.” 
 
“No country has ever interfered with the domestic affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand,” it said. 
 
The statement also mentions the recent impeachment of former elected prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, on the charge of corruption related to the rice pledging scheme.  
 
“The Network for the Protection of Thais’ Benefit and Dignity urged you to respect the long-standing relations between the two countries and the relations of the US with the oldest country in Asia, which is the Kingdom of Thailand,” 
 
The group said they issued the statement on behalf of 60 millions Thai people from every province in the country. 
 
Read related news:
 
The image of the statement
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Khaosod English: Thailand’s military government has summoned the head of the United States Embassy after a senior US official criticized the junta's use of martial law and called for a return to democratic rule in Thailand.
 
The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Don Paramatwinai, said today that the US Charge d'Affaires to Thailand, W. Patrick Murphy, has been summoned to discuss a keynote speech given by a top US State Department official on Monday.
 
A spokesperson from the US Embassy in Bangkok said a statement on the summons is forthcoming.
 
In the talk, Daniel Russel, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, called upon the Thai military to repeal martial law and all restrictions on freedom of expression. He insisted that the US was not taking sides in Thai politics, but raised concerns over the impartiality of the impeachment of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra by the junta's interim lawmaker body last week. 
 
According to the Thai Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Russel's remarks caused many Thais to be "worried and disappointed."
 
 
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CHIANG MAI, 28 January 2015: Chiang Mai-based Kan Air will operate four weekly flights to Nakhon Ratchasima starting 2 February. The airline uses an ATR72-500 with 66 seats to serve the route. Flight schedule Chiang Mai (CNX) – Nakhon Ratchasima (NAK) Flight schedule Nakhon Ratchasima (NAK) – Chiang Mai (CNX) The airline sets its lowest […] Read more...
BANGKOK, 28 January 2015: Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports’ Department of Tourism joins hands with Thammasat University’s College of Innovation to write “a tourist attraction development action plan (2015 to 2017)”. Tourism department’s General Affair Division director, Boonserm Khunkaew, said Thailand needed a concrete tourism plan to drive the tourism industry forward. He made […] Read more...
Thai junta Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha has rebutted a top US diplomat's calls for a more "inclusive" political reform process and the lifting of martial law. The general's response yet again shows the impossible task to convince the world outside of Thailand that everything under the authoritarian rule is normal. Read more...
Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions / Forum Asia

(Bangkok, 27 January 2015) - National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in Asia still have considerable steps to take to ensure their full compliance in law and practice with the Paris Principles, the Asian NGO Network on NHRIs (ANNI) said following the recent release of the outcome report after the accreditation review from 27-31 October 2014 convened by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation of the International Coordinating Committee of NHRIs, the international governing body of NHRIs. Reflecting on the international body’s latest review exercise, ANNI stressed the importance of compliance with the Paris Principles through the practices and activities of NHRIs, and reiterated its call for NHRIs to ensure timely interventions, quality of responses and systematic follow-up plans to collectively address larger systemic issues in the country that can lead to institutional change.

The International Coordinating Committee of NHRIs’ Sub-Committee on Accreditation (ICC-SCA) recommended that the NHRIs from Mongolia, Afghanistan and Nepal retain their ‘A’ status, while the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand was downgraded and the determination of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea’s status was deferred to the March 2015 session.

The Asian NHRIs under review (including those re-accredited with ‘A’ status continue to be beset by problems that inhibit their independence and effectiveness. The ICC-SCA recommendations from the review also highlighted the critical role that States must play in the creation of an enabling environment for NHRIs to discharge their duties and actualize their mandates. Many NHRIs continue to be under-resourced or confront restrictions to their mandate and competence.

Commenting on the ICC-SCA’s review of the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia (NHRM)’s accreditation, Urantsooj Gombosuren, Executive Director of Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) said, “Despite retaining its ‘A’ status, the NHRCM cannot afford to be complacent and must begin to robustly address repeated recommendations relating to the selection and appointment process as well as strengthening protection mechanisms for human rights defenders.”

South Korea’s NHRI, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK), had the decision on its accreditation once again deferred by the ICC-SCA. The international governing body of NHRIs reiterated its concerns expressed in previous assessments of NHRCK, particularly in relation to deficiencies in its enabling law concerning selection, pluralism and immunity of its members.

Responding to this, NHRCK-Watch’s Eunji Kang said, “Even despite repeated deferrals by the ICC-SCA to prove its compliance with the Paris Principles, the NHRCK has been disingenuous and even diluted its proposed amendments on the Enabling Law to Parliament at the last minute. The recent appointment, again through a problematic selection process, of Commissioner Choi Ee-woo who has openly spoken out against LGBT rights, again highlights how the NHRCK is in crisis.”

Meanwhile, although the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal (NHRCN) was given an ‘A’ status, with the ICC-SCA welcoming the recent appointment of five Commissioners after a long period being vacant, the international body nevertheless recommended for further improvements, including for the NHRCN to advocate for changes in its enabling law that will ensure for a more comprehensive and transparent selection process of Commissioners. Bijaya Gautam, Executive Director of Nepal’s Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) noted, “We are relieved that the NHRC Nepal has finally emerged from a period of limbo and welcome the appointment of all members. However, a myriad of issues continue to exist, especially those relating to the transitional justice process, and the NHRC must prove itself at this critical juncture.”

Finally, the ICC-SCA recommended that the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) be downgraded from ‘A’ to ‘B’ status for its persistent deficiencies in the selection process of its members, including the absence of requirements for public advertisements of vacancies and for broad consultations in the application, screening and selection of applicants. The international body also registered concerns over the NHRCT’s inability to address serious human rights violations in a timely manner. NHRCT has been given a period of one year to provide evidences of improvement, failing which the downgrading will be enforced.

We are hardly surprised at this outcome as the NHRCT has suffered from a serious legitimacy deficit, which the SCA report poignantly points out. However, this is not a time to dismiss or disengage with the NHRC.  On the contrary, it is time for heightened vigilance and efforts to ensure the NHRC can function as a credible actor, in particular in this challenging political and security environment”, said Chalida Tajaroensuk, Executive Director of People’s Empowerment Foundation (PEF), Thailand.

The NHRIs under review and governments in the respective countries must take the review and recommendations seriously. The poor or non-implementation of ICC-SCA recommendations, even for ‘A’ status NHRIs, has been a recurring feature and suggests a sense of complacency or indifference,” said Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA, the designated secretariat of ANNI.

There remains much work to be done to revitalize NHRIs in the region before they can truly earn their place as the principal human rights mechanism in the country to their stakeholders, particularly human rights defenders and victims of rights violations,” added Balais-Serrano.

 

Background:

The Paris Principles articulate the minimum standards and provide a normative framework required for their effective work and functioning. The International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions’ Sub-Committee on Accreditation (ICC-SCA) has also developed General Observations to provide interpretive clarity to the Paris Principles and further guidance concerning the implementation of the Paris Principles. The ICC-SCA determines the status of each NHRI through assessments and periodic reviews of each insititution’s compliance with the Paris Principles and the General Observations. Most recently, in October 2014, five NHRIs in Asia from Mongolia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Thailand and South Korea were assessed for their institutional compliance with the Paris Principles both from a legal point of view as well as by considering their effectiveness at the national level. The outcome report of this latest round of reviews was released recently. The ICC-SCA accreditation statuses denote varying levels of participation rights and related privileges (such as voting rights and governance positions) within the United Nations human rights system.

 

About ANNI:

The Asian NGOs Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI) was established in December 2006. It is a network of Asian NGOs and human rights defenders working on issues relating to National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). ANNI is composed of members that are national organizations from all over Asia. ANNI currently has 30 member organizations from 17 countries or territories. The work of the ANNI members focus on strengthening the work and functioning of Asian NHRIs to better promote and protect human rights as well as to advocate for the improved compliance of Asian NHRIs with international standards, including the Paris Principles and General Observations of the Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the International Coordinating Committee (ICC). The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is the Secretariat of ANNI.

FORUM-ASIA has Consultative Status with the ECOSOC (UN Economic and Social Council) since 2004.

 

For further inquiries, please contact:

  • Joses Kuan, NHRI Advocacy Programme Officer, FORUM-ASIA, joses@forum-asia.org, +66 83544 5166

  • John Liu, South and East Asia Programme Manager, FORUM-ASIA, johnliu@forum-asia.org, +66 80282 8610

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BANGKOK, 27 January 2015: Thailand’s Ministry of Transport’s Department of Land Transport is considering a proposal to raise the Suvarnabhumi Airport taxi fee to THB100 up from THB50 at present. Taxi drivers at Suvarnabhumi International Airport complained to authorities that they are not making adequate income serving passengers at the airport and have requested that […] Read more...
Harrison George

In a move that caught observers completely unaware, the National Anti-Corruption Commission has initiated moves to impeach the National Legislative Assembly.

Fresh from its victory in impeaching former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the NACC seems intent on purging Thai politics of all forms of corruption.  And in their way of thinking, voting constitutes a form of corruption. 

Commissioner Vicha Mahakhun, who is on record as saying ‘We all know elections are evil’ during the drafting of the 2007 Constitution, has apparently persuaded his fellow commissioners that elections are also corrupt.

Because the NLA voted in the Yingluck case, the NACC will therefore impeach the entire Assembly, with the exception of one member who failed to cast a vote because illness prevented him from attending last Friday’s session. 

‘The NLA did not come into existence from elections, but was appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order, and neither was the NCPO voted into office.  It is quite unsuitable for them suddenly to decide that an important matter like impeachment should be decided by voting,’ explained the NACC.

The NACC move, while perhaps philosophically consistent, raises some serious questions about its practical application.  If the NLA is not to decide any issue by voting, then how are decisions to be made?  An NACC spokesperson said this is no real problem.

‘For any situation, there is a right decision and a wrong decision.  And good people will choose the right decision and bad people will choose the wrong decision.  The military, who are good people, have appointed the NLA, so they must also be good people.  In fact, since the majority of the NLA are military officers, they are doubly good.

‘So as good people they will automatically make the correct decisions.  And if they are in any doubt, they can just ask other good people, like the NCPO, or even us at the NACC, and we can tell them what the right decision is.

‘In the case of the Yingluck impeachment, it should have been obvious that the right decision was to remove her from an office that she no longer holds,’ he added.  ‘In fact most of the NLA did that, but in the wrong way, by voting.  This gave the nation a bad example of how to make important political decisions.’

When asked to explain the seemingly nonsensical situation of the NLA deciding on whether to impeach itself, the spokesperson again saw no problem.  ‘In the case of that woman, she no longer held any office from which she could be removed by impeachment.  Furthermore, the interim constitution that governs the working of the NLA does not give it any powers of impeachment.  But that didn’t stop us from doing what was right.  Everyone in this country must obey the rule of law.  Especially when the rule is without mandate and the law is non-existent.’

The spokesperson was asked how the NACC had come to a decision on this impeachment move, and notably whether it had involved any voting among members of the NACC.  He became quite heated in his response.

‘It is a slander to insinuate that the NACC would ever resort to corrupt practices such as voting.  We did approach the Office of the Attorney-General to ask for their endorsement of our action, but the OAG kept asking for evidence that voting was corrupt, which just proves that they do not understand basic justice.  We also suspected that the OAG was going to demand that any decision of the joint committee be decided by a vote.  We obviously could not condone such corrupt behaviour.’

A reporter then asked for confirmation that the NACC was the only agency behind the impeachment.

‘Of course not,’ retorted the spokesperson.  ‘The OAG is also behind it.  After their initial foot-dragging, we called a special meeting of our joint committee where we did not invite them.  This meeting then decided, without taking a vote, to impeach.  Everything is perfectly fair and honest and has been done strictly according to the rules that we make up as we go along.’

The media then wanted to know what would happen to the NCPO’s roadmap for democracy if there was no NLA.  In response, it was suggested that the NCPO could always appoint a new NLA, but with strict instructions to decide things as they were told, instead of holding votes.  An alternative would be to transfer the NLA’s responsibilities to some other agency.  To the NACC, for example. 

‘But wouldn’t it violate the principle of separation of powers to have an independent agency take on a legislative role?’ asked one journalist.  The spokesperson pooh-poohed that idea, noting that the judiciary had long had a de facto legislative role and the current constitution allowed the NCPO to do anything.

It was also asked how the elections promised for 2016 could take place if voting was corrupt.  The NACC said that this was a matter for the Constitutional Drafting Committee, but there were doubts. 

‘They might not be capable of devising a system of Thai-style democracy without elections.  You see, members of the CDC themselves were elected into office.  So they are already corrupt.’


About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

 

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The Appeal Court granted bail to an ex-lese majeste convict, sentenced to jail for failing to report himself to the junta after the coup.

The Appeal Court on Monday granted bail to Nat S., a former lese majeste convict who was first to be sentenced to prison without suspension for defying junta’s order, after the defence lawyer submitted 40,000 bail request.   

On Thursday, the Court of First Instance sentenced Nat to two years and 20 days in prison with the jail term reduced by half. The court did not suspend the jail term like other anti-coup protesters because the defendant was once convicted under Article 112 or the lese majeste in 2009. However, the defendant appealed, hoping that the jail term will be suspended.

After Nat was detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison for four nights, the defence lawyer submitted a bail request to the appeal court. He was released on bail on Monday.

Nut was charged with disobeying Order No. 5/2014, which summoned him to report to the junta in late May. He was summoned by the military merely because he was convicted of lèse majesté prior to the coup.

During the hearing at the military court in Bangkok on 17 December 2014, he pleaded guilty as charged and the court ordered the Justice Ministry’s Probation Department to observe his behaviour and submit a report to the court within 30 days.

Nut was arrested and detained by the military from 7-14 June 2014. However, on 28 June, he was arrested again and brought to the Crime Suppression Division on a charge of defying junta orders.

In 2009, Nut was charged with lèse majesté under Article 112 and under Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act for sending three lèse majesté video clips to Emilio Esteban, whom the police identified as an Englishman residing in Spain. Esteban ran the now-defunct ‘Stop Lèse Majesté’ blog.

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Bangkok’s Military Court dismissed a petition questioning its jurisdiction, submitted by Worachet Pakeerut, a prominent law academic and core member of the Nitirat group, who was charged with failing to report to the junta.    

According to Free Thai Legal Aid (FTLA), the Military Court of Bangkok on Monday morning rejected the petition submitted by Worachet.

Nitirat is a progressive law academic group based in the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, Bangkok. The group has been well known for its courageous stand on the campaign to amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code, known as the lèse majesté law.  

The petition was submitted to the military court in order to allow the Constitutional Court to interpret whether the junta’s Announcements No. 37/2014 and 38/2014 on the jurisdiction of the military courts violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, the military court simply dismissed the request.

The court cited its power to rule over the case in accordance with the announcement of the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the Interim Charter written by the coup-makers, and said that its ruling does not violate the ICCPR because the Interim Charter also gives civil and political rights in parallel with the ICCPR.     

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, another key member of the Nitirat group, posted on his Facebook page that the ruling of the military court breached the principles of the ICCPR which Thailand has an obligation to adhere to as a state party.   

Article 14/1 of the ICCPR states “all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any charge against him, or his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

Worachet Pakeerut (third from left) with his lawyer Winyat Chatmontri (second from left) from FTLA, talking to the press in front the military court on 26 January 2015     

Moreover, Article 14/5 adds “Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction or sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law”.

Sam Zarifi, Asia and Oceania Regional Director of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), earlier told Prachatai in an interview “The military courts really are designed to handle cases of military personnel. International law really does not approve of civilians being tried by military tribunals. The reason for that is simple, because the military tribunal does not always provide the dual process and protection that international law demands.”  

This is the second petition dismissed by the military court that questioned its jurisdiction to try civilians.

Earlier on Friday, the military court dismissed the same petition submitted by Sombat Boonngam-anong (aka nuling), an anti-coup red-shirt activist accused of the same charge.

Worachet was arrested in late June after he flew back to Thailand from Hong Kong and was detained at the Crime Suppression Division and Bangkok Remand Prison for interrogation for two days.

He was summoned twice on May 24 and June 9. On June 10, however, he failed to report to the junta citing health problems. Patcharin Pakeerut, Worachet’s wife, submitted a letter to the military prior to his arrest, saying that Worachet did not intend to flee, and would delay reporting due to his health problems.

The military court has scheduled the witness hearing on 26 May 2015.

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Almost 10,000 people have signed a petition urging the junta not to pass the digital economy bills which will give the state unprecedented powers of mass surveillance and control over communications in the name of national security.

Thai Netizen Network, an advocacy group promoting online privacy and internet freedom, opened an online petition on change.org last week to collect names to halt the legislative process of the digital economy bills, which were approved by the junta’s cabinet earlier this month.

More than 5,000 people signed the petition within 24 hours of the page being created.

The Thai Netizen made the following remarks on the digital economy bills:  

Stop sniffing.  Stop the “Cyber Security Bill” – In order to promote the digital economy, freedom of expression must first be protected.

Recently, several bills related to information and communication technology were proposed. The cabinet has approved in principle ten bills in the series. Three more are in the pipeline.

We, the signatories, are concerned that these 10+3 bills violate the rights and liberties of the people and operators in several ways, monopolize resources and do not promote the digital economy as claimed. They are in fact digital security bills. We have the following remarks:  

  • These bills in fact are not about the digital economy, but national security, and bestow vast powers on the authorities.
  • These bills, which will extensively affect people’s lives and the economy, have not been adequately deliberated by either the people or the state authorities.  In particular, the eight bills which were hastily proposed and approved by the cabinet on 6 January 2015 were not on the meeting agenda. Some state agencies have never seen the bills before.
  • There are at least five draft amendments and brand new bills – the amendment of Computer Crime Act, the Cyber Security, Digital Transactions and Inducement Suppression bills, and the amendment of Criminal Procedure bill – which allow the authorities to search, confiscate, have access to and intercept communications without any check and balance from any credible judicial authority and in some cases, these acts can be conducted without strong evidence. This is a violation of freedom of expression, the right to privacy and the right to personal information, and will affect the confidence of the operators of businesses related to information and communication.
  • The draft amendment of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Technology (NBTC) bill destroys the independence of this regulator and may pave the way for the return of radio frequencies into the hands of the government and the military, as was the case before the enactment of 1997 Constitution. This will destroy the principle that radio frequencies are public resources and will also destroy the mechanism of the free market. The objectives of the fund which now derives from the license fee for radio frequencies will be gravely modified. From a fund for research for the public good – promoting consumer protection, social enterprise, professional ethics, accessibility, and media literacy for people with physical challenges, the elderly and the marginalized – it will become a fund for loans to state authorities and the private sector.  
  • The draft amendment of the NBTC does not tackle the problems of transparency and accountability. The bill will establish another agency which has a rather similar financial and administrative structure.
  • All the bills lack a clear mechanism to protect the rights and liberties of consumers. Moreover, no committee has a quota for representatives on rights. The most obvious case is the committee on the protection of personal information under the Protection of Personal Information bill. The three seats for consumer rights representatives were cut and replaced with two seats for national security representatives. They also share a secretariat with the committee on National Cyber Security. The two agencies’ roles are in conflict. This may lead to conflict of interest and a poor check and balance mechanism.

On Saturday, at a public forum on law reform, Surangkana Wayuparb, the Chief Executive Officer of the Electronic Transaction Development Agency (ETDA), told the media that some of the content of the controversial digital economy bills is in error and that the bills are not national security bills as civil society understood.

“We have to accept that with limited time because of the attempt to finish [drafting the bills] before the election along with many other bills and organic laws to be completed, this might cause mistakes [in the Digital Economy Bills] in some issues,” said Surangkana.

“We admit our mistakes, particularly Article 35 of the Cyber Security Bill (CSB), as our working team had to rush the drafting of all 10 bills so we could enforce them before the next general election,” the Bangkok Post quoted Surangkana as saying.

Article 35 of the CBS states that for the purpose of performing their duties under this Act, officials who have been entrusted in writing by the Secretary shall have the following powers:

  • (1) to issue letters asking questions or requesting a state agency or any person to give testimony, submit an explanation in writing, or submit any account, document, or evidence for the purpose of inspection or obtaining information for the benefit of the execution of this Act;
  • (2) to issue letters requesting state agencies or private agencies to act for the benefit of the NCSC’s performance of its duty;
  • (3) to gain access to information on communications, either by post, telegram, telephone, fax, computer, any tool or instrument for electronic media communication or telecommunications, for the benefit of the operation for the maintenance of Cybersecurity.

Implementation under (3) shall be as specified by rules issued by the Council of Ministers.     

In response to a question whether the junta will monopolize the distribution of the radio frequencies, the ETDA director said “I confirm that the government does not intend to intervene with radio frequencies.”

Maj Gen Pichet Kongsri, a member of one of the eight digital economy working groups led by Deputy Prime Minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, said at the forum in response to many criticisms that the digital economy bills are actually national security bills in disguise. “Currently, as for the ‘national security’ issue that many are concerned about, please interpret this in the wider context which does not imply the national security of the state, but the overall picture of society, politics, economics, and individuals all of which have to be balanced.”

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BANGKOK, 26 January 2015: Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau launched its ASEAN Rising Trade Show campaign to pull more business for exhibitions in five key sectors over the next three years. The five key rising sectors are: automotive; energy; infrastructure; food & agriculture; and health & wellness. It will involve substantial support grants for exhibition […] Read more...
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CHIANG RAI, 26 January 2015: A bus accident that injured 16 South Korean tourists at the weekend is another shocking example of the risks of travelling by tour bus in Thailand. Khaosod English language news channel reported, Sunday, that the tour bus carrying tourists from South Korea crashed into an oncoming pick-up truck in Chiang […] Read more...
BANGKOK, 26 January 2015: Thailand’s has tweaked its regulations governing sale times for alcoholic beverages restricting entertainment establishments to just five hours daily. A core regulation that sales of alcohol cannot exceed 10 hours a day remains, but many of the exceptions have been rescinded. The rule that alcohol beverages can now only be sold from […] Read more...