Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)

Thailand

Date of AiR edition

News summary

18 February 2020

Thailand: The Future Forward Party: A future amid legal troubles? 

(jk) Thailand’s Future Forward Party (FFP) is awaiting a crucial Constitutional Court ruling this week (21 February) in a case regarding alleged misconduct in receiving money in form of a donation in violation of Thailand’s Political Parties Act. [Asia in Review, No. 51, December/2019, 3] The case may well end the party’s existence altogether and lead to a politics ban for the party executives. 

41-year-old party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit talks about the case, the party’s and his future, and why in his view, the ongoing proceedings should be considered “lawfare” rather than due process.  [Southeast Asia Globe]

 

 

11 February 2020

Thailand: Southern Thailand’s Peace Dialogue: Giving Substance to Form

(jk) Over six years ago, a peace dialogue process between the Thai government and an umbrella organisation of Malay-Muslim separatist from southern Thailand – MARA Patani (Patani Consultative Council)- has begun. To date, the process has not been much of a success. With the government appointing a new leader for its side of the discussion back in October 2019, many are hoping for some movement and fresh approaches. A detailed in-depths report on the issue and possible ways ahead were collated and written by the International Crisis Group earlier this year. [International Crisis Group]  

 

 

11 February 2020

Thailand: Constitutional Court rules budget bill “partially” constitutional 

(jk) This past week, Thailand’s constitutional court ruled on the legality of the country’s 2020 budget bill. As reported, members of Thailand’s House of Representatives had requested a Constitutional Court ruling on its validity after at least two MPs did not vote in person but had their votes casted on their behalf.  [Asia in Review, No. 4, January/2020, 4]

The court now decided that votes in the second and third reading shall be recast, but upheld the overall legality of the bill and said in a statement that the first round of voting “went smoothly”. With the government currently having a decent majority in Parliament, observers expect the bill not to be voted down. After some MPs and parties have changed aisles, the remaining six parties in the opposition hold less than 240 out of the 500 seats.

With regards to a similar situation in 2014, when a Yingluck-sponsored infrastructure bill was nullified over proxy-voting, the court said it would see some significant differences in the two cases. One of these was that the court enjoyed more leeway under new procedures laid down for it in recent provisions. [Bangkok Post] [AIPA]

A former Thai Minister of Commerce, and Pheua Thai party member, was among the first to question the Constitutional Court’s ruling. He stated on his Facebook page numerous reasons to question the ruling, for instance that in his view, the “process of legislation comprises three readings and, if any reading is invalid, the entire process for passing that legislation is null and void.” [Thai PBS 1] Another critique was that the nine Constitutional Court judges did not read a “full text of their ruling” from the bench but rather issued a press release only. [Thai PBS 2]

4 February 2020

Thailand: Public commemorations of 1932 revolutionaries continue to be dismantled

(jk) A number of statues commemorating the 1932 revolt that ended absolute monarchy in Thailand were removed recently, raising the eyebrows of pro-democracy forces in the country and casting an eye back to 2017, when the removal and replacement of an 80-year-old bronze plaque in front of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in Bangkok made headlines. [Channel News Asia

In 2018, a monument that commemorated a government victory over a pro-monarchy rebellion (Boworadet Rebellion) was removed without notice or explanation [Khaosod 1], and in 2019, the leaders of this rebellion were honoured by naming two halls in the army museum after them. [Khaosod 2]

Now, the National Defence College in Bangkok and an artillery base in Lopburi province removed a bronze statue of Thailand’s longest serving prime minister and integral part of the 1932 revolution, Field Marshal Pibulsongkram, and replaced it, in the latter case, with a portrait of late King Rama IX. [Khaosod 3Khaosod 4]

4 February 2020

Thailand: media is outsourcing much of its coverage to Beijing 

(jk) Thai Channel 3 has announced this week a partnership with Chinese Xinhua News Agency to broadcast Xinhua coverage on the Coronavirus outbreak, leading to concern over fair and balanced reporting on the issue. Many other major Thai news-outlets already share large amounts of Xinhua content, which they get for free, making the deal at least financially attractive for the platforms. As the Thai Enquirer notes, however, the “dominance of Chinese content in Thai news long precedes the Coronavirus outbreak. Since 2019, Chinese media has been making tremendous inroads into Thai-language news and is beginning to make its appearance in English-language Thai newspapers.”

News Media is a struggling industry in Thailand with two of its countrywide English language  newspapers in very deep water – The Nation and the Bangkok Post- and China is increasingly trying to influence the narrative aboard. [Thai Enquirer]

4 February 2020

Fake News: A different Corona Virus Battle 

(jk/fs) With the news heavily dominated by the Corona Virus outbreak this past week, a number of Southeast Asian governments have tried to reign in on rumours and fake news related to the virus by using their respective “fake news legislations”.

In Malaysia, the health minister went as far as saying that the spread of fake news had become more critical than the issue of the virus within the country. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on Wednesday conducted four separate raids that resulted the arrest of four suspected for posting and distributing false reports about the outbreak. They and two more suspects arrested earlier in the week, were subsequently detained under Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Act for sharing offensive and menacing content. If found guilty, they could face imprisonment of up to one year. [Channel News Asia] [South China Morning Post]

Singapore has issued several correction directions in the past week over false claims concerning the situation in Singapore, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office said. One addressee was AB-TC City News, wrongly claiming the infection of five Singaporeans who had not been to China. Another one was the Facebook page of The States Times newspaper, objected to for reporting that the city-state had run out of masks. Another correction notice was issued over personal Facebook posts of citizens claiming the virus had been discovered at an MRT station and that it was closed for disinfection.  

The authorities also announced a lifting of POFMA temporary exemptions of general correction directions for major search engines and social media platforms due to the evolving situation of the Wuhan virus. These “can be issued to prescribed Internet intermediaries, telecoms and broadcast licensees, or newspapers, to get them to communicate a correction notice to all users in Singapore – not just the ones who access the falsehood – when a false statement has been conveyed and it is in the public interest to correct it.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong supported the extensive use of the law and told reporters “Some of it, we know, is malicious and deliberate – people who are making up stories, people who are deliberately fomenting fear, uncertainty and doubt”. [The Straits Times]

In Thailand, the digital economy minister said that two were charged with violating the computer crimes act – which carries up to five years in prison – for false separate social media posts about the virus thus far. He said the ministry’s Anti-Fake News Center collaborated with the police in the arrest. [Khaosod English]

28 January 2020

Thailand: New hope for the deep south as government and rebel group meet

(ls) Thai officials have held their first formal meeting in recent years with Muslim separatists from southern Thailand belonging to the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani, or BRN, the major rebel group operating in the area. The head of BRN’s delegation, Anas Abdulrahman, said that the two sides had agreed on a framework and terms of reference to guide their talks on ending the conflict in a way that would be real and sustainable. Since the current insurgency started in 2004 in the three southernmost provinces, about 7,000 civilians, soldiers, government workers and rebels have died in the violence. [Khaosod English]

 

28 January 2020

Thailand: Budget bill up in the air as MPs raise voting irregularities

(ls) 174 Members of Thailand’s House of Representatives have requested a Constitutional Court ruling on the validity of the 3.2-trillion baht budget bill for the 2020 fiscal year. The request came after it became apparent that at least two MPs of the Bhumjaithai party did not vote in person; rather, other MPs voted on behalf of them. According to Sec. 120(3) of the 2017 Constitution, each MP has one vote. [Bangkok Post 1]

In this case, the Court might be guided by a relevant precedent. In March 2014, the Constitutional Court had ruled that a 2-trillion-baht loan bill sponsored by the Yingluck government was unconstitutional after some Pheu Thai MPs had used voting cards on behalf of their colleagues. Regarding the current case, also Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said proxy voting was wrong. [Bangkok Post 2] [Bangkok Post 3]

 

28 January 2020

Thailand benefiting from Chinese investment due to U.S.-China trade war

(ls) Throughout the year 2019, Southeast Asian economies have largely benefited from the U.S.-China trade war as Chinese investors relocated their production bases. As for Thailand, China has become the country’s biggest foreign investor for the first time, replacing Japan. Chinese direct investment in Thailand jumped nearly five times to 262 billion baht ($8.6 billion) in 2019 from the previous year, far exceeding Japan’s 73.1 billion baht. [Nikkei Asian Review]

 

21 January 2020

Thailand: Constitutional Court decides not to dissolve Future Forward Party

(jk) On Tuesday, Thailand’s Constitutional Court decided that there is not enough evidence to rule the Future Forward Party (FFP) had conspired to overthrow the monarchy and therefore to disband the party. 

The petition the court ruled upon alleged that FFP works towards overthrowing the monarchy based on speeches given by its executives and the fact that the party charter refers to “democratic principles under the constitution”, rather than to “a democratic regime of government with the King as head of state”, which is the official designation of the Kingdom under its constitution. In addition, the petition also included more obscure allegations, such as a connection between FFP and the Illuminati which was based on similarities some saw in the respective logos. [Bangkok Post]

While proponents of FFP will be pleased with this verdict, the legal challenges for the party are far from over as it is still facing a very real risk of dissolution.  Another petition – filed by the Election Commission of Thailand in December last year – alleges misconduct in receiving money in form of a donation in violation of Thailand’s Political Parties Act. [Asia in Review, No. 51, December/2019, 3]

 

21 January 2020

Thai and Indonesian armies agree to share intelligence on militants

(jk) Thailand’s army chief, who visited Indonesia last week, met his Indonesian counterpart and signed an intelligence sharing agreement on cross-border movements of fugitives and militants. The agreement was signed in Indonesia’s Aceh province where they met initially to to sign a four-year extension of a bilateral army cooperation deal. [Benar News]

Thailand’s army chief said he was visiting Aceh to understand how Indonesia reached a settlement with Muslim insurgents in Aceh province in 2005. [Khaosod English]

 

14 January 2020

Thailand: Rallies in opposition and in support of the Prime Minister as annual budget is passed

(ls) Two rallies, each gathering thousands of participants, were held in Bangkok last weekend. The anti-regime event was called “Wing Lai Lung” (Run to Oust the Uncle), whereas the rally in support of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was titled “Dern Cheer Lung” (Walk In Support of the Uncle). Future Forward Party (FFP) leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and spokeswoman Pannika Wanich were among the politicians who joined the anti-Prayut run. A similar event is being scheduled in Chiang Mai on February 2. [Bangkok Post]

Authorities in the provinces Ubon Ratchathani and Phayao, however, refused to allow people to take part in local versions of the campaign-run, citing reasons related to security and obstruction of traffic. [Bangkok Post] According to Thailand’s Public Assembly Act of 2015, public assemblies are subject to approval by the competent authority. [Public Assembly Act translation]

The contrasting demographics of the events reflected splits in age, class and politics, with many older people leaning towards the army-aligned establishment and younger participants favoring Thanathorn’s message of change. However, Prime Minister Prayuth gained a political victory when parliament approved the 3.2 trillion baht annual budget on Saturday after a months-long delay. It was the biggest budget in the country’s history. The bill was viewed as a test of his ability to bring key legislation through a strongly divided legislature. [South China Morning Post]

The government coalition held a thin majority in the 500-member Lower House a few months ago with just 251 seats in the 500-seat lower chamber but the grouping, which comprises 18 parties, now holds 259 seats against the opposition’s 240. This is due to two by-election victories and six new MPs joining the coalition – two independents and four expelled from Future Forward for voting against the party. [Straits Times]

7 January 2020

Thailand: Handouts of cannabis oil at Bangkok clinic 

(jk) After becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to legalise medical marijuana, a clinic in Bangkok opened this week, offering cannabis oil to hundreds of patients. Thailand’s health minister said that the drug has been “de-stigmatised” in Thailand. Recreational use however is still illegal and carries severe penalties of up to 10 years in prison. [Yahoo]

31 December 2019

Thailand: Journalist gets two years over libelling poultry farm on Twitter

(jk) A Thai court sentenced a Thai TV journalist to two years in prison over defamation charges against a Thai chicken farm. The company behind the farm made negative headlines in 2016 when a group of migrant workers made a complaint to Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission about conditions there such as 20 hour days work without any days off, confiscating IDs, and paying below the minimum wage.

Previously, a court sentenced the company to pay compensation and dismissed the defamation case brought forward by the company against the workers. The company however continued to file lawsuits against others who shared the allegations on Twitter for “hurt[ing] the company’s interests” by public statements. Among those are the now sentenced journalist – who is planning to appeal -, as well as former Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit. [Bangkok Post]

24 December 2019

Thailand: PPRP wins by-election as opposition prepares vote of no-confidence

(ls) Thailand’s ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) won a seat in a by-election in Khon Kaen province. PPRP was thus able to prevail against Pheu Thai that could traditionally rely on Khon Kaen as a political base. The election is therefore seen as a possible sign of loosening Pheu Thai domination in Thailand’s northeast. The by-election was held after a court in September sentenced to death the incumbent Pheu Thai MP Nawat Tohcharoensuk after finding him guilty of masterminding a murder six years ago. [Bangkok Post 1]

Meanwhile, Pheu Thai announced that it will table a motion for a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Deputy PMs Wissanu Krea-ngam and Somkid Jatusripitak, and Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai next month. [Bangkok Post 2]

In a separate development, Future Forward has expelled four renegade MPs after they ahd voted at least twice against the stances of the party and the opposition whip. They have 30 days to join another party or lose their MP status in which case by-elections will be held to find their substitutes. [Bangkok Post 3]

17 December 2019

Thailand: The beginning of the end of Future Forward? 

(jk) With a decision to recommend the dissolution of the Future Forward Party (FFP) last week, the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) has set in motion a development that was largely expected by many observers of Thai politics.

On Wednesday last week, the ECT recommended the FFP’s dissolution due to it breaking Political Parties Act by accepting money illegally from its party chief Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. In a statement, it said it considered what was meant to be a loan a donation instead and the amount of it was by far exceeding the allowed amount of 10 million Baht. [Khaosod English]

The ECT itself cannot dissolve the party, but it can make a recommendation and refer the case to the Constitutional Court of Thailand which it has done. The court has only last month stripped Thanathorn of his MP status [Asia in Review, No. 48, November/2019, 4]. It also has a history of dissolving non-conformist parties so FF is understandably worried.

While the government claims it is in no way interfering in this strictly “legal” process, FF claims the case is politically motivated and that the “donation” was clearly a loan and had been declared as such. Should the court rule to dissolve the party, it would also mean the end of the political career of its 15 executives under the current circumstances. [Bangkok Post]

In response, on Friday, Thanathorn via his social media account called upon his supporters not to stand for the unfair political tirade against him and Future Forward. Following his call, an estimated two to three thousand supporters gathered in central Bangkok on Saturday, where he addressed the crowd and said: “We come together today in a show of force, to show that we will not retreat and will not put up with things any longer. This is not a day to protect the Future Forward, but a day to protect the future of all Thais.” [Khaosod English]

Police have said they are preparing legal action against the organizers of the political rally for violating laws surrounding public gatherings. Party members of the ruling coalition have further alleged sedition and advocate for serious consequences for holding one of the biggest political rallies in Bangkok since the coup in 2014. [Bangkok Post 2Bangkok Post 3]

 

17 December 2019

Thailand – Asia’s strong new data protection law

(jk) Graham Greenleaf and Arthit Suriyawongkul have written a piece back in September clarifying some of the complexities underlying Thailand’s Personal Data Protection Act and conclude that the act could become one of Asia’s strongest laws on data protection. It is the first in Asia that is strongly “GDPR” based and sets a high standard for data protection generally. However, they caution that administration of the law is key and that many sub-regulations and exemptions are not yet clear. [SSRN Papers]

10 December 2019

Thailand: Government coalition defeats “Section 44” motion

(ls) After the week’s surprise win of the opposition in a parliamentary vote over a motion to scrutinize the impacts of orders issued under Section 44 of Thailand’s interim charter, a second vote last week defeated the motion. Again, the opposition left the chamber before the vote. However, eleven opposition MPs did not joint their colleagues. The second vote was called after the government whip had invoked parliament regulation No. 85 which allows for a “recount”. According to observers, the opposition is likely to forward the issue to the Constitutional Court. [Bangkok Post] [ilaw]

The government coalition relied also on the vote of an MP who has been stripped of his MP status and who faces an arrest warrant issued by the Supreme Court for his role in disrupting the 2009 ASEAN Summit. How he was able to get into the Parliament undetected has remained unclear. [The Thaiger]

3 December 2019

Thailand: Coalition government suffers defeat in parliament vote on a review committee on Section 44 impacts

(jk) The opposition in the Thai parliament put forward a motion to review the impacts of section 44 which was voted upon and led to a surprising defeat for the government after six Democrat Party MPs voted in its favour last week. The immediate response to the loss by the governing coalition was to request a re-count of the vote which led to protests and a walk-out by many opposition MPs which avoided such re-count. [Bangkok Post]

The vote again shows how tricky it can be for the government to operate on such a narrow majority.  Section 44 empowered the Thai leadership prior to convening the new cabinet after the 2019 elections to issue essentially any order deemed necessary to prevent any act that undermines public peace or threatens national security. It was referred to as General Prayuth’s “magic wand” and often criticized.

3 December 2019

“Pracharat welfare” depoliticises Thailand’s “political peasants”

(jk) This article traces the development of welfare in Thailand and explains how it is affecting ongoing changes in the relationship between the state and rural areas in the country. It explains how attitudes to welfare policy of a large section of Thais remains negative and that by linking the objectives of it to “the efficient use of state expenditure and stimulating the economy muddy the goal of reducing inequality and easily leaves it open to distortion under the guise of meeting the other objectives.” Moreover, it finds that increasing “intimacy” between an undemocratic state and private conglomerates is the defining relationship driving welfare policy. [New Mandala]

26 November 2019

Thailand: Constitutional Court disqualifies Thanathorn from being MP

(ls) In a long-awaited ruling, Thailand’s Constitutional Court has ruled 7-2 to disqualify Future Forward Party (FFP) leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit as Member of Parliament for having shares in a media company when applying to become MP. Future Forward had a surprise success in March’s parliamentary election and became an outspoken opposition party, challenging the military and other established powers. The Bangkok Post has summarized the main arguments of the Court. [Bangkok Post]

Future Forward itself is facing possible dissolution as well. Though the possibility of a confrontation between the establishment and Future Forward, which received at least 6 million votes in the election, could raise concerns that the cycle of street protests and violence may return to Thailand. However, activists interviewed say such a scenario is unlikely due to a limited level of willingness to resist. [Khaosod English]

26 November 2019

Thailand: Historic Pope visit

(ls) Last week, Pope Francis visited Thailand. In an audience of about 70,000 people, he expressed concern about the suffering of women, children and migrants. The Pope met Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Supreme Patriarch, and later had a private audience with His Majesty the King. The last pope to visit Thailand was Pope Saint John Paul II, who visited the country over four decades ago in 1984. Currently, the country’s 388,000-strong Catholic community makes up less than 1% of the population. Most of the country’s Catholics live in the North and Central regions. [Bangkok Post]

 

19 November 2019

Thailand: Future Forward Party plans bill seeking to end military conscription

(jk) The Future Forward Party (FFP) plans a bill seeking to move to a process of recruitment of volunteers rather than military conscription as part of their vow to reform the military in Thailand. The armed forces have long defended conscription, and still do, insisting it is “necessary for national security”. [Bangkok Post]

FF leader Thanathorn speaks in an interview with [Asia Times] about this, the pro-democracy movement and his personal future in politics with the one of many legal cases against him being decided this week that may well lead to the end of his status as an MP.

 

19 November 2019

Thailand: Constitutional Court removes MP status of Pheua Thai Party MP over murder case

(jk) The Constitutional Court removed the MP status of a  Pheua Thai Party MP last week, following his conviction for murder earlier this year. The removal of the MP will lead to another by-election. The former MP was found guilty and sentenced to death by the Khon Kaen Criminal Court last  September over masterminding the murder of a local administrative official. [Bangkok Post]

 

19 November 2019

Thailand and US sign “Joint Vision Statement 2020″ on defense

(jk) Thailand and the US signed a joint vision statement on defence ahead of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and related meetings this week with US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, who is in Bangkok for the ADM plus meetings. The statement, according to Esper “reaffirms our mutual commitment to the U.S.-Thai Alliance, and to a future of even deeper cooperation. [It] demonstrates our determination as an alliance to be more active together in the region to advance our mutual security interests. [The region] remains the United States’ number one priority region.” [US Embassy Thailand]

The Thai government also signed memoranda of understanding on defence cooperation with Japan and China, with the Chinese MoU including intelligence liaison and news and information sharing. [Bangkok Post]

 

12 November 2019

Thailand: Attack on checkpoint in deep south kills 15

(ls) In Thailand’s southern province of Yala, an attack on a security checkpoint resulted in the death of 15 armed volunteers, leaving five more injured. Military officials said the separatist group National Revolution Front (BRN) was behind the attack. [Khaosod English]

In response, a combined force of military rangers and policemen carried out a series of raids at several locations in Yala and Pattani. An announcement in the Royal Gazette allowed the director of the International Security Command, which is Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, to consider a curfew in eight districts, which if approved would take effect on Dec 1. [Bangkok Post]

 

12 November 2019

Anti-dam movements in Southeast Asia

(ls) While several Southeast Asian governments view hydropower dams as national development projects to be promoted by decision makers and businesses, civil society organizations and communities often advocate for a counternarrative demanding greater responsibility of the investors. A piece in The Diplomat describes anti-dam movements in Thailand as well as transboundary approaches. [The Diplomat]

 

5 November 2019

Human rights groups criticise East Asia Summit for not including human rights issues

(jk) Rights groups criticised the state of human rights protection in Southeast Asia in particular over the weekend as they pointed out that the big summits, such as the East Asia Summit, do not include official discussions or statements on the deteriorating human rights situation in the region.

Human rights watch and other organisation expressed grave concern over the fact the Rohingya crisis, the war on drugs in the Philippines, the punishment of the LGBT community or enforced disappearances of activists were largely ignored throughout the summit. [Bangkok Post]

The Rohingya refugee crisis, although not in these terms, was mentioned at length in the final statement of the 35th ASEAN Summit however. ASEAN leaders noted their desire to

facilitate the safe, secure and dignified return displaced persons currently in Bangladesh to

Rakhine State from which they fled. [Chairman’s Statement Of The 35th ASEAN Summit] At the same time, they commended the work of AICHR, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights [for background on AICHR, see this article in CPG’s COM Online Magazine 4/2019]

 

5 November 2019

RCEP: 15 countries (RCEP minus India) declare they have agreed and will sign in 2020

(jk) During the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit in Bangkok on Monday, 15 countries (The ASEAN-ten, Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) agreed to all 20 chapters of the RCEP and stated that they were “willing to sign” the deal in 2020.

All participating countries agreed to make efforts to resolve the remaining issues surrounding India’s concerns, so it too, can participate. [The Korea Herald]

Despite the positive spin on this development, it will remain a disappointment that RCEP could not be completed and signed by the end of this year as it was initially (if very optimistically) stated.

This disappointing if not entirely unexpected outcome was underscored by the US decision to downgrade US representation at the East Asia Summit, also held in Bangkok this past weekend. It was the first time since the EAS was established in 2005, that a country at the summit was represented by an official below the rank of foreign minister. Instead the US sent the new National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, as the Special Envoy to the upcoming EAS and the US-ASEAN Summit. [ISEAS Commentary]

29 October 2019

U.S. suspends trade benefits for Thailand 

(ls) The United States have suspended US$1.3 billion in trade preferences for Thailand because of its failure “to adequately provide internationally-recognized worker rights”, such as protection for freedom of association and collective bargaining. The suspension will take effect in April 2020 and covers 573 types of goods which will face a higher import tariff of 4.5%. The U.S. action comes after Thailand took steps against fishing industry abuses, prompting the European Commission to lift the threat of a ban on Thai seafood. [South China Morning Post]

The U.S. is Thailand’s second-largest export market. However, the Commerce Ministry said that only 0.01% of overall Thai exports would be affected by the changes to the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). Thai exports have struggled this year because of the strength of its currency and the fallout of the US-China trade war. The U.S. previously granted GSP benefits to Thai products worth a total of $1.8 billion, though Thailand has not made full use of the eligibility. [Bangkok Post] [Straits Times]

29 October 2019

Thailand: Oath saga about to be ended

(ls) The House committee on the prevention and suppression of corruption of the Thai parliament has called Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to clarify his failure to complete the recital of the oath of office in July. However, Prayut rejected the call, saying the issue was over already. In a related ruling by the Constitutional Court earlier this year, the court ahd said oath-taking is a political issue and concerns a “specific relationship” between the administrative branch and the monarchy. It declined to rule on the matter. [Bangkok Post]

29 October 2019

Thailand: Government coalition wins one seat in by-election

(ls) In a by-election to the Thai parliament, a Future Forward Party candidate was defeated by a politician of Chartthaipattana, a party in the Palang Pracharath Party-led coalition government. The by-election was called after the previous Future Forward Party MP, who had won the district earlier this year, resigned due to health problems. The victory for the government camp comes after two small parties each occupying one parliamentary seat had left the coalition earlier this year. [Bangkok Post]

22 October 2019

Maritime terrorism in Asia: An assessment

(ls) A paper published by the Observer Research Foundation evaluates the possibility of an increase in maritime terrorist violence in Asia. Based on an analysis of recent incidents, it argues that the vulnerability of high seas shipping to criminal acts of violence and the weak and inconsistent nature of maritime governance raises the possibility of a terrorist strike in the Asian littorals. [ORF]

22 October 2019

Facebook launches a third-party fact-checking programme in Thailand

(jk) According to Facebook, it will work with Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the International Fact Checking Network which provides certification “to improve the quality and authenticity of stories in the News Feed.” With the help of the programme, AFP reviews and rates the accuracy of stories on Facebook in Thailand which will affect the priorities of a story in a newsfeed or warn individuals who want to share items if a story has been flagged. Facebook says it looks forward to” exploring more opportunities to expand this scheme locally”. [Bangkok Post]

22 October 2019

Thailand: Future Forward Party standing alone in Parliament

(jk) Thailand’s parliament saw a couple of important debates take place this past week. Firstly, the government debated and defended its emergency decree that put two army units under His Majesty the King’s direct control [see Asia in Review No. 41, October/2019, 2]. The second important debate regarded the government’s budget of 3.2 trillion baht for the 2020 fiscal year with voting taking place on its first reading.

As for the troop transfer, all but one party – the Future Forward Party (FFP)- voted in favour of the decree. FFP Co-party leader Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said it was issued in an unnecessary haste and bypassed the usual scrutiny in Parliament, but the bill was passed by 376 to 70, with two MPs abstaining. The matter is highly sensitive due to the involvement of the monarchy in the issue and FFP’s lone stand that even isolated it within the opposition is yet another sign of its stance against some of the traditional power structures in Thailand. [Khaosod English]

Party leader Thanathorn, who is still suspended from his MP duties, in the meantime appeared in court for the beginning of his trial brought against him by the Election Commission of Thailand regarding the question of him holding shares in a media company and therefore not having been eligible to run for MP in the elections earlier this year. The ruling is expected to be made later in November. [Bangkok Post 1]

The budget-bill passed through first reading of Thai parliament with 251 votes in favor and 234 abstentions. The entire opposition had announced to abstain beforehand.[Bangkok Post 2]

22 October 2019

Thailand: Trafficker gets record 374-year jail sentence but new report paints a dark picture: 99% of traffickers flout court orders   

(jk) A Thai man has received a record jail sentence of 374 years for child trafficking in Thailand. The case in which a man has lured children into his house in order to record and then sell child abuse material was the second trafficking case in Thailand in which offenders received a sentence of more than 300 years in jail, however courts capped actual jailtime at 50 years on both occasions. [South China Morning Post]

Despite instances of successful sentencing such as this, a new Thomson Reuters Foundation report has found that human traffickers in Thailand have ignored court orders to compensate victims in more than 99% of cases in recent years.  Thai courts have ordered pay-outs of over US$4.3 million for damages caused in over 1300 cases since 2014, but the money was only paid in five cases, highlighting a wider problem with the rule of law, enforcement and accountability. [Reuters]

15 October 2019

Thailand: Army chief accuses certain politicians of undermining the country

(ls) In a widely discussed and controversial lecture, the Thai army chief General Apirat Kongsompong accused some politicians, academics and “old communist elements” of using “hybrid warfare” to undermine the country and the monarchy. In particular, but without naming him, he referred to Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit. General Apirat said that those involved in supporting domestic unrest cannot operate without the support of both local people and allies abroad. [Bangkok Post 1]

In a separate development, a sedition complaint by the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) was filed with police in Pattani province against 12 people who shared their views on the constitution during a public discussion. One academic who took part in the discussion referred to the possibility of amending Section 1 of the constitution, which requires that Thailand remain an indivisible kingdom. [Bangkok Post 2]

15 October 2019

RCEP negotiations in Bangkok struggling to accommodate India’s demands

(ls) Negotiations on fourteen out of 20 chapters of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have been concluded at a meeting of ASEAN trade ministers in Bangkok. RCEP includes ASEAN’s ten member states, plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. Thailand, the current ASEAN chair aims to seal a deal that could be signed during the ASEAN summit next month. [Straits Times]

According to observers, the main hurdle for finalizing the agreement is the negotiation position of India. Among the controversial issues are provisions on the mechanism for investor-state dispute settlement, exemptions for ratchet obligations and data localization. Key allies of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have mounted a nationwide protest against the RCEP, claiming the deal will be ruinous to local industries. [South China Morning Post]

8 October 2019

Thailand: Yala Judge shoots himself to protest alleged interference 

(jk) A senior judge in the Thai southern province of Yala has shot himself in the chest at a provincial court after dismissing a case against five Muslim suspects. He claimed he was pressured to convict the suspects without having seen clear evidence in the case. The judge left a written statement describing the alleged interference and calling to “return justice to the people” and the “ruling to the judges”. He is hospitalised but since the weekend out of intensive care. [Khaosod] [Bangkok Post]

8 October 2019

Thailand: Military reform puts two regiments under His Majesty’s personal control

(jk) An emergency decree by the government transferred the 1st and 11th Infantry Regiments – the King’s personal and palace bodyguards, to His Majesty’s personal control. The two regiments form part of the King’s Guard within the Royal Thai Armed Forces dedicated to the protection of the Royal Family. The contingents were previously operated under the regular military chain of command. [Prachatai]

1 October 2019

Thailand to open “fake news center” as Southeast Asia tightens duties for social media platforms

(ls) Thailand will open its first anti-fake news center by 1 November 2019. According to Minister of Digital Economy and Society Buddhipongse Punnakanta, the center will function to combat unverified news circulating on social media platforms. For that purpose, the center will receive requests and notifications from the public, verify facts and disseminate an “accurate picture” to the public via a new website, Facebook and the Line chat application. The center’s personnel will come from ministry staff, state enterprise personnel, civic groups, university staff and the Thai Journalists Association. [Straits Times]

The move comes after Thailand’s telecom regulator, in a late-August meeting with regional counterparts, proposed that all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) require internet and streaming video firms to set up domestic “verification centers” to combat fake news. The opposition raised questions about the government’s impartiality in carrying out this task. [Khaosod English]

Following Thailand’s initiative earlier this year, Southeast Asian governments are jointly preparing steps to take on global tech giants on fake news issues. These include an effort by Indonesia to join forces with Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines in demanding action from Google, Facebook and other companies on content regulation and tax policy. Officials in Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines said fake news was a core national concern. ASEAN countries also discuss the feasibility of content reviewing mechanisms, where if one country decided that something amounts to disinformation, the social media company would remove it altogether and not just block it locally. [Reuters]

Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam last week emphasized the threat of foreign interference by disinformation. He said that this may pose a graver danger than conventional military force in destabilizing a country. The Singaporean government is planning new legislation to deal give powers to “make targeted, surgical interventions, to investigate and respond expeditiously to hostile information campaigns”. In his speech at RSIS, K. Shanmugam made specific reference to the independent news portal New Naratif, which has been outspoken against the government in matters of freedom of speech. [South China Morning Post 1] [Ministry of Home Affairs]

Ahead of elections that are expected to be called soon in Singapore, Facebook announced that any person advertising in Singapore about elections and politics on Facebook or its Instagram app will now have to first confirm their identity and location and disclose who is responsible for the ad. [South China Morning Post 2]

Rights groups and journalists have repeatedly pointed to Southeast Asian governments themselves as sources of fake news as well as to the dangers for free speech stemming from anti-fake news laws. [The Atlantic]

1 October 2019

Thailand: MP is found guilty of murder

(ls) In Thailand, a member of parliament for the Pheu Thai party has been found guilty of murder. The Khon Kaen provincial court sentenced Nawat Tohcharoensuk to death for masterminding the murder of an assistant chief of the Khon Kaen provincial administration organization in 2013. Though the constitution is clear that criminal convictions bar persons from being MPs, the Constitutional Court is expected to clarify whether the MP is banned immediately or only after

1 October 2019

Thailand: MP is found guilty of murder

(ls) In Thailand, a member of parliament for the Pheu Thai party has been found guilty of murder. The Khon Kaen provincial court sentenced Nawat Tohcharoensuk to death for masterminding the murder of an assistant chief of the Khon Kaen provincial administration organization in 2013. Though the constitution is clear that criminal convictions bar persons from being MPs, the Constitutional Court is expected to clarify whether the MP is banned immediately or only after

1 October 2019

Thailand buys attack helicopters from the United States

(ls) The Royal Thai Army is set to acquire a new fleet of eight AH-6I Little Bird light attack and reconnaissance helicopters from the United States. The deal is worth 400 million dollars. The sale follows the purchase of 60 Stryker infantry carrier vehicles in July. Thailand purchases military material from different countries. Earlier this month, the Royal Thai Navy signed a contract to procure a new landing platform dock ship from China in a deal reportedly worth about 200 million dollars. [Khaosod English]

24 September 2019

Thai Princess Sirindhorn to receive China’s Friendship Medal

(jk) Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the second daughter of late King Rama IX, will receive China’s Friendship Medal next month as the PRC celebrates its 70th anniversary for her efforts in the relations between the two countries. [South China Morning Post]

24 September 2019

China holds keel laying ceremony for Royal Thai Navies’ first Chinese submarine 

(jk) The keel laying ceremony, signalling the beginning of the construction of the vessel, was held earlier this month in Wuhan, China by Chinese shipbuilding group CSIC (China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation). The purchase of the submarine from China was approved back in January 2017 and the first delivery is set for 2023. [Naval News]

The same Chinese company has earlier this month publicised that an agreement with the Royal Thai Navy has been signed on the construction and sale of a Type 071E amphibious transport dock ship. The vessel is set to become Thailand’s biggest warship and according to the company, the deal will “substantially deepen collaboration in the arms trade and also help strengthen regional peace and stability.” [China Daily]

24 September 2019

First Singapore-India-Thailand trilateral maritime exercises (SITMEX) in Andaman Sea 

(jk) An inaugural trilateral exercise of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN),the Royal Thailand Navy (RTN) and the Indian Navy (IN) took place at Port Blair, an Indian territory in the Bay of Bengal, last week. The exercise seeks to improve maritime inter-relationships amongst the three navies and contribute to the overall maritime security in the region. [Devdiscourse]

24 September 2019

Thai police requesting information about minority Muslim students from universities around the country

(jk) In an effort to create a national security database, police has requested universities to supply information about the “numbers, place of origin, sect affiliation and other details about Muslim-organized student groups”. Muslim student organisations have called the move discriminatory, as has former Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit who added that it was “an interference to personal rights and a discrimination based on religion,” and therefore not in line with the country’s constitution. [Reuters]

24 September 2019

Thailand: PM ignores incomplete oath taking in parliamentary debate after Court declined to rule on the matter 

(jk) After the constitutional court declined to rule on the matter of the incomplete oath as reported last week [Asia in Review No. 38, September/2019, 3], the country’s PM was to face parliament’s question’s on the issue last week. He however decided not to speak on or clarify the issue during his remarks. 

Instead, Deputy PM Wissanu cited the Constitutional Court’s remarks and explained that the oath-taking concerned a “specific relationship” between the cabinet and the monarchy. [Bangkok Post 1]

In critical commentary in the [Bangkok Post 2], two recent Constitutional Court decisions are looked at from a non-legal perspective. The ruling on the oath-taking is one of them and the commentator finds it bewildering that the Constitutional Court would decide not to rule on an issue that clearly deals with an individual (the PM) violating the constitution.

The second ruling regarded PM Prayuth’s status as head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and whether or not it falls within the definition of “other state official”. If he was indeed a state official then, it would have been against regulations to nominate him as the prime ministerial candidate by the Palang Pracharath Party.

The ruling was delivered on Wednesday last week and it came out in favour of the PM as the court ruled he was not a state official. “The position of the NCPO chief was the result of the seizure of power by coup-makers in 2014. The NCPO chief was not under the command or supervision of the state, and the position was not appointed by any laws”. [Bangkok Post 3]

The commentator again struggles to understand the ruling and cites Thammasat University’s political scientist Prajak Kongkirati asking some obvious questions: “[Gen Prayut] uses state power but he is not accountable to the state? He was not appointed by any law but issued and enforced laws concerning all public and private entities as well as the people? He was not legally a state official but received a salary from the public purse? He held on to power temporarily but stayed on for more than five years, longer than any elected government in Thai political history?”

17 September 2019

Thailand: Another small party leaves the government coalition

(ls) Another small party has left the multi-party coalition government in Thailand. The Prachatham Thai Party announced its decision last week after Deputy Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives Minister Thammanat Prompao – who is himself under pressure over alleged criminal act in the past – used a metaphor implying that he was a caretaker of monkeys who needed to keep feeding them with bananas. As a representative from the Palang Pracharat Party, he was assigned to mediate with the small parties which reportedly are unhappy with the lack of political appointments for them. A few weeks ago, the Thai Civilized Party had already left the coalition. [Bangkok Post] [Straits Times]

17 September 2019

Thailand: Constitutional Court declines to rule on incomplete oath

(ls) Thailand’s Constitutional Court last week unanimously declined to rule on a controversy over the new prime minister and his cabinet who failed to swear the full oath of office before King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The oath omitted the part about upholding the constitution. The Constitutional Court issued a statement saying the swearing-in was between the King and the cabinet, and that “the oath to the King is therefore not under the review authority of any agencies under the constitution.” The decision said that the oath-taking concerns an action which reflects a ‘specific relationship’ between the cabinet and the King and is considered a political issue under an act of government. [Bangkok Post] [Reuters]

17 September 2019

Sri Lanka‘s Hambantota Port links up with Ranong Port in Thailand

(jk) The Hambantota International Port of Sri Lanka has signed an agreement for port-to-port cooperation with the Ranong Port in Thailand, in order to build synergies under the framework of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). [MenaFN]

10 September 2019

Thailand: Minister in the hot seat after more details on dark past emerge 

(jk) Last week, evidence has emerged that the deputy agriculture minister spent four years in a Sydney jail in the 1990s after pleading guilty to conspiring to import heroin. He was deported upon his release. He was previously questioned on this matter but had so far maintained that he had been arrested, but never convicted on drug charges while living in Australia. [Sydney Morning Herald]

The story was first discussed back in July after the new Thai cabinet was announced and his name was amongst the ministers. In addition to the criminal past in Sydney, after returning to Thailand, he was arrested and detained in prison for three years in connection with the murder of a gay man, but he stated that the Criminal Court eventually acquitted him after finding two other men guilty in the case. [Bangkok Post]

10 September 2019

Thailand: Ex-PAD leader receives royal pardon

(jk) The co-founder of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), Sondhi Limthongkul, sentenced to 20 years by the Supreme Court in September 2016, was released from prison last week after receiving a royal pardon. The PAD was formed to lead demonstrations against the government of Thaksin Shinawatra and is internationally known in particular for seizing Bangkok’s major airport in 2008. [Bangkok Post 1]

In 2012, Sondhi was convicted of violating the Securities and Exchange Act, but did not actually go to prison as he was out on bail until the Supreme Court ruled that he must serve 20 years of his sentence in prison. His sentence, as was stated back then, was not to be suspended. [Khaosod]

In the meantime, Thailand’s ex-commerce minister has received an additional 6 year jail sentence on top of his already 42 years received in 2017 over the Yingluck administration’s rice-pledging scheme. The verdict by the court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions was part of a ruling on an appeal filed by him. [Bangkok Post 2]

3 September 2019

Thailand: Supreme Court confirms death penalty for Burmese citizens convicted of Koh Tao murder

(ls) Thailand’s Supreme Court has upheld the death sentences passed by the Criminal and Appeal courts for two Myanmar nationals convicted of the September 2014 murder of two British backpackers on the island of Koh Tao. The court rejected the argument that police had fabricated evidence and arrested them as scapegoats. [Bangkok Post]

3 September 2019

Thailand: Oath saga not going away

(ls) In Thailand, the prime minister’s and his cabinet’s incomplete recital of the oath of office continues to preoccupy the political scene. Last week, the Office of the Ombudsman concluded that the government had breached the constitution by failing to recite the full oath of allegiance, which would have included also the passus on upholding and complying with the constitution. It will now be for the Constitutional Court to decide about the further consequences. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, his Majesty the King issued a written message of support for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his ministers to carry out their duties in line with their oath of office. [Bangkok Post 1]

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that the parliamentary debate on the issue could be held behind closed doors if the content is considered inappropriate to be made public. The proposal was rejected by opposition parties. [Bangkok Post 2]

Date of AiR edition

News summary

Web links

16 July 2019

Thailand: Formal transition from military to civil rule

(ls) Putting an end to weeks and months of political maneuvering over Cabinet posts, Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X.) endorsed the new civilian government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. The most important positions went to members of the former military junta. Some key economic portfolios were obtained by the 19 parties Prayuth had to bring on board to give him a slim majority in the lower house of parliament. [Reuters]

The government formation process has been compared to horse-trading with the aim of distributing also financially lucrative positions. Moreover, some Cabinet members have been criticized as unfit for their job or even as having a history of serious criminality. One Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister had spent prison time for three years in connection with the murder of a man. [Bangkok Post 1]

The formation of the government formally ends military rule in Thailand. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is constitutionally dissolved when the new cabinet is sworn in. Media bans were already lifted and all cases involving offences against the junta’s orders were transferred to civilian courts. However, several orders from the time of military rule have been retained, including the right for police to detain suspects for seven days on national security grounds. Others have been made permanent by being enshrined in the new Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) law. Moreover, the Computer Crimes Act has also been extended under NCPO rule. [Bangkok Post 2] [Straits Times]

Meanwhile, the Pheu Thai Party elected Sompong Amornvivat to lead the biggest opposition party in parliament. He was picked to succeed acting head Viroj Pao-in, who resigned earlier this month. [Bloomberg]

2 July 2019

Thailand: Defense minister calls on military to fight “fake news”

(ls) Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has called on the armed forces to take legal action to curb the spread of so-called “fake news” and disinformation online. He wanted that all units of the Defense Ministry as well as those of the armed forces concerned to take part in the monitoring of social and mainstream media for falsehoods that could impact national security or “damage a particular organization’s reputation”. The move illustrates the extent to which “fake news” are perceived as a threat by the government and shows how the military is engaging in what would otherwise be regular law enforcement. [Bangkok Post]

2 July 2019

Thailand: Government and opposition camps entangled in legal battles

(ls) After Thailand’s Constitutional Court accepted to rule about the qualification of dozens of government coalition members of the House of Representatives, Phalang Pracharat MPs have now sent a similar petition to the Court, asking it to rule whether opposition MPs held shares in companies registered for media business. The tit-for-tat had been kicked off by a petition against Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leading to Future Forward’s petition against PPRP members and now Phalang Pracharat’s retaliatory move. The development demonstrates how often broadly framed laws and regulations are increasingly weaponized in Thai politics. [Bangkok Post]

2 July 2019

Thailand: Attack on well-known democracy activist stirs up emotions

(ls) In Thailand, a pro-democracy activist has been admitted to intensive hospital care after having been attacked and beaten on a street in Bangkok. It was the second such violent assault Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat has suffered in less than a month. In both cases, police have so far not been able to find the attackers. [Khaosod English]

The attack has led to emotional responses on social media on the different ends of the political spectrum. Against this background, House speaker Chuan Leekpai reportedly contacted Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam to express his concerns about political violence in the wake the assault. [Bangkok Post]

11 June  2019

Thailand: PM Prayuth wins election in joint sitting of House and Senate; Government coalition forged

(jk) In a joint sitting of the House of Representatives and the Senate last week, PM Prayuth has been voted to remain PM by winning the vote with 500 votes to 244 ahead of his contender Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit from the Future Forward Party. The Senate (all 250 Senators were picked by the military government) expectedly and collectively voted in favour of PM Prayuth, ensuring a decisive victory in what would have otherwise been a much closer call, adding 249 votes to the 251 votes Prayuth received from the lower house.  [Bangkok Post]

Nevertheless, the clear win cannot do away with the fact that the newly found government coalition is in fact fragile, as is the support for PM Prayuth himself. The coalition became official only when the Democrat Party voted on Tuesday to join a PPRP-led coalition, over which party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva resigned. Going forward, things may become difficult in a ruling coalition of 19 parties that still only holds a narrow majority of five seats in the lower house. Current “horse-trading” over cabinet portfolios is an indicator of how difficult it may become. [Bangkok Post 2]

On the other hand, going against the predictions of some observers that this government will not last all too long, the post-coup leadership has thus far been successful in maintaining power and arguably executed its plan well, which now sees them at the helm of an elected government within a tailor-made constitutional framework. Furthermore, in particular the Future Forward Party, a significant block of the opposition, still faces significant legal battles which consequences are not yet predictable but may significantly weaken the anti-government forces.

28 May 2019

Thailand: Prem Tinsulanonda dies at 98

(ls) General Prem Tinsulanonda, Privy Council president and former prime minister of Thailand, died of heart failure on Sunday morning at the age of 98. A veteran soldier, politician and statesman, he was one of the most influential figures in modern Thai history. [Bangkok Post] [Nikkei Asian Review]

28 May 2019

Thailand: Parliament convenes, chooses speaker while Thanathorn is barred from performing MP duties

(ls) Thailand’s Constitutional Court decided to suspend Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit from performing his MP duties after it accepted a case against him over possible disqualification involving media shareholding. Thanathorn, who is among the 149 party-list MPs that have been endorsed, will have 15 days to respond and/or submit evidence after the court accepted the case. [Bangkok Post 1]

On Friday, the newly elected parliament convened for the first time. Thanathorn briefly addressed the House to confirm he would step aside for now. MPs from his party and other allied camps gave him a standing ovation as he left the auditorium. [Bangkok Post 2]

In a parliamentary session on Saturday, former prime minister Chuan Leekpai was elected as speaker of the House of Representatives. The candidate proposed by the Phalang Pracharat Party secured 258 votes to 235 for Pheu Thai nominee Sompong Amornvivat. The vote showed that Phalang Pracharat had won over the key undecided parties – Democrat and Bhumjaithai – and is poised to lead the coalition. Initially, however, Phalang Pracharat proposed a postponement of the vote for unspecified reasons but was outvoted by 248 to 246 in a surprising defeat. [The Nation]

The lower house deputy speaker positions also went to Phalang Pracharat-backed figures, but with equally tight votes. Smaller parties that would back the Phalang Pracharat-led coalition are seen to have a significant leverage over the pro-military party. And the Democrats and Bhumjaithai, who together have 103 MPs, look likely to gain a fair share of Cabinet portfolios. However, the Democrats have not yet formally agreed to join the coalition. [The Nation 2] [Bangkok Post 3]

Future Forward won a Chiang Mai by-election but, due to the Election Commission’s MP calculation method, the pro-military front will likely gain two MPs and lose one, while the anti-military side will gain one (the FFP constituency victory in Chiang Mai), leaving the two blocs in the same position as before. [Bangkok Post 4]

11 March 2019

Thailand: Thai Raksa Chart party dissolved ahead of elections

(jk) The Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party for naming a member of the Royal Family as its prime ministerial candidate. [The Nation] According the court’s decision, this undermined Thailand’s constitutional monarchy which is “above politics” and therefore violated the Political Party Act of 2017. In addition to the dissolution of the party that had fielded candidates for parliament in around 170 of the 350 constituencies across the country, plus around 100 party list candidates [Bangkok Post], its executive board members are banned from politics for 10 years. The MP candidates will now be out of the race, since they cannot run under a different party. According to the regulations, a candidate for parliament needs to me member of the party he or she is running for at least 90 days. The elections are scheduled for March 24.

The decision, which was largely expected after the Election Commission had asked the court to rule on the party’s dissolution back in February, affects the possible size of a potential Puea Thai-led coalition in parliament and increases the chances of a coalition backing current PM Prayuth.

For images of election posters captioned with English translations of names and slogans of parties, see [CPG foto feature].

11 March 2019

Thailand: Democrat party leader Abhisit against Prayuth as PM after elections

(jk) Democrat Party leader and the only Democrat Party candidate for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva made clear last weekend that he is not in favour of current PM Prayut Chan-o-cha returning to power as prime minister after the elections. In a video he uploaded to his Facebook page, he said he “will definitely not support Gen Prayut because [his] prolonged stay in power will create conflicts and it is against my party’s ideology which puts the people first”. It is not clear, as pointed out by his political rivals also in opposition to the current PM, whether this statement reflects his personal or the party line. [Bangkok Post]

4 March 2019

Thailand: Cybersecurity bill passed by National Legislative Assembly

(ls) Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly passed a cybersecurity bill last Thursday. The bill’s most controversial part empowers the secretary-general of the National Cybersecurity Commission to send officials to places believed to be involved in critical cybersecurity threats as well as to access information networks without having to seek prior court permission. Rather, relevant courts could be informed of such actions afterwards. [Bangkok Post]

4 March 2019

Thailand: Two policemen killed in deep south

(ls) Two policemen were found dead last week after being kidnapped in a raid by suspected insurgents on a teashop in Thailand’s southern Narathiwat province. Though the death toll of the ongoing conflict dropped to a low last year as Thailand’s military tightened security, violent incidents became more frequent in recent weeks, leaving imams and Buddhist monks dead and hitting security forces protecting schools. [The Nation] [Straits Times]

4 March 2019

Thailand opens Southeast Asia’s first cannabis plantation – political party campaigns for more liberalization

(ls) Thailand’s first legal cannabis plantation was officially opened last week, as the authorities work toward developing cannabis-based medicines that are affordable for patients. The new indoor plantation is the first legal cannabis farm in Southeast Asia. The amended Narcotics Act stipulates that only official agencies and their partners are allowed to grow cannabis for producing medicines in the first five years after egalization. The law aims to prevent private companies from taking over the cannabis farming business in Thailand. [The Nation]

Demanding even more liberalization, the Bhumjaithai (Proud to Be Thai) party is the first major party to advocate for the recreational use of cannabis. Bhumjaithai, which also supports a four-day work week and legalizing ride-share taxi services, is one of several small parties campaigning ahead of the March 24 general election. The party, which draws its support from the rural northeast, won 34 of parliament’s 500 seats in the last poll. [Reuters]