Asia in Review Archive (2019)

Thailand

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News summary

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]

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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]