Asia in Review Archive (2019)

Thailand

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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]