Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)

Thailand

Date of AiR edition

News summary

6 October 2020

Thailand’s household debt alarming

(py) According to the Bank of Thailand, household debt in the second quarter of 2020 has risen to 83.8% per GDP representing the all-time highest in 18 years. GDP contraction was cited as the main reason for the rising household debt per GDP. The Debt service suspension introduced during the outbreak of Covid-19 also left the principal amount undeclined. According to TMB Analytics, around 34% of Thai household debt is used for loans for personal consumption. On the contrary, other countries with high household debt such as Singapore and the United Kingdom only have 3 to 4 % in loans for personal consumption. Though limited access to business loans for Thai SMEs might also contribute to the high ratio of loans for personal consumption, the proportion is yet undeniably worrisome. Kasikorn Research Center predicted that the current economy might force vulnerable households to incur further debt for personal consumption. Although financial institutions like the Bank of Thailand have been promoting financial literacy, some still doubt whether the government is seeing the big picture and possessing the right information to handle the situation. [The Standard, in Thai]

6 October 2020

Thailand: New finance minister appointed

(nd) Arkhom Termpittayapaisith was appointed new finance minister after the sudden resignation of his predecessor Predee Daochai on September 1. Mr Arkhom studied economics at Thammasat University (1977) and Williams College in Massachusetts, US (1983).  He formerly was a secretary-general at National and Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC). After the 2014 military coup, Mr. Arkhom became member of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), resigning one year later to assume the position of transport minister. [Bangkok Post]

 

6 October 2020

Thailand: Seven more protesters charged; charter amendment more lengthy

(nd) Another seven protesters were charged after protesting against human rights lawyer Anon Nampa’s arrest in front of Bangkhen Police Station on 7 August. They were charged with staging a public gathering without informing the police, unauthorized use of sound amplifiers and blocking traffic. [Prachathai]

Meanwhile, a senior member of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) forecasted the charter amendment process to be longer in duration as proposed.  In support, the MP cited a Constitutional Court’s ruling in a similar case as precedent and argued that a referendum would be needed if there was a proposal to amend the entire constitution.

On the contrary, Paiboon Nititawan, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee tasked with the review of the 2017 Constitution, made a pledge to finish the task within the given 30 days. Technically, the committee could ask for another 60 days, and Parliament could delay submitting the matter to a debate for yet another 12 months.

Six charter amendment motions were submitted to Parliament by government and opposition parties. Among those, two proposed by government coalition parties and five opposition parties aim at amending Article 256 of the Constitution to set up a Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) for a new constitution. Four others proposed by opposition parties, including Kao Klai (Move Forward), aim to reduce the power of military-appointed senators (Articles 270, 271 and 272), revoke Article 279, which legalizes all NCPO executive orders, and change the electoral system.

The seventh proposed charter amendment, the only motion made through a citizen campaign, was submitted by iLaw, a legal reform advocacy group, and it is regarded as the most radical. Inter alia, the draft aims to replace the junta-appointed senate with an elected senate, and a future Prime Minister to be an elected MP.

The committee cannot yet deliberate on their draft, due to a 45-day process of vetting the authenticity and eligibility of the 100,732 people who made the proposed amendment still being in process. [Bangkok Post 1] [Khaosod] [Thai PBS]

Meanwhile, the two co-leaders of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD), Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, and human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa will not be allowed to speak during the university’s upcoming forum marking the 44th anniversary of the Oct 6, 1976 Thammasat University massacre. [Bangkok Post 2]

 

6 October 2020

Thailand: Reshuffle in Pheu Thai leadership

(nd) Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra, ex-wife of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has become de facto leader of Pheu Thai party. Recently resigned party leader Sompong Amornvivat is expected to be reinstated as the leader on the party’s new executive board, but it is Khunying Potjaman who will actually be in charge, without assuming any formal party position. The mission is to end rifts among party factions and make defectors work together again. Working together with Khunying Potjaman is Yaowapa Wongsawat, younger sister of Thaksin and former Chiang Mai MP.

Further, the plan is said to work with a think-tank, and reinstall high-calibre politicians, for example Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai plus Prommin Lertsuridej and Surapong Suebwonglee, both former executives of the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT). Also, earlier this year, these politicians – former student activists who took part in the October 14, 1973 uprising against dictatorship, surviving the October 6, 1976 Thammasat massacre – formed a breakaway fraction of Pheu Thai, called “Care” (Creative, Action, Revival and People Empowerment), rumored to turn into a new political party.

These “October People” are supporters of the ongoing student protests and therefore said to be able to attract young voters away from Kao Klai (Move) Party. Kao Klai is the successor to the Future Forward Party, which was disbanded for illegal party funding, and summons its support mostly from young voters. Yet, Pheu Thai would not support the student’s constitutional reform demands, emphasizing Chapters 1 and 2 are not to be touched.  

Other personnel include former key TRT figure and former Minister of Transport Pongsak Ruktapongpisal and Pichai Naripthaphan, energy minister during the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, mounting to a total of 20-24 new executives. [Bangkok Post] [Chiangrai Times] [Thai PBS]

 

6 October 2020

Thailand: Pheu Thai MP ban upheld

(nd) The Supreme Court’s Election Division upheld the Election Commission’s (EC) decision to withdraw MP status of Pheu Thai candidate Surapol Kietchaiyakorn. The eight-time Chiang Mai MP retained his seat with 52,165 votes in last year’s general election but was later disqualified by the EC, for breaching the election law by giving 2,000 baht and a clock to a monk. [Bangkok Post]

 

6 October 2020

Thailand: Higher costs for high-speed rail

(nd) The Thai government announced that another THB 12 billion is needed for the first phase of the high-speed rail from Bangkok to Korat, amounting to THB 50.6 billion in total. The overall budget for the 617-kilometer line that will eventually reach Nong Khai on the border with Laos is THB179 billion (US$5.7 billion).  Funds were approved in 2017, following an agreement with China, which is building the railway and extending loans. Following the agreement, three Chinese state enterprises — the National Development and Reform Commission of China, China Railway International and China Railway Design Corporation — are hired, who are expected to design the high-speed train and related systems, train the staff and build the system. The high-speed rail is expected to be completed in 2025.

The line is an important part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and it is assumed that it will eventually extend onward to the city of Nong Khai, across the Mekong River from Lao capital Vientiane. In Laos, there is a railway project under construction connecting the capital with China’s Yunnan province, linking it to the Chinese national high-speed rail network.

Last week, the rail base for the initial segment was completed and the project handed over to the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), which will work with the three Chinese firms to build the railway. Having been postponed earlier, Covid-19 repercussions on Thai economy might cause further delays: According to an economic outlook published by the World Bank, Thailand is facing an economic contraction of between 8.3 and 10.4 percent in 2020 – the worst of any nation in Southeast Asia. Additionally, the possibility for Chinese engineers and laborers to enter Thailand is in jeopardy.  [Coconuts Bangkok] [Bangkok Post] [The Diplomat]

 

6 October 2020

Oversea voting for Myanmar’s election

(lf) As oversea early voting starts, several Myanmar nationals have not received a ballot, despite being on the list of the Union Election Commission (UEC). In Singapore, where 32% of all oversea voters are located 32,000 voters will cast an early vote from October 1st until October 18th, however 2,000 have not received their ballots. 8,000 Myanmar nationals located in Singapore did not make it on the list of the UEC for several early voting requests have gone missing or were sent to wrong addresses. In addition, around 8,000 applications for early voting have been denied from voting. The missing ballots have cause great uncertainty with the oversea voters.

In Bangkok, oversea voting started October 3rd and lasts until October 13th, in Northern Thailand voting will start October 10th and lasts until October 13th. In Thailand, 40,000 people are expected to cast their vote for the November 9th election. [Irrawaddy]

6 October 2020

Southeast Asian nation’s critical potential

(nd) With the economic and political repercussions of Covid-19, Southeast Asia has entered a period of potential crisis that mirrors developments around the “Arab Spring” and the economic situation that lead to the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s, mobilizing both public and political opposition to demand fundamental political reform to change institutions of governance.

In the World Bank’s latest economic outlook, ASEAN nations’ economy could contract by as much as 4.7 percent. According to an estimate of the International Labor Organization, nearly 85 percent of youth employment within the Asia-Pacific is within the informal economy, which is not reached by governmental support and not included in official numbers. The many regional protest movements illuminate the frustration of younger populations with ineffective governance and high levels of unemployment.

Already, a political legitimacy deficit can be seen, which turns into trying to mute or quash dissidents and critics through authoritarian leadership, as seen prominently in Myanmar, the Philippines and Cambodia, facing criticism by UN representatives and human rights advocates. Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo finds himself increasingly pleasing powerful Islamic constituencies that threatened to galvanize public discontent. Ever since February, Malaysia has been struggling with political stability, yet again following an unresolved claim of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to form a new government. In Thailand, the unprecedented student-led protests and their criticism of the monarchy institution is gaining ever more momentum. Additionally, Thai protesters expressed solidarity for Taiwan and Hong Kong, fueling a vision of “pan-Asian alliance for democracy”, named “Milk Tea Alliance,” continues to trend on social media.

A recent study by British-based risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft – the Right to Privacy Index (RPI), rated 198 countries for privacy violations, including mass surveillance operations, retention of personal data, home searches and other breaches. According to this, Asia was the world’s highest-risk region for violations with a deterioration in recent years. Among the worst-scoring Asian nations were Pakistan, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, India and the Philippines. The study advocated data privacy legislation and a transparent surveillance system.

The backdrop for these developments is a raging pandemic with sometimes haphazard public health responses additionally undermining credibility and trust. [The Diplomat] [Jakarta Post]

29 September 2020

ASEAN states commit to more military cooperation 

(jn) The 17th ASEAN Chiefs of Defense Forces Meeting (ACDFM-17) was held virtually on September 24th with participants pledging to boost military cooperation, to build trust and enhance solidarity among the member states’ armed forces.

At the meeting themed “Military Cooperation for a Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN,” the participants agreed that the joint efforts will help the organization to keep peace and stability in the region, and that the region is facing traditional and non-traditional challenges namely cyber security, terrorism, transnational crime, climate change, and diseases. [Hanoi Times]

29 September 2020

Thailand: Worries over possible Bank of Thailand loan for dam project

(py) NGO’S, the Rak Chiang Kong group and the Thai public sector network of the eight provinces in the Mekong Basin, have expressed their concerns over possible loans from the Bank of Thailand to the construction of the Luang Prabang dam claiming geo-political, sociological and environmental risks.

The construction of the dam would not only be a highly potential natural catastrophe but would also represent a geo-political risk with Chinese power growing in the region. Lead developer of the Luang Prabang Hydropower Project is the “Petroleum Vietnam” enterprise. Some private Thai companies seem to also plan to invest in the project as well. [Prachathai, in Thai] 

Dam constructions in the Mekong River basin have always been a controversial issue as the integrity of the entire region depends heavily on the Mekong River. The Mekong River Commission’s secretariat concluded that the Xayaburi dam, which was completed in 2019, did not at that point comply with the World Bank’s standard. According to a Thai geologist, the building of the new dam in an earthquake-prone region could pose a great risk to the famed UNESCO-World Heritage City of Luang Prabang and further cited the dam as ‘’high risk”. [Asia Sentinel]

As a partner in China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI), Laos seems to be one of the victims in the debt trap whereby the countries have to compromise their sovereignty after defaulting on their infrastructure-related debts owed to China. Though Laos could approach the International Monetary Fund under its COVID-19 Financial Assistance and Debt Service relief response, the government preferably resort to China as the IMF agreement would demand greater financial transparency. Laos was reported as a country with no significant progress in the 2019 Fiscal Transparency Report by the U.S. Department of State. [See also AiR NO. 37, September/2020, 3]

29 September 2020

Thailand: Pheu Thai party member convicted for demanding bribes 

(nd) The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions sentenced Thai politician Watana Muangsook, a Pheu Thai Party member, to 99 years in jail. If the ruling is upheld by the appeal court, Mr Watana will have to serve 50 years, the longest possible prison term. Mr. Watana was found guilty of demanding bribes from the developers of a low-cost housing project from the Thaksin-era, initiated by the National Housing Authority, an organization under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. 

29 September 2020

Thailand: Protests after delay on constitutional amendment vote

(nd) Protesters gathered in front of Parliament, blocking the exit as Senate and House voted to set up a special panel to study the proposed amendments within a month, forcing the members to use back-exits and boats to leave. The combined houses of parliament were expected to vote on six motions proposing amendments to the constitution on Thursday. While Government Chief Whip Wirat Rattanaseth stated, the panel and the added time were worth to help mitigate differences, opposition called it “a way to stall for time” and moving the country towards a dead end.

Of the six proposals for constitutional amendment, one came from the governing coalition and the remaining five from the opposition. Both sides are in support of amending Section 256 to establish a Constitution Drafting Assembly to write a whole new charter. 

[Khaosod] [Thai PBS] [Thai Enquirer] [Thailand News] [Coconut Bangkok]

29 September 2020

Thailand: Emergency decree to be extended 6th time

(nd) Despite observers questioning the necessity of maintaining a strict lockdown, the emergency decree shall be extended another month, for the 6th time. Although recent Covid-19 cases mostly came from abroad, the extension shall enable health officials to react quickly and efficiently. In October, international tourists will be allowed to enter Thailand again, in light of Thailand’s dependency on tourism, amounting to 10-20 % of its GDP. In a recent report, the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) claimed that more than 4 million Thais were unemployed, with another 14 million endangered if no solution is found the end of the year. 

Analysts earlier this year described Thailand’s economic outlook as the “worst in Asia”, with a potential 8.1% contraction in GDP – even worse than the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

The cabinet will decide about the extension on Monday.

[Coconuts Bangkok] [Chiangrai Times] [Bangkok Post]

29 September 2020

Thailand: Former Immigration chief to sue PM 

(nd) Thailand’s former Immigration chief Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, who was removed from law enforcement suddenly last year and transferred to civilian position of adviser at Prime Minister’s Office, filed a complaint against PM Prayut Chan-o-cha in the Administrative Court. According to Pol Lt Gen Surachate, his transfer was unlawful, lacking a formal probe against him by investigative agencies and his consent.  

More than 90 officials have been transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister, with 80 of them having returned to their original posts and some to retire in October this year. Among them was also deputy police chief Pol Gen Wirachai Songmetta, who was transferred to an inactive post at PM office after defying an order by national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda.

In 2014, then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from office by the Constitutional Court after the Supreme Administrative Court found her transfer of the secretary general of the National Security Council to the Prime Minister’s Office unlawful.

[Chiangrai Times 1] [Chiangrai Times 2]

29 September 2020

Thailand: Digital ministry to go after US tech firms

(nd) Digital minister Puttipong Punnakanta announced his ministry would file complaints with cybercime police against US companies Facebook, Google and Twitter for not complying with court-issued takedown orders. Additionally, separate complaints would be filed against individuals for allegedly criticizing the monarchy in social media.

Legal base is the Computer Crime Act which requests in particular prosecution of online criticism of the royal family. Ignoring a court order can result in a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($6,347), then 5,000 baht ($159) per day until the order is observed.

Facebook was asked to block 661 accounts but according to the ministry took down less than a third of them. The ministry did not disclose details on the content and representatives of the three companies were not available for comment.
[Jakarta Post] [Chiangrai Times][Bangkok Post][ Khaosod]

22 September 2020

Laos: Germany supplies scientific equipment to the MRC to monitor Mekong dam impacts 

(py) On 15 September, Germany has supplied equipment, worth around $600,000, to help monitor the impacts of Lao’s Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams. The support was part of the German government’s assistance to the MRC’s pilot program on Joint Environment Monitoring of Mekong Mainstream Hydropower Projects (JEM). Reportedly, the German government has already subsidized around 6.45 million euros to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) which aims to promote and coordinate sustainable management and development of water and related sources for countries in the Mekong River basin. [The Phnom Penh Post] [MRC 1] Mr. Jens Lütkenherm, German Ambassador to Lao PDR, expressed his concerns over the potential environmental and socio-economic backlashes brought about by the two dams. [Laotian times] The constructions of both dams have faced criticisms from concern groups in neighboring countries. In its latest report, the MRC reported that the border area between Lao PDR and Thailand would be hit the hardest in this year’s drought. [MRC 2

22 September 2020

UN reveals push for investigating Thai activist’s forced disappearance

(jn) After Thai political activist Wanchalearm Satsakit’s fate has remained unresolved since he was abducted in broad daylight before his home in Phnom Penh on June 4 [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3], the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has now released a batch of correspondence with the Cambodian government.

Officials with the Office voiced their concerns that the Cambodian government did not undertake a full investigation into Wanchalearm’s disappearance despite Phnom Penh’s assurances that it had pursued all available leads. In July, in a letter to the Cambodian government they underlined “the importance of urgent action to ascertain his fate and whereabouts” and lamented the lack of new information on the activist’s disappearance, “despite the registration number of the car involved being known and there being multiple witnesses.”

As a red-shirt activist of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship Wanchalearm had sought exile in Cambodia after the military coup in Thailand in 2014, but remained politically active online, prompting Thai authorities to issue a warrant for his arrest in July 2018. [The Diplomat] [Khmer Times]

22 September 2020

Thailand: 2021 budget approved

(nd) The House of Representatives approved the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Bill, now awaiting the Senate’s approval.  It amounts to 3.285 trillion baht and aims at stabilizing economic development. Thailand is battling a recession from the repercussion of Covid-19 on the tourist industry, which is why recent researches forecasted the Thai GDP to fall by 10%. [Pattaya Mail 1] [Pattaya Mail 2

 

 

22 September 2020

Thailand: Protests remain peaceful, commemorative plaque installed and removed over night

(nd) The democracy protests continued at the weekend. Swirling rumors of possible violence did not manifest. PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, who warned earlier about protesters causing a second wave of Covid-19 infections, in a statement made clear he did not mean to scare protesters. 

With the biggest protests since the coup in 2014, the previously uttered demands to reform the monarchy and redraft the constitution were upheld. With emphasizing “the country belongs to the people, not the monarchy”, human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa in his speech echoed again the revolution of 1932, which transformed then Siam from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. The protesters named the marker “Plaque of Khana Ratsadon (People’s Party) 2020”, a reference to Khana Ratsadon group of military and civil leaders who staged this bloodless coup in 1932. As a further symbolic element, protesters placed a commemorative brass plaque at Sanam Luang field, replacing the plaque that disappeared April 2017 from Bangkok’s Royal Plaza and was replaced by one praising the monarchy. The plaque on Monday was already removed. 

The Fine Arts Department announced to file a complaint against protesters for the damage caused by installing the plaque. The protest site of Sanam Luang is an archaeological site, therefore the installation is seen as a violation of the National Museums and Archaeological Sites and Objects Act. Also, Deputy Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) commissioner Piya Tawichai said protesters might be charged under the Public Assembly Act by rallying at Sanam Luang without permission, staying beyond the closing time and installing the plaque in the ground. Dependent on the university filing a complaint, protesters could be charged for breaking into the university’s main campus and damaging property. Sanam Luang falls under the responsibility of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). Earlier last week, the Constitution Court accepted a petition whether the protest leaders committed treason by demanding reforms to the monarchy. Treason is punishable by death.

Additionally, Palang Pracharat MP Sira Jenjakha filed a complaint against oppositioning MPs, Mongkolkit Suksintharanont, of the Thai Civilized Party, Peerawit Ruangluedolapark, of the Thai Rak Thai Party and Nattha Boonchai-insawat of the Kao Klai Party, for joining the student protest. Sira produced a picture showing the three MPs raising the three-finger salute of the protesters.

With September 19 marking the anniversary of the coup against the then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006, his support basis of Red Shirts, mostly poor rural Thais, appeared in support at the protest site. Despite the peaceful course of the protests, the conflicting reactions reveal further social division. Protests were announced to continue October 14.

Meanwhile, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha stated that the emergency decree in three southern provinces, Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani, will be extended for another three months with Cabinet approval. The extension enables officials to track down and arrest insurgents who aim to undermine national security through violence and terror actions. The southern insurgency has been active for 15 years. [Thai PBS 1] [Khaosad 1] [Khaosad 2] [Thai PBS 2] [Chiangrai Times] [Bangkok Post 1] [Bangkok Post 2] [Thai PBS 3] [Khaosad 3] [Khaosad 4]

 

22 September 2020

Thailand: Bayer, US lobbied against glyphosate ban

(nd) Detailed documents obtained by Tucson, Arizona-based environmental group Center for Biological Diversity under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act revealed a cooperation between Bayer and the US government to lobby Thailand to reverse its planned glyphosate ban. Glyphosate is used in Bayer’s controversial weedkiller Roundup, which allegedly is toxic to humans, despite regulators worldwide, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) having determined glyphosate to be safe. The ban was supposed to come into effect December 2019 but was dropped a few days prior. Reuters, who was provided with the documents, could not to determine whether the lobbying efforts were causal for Thailand’s decision.

For the US, an exporter of bulk crops, a ban would have meant not to be able to access the Thai market, which, like other Southeast Asian countries, has grown $ 1 billion dollar in value between 2015 and 2019. [Bangkok Post][Reuters]

 

22 September 2020

Thailand: Suspension of Democrat MP by Supreme Court

(nd) The Thai Supreme Court suspended Democrat MP Theptai Seanapong’s duties as MP. A rule on his parliamentary status is pending. Theptai and his younger brother were found guilty of vote buying ahead of a mayoral election in 2014. He served as an MP since 2005 and was a representative of the southern municipality of Nakhon Si Thammarat. [Thai PBS]

 

22 September 2020

Thailand: First Thai member to UN committee

(nd) Seree Nonthasoot has been selected as the first Thai member of a UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights with the aim of forming international agreements on this subject matter. From 2013 to 2018, Dr. Seree worked as the Representative of Thailand to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and advised the Ministry of Justice on human rights matters. [Bangkok Post]

22 September 2020

Asian financial leaders agree to make ‘all policy efforts’ to fight pandemic

(jn) Financial leaders from China, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia vowed on Friday to redouble their efforts to help the region recover economically from the coronavirus and to defend a multilateral system of trade and investment. In a joint statement they vowed to “remain vigilant to the continued downside risks [and to take] steps to reduce vulnerabilities to these risks and […] to continue to use all available policy tools to support the sustained recovery.” They also said they remain committed “to uphold an open and rule-based multilateral trade and investment system, and strengthen regional integration and cooperation.”

The statement followed the annual meetings of finance ministers and central bank governors from China, Japan, South Korea and the 10-member ASEAN. The meetings were held via teleconference on the sidelines of the annual gathering of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). [Reuters]

15 September 2020

ASEAN foreign minister meeting held virtually with focus on South China Sea Dispute, pandemic and Rohingya crisis

(jn/nd) ASEAN’s foreign ministers conducted their annual summit by video on Wednesday to discuss how to overcome the immense challenges presented by the pandemic, rising tensions by the US-China rivalry in the South China Sea dispute while also touching on the continuing plight of the Rohingya refugees. The ministers were also scheduled to meet Asian and Western counterparts, like China and the US. The talks kicked off a four-day string of ASEAN meetings that were delayed by a month and were now held online to avoid COVID-19 exposure. Vietnam hosted the talks as this year’s chairman of the group. 

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc opened the conference with a speech pointing out the repercussions of the pandemic on people and businesses while also acknowledging the “growing volatilities that endanger peace and stability” in the South China Sea, all of which required regional solidarity. Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi addressed US and China representatives to not trap Indonesia in a regional struggle between the two. [Jakarta Post] Tensions between the two powers rose recently, not only with respect to trade and sanctions but because of the status of the South China Sea. Having become not only one of the world’s busiest commercial waterways, these waters are also subject to various territorial claims with Chinese military maneuvers establishing facts on the ground. [See also AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]

China accused the US of becoming “the biggest driver of militarization” in the resource-rich waters. [Manila Times] This year, the US intensified “freedom of navigation” operations in South China Sea, including bringing two aircraft carriers into the region for the first time since 2014 and lifting submarine deployments and surveillance flights.

In fact, Marsudi referenced a joint statement given last month by all 10 ASEAN foreign ministers, showing they are united in their focus on peace and not taking sides as China-US relations are deteriorating. The latter fact was earlier emphasized by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He was promoting an inclusive regional structure, with important regional powers such as Japan and India on the rise, and emphasized the importance of strong ASEAN cooperation, despite inward looking tendencies of the member countries. Because of its own claims and ethnic involvement, China was not able to fulfill the security role of the US. Still, the Belt and Road Initiative, he stressed, if carried out with financial prudence, is a step towards needed multilateral cooperation and to develop connectivity and infrastructure, which was neglected before. [Foreign Affairs]

In another virtual meeting on Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged ASEAN leaders to reconsider deals with Chinese companies that have been blacklisted by the US for building island outposts which he said Beijing was using to “bully” rival claimants in the disputed South China Sea. [South China Morning Post] The Philippines referred to their need of Chinese investments, despite the two nation’s dispute over one of the region’s richest fishing grounds, Scarborough Shoal. [Manila Standard]

In their communiqué, the ministers reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security and freedom of navigation in, and overflight above, the South China Sea and underscored the need for giving effect to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). They also commended the progress in negotiations with China on an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) consistent with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS. First COC talks occurred in 2002 but have so long been without a result. [Hanoi Times] The text also mentions the concerns by some ministers on land reclamations, activities and serious incidents in the South China Sea which, it states, have eroded trust, increased tensions, and may undermine peace and security in the region. [AP] [Al Jazeera] [ASEAN FM Communiqué] [Bangkok Post] [Nikkei Asian Review] [The Diplomat]

Another key project was establishing a COVID-19 response fund to help ASEAN member states buy medical supplies and protective suits. A regional stockpile of medical supplies has also been approved, and a study to be financed by Japan will research the possibility of establishing an ASEAN center on public health emergencies. The communiqué also calls for “enhanced collaboration and sharing of experience with ASEAN’s partners in research, development, production, and distribution of vaccines, providing access to medicines for COVID-19 and other diseases in future public health emergencies, and making them available and affordable to all as global public goods.”

Referring to diminished regional movement and trade due to the pandemic, the statement also noted that members encouraged “the maintenance of necessary interconnectedness in the region” by facilitating a resumption in the cross-border movement of people.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. During the last meeting, ASEAN reached a consensus agreement with four more states, France, Italy, Cuba and Colombia. [VN Express]

15 September 2020

Thailand: Newly appointed deputies of the Lord Chamberlain

(nd) To fill the newly created positions of deputies of the Lord Chamberlain, his Majesty the King has appointed retiring army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong and Corrections Department director-general Naras Savestanan, both coming from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School. Their status will change to palace officials after they retire, on September 30. The Bureau Royal Household is an agency of the monarchy and has a range of administrative and ceremonial responsibilities. [Bangkok Post]

15 September 2020

Thailand: Student protest ongoing

(nd) Labor Minister Suchat Chomklin warned that the ongoing protests and the demands to overthrow the government would hurt efforts to help the economy deal with the repercussions of mitigating the spread of Covid-19. [Coconuts Bangkok] Also, it remains a highly sensitive topic that some protesters demand the monarchy to be toppled, referring to the Lese Majeste laws in Article 112, which determines a jail sentence for insulting the king. After the protesters announce to rally at Thammasat University in Bangkok, the government sent letters to university heads to discourage the students from taking that step, warning this could lead to violence. [Chiangrai Times] They referenced the Black May 1992 and the Thammasat University massacre in 1976, both involving government protests that were followed by violent crackdowns by the armed forces. Since most universities are sponsored by the government, such orders are not unusual, according to Anusorn Unno, a lecturer at Thammasat University. 

Meanwhile, the US embassy in Bangkok issued the following response to what it calls “a blogsite dedicated to purveying disinformation”: “The US government is not funding or otherwise providing support to any of the protests in Thailand.” [US Embassy Bangkok]

15 September 2020

Thailand: Broader amendments to Constitution proposed

(nd) After the motion brought forward by opposition Kao Klai party to amend section 272 to mitigate the Senate’s influence on the election of the Prime Minister [See also AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2] lost necessary support by MPs, opposition Pheu Thai Party proposed four motions for further amendments, including section 272. [Thai PBS World]

The second motion aims to enable MPs, alongside senators as it is currently, to be involved in national reforms, the third aims to nullify section 279 that grants indefinite amnesty to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The fourth bill shall amend the electoral system to use the 

system of the 1997 charter. The motions will be debated on September 23 and 24. [Bangkok Post]

Chapters 1 and 2 of the Constitution, that contain general principles and sections associated with the monarchy, shall remain untouched.

15 September 2020

Thailand: Government to reduce number of teenage pregnancies

(nd) The Bureau of Reproductive Health aims to reduce teenage pregnancy from 31,4 % to 25 % by 2026. The blame was found in a difficult access to contraceptives, partly because state hospitals purchase only small amounts of supplies. A reluctance to use contraceptive could also stem from existing negative perceptions from service providers and society in general toward the topic. [Bangkok Post]

Planned parenthood and abortion remain sensitive topics in Thailand. A pregnancy can be terminated legally if (1) a woman’s physical or mental health are at risk, (2) the fetus has a high risk of a genetic disease, or (3) in cases of rape and (4) girls under the age of 15. Nevertheless, section 301 of the Criminal Code entails a prison sentence or a fine for seeking an abortion. Section 305 exempts the offense if one of the four circumstances is given. On February 19, 2010, the Constitutional Court of Thailand ruled the current abortion law as unconstitutional, violating the constitutionally granted equality between men and women, giving the government 360 days to amend it, no later than February 13, 2021. [Reuters]

Social stigma and the Buddhist opposition on abortion make reforms a tough subject. The estimated number of women seeking underground abortion is estimated at 200,000 a year. [Bangkok Post 2]

15 September 2020

Thailand: Hold on KraCanal

(nd) After the second postponement of submarine purchases from China [See also AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2], the Thai government announced it would shelve the project and replacing it with an own project. [Thailand News] Since the water levels in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand differ, a land bridge carrying dual tracked railways and highways connected with deep sea ports in Chumphon and Ranong was said to be a better solution to shorten travel time.[Thailand News]

The plan to build the KraCanal was neither officially approved not promoted as as BRI project by China. [Today Online] Thoughts about a canal cutting through the Isthmus of Kra in Southern Thailand date back centuries. The 120-km canal cutting through from East to West would bypass the Strait of Malacca, through which currently up to 40 % of the world’s trade passes through and reduce shipping distances and time. China first showed interest in the Canal in 2005, making it part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since it improves accessing the Indian Ocean and connectivity with southern China. The Canal has the possibility to alter the geopolitical landscape. Together with other Chinese projects in the region, including the Kyaukpyu Deep Seaport in Rakhine and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, it can help to manifest and legitimate China’s presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Thai security establishment stressed the issue of a partition of the country by the Canal, suggesting it would increase the threat of separatism. [Irrawaddy]

8 September 2020

Thailand: “Rebellious” member of Democrat Party to back amendment of Section 272

(nd) A “rebellious” group of MPs belonging to the government coalition Democrat Party support the oppositional Move Forward Party’s bid to amend section 272 of the Constitution. The provision allows the Senate to participate in the election of the Prime Minister for the first five years from the first convention of National Assembly (thus in wake of the first post-coup elections 2019).

The group believes the involvement of the senate that was ultimately appointed by the powers that staged the 2014 coup is against democratic principles, especially, they added, in times of political uncertainty. To propose (not adopt) the amendment one fifth of MPs is needed, which could be enough with the group’s support. [Bangkok Post 1]

Meanwhile, more support was reached among lawmakers. Senator Kamnoon Sidhisamarn said the military-appointed senate can help maintain order and implement reforms in times of transition, but precisely those reforms have not been enforced and therefore the role of the Senate shall be altered. Still, he warned to scrutinize section by section and only amend where necessary to maintain the particular strength of the charter and not lose an overall framework. [Bangkok Post 2] [See also AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]

8 September 2020

Thailand: Ongoing student protests

(nd) The Criminal Court revoked the set bail for human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and student activist Panupong Jadnok after both participated in protests, thereby breaching their bail conditions. [Bangkok Post 1] Later, both were released from prison after police cancelled their detention requests.

Amnesty International urged the government to drop the charges against 31 protest leaders of a July 18 anti-government rally, which were aimed at silencing critics and violated freedom of speech according to the statement. [Bangkok Post 2] The government countered with two statements issued by the Foreign Ministry and Royal Thai Police Office (RTPO), rejecting the accusations, stating the protesters have been charged because they violated the law. Legal Action taken by RTPO was in line with criminal proceedings. The charges can be fought in court with the protection of their fundamental human rights in line with international standards. [Bangkok Post 3]

Subsequently, the protests continued at several high schools, featuring the “Hunger Games” three-finger salute again as a symbol of the pro-democracy, anti-government movement. Over 600 high school students demonstrated in front of the education ministry in Bangkok, demanding reforms of the education system and the rigid rules on uniforms and behavior. [Chiangrai Times]

Meanwhile, another major protest is announced for September 19 at Thammasat University. Significant parts of the population seem to fear that the protests could lead to violence against the protesters. The student protests that started mid-July charge not only the military-backed government but question also the role of the monarchy, which used to be a taboo. [See also AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]

The volatility in the public perception is reflected by rumors of another possible military coup spreading on social media after military vehicles entered Bangkok. According to Army official, the vehicles are part of an annual exercise. [Khaosod English]

Meanwhile, investors are shunning Thailand for weakening growth and the intensifying political protests, causing the baht’s steepest two-day slide coming after the abrupt resignation of the finance minister Predee Daochai. [Reuters] [Thai PBS World]

8 September 2020

Vietnam, Thailand to expand cooperation

(nd) On a virtual talk, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Phạm Bình Minh and Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai have agreed upon efforts to enhance their strategic partnership until 2025. Each side declared to facilitate investments as well as the entry of laborers, planning to sign a new labor agreement, in an effort to raise bilateral trade to $ 20 million per year. Other areas of cooperation shall be education, tourism, culture and people-to-people exchange. In 2021 they will celebrate 45 years of diplomatic ties. [Vietnam News]

8 September 2020

Thailand: Amnesty plan on reform panel on political reconciliation

(nd) The panel of the national political reform committee — one of the 13 national reform committees assigned by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha — suggested a law to grant amnesty to political offenders. The panel’s chairman linked the plan to the famous Order 66/23 during the Cold War which granted an amnesty to surrendering communist insurgents. [Bangkok Post]

1 September 2020

Thailand: Royal Thai Navi postpones two-submarine-purchase to next year

(lm) After running into vociferous resistance, the Thai government announced on Monday it had decided to temporarily suspend the purchase of two submarines from China, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha – also defense minister – had “requested the navy to consider a delay” in the purchase. [The Straits Times]

Under a 2015 deal, Thailand was one of the first countries to buy Chinese naval hardware and finalized its purchase of three submarines in 2017, with the first one expected to be delivered in 2023. This is the second time the two-sub acquisition is being postponed, after it was initially suspended in April following public outrage over the controversial deal as the kingdom’s economy flatlines due to the coronavirus pandemic. [AiR No. 17, April/2020, 4]

An $717 million two-sub acquisition was approved earlier this month by a nine-member parliamentary subcommittee, with panel chairman Suphon Fongngam – a lawmaker for the ruling Palang Pracharath Party – casting the deciding vote to break the deadlock. [Bangkok Post 1]

Pheu Thai lawmaker and deputy chairman of the subcommittee Yuttapong Charasathien said on Sunday he would seek a Constitutional Court ruling on the validity of the two-sub acquisition if the purchase is approved by the House committee. Mr. Yuttapong further explained the procurement may qualify as a government-to-government agreement, and would thus fall under Section 178 of the constitution, which stipulates that any agreement that may “have wide scale effects on the security of economy, society, or trade or investment of the country” requires prior approval from parliament. According to the Pheu Thai MP, no such government-to-government agreement had been submitted to the now-dissolved National Legislative Assembly or to the current elected parliament for approval.

Royal Thai Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Sittiporn Maskasem at a media conference last week had defended the purchase as being critical for the country’s maritime defense and security interests. An accompanying presentation had noted the number of submarines already in service or being introduced by regional navies as justification for a strong submersible fleet. [Bangkok Post 2] [Defense News]

1 September 2020

Thailand to establish land passageway under China`s Belt and Road

(lm) Thailand is looking to construct a land passageway that would permit ships to bypass the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, influencing the new emerging security architecture in the Indo-Pacific. The project would be connected to the various Chinese infrastructure and connectivity projects in the region.

A narrow sea lane along Peninsular Malaysia`s southwest coast and extending east past Singapore, the Strait of Malacca is currently the shortest sea route linking the Asia-Pacific region with India and the Middle East. About a quarter of the world`s traded goods pass through it each year. Moreover, as much as 80 percent of China’s fuel imports currently pass through the crucial maritime chokepoint.

First envisioned in 1677, the establishment of a modern Kra or Thai Canal has been been put forward and dismissed several times over the past few decades. While a canal traversing the narrow isthmus that connects Thailand to Peninsular Malaysia would cut shipping time by more than two days, Thailand plans to build two deep seaports on either side the country`s southern coasts, and link them via highway and rail, according to Transport Minister Saksiam Chidchob. [South China Morning Post]

1 September 2020

Thailand: Crucial reshuffle in the armed forces and police

(lm) The annual armed forces reshuffle changed the balance of power within the armed forces and featured some surprises with a sudden change concerning Air Force command as the latest, when the hitherto-designated successor to still incumbent air force chief ACM Maanat Wongwat was seemingly sidelined – just days before the Defense Council was scheduled to finalize the promotion of military commanders. [Bangkok Post 1]

Earlier this month, it was reported that Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Maanat had nominated U.S.-trained officer ACM Airbull Suttiwan to succeed him. Although ACM Airbull had strong backing including the approval by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha, who concurrently serves as Defense Minister, he was not the most senior officer in line. After a former air force chief reportedly had expressed his disapproval over the nomination of a “dark horse” with the Prime Minister, PM Prayut asked ACM Maanat to propose a new candidate. At current three top officers – all ranked ACM – are named as possible candidates so far: assistant air force chief ACM Tharin Punnasri, chief of general staff for the air force chief ACM Saritpong Wattanawarangkul and air force chief-of-staff, ACM Sutthipun Taithong. [Bangkok Post 1] [Nikkei Asian Review]

Concerning the most important command, those of the army chief, incumbent army commander Gen. Apirat Kongsompong has nominated assistant army chief Gen. Narongphan Jitkaewthae to succeed him. Second in line to succeed Gen. Narongphan in 2024 is now Lt Gen Charoenchai Hinthao. Both General Narongphan and LTG Charoenchai belong to the Wongthewan (1st Infantry Division Kings Guard), a Bangkok-based military faction with a rich army pedigree elite and are also linked to the elite Royal Command Guard, which is under direct command of the King.

Another key officer who serves like LTG Charoenchai in the special task force under Royal Command Guard, Maj Gen Songwit Noonpakdee, deputy chief of the 1st Army who was previously a candidate for the 1st Army commander position, will reportedly become deputy army chief of staff instead. [Bangkok Post 2] [Nikkei Asian Review]

Besides, the nomination of Gen Chalermpol Srisawat, currently the armed forces chief of staff, as the new supreme commander, the government on Friday already approved the appointment of Pol. Gen. Suwat “Big Pud” Chaengyodsuk as the next national police chief. Currently the deputy police commissioner, Pol. Gen. Suwat, formerly served as commander of the Special Service Division – a police commando unit tasked with providing security to members of the royal family and carrying out other tasks assigned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn. [Khaosod English 1] 

The force which comprises 1,600 officers, all handpicked based on their “attitude and loyalty [to the monarchy]” and having trained in parachuting, assault tactics and VIP protection has been renamed and integrated in the Royal Command Guard as Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guards 904. [Khaosod English 2] [Khaosod English 3]

With exception of the surprising change regarding the designated air force commander, the much more important promotions in the army and the police are signs of a rising presence of officers said to be particularly close to the King – and members of his and a rather weakening power base of the Queen’s Guard, the army faction traditionally competing with the King’s Guard for influence. 

While the King himself has once served in the King’s Guard during his military career as a young crown prince, PM Prayuth, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, and Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda, – all former army commanders who staged the 2016 coup -, have been members of the Queen’s Guard. 

In this light, it is significant that PM Prayuth initially had favored Gen. Natthapon Nakpanich, the deputy army chief, to become the next army commander and Gen. Apirat’s successor. Recently, PM Prayuth showed his trust in Gen. Natthapon once more when he placed him on a government committee to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The change to Gen. Narongphan, an officer said to be trusted by the King and Gen. Apirat, might thus be seen as a sign of a declining influence the Prime Minister and former army commander and his allies in the cabinet wield over the army. [Nikkei Asian Review]

Significant on the other hand is also the rising heft of officers aligned to the Royal Command Guard which does not form a part of the regular armed forces or police chain of command within the regular security apparatus. After the King had surprised observers by realigning key army units stationed in the capital under his personal command under the Royal Command Guard, – namely the 11th Infantry Regiment and the 1st Infantry Regiment -, both critical to stage a coup, army and police will now become dominated by officers aligned with this very Royal Command Guard. The well-trained and equipped force comprises around 7,000 troops and could double in the months ahead. [Nikkei Asian Review]

1 September 2020

Thailand: Charter amendment

(lm) On Monday, the House Committee on Constitutional Amendment handed in its report to House Speaker Chuan Leekpai. A comprehensive set of proposals aimed at facilitating the transition to a new set of constitutional rules, the report touches on several key areas, including the future role of the senate and changes to the electoral system. Among the suggestions put forward, that is, is the return to the election system previously in place under the 1997 constitution to allow for an easier calculation of list MPs. The system also makes it mandatory for the prime minister to be an MP. Further, the panel found that the role of the coup-appointed Senate is conflicting; while it is supposed to be politically impartial, it is empowered to join MPs in voting for a prime minister. [Bangkok Post 1]

Meanwhile, parties in the ruling coalition government will submit a motion that seeks to amend the constitution to House Speaker Chuan Leekpai on Tuesday, chief government whip Wirach Ratanasate said on Sunday. The motion will center around amending Section 256 of the constitution, leaving chapters 1 and 2, which contain general principles and sections associated with the monarchy, untouched. Section 256 states that at least one-third (84) of the 250 senators has to approve constitutional amendments in two of three readings, and further stipulates that a national referendum is required if a would-be amendment involves the charter amendment process, the chapters on general principles and the monarchy. Members of parliament will meet on September 23 and 24 to consider the motion at its first reading. [Bangkok Post 2]

While all six opposition parties have long agreed that the 2017 constitution has to be amended, the bloc`s two major parties – Pheu Thai Party and Move Forward Party – more recently have developed diametrically opposed stances toward charter amendment pertaining to the role of the senate. Last week, chief opposition whip and Pheu Thai lawmaker Sutin Klungsang dismissed media reports that his party was at odds with the Move Forward Party, over diverging positions on constitutional amendments. [Khaosod English] [Bangkok Post 3]

On Wednesday, the Move Forward Party (MVP) announced to withdraw its support for an opposition-sponsored motion that seeks to revise only Section 256 of the constitution, which had been submitted to the House Speaker two weeks ago. Party secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon said the party would vote for the motion in the first reading, but would press for changes to the upper house during the second stage reading. Reasoning that the current constitution would still allow the 250 senators to join House lawmakers in voting on another prime minister, in the event of snap elections, the Move Forward Party seeks to limit or even shut down the role of the Senate once the charter amendment motion goes before the parliament. Because a minimum of 98 votes is required to submit an amendment bill in parliament, the Move Forward party, with its 54 lawmakers, relies on Pheu Thai (154 seats) to support the bill. [Bangkok Post 4

After Pheu Thai had voted last week not to seek immediate removal of the junta-appointed senate, the party eased its stance a little on Saturday, as opposition parties except Pheu Thai had in the meantime agreed to support the Move Forward Party’s constitutional amendment bill to “switch off” 250 senators before proceeding with a charter rewrite. Pheu Thai had defended its initial decision to focus on amending Section 256 of the constitution as a “realistic” path toward the drafting of a new charter, leaving the future role of the Senate untouched. It is hoping that its version of the bill would win senators’ support and eventually lead to the setup of a constitution drafting council, which may choose to get rid of appointed senators eventually.

Both parties also disagree on the crucial chapters 1 and 2 of the constitution. In order to increase its chance of success, Pheu Thai wants to insert a clause to the amendments that would forbid any changes to these chapters. Move Forward lawmakers, in contrast, argue the Constitution Drafting Assembly should have the authority to make changes to every chapter of the current constitution, including chapters 1 and 2. [The Thaiger 2]

Chapters 1 and 2 of the Constitution contain, however, those principles that are defining the long-established identity of (hegemonic) Thai constitutionalism and the central role of the monarchy within. The diverging approach of both opposition parties regarding the amendment therefore reflects a major policy difference.

1 September 2020

Thailand: Royalist rally to support monarchy, PM warns of “national collapse”

(lm) About 1,000 people gathered in a Bangkok sports arena on Sunday, swearing to defend Thailand’s royal institution from a student-led mass movement that they believe is a threat to the monarchy`s existence. The fourth group of conservative pro-royalists set up to counter the pro-democracy rallies, “Thai Pakdee” (Loyal Thai) also lodged a letter with the Japanese embassy in Bangkok to demand the extradition of self-exiled Thai political activist Pavin Chachavalpongpunwhose popular FB page ‘Royalist Marketplace’ had just be taken down in Thailand. Further, the group has issued a manifesto in which it pledges to oppose any changes to the 2017 Thai constitution and calls for strict enforcement of existing laws, including the prosecution of individuals who offend the royal institution or members of the royal family. [The Thaiger 1] [NHK World] [Bangkok Post 1] [The Straits Times]

On Monday, a small group of people delivered a letter to the US embassy in Bangkok in which they condemned Human Rights Watch for allegedly meddling with Thai politics. The group was led by Buddha Issara, former key leader of the People’s Committee for Absolute Democracy With the King As Head of State (PCAD) movement which precipitated the 2014 coup d’état. [Khaosod English]

Meanwhile, student leaders from the Free Youth Group on Wednesday submitted their 10-point manifesto on reforming the monarchy to the House Committee on Political Development, Mass Communications and Public Participation for consideration – a move that does not guarantee discussion among MPs but symbolizes the group’s unprecedented resolve. Emerging from a cabinet meeting the same day, Premier Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha accused anti-government protesters of dividing the country, and warned of nothing less than national “collapse” if the pro-democracy rallies kept rattling the country. [The Thaiger 2] [Japan Times] [Bangkok Post 2]

1 September 2020

Thailand: Authorities vow no relent in their crackdown on social media content deemed illegal

(lm) Thai authorities have vowed to restrict more social media content deemed illegal and are seeking court removal orders relating to content on more than 1,000 more URLs, Minister of Digital Economy and Society Puttipong Punnakanta. After Facebook announced last week it would take legal action over the censorship of a group containing critical remarks about the royal institution [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4], Mr. Punnakanta further denied that the page had been removed for political reasons, saying that the ministry “must protect Thailand`s cyber sovereignty” and the law. [South China Morning Post]

1 September 2020

ThailandPolice continue to arrest student leaders over anti-government protest

(lm) On Tuesday, police arrested the president of the Student Union of Thailand, expanding a continued crackdown against political activists who helped organize the anti-government protest in July. As pressure builds against the government, two other protest leaders from the Free Youth Group had been arrested and charged with breaching the emergency decree last week. [Bangkok Post 1] [Bangkok Post 2]

Since July, police have arrested more than a dozen people, including student leaders, rappers and activists, all of which have been released on bail [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4] [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. In light of the ongoing crackdown, Human Rights Watch in a statement called on the Thai government “to immediately drop all charges and unconditionally release pro-democracy activists arbitrarily detained for participating in peaceful rallies”. [Human Rights Watch]

1 September 2020

Thailand: Finance Minister resigns less than a month after his nomination

(lm) Citing health reasons, recently appointed Finance Minister Predee Daochai reportedly resigned from his position on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha yet to accept the resignation. [Khaosod English] [The Straits Times]

Previously the co-president of Thailand`s Kasikornbank and chairman of the Thai Bankers’ Association, Mr. Daochai took over the finance portfolio just last month, following a major shake-up in the cabinet involving the resignation of six ministers. [see AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]

1 September 2020

Thailand: Cabinet approves fifth one-month extension of state of emergency

(lm) Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s Cabinet approved another one-month extension of the state of emergency through September 30 to control the COVID-19 outbreak as the country seeks to prolong its streak of going three months without a local transmission. The fifth extension since the initial order in March [see AiR No. 12, March/2020, 4], the extension was justified to stave off a potential second wave of coronavirus infections. The Cabinet also approved a budget of one billion baht (S$43 million) to support production of a vaccine. [Bangkok Post] [The Straits Times]

1 September 2020

China, Southeast Asian leaders meet to discuss the Mekong`s plight

(lm) At a time when the Mekong River’s health is in dire straits, leaders from China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam gathered on Monday for a virtual summit, the third leader’s meeting for the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) platform. During the summit, Chinese Premier Li Keqian promised that Beijing would henceforth share the Lancang River’s hydrological data with the Lower Mekong countries. [The Diplomat]

Established in 2016, the LMC is a sub-regional cooperation mechanism that brings together the riparian countries of the vital waterway, which begins in China as the Lancang then traverses Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. For a second year in a row, the Mekong River is at a record low, with water levels across the Lower Mekong Basin down by two-thirds and rainfall for the three months of the current monsoon also down by about 70 percent.

Starting in the mid-1980s, Beijing has since constructed 11 giant dams along the mountainous territory of the Upper Mekong to sustain its ever-increasing energy needs. In April this year, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – representing Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand – refuted a previously published US-funded report that had accused China of deliberately holding back water, significantly contributing to the major drought impacting the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. Despite denying the allegations, however, the MRC did call on China for greater transparency in its water data.

In March this year, five provinces in Vietnam’s Mekong delta region had declared a state of emergency in face of continued extreme drought and salinity. A result of lobbying from international NGOs and internal reporting, shortly thereafter, the Cambodian government announced a decade-long dam moratorium on the mainstream of the river. The Cambodian moratorium leaves Laos, which commissioned two major dams in 2019, as the only Lower Mekong country pursuing hydropower on the mainstream of the river. [AiR No. 12, March/2020, 4] [AiR No. 10, March/2020, 2]

Beyond the Lancang/Mekong River`s plight, leaders on Monday also talked about strengthening their cooperation on public health, food supply chains, and a post-COVID-19 recovery of the region’s tourism industry. [TTR Weekly]

25 August 2020

Thailand: More arrests as student protests continue

(ls) Several activists, including two popular rappers, have been arrested by the Thai police as student protests continued across the country. They were charged with breaching sedition laws and defying the emergency decree on the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus. Also, the lawyer and activist Anon Nampa was arrested and charged over a protest in Bangkok at which he had called for reform of the monarchy. It was his second arrest for sedition after an earlier one in July. Student activist Panupong Jadnok was arrested, as well. All have been released on bail. [Reuters 1] [BBC] [Bangkok Post 1]

On Monday, Facebook complied with a governmental request to block access within Thailand to a Facebook group with about 1 million members over critical remarks about the monarchy. Facebook announced to take legal action. Earlier this month, Facebook has already been ordered to restrict access to what the authorities deemed criminal content. [Reuters 2]

The student protests meanwhile extended to Northeastern Thailand where demonstrations took place in Khon Kaen and Korat. In Bangkok, student groups met with representatives of the Education Ministry and demanded action against intimidation of students by teachers. The students said they were bullied for expressing their political views at school. [Khaosod English 1] [The Thaiger]

At the other side, protesters set a new tone by making use of ‘cancel culture’ tactics. After a journalist of the pro-establishment Nation TV station misinformed an interviewee over her affiliation to the media outlet, protesters urged people over the cheat to not read or watch Nation news coverage and, more importantly, to even boycott products of those companies advertising with the group while sharing lists of the advertisers’ names over Twitter. Some Twitter users even called on related parent companies abroad to “acknowledge their Thailand branch is supporting dictatorship”. [Bangkok Post 2

The current wave of protests exposes both a growing challenge to the hegemonic social contract and a stark generational divide. As issues related to the Thai monarchy have been raised by some of the protesters, especially parts of the older generation view them as traitors. Khaosod English has spoken to young protesters and their parents, tracing the current inter-generational discussions in Thai families. [Khaosod English 2]

Meanwhile, the government coalition announced the proposal of a constitutional amendment draft after having reached an initial agreement on the structure of the drafting body which shall comprise 200 members, 150 elected by people from across the country and 50 others appointed by academics, student representatives and parliamentarians. Under the current Thai constitution of 2017, constitutional amendments also require the support of at least one-third of the all-appointed Senate, which is widely seen as a major obstacle. [Bangkok Post 3]

25 August 2020

Thailand arrests Vietnamese fishermen, confiscates their boats

(jn) Thai authorities have arrested 36 Vietnamese fishermen and confiscated their four boats on suspicion of poaching in Thailand’s exclusive economic zone. The arrests came two days after Malaysia’s coast guard had shot and killed a Vietnamese fishing boat crew member during a South China Sea confrontation, and weeks after Indonesian authorities had detained three Vietnamese boats for alleged poaching. [Radio Free Asia] [AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]

18 August 2020

Thailand: Core private sector organizations bidding to join CPTPP

(lm) The Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking (JSCCIB) – an apex body of the Board of Trade of Thailand (BOT), the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) and the Thai Bankers’ Association (TBA) – will start a new study on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) next month in a bid to renew its call for the government to join in. [Bangkok Post]

In June, the Thai government agreed to set up a panel to study the benefits of a CPTPP membership, which civil society organizations say could negatively affect Thai agricultural and healthcare sectors. Two weeks ago, then, Thailand decided not to apply for membership at the annual meeting of CPTPP members. [AiR No. 22, June/2020, 1]

Advocates of a Thai membership highlight the opportunities it opens for Thailand to export products to new markets while critics also fear it might “kill local businesses when foreign businesses flow into Thailand under the pact”. [Bangkok Post]

18 August 2020

Thailand: Thousands gather in Bangkok to demand reforms

(lm) Thousands of protesters converged on Sunday on Bangkok’s Democracy Monument to afresh their demand to dissolve parliament, put an end to harassment of government critics, and amend the constitution. The number of participants differs from source to source, with protest organizers from the Free People group – an activist group that morphed out of the student-led Free Youth group – claiming 20,000-30,000 attendees. [Bangkok Post 1]

Going beyond their shared demand for wholesale democratic reform, speakers on stage addressed a variety of other progressive causes, including the abortion laws and its adverse effect on women’s reproductive health, as well as marriage equality and gender representation. While affirming the three core demands that they had first voiced at the July 18 rally, leaders from the Free People group refrained from making any direct reference to the 10-point list for reform of the royal institution. [Thai Enquirer] [AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]

Throughout the morning, the anti-government protest was preceded by a much smaller royalist counter-protest led by members of the “Archeewa Chuay Chart” (Vocational Students Helping the Nation) [see AiR No. 31, August/2020, 1]. About 60 royalist demonstrators rallied in close proximity to the Democracy Monument to show their support for the royal institution. On Monday, ultra-royalists petitioned the police to withdraw the bail granted earlier to three activists who subsequently took part in Sunday’s anti-government rally, saying the trio had violated the conditions set for their release. [Bangkok Post 2]

Emerging from the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday had announced that authorities were seeking to identify demonstrators who had expressed criticism over the royal family during last week`s protest at Thammasat University, saying that their comments have potentially violated Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as lèse-majesté. Further adding to speculations that suggested the existence of a “dark hand” behind the protests, the Prime Minister also said that the demonstration deserved closed scrutiny to determine potential instigators. [NY Times] [The Guardian]

Speaking at a meeting with university executives on Friday, newly appointed Minister for Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, Anek Laothamatas affirmed the concerns expressed by the Prime Minister a day earlier, saying that universities were bound “to prevent students and outsiders from insulting the monarchy”. In the same vein, Deputy Prime Minister General (ret.) Prawit Wongsuwon light-heartedly dismissed the three-fingered hand gesture used by demonstrators inspired by the ‘Hunger Games’ as the salute used by Boy Scouts, and further said that protesters “must think carefully”. [Bangkok Post 3] [Bangkok Post 4]

Since the Sunday protests, students throughout the country who showed symbols against dictatorship have reportedly been intimidated by school administration and men believed to be plainclothes police. [Bangkok Post 5] [Khaosod English]

Authorities have also warned of social media posts critical of the royal institution including the Digital Economy Minister announcing on Facebook that he ordered authorities to identify “inappropriate” material and single out 114 posts mostly made to Facebook but also YouTube and Twitter that may be in breach of the Computer Crimes Act. [South China Morning Post]

18 August 2020

Thailand: Opposition parties take first step towards rewriting of the constitution

(lm) On Monday, House Speaker Chuan Leekpai accepted an opposition-sponsored motion that seeks to amend Section 256 of the constitution, which governs the process of constitutional amendments. Pheu Thai Party leader Sompong Amornvivat filed the motion in the presence of representatives from Prachachat, Puea Chat, Thai People Power and Seriruamthai. Although no party representative attended the presentation, at least 30 Move Forward Party lawmakers have reportedly signed the motion as well. The process to verify the legitimacy of the motion would begin immediately, Mr. Chuan said, adding that he would table the motion in the House of Representatives within the next 15 days. [Bangkok Post 1]

Earlier this month, the House Committee on Constitutional Amendment had resolved to change Section 256, which states that at least one-third (84) of the 250 senators has to approve constitutional amendments in two of three readings – a tall order, given the Senate’s voting records and the fact that it has vested interest in the amendments to the constitution. [see AiR No. 31, August/2020, 1]. Still, consensus among the opposition seems less clear with regard to the appointment of the Senate, which is seen as favoring the government, considering that the senators have been appointed by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)). While parts of the opposition would like to redeem the senators right to vote for a prime minister, some want to abolish appointed senators altogether. [Bangkok Post 2]

Speaking in the wake of Sunday`s protest, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Monday affirmed protesters demand for constitutional amendments, saying his ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) was ready for such amendments, and adding that party members would propose changes through its executive board. [Bangkok Post 3]

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives debated on Thursday a report on forging national reconciliation, which could partially set the tone for future constitutional amendments. Prepared by the House Committee on laws, justice and human rights, the report featured a nine-point recommendation list, which the authors consider a roadmap towards a “People’s Constitution”. [Bangkok Post 4]

In remarks that clearly draw on the ongoing student protests, the report in its outset recognizes that the current charter is divisive and catered to the powers of the coup engineer, the National Council for Peace and Order, adding that it has since been inherited by the current government, which aggravates political conflicts. Stressing that amnesty was the first step towards building national reconciliation, the report also puts emphasis on a bill to absolve offenders charged with instigating political unrest and protests.

Claiming that deferring constitutional amendment would make it difficult to solve social and political conflicts, the report calls on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to clarify on a starting date for and the duration of the process, adding that such a process must include input from people across the social strata. Consequently, the report favors a dissolution of the House of Representatives and a general election, after constitutional amendments have been introduced.

The recommendations echo Senator Kamnoon Sitthisamarn`s call for an amnesty bill in July earlier this year. Back then, the Senator had called for an amnesty bill to absolve offenders charged with instigating political unrest and protests within the past 15 years, arguing that the bill would significantly boost the government`s national reconciliation efforts as it would benefit protest leaders of all political groups. In both cases, the amnesty bills do not include charges of corruption or offences against Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lèse majesté. [AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]

18 August 2020

Thailand: New cabinet members receive royal endorsement

(lm) After weeks of political vacuum left by the resignation of six ministers, including the PM’s ‘economic team’, on Wednesday, the six new cabinet members were sworn in by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, completing the process of their appointment. The King expressed his desire “for the happiness of the people, happiness of the public and for order and peace”. Incumbent Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai also attended the ceremony, as he will concurrently serve as one of the deputy prime ministers. [Bangkok Post 1] [Straits Times]

Former president and CEO of state petrochemical enterprise PTT Global Chemical, Supattanapong Punmeechaow will serve as deputy prime minister and energy minister. Predee Daochai, previously co-president of Thailand`s Kasikornbank and chairman of the Thai Bankers’ Association, will take over the portfolio of finance minister. As Thailand continues to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the two are expected to play key roles in the new economic team, replacing the group that was headed by former deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak. In July, Mr. Somkid, then-Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana, then-Energy Minister Sonthirat Sonthijirawong, and three more ministers had resigned. [AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]

The leader in the governing party coalition, the Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) was given charge of two portfolios. Anucha Nakasai, PPRP`s secretary-general, became the prime minister’s new office minister, while Suchart Chomklin, deputy leader of the party, took over as labor minister, with the government’s former spokeswoman, Narumon Pinyosinwat, as his deputy minister. Anek Laothamatas, executive member of the nationalist-royalist Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT), will serve as the new minister of higher education, science, research and innovation.

18 August 2020

Thailand: Parliament requests NACC probe into alleged bribe-taking attempt

(lm) The Thai parliament on Thursday announced that it would ask the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to inquire into an alleged bribe-taking attempt by members of one of the eight House sub-committee vetting the 2021 fiscal budget. If the NACC decides to launch a preliminary inquiry, the sub-committee in question will need to give its full cooperation, the House speaker said. The House committee on laws, justice and human rights is also expected to vote on whether a probe should be conducted into the bribery allegation. [Bangkok Post 1] [Bangkok Post 4]

The accusations have reportedly been made by the director-general of the Department of Groundwater Resources (DGR) under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. While defending his agency`s budget allocation in front of a sub-panel, the director-general had reportedly claimed that he had been approached by a member of the sub-panel, demanding five million baht from his agency in exchange for not trimming a fund earmarked for building artesian wells. [Bangkok Post 2]

Brushing of the allegations, Deputy Finance Minister and chair of the House Committee overseeing budget scrutiny, Santi Promphat, said that House sub-committees were not authorized to adjust budget portions stipulated in the budget bill, adding that they were only permitted to determine whether proposed budget allocations suited the policies or programs they were destined for. [Bangkok Post 3]

In July, the House of Representatives had passed the first reading of the 3.3-trillion-baht budget bill for the 2021 fiscal year. The bill’s second and third readings are expected in early September. [AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1]

11 August 2020

Thailand: Student protests gain momentum

(ls) The student protests in Thailand that restarted some weeks ago after months of corona-related quietness are gaining momentum as demonstrations attract rising numbers of participants. On Monday, about three to four thousand joined an event at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus. Earlier on the same day, dozens of government supporters rallied in front of Parliament House. [Reuters]

The event at Thammasat sparked controversy due to references by some speakers to the powers of the Thai monarchy. The head of the senate committee on the protection of the royal institution said the statements were hurtful to tens of millions of Thai people. Prime Minister General (ret.) Chan-o-cha and other ministers also criticized the event. The university’s vice rector apologized for the course the event had taken. [Bangkok Post 1] [The Thaiger]

Over the weekend, hundreds of people joined a flash mob in Bangkok after a prominent civil rights lawyer, who had called for reforms of the monarchy, and a student activist were arrested for sedition, breaching the emergency decree and other charges, and then released again on bail. [Bangkok Post 2] [Khaosod English]

With apparent reference to monarchy-related remarks of protesters, army chief General Apirat Kongsompongon told cadets during a visit to a military academy that the “hatred of the nation” plaguing the country was a bigger threat than the coronavirus. “We cannot cure people who hate their nation.” [ASEAN Post]

In response to the students’ demands to change the constitution, Prime Minister Chan-o-cha said the government would present a proposal in the next parliamentary session. He also stated that the government would hold forums for “new-generation people” to voice opinions on what they want Thailand’s future to be like. The Free Youth group and the Student Union of Thailand demand the government to dissolve parliament, stop using oppressive laws against opponents and rewrite the constitution. [Bangkok Post 3]

11 August 2020

Thai Court ruling allows class action suit brought by Cambodian farmers  

(jn) The Bangkok South Civil Court ruled on July 31 that about 3000 Cambodian people who had allegedly been forcibly displaced by a land grab for purposes of agricultural exploration could proceed with their suit against the Thai company Mitr Phol. The plaintiffs seek compensation against the world’s fourth largest sugar producer whose subsidiaries they say had seized their land and bulldozed or burned down their homes twelve years ago in an effort to make way for sugar plantations in the Cambodian province of Oddar Meanchey.

In 2008 and 2009, the Cambodian government had approved the clearance of the territory that was assigned to future sugar plantations and part of a government plan to generate economic growth with the help of domestic and regional investors. After the affected villagers staged protests and the ongoing dispute could not be resolved, the Cambodian government declared a moratorium for new concessions, and promised to review those already granted. Mitr Phol eventually withdrew from Cambodia in 2015.

Progress of the suit turned out to be difficult at first, when a lower court dismissed it due to the plaintiffs’ lacking Thai language skills and the onerous communication with them in rural Cambodia. A pre-hearing is now scheduled for October, with the whole trial expected to last up to two years.

Human rights groups commended the ruling and interpreted it as a sign that transnational corporations in the region could not trust anymore in being shielded from accountability by national boundaries. It was also hailed as a remarkable ruling in that Thai courts are usually not expected to rule against their “own” Thai corporations. NGOs who had decried the forced displacement also criticized that Cambodian authorities had only partially and insufficiently compensated the villagers who often had to move to other areas or even became illegal migrant workers.

Mitr Phol said in a statement that it was committed to social responsibility and that in this case it had relied on the Cambodian government’s assurances that the land concessions were legal. It denied any human rights violations on its part. [South China Morning Post[The Diplomat]

4 August 2020

Major twist in “Boss” case, as independent panel recommends re-instatement of charges

(lm/py) Last week, Asia in Review reported on the public anger stirred by the Public Prosecutor Office`s decision to drop criminal charges against Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, the heir to the Red Bull energy drink fortune, who was accused of a 2012 hit-and-run killing of a police officer while driving a sports car. While the statute of limitations on two charges related to the accident had already expired, the third, and most serious charge – reckless driving causing death – would have remained on the books until 2027, if the case had not been closed [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4].

On Tuesday, a seven-member panel chaired by Deputy Attorney-General Somsak Tiyawanich recommended to press new charges against Mr. Vorayuth, saying that new evidence had emerged that would justify putting Mr. Vorayuth on trial. The panel had been set up by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) on July 26, three days after the decision of prosecutors to drop the final charge was first reported on CNN.

Specifically, the panel suggested to press charges of cocaine abuse, which the police had not included in their past reports (see further below). Moreover, the statute of limitations on the charge will not expire for another seven years. Mr. Somsak also said the prosecutor responsible for the case had made a “sound” decision”, when he decided to go against the arraignment, as the move was informed by the available evidence and eyewitness testimonies put forward by the police at the time. [Bangkok Post 1] [The Thaiger]

At the beginning of last week, news transpired that the decision to drop the third charge had been made after the police had come forward with two new witnesses. In the light of the witnesses` accounts, prosecutors at the Office of Criminal Litigation in Southern Bangkok decided not to press the remaining charge against Mr. Vorayuth and forwarded the case to the police for consideration. After the news became known to the public, the police announced it would launch an internal investigation into the Assistant Police Chief`s decision not to contest the prosecutor over the case, adding that the old case against Mr. Vorayuth had officially been closed and could only be relaunched if relatives of the victim filed the case directly to a court, or if there were new witnesses or evidence. [Khaosod English 1] [Chiang Mai One]

Responding to growing public furor over the case, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday set up an independent panel to examine the dropping of criminal charges against Mr. Vorayuth. The nine-member panel is chaired by Vicha Mahakhun, dean of the Faculty of Law at Rangsit University and formerly spokesman and commissioner at the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). The panel was given a 30-day respite to seek information from relevant officials, and to listen to opinions, recommendations and complaints from the public. While it is not allowed to intervene in the authority of officials responsible for the hit-and-run case, on Monday, though, Prime Minister Prayut said that he instructed the panel to see whether the case can be revived, despite being officially closed. [Bangkok Post 2] [Bangkok Post 3] [South China Morning Post 1]

Emerging from a meeting on Monday, panel chairman Mr. Vicha said that Four panels had been set up to scrutinize various aspects of the hit-and-run case, including how it was handled by the police and prosecutors. The panel reviewing the prosecutors’ performance is being headed by Borwornsak Uwanno, former secretary general of the King Prajadhipok Institute. Former attorney-general and current chairman of the Police Reform Committee, Khemchai Chutiwong will chair an investigation into the police. Justice permanent secretary Wisit Wisitsora has been appointed to head another panel tasked with examining witnesses and individuals in the case who are not police and prosecutors. The fourth panel is in charge of legal aspects and headed by Pakorn Nilprapun, secretary-general of the Council of State.

The Prime Minister, together with his Deputy Prawit Wongsuwan on Wednesday also addressed and outrightly rejected any speculation that the executive branch had conspired with prosecutors to drop charges against Mr. Vorayuth. Earlier last week, media reports had emerged, linking Mr. Prawit`s brother Admiral Sitthawat Wongsuwan, with the prosecutors` decision to drop the last remaining charge against Mr. Vorayuth. A report published in April had also revealed that the Yoovidhya family had donated a sum of 300 million baht to the government and the police. The donation was allegedly made after Prime Minister Prayut called on top-earning tycoons in April to help mitigate the economic knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic. [Prachachat (in Thai)] [Amarin TV (in Thai)]

On Thursday, then, one of the key witnesses was killed in a motorbike accident in the northern city of Chiang Mai, causing public suspicion about the exact cause of his death. Although the results of an initial autopsy were still pending, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Saturday ordered a second autopsy, saying that the “case will not be unresolved in the public’s mind.” On Sunday then, it was reported that the results of the second autopsy were consistent with the first, and that the victim had died of injuries caused by the accident. [Reuters] [South China Morning Post 2] [Bangkok Post 4]

The same day, police officers, who handled the case, were invited to appear in front of the House Committee on Police Affairs for questioning regarding the hit-and-run case. When being asked by the Committee as to why no charge related to illicit drug use had been pressed against Mr. Vorayuth, despite a positive blood test proving the use of cocaine, the officers said that the illicit chemical substances found in Mr. Vorayuth`s blood had been used in a dental treatment.

The police, however, did not disclose the identity of the dentist, and had no medical documents to prove that residue of cocaine found in Mr Vorayuth’s body were indeed resulting from dental treatment. A dentist guild disputed the claim on the following day, saying Mr. Vorayuth had received dental treatment five days before the crash and was given pills, which contain no cocaine. Responding to the news, police said that the explanation that cocaine was used for medical purposes is a “misunderstanding”, and announced that they would further investigate in two of the substances to determine if they warrant charges against Mr. Vorayuth. [Bangkok Post 5] [Khaosod English 2]

Warawit Sukboon, secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), said on Thursday that the Commission was ready to investigate the prosecutors who dropped all charges against Mr. Vorayuth. The announcement came after law students had lodged a petition with the NACC, asking the Commission to look into whether prosecutors who acquitted Mr. Vorayuth exercised their power in line with the law.

Leading conservative activist and secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, Srisuwan Janya, also found himself in opposition to the prosecutors` decision, which he declared may constitute an act which favors one Thai citizen over another. On Monday, Mr. Srisuwan, who had been vocal in his opposition to what he termed illegal student protests [see AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3] filed a petition with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), accusing the police and the prosecutors dereliction of duty. [Bangkok Post 6

4 August 2020

Pro-government supporters rally in Bangkok, House Committee appoints chair

(lm) Two weeks ago, Asia in Review reported on one of the largest street demonstrations in Thailand since the 2014 military coup, when around 2,500 protesters converged on Bangkok’s Democracy Monument to demand the dissolution of parliament, an end to harassment of government critics, and amendments to the constitution. [see AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3].

After the House of Representatives last week voted in favor of a panel tasked with hearing the student`s demands [AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4], the newly formed committee on Friday elected Bhumjaithai Party lawmaker Paradorn Prissananantakul its chairman. During the inaugural session, the panelists also determined a roadmap, as it only has 30-45 days before it will have to submit its conclusion to parliament – a time fence much shorter than the 90-day period the panel had been promised earlier. High on the agenda is an outreach attempt to anti-government protesters by members of the panel, starting this weekend in Sri Sa Ket province. In addition, the Committee is also set to invite the Royal Thai Police to report on cases of political protests and security measures. [Bangkok Post 1]

On Thursday, around a hundred people rallied in close proximity to the Democracy Monument to show their support for the royal institution. Leaders of the pro-government group, which calls itself “Archeewa Chuay Chart” (Vocational Students Helping the Nation) insisted the group was not politically motivated, nor was it backed by individuals to counter anti-government movements. On social media, however, this group is widely seen as having been created by groups associated with the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and Suthep Thaugsuban, a former secretary general of the Democrat Party, who became a protest leader against the Yingluck government in 2013/14. [Star Tribune]

4 August 2020

Thailand: Cross-party support for constitutional amendments

(lm) In a cross-party move, members of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendment resolved to change Section 256 of the constitution to pave the way for broader constitutional amendments. On Saturday, the committee`s chairman and adviser to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, added that the Committee also considered amendments suggested by various sectors of Thai society, including a provision on setting up a Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA), which would facilitate the drafting of an entirely new constitution. [Bangkok Post 1] [Bangkok Post 2] [The Thaiger]

The House Committee on Constitutional Amendment is tasked with deciding how to best amend the 2017 constitution, which makes constitutional amendments very difficult. According to Section 256 of the constitution, at least one-third (84) of the 250 senators has to approve it in two of three readings – a tall order, given the Senate’s voting records and the fact that it has vested interest in the amendments to the constitution: Two amendments sought by opposition lawmakers concern the election system, which they have criticized as “complicated” and “unfair”, and the appointment of the Senate, which is seen as favoring the government, considering that the senators have been appointed by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)).

Against this backdrop, former member of the now-defunct National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA), Senator Seri Suwannapanont, on Monday said that the Senate would veto any constitutional amendment that would give a CDA “a blank cheque”. The same day, Thailand`s main opposition party, Pheu Thai Party, announced that it would file a motion centered around rectifying Section 256 the following day in parliament to pave the way for a CDA to be established. [Bangkok Post 3]

Last week, Progressive Movement co-founder Piyabutr Saengkanokkul had proposed that amendments to the constitution were necessary to mollify anti-government protesters. Specifically, Mr. Piyabutr, who is also a member of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendment, suggested the parliament should table three separate bills to amend two constitutional provisions: Section 279, which justifies and legitimizes all orders, announcements, and actions of the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), and Section 269, which permitted the NCPO to appoint 250 senators, known as the transitional Senate, to serve for five years. [Bangkok Post 4]

4 August 2020

Thailand: Criminal Court acquits political activist of inciting unrest charges

(lm) Thailand`s Criminal Court on Thursday acquitted political activist Sombat Boonngamanong of sedition and cybercrime charges for criticizing the then-ruling military junta in 2014. In its verdict, the Court said Mr. Sombat didn’t violate sedition laws as he was merely expressing his political opinions and no one protested as a result of his actions. [The Thaiger] [Bangkok Post]

Shortly after it had seized power in May 2014, the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) in June arrested Mr. Sombat and filed charges against him over his online campaign, which allegedly encouraged members of the public to join a rally against the coup-makers. As the messages had been posted at a time, when martial law was in effect and criticizing the government consequentially was illegal, Mr. Sombat, thus, was accused of having violated Section 116 of the Criminal Code and the Computer Crime Act. The charges were initially heard in a military court, following an order by Prime Minister Prayut, who back then was NCPO chief, the case last year was then transferred to the Criminal Court.

4 August 2020

Thailand: Pheu Thai favors former party member Chadchart Sittipunt for Bangkok governor

(lm) Pheu Thai Party leader Sompong Amornvivat on Thursday brushed off speculations the party would field chief strategist Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan as its gubernatorial candidate in the coming Bangkok election, saying that the party had instructed Mrs. Khunying to find a candidate for the governor race, as well as for other local body elections in the capital. [Bangkok Post]

At the top of the list of people to run as the party’s candidate in the gubernatorial election is former party member Chadchart Sittipunt, who resigned from the party last year to run as an independent candidate. However, Mr. Chadchart reportedly already rejected Pheu Thai’s offer for him to run under the party`s auspices. [Khaosod English]

Mr. Chadchart joined the Thaksin Shinawatra-led government as adviser to the Transport Minister. In 2012, he then became Deputy Minister under the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, before he served the same Prime Minister as Transport Minister. In the run-up to the 2017 general elections, he was among the trio that the Pheu Thai Party would have liked to be Prime Minister.

In September 2017, he was among 70 people appointed by then-junta chairman Prayut Chan-o-cha to the National Strategy Committee, which was designated to draft several 20-year strategic plans which future governments would be legally bound to follow. However, citing schedule conflicts and family issues, Mr. Chadchart resigned within days. 

The Bangkok gubernatorial election is likely to be held in the last quarter of the year. The capital`s current governor, Aswin Kwanmuang, is one of the remaining vestiges of the military junta that ruled Thailand from 2014-2019, and appointed Mr. Aswin in 2016 to replace Sukhumbhand Paribatra, who was seen as ineffective.

4 August 2020

Thailand: Prime Minister Prayut reportedly submits new cabinet list for royal endorsement

(lm/py) Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday reportedly submitted his list of new cabinet ministers for royal endorsement. Earlier this month, six ministers had resigned from their posts to pave the way for Mr. Prayut to reshuffle the cabinet. In the wake the resignations, the Prime Minister had first declined to comment on potential candidates for the posts, but said that some key posts in the economic team, particularly the finance portfolio, were part of a “central”, non-party ministerial quota, and as such did not belong to any coalition party. [Bangkok Post 1] [AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3] [Bangkok Post 2]

The list reportedly includes the names of the six people to be appointed for seven positions: Predee Daochai, who last Friday had resigned as co-president of Thailand`s Kasikornbank and chairman of the Thai Bankers’ Association, is expected to become Deputy Prime Minister and concurrently serve as Finance Minister. Two weeks ago, Premier Minister Prayut had confirmed that he had approached Mr. Predee and other “outside” economists to join the cabinet. [The Star] [see AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]

Former chief executive of energy conglomerate PTT Pailin Chuchottaworn is reportedly set to be Energy Minister, notwithstanding earlier reports that had suggested that the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) was planning to nominate hitherto-Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit to hold the energy portfolio. [Bangkok Post 3]

The biggest party in the ruling coalition, the PPRP will reportedly be given charge of two portfolios. While the party`s secretary-general, Anucha Nakasai, will be the Prime Minister’s new Office Minister, Suchart Chomklin, Chon Buri lawmaker and Deputy Leader of the PPRP is expected to become the new Labor Minister, with the government’s current spokeswoman, Narumon Pinyosinwat, as his Deputy. Narumon Pinyosinwat on Monday announced her resignation as government spokesperson. Currently, the Labor Ministry has only the Labor Minister in charge, who works without a Deputy. [Bangkok Post 4]

Mr. Nakasai is a member of the Sam Mitr fraction (Three Brothers), which was instrumental in cobbling together the Palang Pracharat Party with veteran politicians from several parties, including Pheu Thai Party. Seen as an experienced politician, he was deprived of his election candidacy rights for 5 years, following the Constitutional Tribunal`s decision to dissolve the Thai Rak Thai Party in 2007. Mr. Suchart had been tipped to become Labor Minister in 2019, and was among the ten newly elected PPRP Party Deputy that were elected earlier this month. [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]

Citing the economic knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Justice Minister and Sam Mitr faction key figure Somsak Thepsutin on Sunday brushed off speculations that the post of Deputy Labour Minister would be opened to end the fight for cabinet quotas in the PPRP. Further commenting on some party key figures` failure to secure their desired cabinet posts, Mr. Somsak compared the politicians to a broken hearted: “They may be shocked, but in a few weeks’ time they will recover”. [Bangkok Post 2]

An executive of the nationalist-royalist Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT), Anek Laothamatas, is designated to become the new Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation. Earlier this month, the ACT had announced that it would nominate Mr. Anek for the post of Labour Minister, replacing MR Chatu Mongol Sonakul, who shortly before the announcement had resigned both as leader and member of the party. [see AiR, No. 27, July/2020, 1]

4 August 2020

Thailand: Fresh demand for investigation into the acquittal of Panthongtae “Oak” Shinawatra

(lm) A former Democrat Party spokesperson on Wednesday asked the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to seek ways to scrap the prosecution’s decision not to challenge Panthongtae “Oak” Shinawatra’s acquittal. The son of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Mr. Panthongtae in November last year was acquitted by the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct of conspiring and colluding to launder money. [Bangkok Post]

Last month, former Democract lawmaker Watchara Phetthong had accused officials working at the Office of the Attorney General (AOG) of malfeasance in office and petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate the case. Back then, Mr Watchara said the attorney-general, deputy attorney-general and public prosecutors had neglected their duties and violated Section 157 of the Criminal Code when they decided not to appeal the acquittal of Mr. Panthongtae. [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

4 August 2020

Thailand: Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in absentia sentenced to further prison term

(lm) Thailand`s Supreme Court on Thursday sentenced self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in absentia to another five years in jail over charges of malfeasance and conflict of interest. [Bangkok Post]

The Court`s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions found that Mr. Thaksin, while holding office between 2001 and 2006, had violated the Organic Act on Counter Corruption, which prohibits a government official from holding shares in a contractor of the state. In passing his shares in Shin Corp – the monopolist of broadcasting and mobile services in Thailand enjoying state concessions – to bogus associates, such as family and servants, Mr. Thaksin had retained ownership of the company.

The Court also ruled illegal that in his capacity as Prime Minister, Mr. Thaksin had ordered to cut the excise tax rate for mobile phone operators from 50 percent to 10 percent, and an equivalent tax deduction from concession fees for mobile providers, including AIS and Digital Phone Co, subsidiaries of Shin Corp.

The latest legal sentence is the third handed down in absentia for Mr. Thaksin: he was sentenced to two years over an insider real estate deal involving his wife in 2008 and to five years over abuse of power and corruption in 2019.

4 August 2020

Thailand: Prosecution drops contempt of court charge against Piyabutr Saengkanokkul

(lm) Contempt proceedings brought against Move Forward key figure Piyabutr Saengkanokkul have been dropped. According to Mr. Piyabutr’s lawyer, Thai police decided not to oppose the prosecutor’s decision to not press the charges that had been filed against Mr. Piyabutr for criticizing the Constitutional Court`s decision to disband the Thai Raksa Chart Party ahead of the 2019 general election. Citing customary law, in March 2019 the Constitutional Court had ordered the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party for naming a member of the Royal Family as its prime ministerial candidate, and banned the party`s executive board members from politics for 10 years. In the wake of the decision, Mr. Piyabutr, at the time secretary-general of the now-banned Future Forward Party, in a video had criticized the Court’s ruling. [Bangkok Post]

4 August 2020

Royal Thai Army cancels joint-military exercises in the U.S.

(lm) The Defense Ministry on Sunday confirmed that soldiers of the Royal Thai Army (RTA) will not be participating in the next round of the joint annual brigade-level training exercise “Lightning Force”, which was scheduled to be held the U.S. between September and October this year. The announcement comes after nine Thai soldiers, upon returning from Hawaii last month, had been tested positive for coronavirus. [Reuters] [Bangkok Post 1]

For two weeks in July, about 5,500 soldiers took part in Hawaii’s largest ground-based military exercise of the year, including 130 soldiers from the Royal Thai Army. Thailand and the U.S. the same month had signed a Strategic Vision Statement on the continued military and security cooperation of the two countries. [see AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2].

Notwithstanding the Defense Ministry`s announcement, around 100 U.S. soldiers were put under a 14-day quarantine, after they arrived in Thailand on Monday. Coming from U.S. military bases in Guam and Japan, the U.S. troops are set to join in training activities with the RTA, including Vector Balance Torch, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of this month. [BenarNews] [Bangkok Post 2]

28 July 2020

Will Thailand enter stormy waters again?

(ls) With six ministers having resigned from the cabinet, with serious tensions within almost all significant political parties, with student protests continuing and having received stern warnings from the military, Thai politics seem to be under some stress again.

Most notably, Thai school and university students continuing their protests against the government in Bangkok and several provinces, have demanded the dissolution of the parliament, the drafting of a new constitution and an end to harassing dissenters – demands as formulated by the main group “Free Youth”. Representatives of the government and the military urged the young people not to touch upon the monarchy in their protests. [Bangkok Post 1] [Khaosod English 1]

The protests are organized via social media and claim to lack any affiliations with political parties although members of the dissolved Future Forward Party are among those showing support for the students on the street. [South China Morning Post]

Despite the government’s decision not to use the coronavirus-related Emergency Decree against public assemblies any more after its extension until the end of August, the police said it will continue to gather evidence and press charges against those who were involved with anti-government protests until the end of July. [Khaosod English 2]

The House of Representatives voted on Thursday with 260-178 votes to set up a panel to hear the students’ concerns about the constitution. Opposition MPs criticized the move, one saying that the government only tried to buy time and temporarily appease the students. [Bangkok Post 2]

Further fuelling not only the protests but also a general frustration with perceived double standards was the news that the Public Prosecutor’s office had decided to drop criminal charges for negligent manslaughter against the grandson of billionaire Red Bull co-founder Chaleo Yoovidhya for killing a police officer with his Ferrari. After a public outcry, Prime Minister General (ret.) Prayuth Chan-o-cha and the Office of the Attorney-General announced an investigation. Meanwhile, 31 law professors of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Law demanded a public explanation of the decision to release charges. [Bangkok Post 3] [Matichon (Thai)]

In a separate development, Thailand’s former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and two other former officials are likely to face new criminal charges over corruption and abuse of power after the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) said it found relevant evidence in a case related to governmental spending for a roadshow campaign to publicize infrastructure development projects in 2013. Yingluck, who denied the charges, is currently in exile after fleeing the country following a guilty verdict over separate corruption charges in 2017. [Bangkok Post 4]

Against the backdrop of these developments, an Asia in Review Online Panel Discussion last Friday featured a major debate on the future of Thai politics after the lockdown among political heavyweights. Facilitated by Michael Vatikiotis, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, oppositional Pheu Thai Party strategist and former Deputy Prime Minister Bhokin Bhalakula, Move Forward Party Leader Pita Limjaroenrat, and Prof. Panitan Wattanayagorn debated issues such as the ongoing student demonstrations, demands for constitutional reform, the COVID-19 factor and the general outlook for the country and the possibility of inter-party cooperation with a surprising unity among the four top politicians.

On the general outlook for the country, views were rather bleak with Abhisit describing the current political crisis as a deep structural problem with a generational edge, Kasit hinting at the student protests as a potential boiling point, Pita seeing the country at crossroads, and Bhokin even warning that “the war is at the door” and the “country will collapse if we don’t work together.”

Talking about the ongoing student demonstrations, which Pita described as a direct confrontation between the youth and the establishment, he saw the solution not in parliament but as a matter between the people and the Prime Minister himself. This complemented Kasit’s observation that the three former top generals in the government – Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda, all of them former Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army – would feel „quite comfortable” about their positions and would not take the youth demands too serious. This notwithstanding, Kasit rated the risk of a strong intervention still relatively low due to the fact that many representatives of the establishment took an accommodating stance towards the students. Describing the protests not left but radical Kasit saw, however, the possibility of looming republican notions within the protest movement, an absolute no-go in Thailand. This corresponded with Panitan warning that “on the ground you see a lot of provocative activities.”

The most crucial area of such cooperation would arguably be demands for constitutional reform, described by Abhisit as the only way out of the structural crisis the country would face, a view shared not only by Kasit but also Bhokin. Such a crucial change of the rules of the game would, however, be dependent on the government’s initiative having ensured total control about the amenability of the present constitution. This, however, makes a constitutional reform, one of the core demands of the students as well, highly unlikely at the moment as the government would have “to give up its self-granted privileges” (Abhisit). Therefore, as Panitan hinted, especially the appointed Senate would rather “put a premium on stability” than to change the rules of the game. Besides doubting a move of the government to agree in a new constitution, Panitan, however, also questioned if a new constitution could solve the country’s problems. While he saw the need to have better politicians, he also admitted to see not how this could be ensured. Dismissing also rumors about the possibility of early general elections with reference to the COVID-19 situation, Panitan also noted a dual role of military including the military taking a part in politics would be a part of Thai history while he also added a geopolitical edge to the future role of military urging the need of reliable military leadership in the present geopolitical competition between China and the US.

On the issue of the COVID-19 pandemic, different perspectives were taken. Abhisit underlined that the government’s handling of the COVID-19 had „absolutely no impact” on the way how people would see the government, indicating the conflict goes far deeper than the pandemic. Addressing the economic fallout of the pandemic, Bhokin proposed to liberalize entrepreneurs from some bureaucratic regulations for the coming time and to ease the red tape for business, with the state operating as a facilitator instead of a controller, while Kasit suggested – among other proposals – that Thailand must rely more on its own domestic market, its development in human resources and industry and less on export. Pita, picking up another one another, sees the fight against the pandemic used as a tool to control the political process while at the same time stressing that the COVID-crisis exposed the fact that “social safety net is totally broken”.

Reinforcing the surprising impression of leading political figures with quite diverse ideological backgrounds finding common ground in the present situation, both Abhisit and Bhokin reacted stunning friendly when asked about the chances of a cooperation between Pheu Thai Party and Democrat Party. Bhokin said that such a cooperation would be basically possible, while Abhisit said that “there is a lot of common ground among the parties.

What seems to emerge in Thai politics is a situation in which the military leaders of the government are out of touch with the youth on the one hand and increasingly distanced also from the bureaucratic elite they co-opted and large parts of the political class irrespective of ideological leanings.

21 July 2020

Anti-government protesters rally to Democracy Monument to demand change

(lm) Defying a coronavirus ban on gatherings, around 2,500 protesters on Saturday evening converged on Bangkok’s Democracy Monument to demand the dissolution of parliament, an end to harassment of government critics, and amendments to the constitution. [Reuters] [Bangkok Post 1] [South China Morning Post]

Earlier, hundreds of police had ringed the Monument and set up barriers to try to prevent the protesters from occupying it. Scuffles thus broke out as the mainly young Thai demonstrators forced their way through the police lines. One of the largest street demonstrations since the 2014 military coup, the protests had been organised by the Liberation Youth group and dispersed at about midnight. However, days before the protest, the organisers had already said that they would return in two weeks, should the government not respond to their demands. On Sunday, smaller rallies were held in Chiang Mai and Ubon Ratchathani with protesters issuing the same demands. On Monday, then, about 200 demonstrators rallied at the headquarters of the Thai army to protest against inappropriate defence spending and the military`s involvement in politics. [Bangkok Post 2] [South China Morning Post 2]

Leading conservative activist and secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, Srisuwan Janya, on Sunday called on police to take decisive legal action against those behind the anti-government demonstration, along with lawmakers who had supported them, claiming they had violated a myriad of laws. In his statement, Mr Srisuwan also alleged some MPs of conspiracy, saying they had prepared in advance to use their parliamentary status as collateral to seek bail for protest leaders in case they would have been arrested. In the past, Mr Janya had been active against the activities of the now-defunct Future Forward Party, which was disbanded earlier this year. On Monday, Thai police then announced they were considering to press charges against the organisers of the weekend`s protests, as the demonstration was held without a permission and had further violated the emergency decree. [Bangkok Post 3] [Bangkok Post 4]

Fuelled by the February Constitutional Court ruling dissolving the then-opposition Future Forward Party and banning 11 of its executives from running for political office for 10 years, protests against the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had been drawing increasingly large crowds. However, demonstrations tapered off quickly when several coronavirus clusters were confirmed and the emergency decree was invoked in March. Lockdown measures and social distancing have since helped the government contain the spread of the virus, but it has retained emergency powers, which critics say it wields as a political weapon. [AiR, No. 9, March/2020, 1] [AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4]

The political atmosphere heated up again in June, when self-exiled Thai political activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit was abducted by unknown men in neighbouring Cambodia`s capital, Phnom Penh. At the time, protests had flared outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok, demanding an investigation and accusing the Thai government of orchestrating the kidnapping. Later the same month, pro-democracy groups then held gatherings throughout the country to commemorate the peaceful “revolution” by the People’s Party of 24 June 1932 when Thailand turned from an absolute into a constitutional monarchy. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] [Air No. 26, June/2020, 5]

Earlier this month, a political activist was sent to a psychiatric hospital after he had posted pictures of himself wearing a T-shirt with a message potentially violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lèse majesté. While the Public Mental Health Department claimed that the man voluntarily admitted himself to the hospital, family members said that officials had turned up at their home and arrested the activist. [Bangkok Post 5]

21 July 2020

Thailand: National Human Rights Commission finds rights violations in coal project

(lm) The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recommended the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning to revise an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on a coal mine project in Chiang Mai’s Omkoi district, after it had found human rights violations in parts of the document. Before the NHRC began scrutinising EIA report, villagers, some of which belong to the ethnic minority group Karen, petitioned the Commission to look into the matter.

Specifically, the Commission found that a public hearing had been improperly conducted, thus having potentially misinformed or misguided the local villagers. Further, the Commission found that the parts in the EIA report detailing the public hearing contained factual errors including a potentially false list of participants. [Bangkok Post]

21 July 2020

Thailand: Senator calls for amnesty bill

(lm) During a Senate meeting discussing the Thai government`s national strategy, Senator Kamnoon Sitthisamarn, who had formerly served as the spokesperson of the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), last Tuesday called for an amnesty bill to absolve offenders charged with instigating political unrest and protests within the past 15 years.

In a reference to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha`s “Unify Thais to Build the Nation” campaign, Mr Kamnoon said the bill would significantly boost the government`s national reconciliation efforts as it would benefit protest leaders of all political groups, including the now-defunct yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). As described by Mr Kamnoon, the bill however does not include charges of corruption or offences against Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lèse majesté. Suggesting that a newly formed committee could grant amnesty on a case-by-case basis, the Senator further said the bill could also be applied to offenders who return to Thailand after having fled from legal proceedings. Lastly, Mr Kamnoon suggested that term “political protest” should also be redefined. [Bangkok Post]

Pointing to the protests that had emerged throughout the weekend [see contribution below], on Monday, Senator Kamnoon followed up on his proposal, asking the government to communicate directly with the demonstrators, while also urging the Prime Minister to personally address the matter. Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam had said the proposal “might warrant serious attention if it is properly submitted to the government”. [Bangkok Post 2] [Bangkok Post 3]

The Thai Supreme Court is gradually delivering rulings in cases involving charges relating to protests and political unrest. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld the suspended jail sentences and fines handed down to three people for tearing up their ballot paper during the 2016 referendum on the draft constitution, which was enacted in 2017. Last month, Thailand’s Supreme Court had affirmed prison sentences handed down to five leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) over a 2007 protest. In February last year, the Court upheld eight-month prison sentences for six former PAD co-leaders for their role in the seizure of Government House during the 2008 street protests. Five of them were later granted a royal pardon. [Bangkok Post 4] [AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5] [AiR No. 37, September/2019, 2]

The last amnesty bill was introduced by the then-governing Pheu Thai party in 2013, with then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra arguing that the legislation was a necessary step towards reconciliation after years of political turmoil. However, as it was considered as a blanket amnesty with the implicit aim to allow Mr Thaksin to return to Thailand without having to serve a jail sentence, the bill further fuelled existing political tensions, which eventually led to the demise of the government. No amnesty bill has since been proposed to the parliament.

21 July 2020

Interior Ministry hints at local polls

(lm) Deputy Interior Minister Niphon Bunyamanee on Tuesday said that at least one type of local election is expected to be held before the end of this year. However, the decision will have to be made by the Election Commission, which is currently tasked with rearranging the election constituencies. [Bangkok Post]

21 July 2020

Thailand: Resignations of six minister signal PM`s loosing grip

(lm) As Thailand continues to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, over the course of the last week, six ministers resigned from their posts, paving the way for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to reshuffle the cabinet.

On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister and long-time economic policy tsar Somkid Jatusripita was the first to submit his resignation letter, just a day after media reports had quoted the Prime Minister saying that he had no knowledge about the resignation plans of members of his top finance team. Soon thereafter, Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana, Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, and Higher Education, Science and Innovations Minister Suvit Maesincee also stepped down from their cabinet posts. The three Ministers alongside the Deputy Secretary-General of the Prime Minister’s Office had already resigned from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) last week, but had remained in their cabinet posts. On Monday, Prime Minister’s Office Minister Tewan Liptapanlop and Labour Minister Chatumongol Sonakul, who last month had stepped down as leader of the Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT), one of 20 partners in Mr Prayuth’s government, also resigned from the cabinet. [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2] [AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1] [Bangkok Post 1] [Reuters] [Reuters 2]

Mr Somkid and his allies have been instrumental in shaping Thai economic policy since the military coup in 2014, and were pivotal to the PPRP`s launch before the 2019 general election by giving a civilian face to the military junta. The new ministers’ major task would be to oversee the use of a record 1.9 trillion THB aid package approved in June to weather the economic knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] [Bangkok Post 5]

In the light of the resignation of four of his economic ministers, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday said that he was planning to complete a cabinet reshuffle before the end of next month. While he declined to comment on potential candidates for the posts, the Prime Minister said that some key posts in the economic team, particularly the finance portfolio, were part of a “central”, non-party ministerial quota, and as such did not belong to the PPRP or any other coalition parties. Mr Prayut further admitted that he had already approached some “outside” economists to join the cabinet. On Saturday, then, Mr Prayut confirmed that he had approached the co-president of Kasikornbank and chairman of the Thai Bankers’ Association, Predee Daochai, as well as former Central Bank governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul, to join the new cabinet line-up. Moreover, the Prime Minister dismissed reports that had tipped the head of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), Thosaporn Sirisumphand to steer the country`s economy. Outgoing Bank of Thailand governor Veerathai Santiprabhob meanwhile denied reports that tipped him as a candidate. [Bangkok Post 2] [Bankok Post 3] [Bangkok Post 4].

In the lead-up to a meeting of the PPRP`s executive committee scheduled for Tuesday to discuss potential candidates for the vacant cabinet positions, reports emerged saying that the party was planning to nominate hitherto-Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit as the new Energy Minister. Noteworthy, Mr Suriya is a co-founder of the party`s Sam Mitr faction, which considers the energy portfolio as an integral part of the party`s quota. The proposal thus seems to lend further credence to the assumption that the resignation of the government`s economic team signals a diminishing negotiating power of the Prime Minister, who was allegedly planning to offer the energy portfolio to former chief executive of energy conglomerate PTT, Pailin Chuchottaworn. [South China Morning Post] [Bangkok Post 5] [Bangkok Post 6].

Speaking after the cabinet meeting on July 21, the Prime Minister said that he would complete the cabinet reshuffle as soon as possible, and brushed off reports that had suggested infightings between him and the PPRP over the new cabinet line-up: “We don’t talk about ministerial quotas. I will see to it that the line-up is suitable. I thank all PPRP members. Everybody has the right to speak out, but it is I who make the decision, based on mutual understanding”. [Bangkok Post 7]

14 July 2020

Thai politics’ volatility on display as ministers walk out of ruling party

(ls) Last Thursday, three ministers of the Thai government resigned from the Palang Pracharath Party that leads the ruling coalition. The development comes after a leadership change in the party was made effective in June. The three ministers who resigned are Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana, who has recently been replaced as party leader, Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, who was made to step aside as the party’s secretary-general, and Higher Education, Science and Innovations Minister Suvit Maesincee. In addition, the deputy secretary-general of the Prime Minister’s Office also resigned from the party. [Bangkok Post 1]

The move makes a Cabinet reshuffle appear imminent. However, Prime Minister General (ret.) Prayut Chan-o-cha postponed the redistribution of the ministers’ positions after the annual budget debate in September, saying there was no unrest in the ruling party of which he himself is not a member. [Khaosod English]

Within the Palang Pracharath Party, ten politicians close to its new leader, Deputy Prime Minister General (ret.) Prawit Wongsuwon, have been appointed as party deputies. Prawit is therefore expected to consolidate his position in the party. [Bangkok Post 2]

Some of the newly appointed party deputies are illustrative of Thai party politics’ general fluidity: Suriya Jungrungruangkit was a member of the former Thai Rak Thai Party led by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and a minister in Thaksin’s Cabinet from 2002 to 2005. Thai Rak Thai was dissolved in 2007 and became the People’s Power Party which, after another dissolution in 2008, became Pheu Thai, currently an opposition party. Suriya is also the uncle of Thanathorn Jungrungruangkit, the former leader of the opposition Future Forward Party who was banned from politics by the Constitutional Court in a media shares case. Another newly appointed Palang Pracharath deputy is Paiboon Nititawan who, in last year’s elections, campaigned as the leader of the People’s Reform Party, then decided to dissolve the party and became a member of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party. A further interesting personality is Thamanat Prompow, Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister, who is currently facing a Constitutional Court probe over his qualification as a political office-holder due to a heroin trafficking conviction in Australia to four and a half years.

Meanwhile, the Kao Klai Party (KKP), which replaced the Future Forward Party after its dissolution in February this year, has pledged to field a candidate in the Bangkok governor elections which will likely be held in the last quarter of the year. Bangkok’s current Governor Aswin Kwanmuang was appointed in 2016 by the military government. All local elections were suspended in 2014 by the National Council for Peace and Order in power at the time. [Bangkok Post 3] [Thai Enquirer]

14 July 2020

Thailand: Cabinet approves Civil Partnership Bill

(ls) Thailand’s Cabinet has approved a civil partnership bill that would allow same-sex unions legal rights largely similar to married couples. If the bill is passed by parliament, Thailand would become the second Asian country to allow one form of partnership registration after Taiwan legalized a full same-sex marriage last year. According to the Thai bill, one partner must be Thai for a partnership to receive registration. [Reuters]

Though civil partners would have the same asset management and inheritance rights as heterosexual couples and can also adopt a child, some opposition politicians said the government’s draft does not go far enough to ensure full equality as LGBT people would still be treated under different laws than heterosexual couples. [Khaosod English]

Thailand’s legal system has a comparatively liberal approach towards homosexuality since long having decriminalized homosexuality already in 1956 long before many Western countries.

14 July 2020

Thailand and U.S. sign strategic security pact

(ls) On the occasion of U.S. Army Chief of Staff General James McConville’s visit to Thailand, the U.S. and Thailand have signed a Strategic Vision Statement on the continued military and security cooperation of the two countries. McConville met with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as well as with army chief Apirat Kongsompong. [Reuters]

The agreement follows a Joint Vision Statement 2020, which was signed in November last year. [Text of Vision Statement: U.S. Embassy]

The signing comes at a time when the U.S. is eager to demonstrate its presence in and support for Southeast Asia as China gains increasing economic and military influence in the region. At the same time, the agreement is army chief Apirat’s last major signing event before his retirement at the end of September. Apirat has been a supporter of a strong Thai-US alliance. The Bangkok Post has published an analysis on the agreement’s implications. [Bangkok Post]

Thailand and the United States foster close military ties since the emerging Cold War. The partnership took off with a military aid and assistance program materializing since 1950. In that year a permanent ‘Military Assistance Group’ (MAAG) – today ‘Joint United States Military Advisory Group’ (JUSMAGTHAI) – has been established and significant overt and covert aid programs been granted to build up the armed forces and police in Thailand. 

14 July 2020

Correction:

In the entry on “Thailand-China relations to be deepened” in last week’s issue Taiwan was wrongly put in the text instead of Thailand. 

7 July 2020

Thailand: Taweesak Na Takuathung elected as new ACT party leader

(lm) On Sunday, the nationalist-royalist Action Coalition of Thailand (ACT), a five-MP party in the governing coalition, held a general assembly, electing hitherto secretary-general Taweesak Na Takuathung to be the new party leader, after Labour Minister M.R. Chatu Mongol Sonakul had resigned both as leader and member of the party. [Bangkok Post]

Addressing rumours about potential effects of a cabinet reshuffle on ACT, party co-founder and heavy weight Suthep Thaugsuban – a former secretary general of the Democrat Party and protest leader against the Yingluck government in 2013/14 – said that Anek Laothamatas has been nominated for the post of Labour Minister to replace MR Chatu Mongol Sonakul. [Bangkok Post 2]

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

Thailand: Progressive Movement announces plans to field candidates in local elections

(lm) The Progressive Movement, an offshoot of the disbanded Future Forward Party led by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, is planning to field candidates for more than half the seats in local elections such as tambon administration organisations and provincial administration organisations. Speaking during a training session for new candidates, Mr Juangroongruangkit said the movement would find candidates to vie for 4,000 of 7,800 seats at local administrative organisations nationwide. [Bangkok Post]

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

Thailand: Parliament passes 2021 budget bill in first reading

(lm) On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the first reading of a 3.3-trillion-baht budget bill for the 2021 fiscal year, with 273 votes in favour, 200 against and three abstentions. As the government tries to revive an economy which is predicted to contract by at least 5 percent this year, Thailand’s parliament had begun its debate on the 2021 budget bill on Wednesday. [Bangkok Post 1] [Asia Times] [SCMP]

The 3.3-trillion-baht budget proposed for the 2021 fiscal year (starting Oct. 1) is a deficit budget, projecting a larger 623 billion-baht ($20.14 billion) deficit, which accounts for 3.7 percent of the GDP. The government also expects revenue to fall by 100 billion baht in the next fiscal year down to 2.67 trillion baht. Of the budget, about 675 billion baht (20.5 percent) have been earmarked for government investment, up 4.7 percent from the previous year, and slightly lower than the 693 billion baht estimated in January. 

Wednesday, opposition members took particular aim at the Defence Ministry’s proposed 223.4-billion-baht budget allocation, urging the armed forces to pause the procurement of weaponry, including submarines, and further accusing the government of total indifference to the severity of the economic crisis looming over the country. In response, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha defended the decision to include the procurement of weapons for the armed forces in the budget bill for 2021, citing security concerns and security cooperation obligations with other countries. On Thursday, then, Deputy Defence Minister Gen Chaichan Changmongkol brushed off claims by the Opposition that the Ministry abused a 9.7-billion-baht budget earmarked for peace-keeping operations in the violence-plagued South. [Bangkok Post 2] [Bangkok Post 3] [Thai PBS World]

Following the vote, a 72-member vetting committee was formed to scrutinise the bill within 30 days, starting on Wednesday. Worawat Ua-apinyakul, a former MP for the oppositional Pheu Thai Party and a member of the panel on Monday said that funds earmarked for non-essential construction as well as defence spending are likely to face drastic cuts. The bill’s second and third readings are expected in early September. Eventually, it will also need senate and royal approval. [Bangkok Post 4]

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

Thailand: Supreme Court orders by-election in Samut Prakan

(lm) The Supreme Court last Tuesday ordered a by-election in constituency 5 of Samut Prakan province after an inquiry has found a lawmaker from the Palang Pracharath Party, the dominant party in the ruling coalition, guilty of vote-buying during the lead-up to the 2019 General Election.

Before, the Election Commission (EC) ruled that he had violated the 2018 law on the election of MPs when in 2019 one of his close associates gave a wreath and 1,000 baht in an envelope to support a funeral in the constituency. The EC thus yellow-carded the MP, revoking his MP status, but still allowing him to run for office again. [Bangkok Post]

With him seeking re-election, it is likely to be a three-way fight, as two major opposition parties – Pheu Thai as well as Move Forward Party (MVP) – announced plans to field candidates as well. [Bangkok Post 2]

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

Thailand: Court rejects petition to rule on government MP’s ineligibility 

(lm) Thailand’s Constitutional Court has refused to rule against a petition to unseat Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thammanat Prompow as an MP due to his ineligibility for office because his wife holds shares in a private company. The petition was submitted by Parliament President Chuan Leekpai, after it gained support of 54 lawmakers, more than the required one-tenth of sitting members of the House of Representatives. Citing Section 101 and 184 (2) of the Constitution, the petitioners argued that Mr Thammanat was ineligible to hold a parliamentary seat due to the potential of a monopoly arising from his wife’s business. According to documents attached to the petition, Mr Thammanat’s wife holds shares in Klongtoey Market (2551) Co Ltd – a company that entered into a land lease contract with the Port Authority of Thailand (PAT). According to Sect. 184 (2) it is not allowed for MPs to become a party to a contract that provides an exclusive relation with a State agency. The Court, however, found the land lease contract not exclusive/monopolistic according to the constitutional section. [Bangkok Post]

In January, the Constitutional Court had accepted another petition of House speaker Chuan to unseat Deputy Minister Thammanat for having been served four years and six month in an Australian prison for heroin smuggling. 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

Thailand: NACC investigation finds ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra abused her power

(lm) The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on Wednesday said an investigation had found former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra abused her power in improperly transferring National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Thawil Pliansri to an inactive post in 2011. [Bangkok Post]

On September 4, 2011, then-Prime Minister Yingluck ordered the Prime Minister’s Secretariat to propose that Mr Thawil be transferred to the position of Prime Minister’s adviser at the PM’s Office. On October 4, 2011, the cabinet appointed then-national police chief Pol Gen Wichien Potephosree to succeed Mr Thawil at the head of the NSC. Chairing the National Police Policy Board, on October 19, 2011, Ms Yingluck proposed her relative Pol Gen Preawpan Damapong, then- Deputy National Police Chief, to be appointed the new National Police Chief. The Police Commission approved her nomination.

Stating that Mr Thawil had done nothing wrong that would have justified a demotion, the Supreme Administrative Court in mid-February 2014 ruled that Ms Yingluck abused her power and violated the law in doing so. In May 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that Ms Yingluck had acted unconstitutionally when she transferred her National Security Head, as a relative had benefited from the move and removed her from office as Prime Minister. [Pattaya Mail]

The Commission will now forward the investigation record, together with related documents, evidence, and its recommendation to the Office of the Attorney General. According to NACC deputy secretary-general, the NACC will ask that Ms Yingluck be indicted at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions for malfeasance in office, a violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code, and abuse of power under the Anti-Corruption Act.

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

Thailand-China relations to be deepened

(dql) On the occasion of the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relation between China and Taiwan, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha compared the relationship between both countries with those of a family. Li, furthermore, hailed Sino-Thai relations a model for China-ASEAN relations and vowed to further advance both countries’ ties, while Prayut responded with a pledge to closer coordination between the two governments. [Thai PBS]

 

 

 

30 June 2020

Malaysia wants no more Rohingya refugees – APHR calls ASEAN’s limited help shameful

(cm/ls) Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has said that Malaysia did not have the resources and capacity to allow further Rohingya refugees be admitted to the country. Malaysia implemented strict border control since April when an influx of Rohingya refugees attempted to enter. Many of the refugees have been detained. Muhyiddin urged “the UN Refugee Agency to speed up the resettlement of Rohingya in Malaysia to third countries” as there are more than 100,000 refugees currently in Malaysia. [Bangkok Post] [South China Morning Post] [Air No. 23, June/2020, 2]

Meanwhile, Indonesian fishermen have rescued nearly 100 Rohingya refugees, including 79 women and children, in Aceh province. Officials said they planned to push them back out to sea with a new boat, gas and food, but these plans have not been realized following protests from the local fishermen. [Reuters]

The chairman of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), Charles Santiago, called the ASEAN response to the refugee crisis “totally shameful”. The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network said the crisis was exacerbated by the pandemic due to travel restrictions and the closure of borders across the region. [Jakarta Post]

 

 

 

30 June 2020

Philippine President Duterte calls ASEAN not to escalate South China Sea dispute

(mp) Echoing ASEAN’s general stance on the South China Sea (see above), also Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called the parties involved in the conflict to exercise self-restraint and respect the rule of law to avoid “escalating tension.” He stressed that the conflict needed to be solved peacefully and in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Duterte, the country coordinator for ASEAN-China dialogues, demanded to work with China closely and to achieve an early conclusion with the other member states to reduce the tensions in the region that have continuously risen. [Inquirer]

 

 

30 June 2020

At summit, ASEAN leaders stress importance of international law for South China Sea dispute 

(jn) Leaders of the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday emphasized the importance of maintaining and promoting “freedom of navigation and overflight” above the South China Sea. The passage in their vision statement is seen as a response to reports of China planning to establish an air defense identification zone (ADIZ), something the country has also not ruled out publicly. The prospect of an ADIZ was not only decried by ASEAN members, but also the US military in the region.

ASEAN members explicitly stressed “the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation.” They also agreed to work on “an effective and substantive Code of Conduct” for the South China Sea, a framework that would go further than the 2002 Declaration of Conduct that the ASEAN once agreed on with China.

On Saturday, another ASEAN statement authored by chairing member Vietnam pointed out that the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should be “the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones” in the South China Sea. Such remarks can be seen as a strong repudiation to China’s controversial historical claim to most of the disputed waters, and it is no coincidence that Vietnam as one of the most vocal critics of China’s encroachment was the drafter. As a sign of increasing geopolitical tensions, Chinese vessels harassed Vietnamese fishing boats this month and in April, and in the earlier case sunk one of them [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3] [AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1].

The UNCLOS defines certain water areas as exclusive economic zones (EEZ) where coastal states are given the exclusive right to explore and use marine resources. The leaders said in the statement that the “UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out”. 

There was no immediate response from China, but according to AP, Southeast Asian diplomats said that the statement marked a significant strengthening of ASEAN’s assertion of the rule of law in the region. In 2016, the Permanent Court or Arbitration in The Hague had ruled that China’s vast claims in the South China Sea had no legal basis. However, Beijing did not recognize the ruling. 

For a number of different interpretations and evaluation of the ruling see [ISEAS]. Among them is a piece of Clive Schofield who refers to China’s refection of the ruling to point to the fact of “fundamentally opposed, overlapping and contested spatial visions of maritime rights in the SCS” which “sets the scene for ongoing maritime incidents and disputes” with China not giving up its claims of historic rights.  

The ASEAN leaders also dedicated themselves to tackling the economic collateral damage wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic by establishing a regional pandemic fund, building medical supply stockpiles and reasserting the need for open trade links.  

The vision statement reaffirmed the importance of implementing free trade agreements and comprehensive economic partnerships between ASEAN and key economies. It mentioned India as a major trading partner (alongside China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong), although PM Narendra Modi had said last year that India would withdraw from the negotiations to sign up for the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact [see also AiR No.45, November/2019, 1]

The 36th ASEAN Summit themed “Cohesive And Responsive ASEAN: Rising Above Challenges And Sustaining Growth” was convened as a video conference on June 26 under the chair of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post] [South China Morning Post 2] [Radio Free Asia] [Asia Nikkei Review]

 

 

30 June 2020

Thailand: State of emergency extended another time

(ls) The Thai government has decided to extend the state of emergency in place since late March in order to contain the spread of Covid-19, until the end of July. Though the country has not seen any locally transmitted infections for almost five weeks, the government considered it necessary to keep the special powers in order to prevent a second wave and manage the further opening-up of the country. [Straits Times]

Though a period of emergency can usually not exceed three months from its declaration, successive extensions of no more than three months can be imposed by the prime minister with the consent of the Cabinet. Critics have argued that the invocation of the Emergency Decree results in unnecessary restrictions of rights and a lack of accountability of state authorities, arguing that existing legal frameworks could be used or, if necessary, amended for managing the situation. [Verfassungsblog]

 

 

30 June 2020

Thailand: Prawit elected leader of Palang Pracharath

(ls) As expected, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has been elected the new leader of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party. He had so far been the party’s chief strategist. Several executives who had been dismissed ahead of the election were reinstated, except for the deposed party leader and Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana and seven of his confidants. Ahead of the leadership reshuffle, internal power struggles had been reported. Meanwhile, however, the party was able to win several by-elections, thereby increasing its parliamentary majority. [Bangkok Post 1] [Bangkok Post 2]

 

 

30 June 2020

Thailand: Pro-democracy groups commemorate transition to democracy in 1932

(ls) Thai pro-democracy groups in Bangkok and other provinces have held gatherings to commemorate the peaceful “revolution” by the People’s Party of 24 June 1932 when Thailand transited from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. Observers said that the gatherings were more widespread than in the past, possibly also displaying growing general dissatisfaction with the state of Thai democracy. In February, the dissolution of the Future Forward Party had triggered a wave of anti-government protests among university and high school students. These came to an end when measures to contain Covid-19 were ordered. [Straits Times] [Khaosod English]

For a critical account of the current situation of social media as public space of political discussion and expression in Thailand see Supalak Ganjanakhundee at [ISEAS].

 

 

30 June 2020

Thailand: Redshirt protesters found guilty for 2007 protests

(ls) Thailand’s Supreme Court has affirmed the prison sentences of five Redshirt leaders for a 2007 protest. The group had been sentenced to two years and eight months each. In the incident, the defendants had laid siege to the residence of then Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanond in a protest against Prem’s alleged involvement in the coup against Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. The protest then turned violent. [Khaosod English]

 

 

23 June 2020

Thailand: Petition sent over acquittal of former Prime Minister Thaksin’s son Panthongtae “Oak” Shinawatra

(lm) Former Democrat lawmaker Watchara Phetthong on Monday petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate officials working at the Office of the Attorney General (AOG). Accusing the officials of malfeasance in office, Mr Watchara said the attorney-general, deputy attorney-general and public prosecutors had neglected their duties and violated Section 157 of the Criminal Code when they decided not to appeal the acquittal of Panthongtae “Oak” Shinawatra, son of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Speaking after submitting the petition, Mr Watchara said the decision was untypical as the decision at the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases had not been unanimous. Mr Watchara added that the Department of Special Investigation, which had handled the case, had also insisted on appealing to a higher court. [Bangkok Post]

 

 

23 June 2020

Thailand: Prawit accepts invite to lead Palang Pracharath Party

(lm) Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and former junta heavyweight agreed to take up the position of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) leader after attending a meeting of core party members, chief government whip Wirat Rattanaset said on Monday. A general assembly of PPRP is scheduled for this Saturday to elect a new executive board, the new party leader, the new secretary-general, among other key positions. [Bangkok Post 1] [Bangkok Post 2] [Thai PBS World]

General Prawit will replace hitherto PPRP-leader and Finance Minister Mr Uttama Savanayana, who lost the party leadership after the dissolution of the party’s executive board, following the mass resignation of 18 board members earlier this month. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]

 

 

23 June 2020

Thailand: Ruling Palang Pracharath Party declares victory in Lampang by-election

(lm) Thailand’s ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) scooped up another seat in the House of Representatives on Saturday in a by-election in Lampang, the first held since the country’s partial lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. According to unofficial results released by the provincial Election Committee on Sunday, Mr Wattana Sithiwang (PPRP) beat runner-up Mr Pol Lt Somboon Klapachon from the opposition’s Seri Ruam Thai Party, with over 61,914 votes against 38,336.

The by-election was prompted by the death of lawmaker Itthirat Chantharasurin, an MP from Thailand’s biggest opposition Pheu Thai party in May. Originally the party had planned to field a candidate to keep its seat but Pinit Chantharasurin, Mr Ittirat’s father, had pulled out at the last minute to focus on a local election, leaving only the Seri Ruam Thai candidate to represent the opposition. [The Straits Times] [Bangkok Post 1] [Bangkok Post 2]

 

23 June 2020

Thailand: Experts call on government to enhance anti-cybersex abuse legal framework

On Thursday, the police-led Internet Crimes Against Children (TICAC) taskforce said that child cybersex abuse cases are approaching a record high this year, with cybersex predators exploiting the coronavirus crisis to groom more children for sexual abuse.

Working hand in hand with local non-governmental organisations to identify victims and to track down offenders, the taskforce has rescued more than 100 children since mid-April – almost double the 53 victims helped in 2018, which was the highest annual figure since TICAC’s launch in 2016. In the last two months, the police taskforce has seized more than 150,000 files of child sexual abuse material and opened 53 cases of internet-facilitated child sexual exploitation. In 2019, they had 72 cases involving 46 victims.

In recent years, the spread of cheap, high-speed internet and the rise in mobile phone ownership has fuelled cybersex trafficking across South East Asia. Under the coronavirus pandemic, officials and child advocates have seen child cybersex abuse surging as many families have struggled to make ends meet while children have been at home and online, putting themselves at risk of being sex-trafficked.

Child rights experts are calling on the Thai government to establish the necessary legal framework for the criminalization of child sexual abuse online and the effective prosecution of offenders, with the objective to enhance authorities’ ability to tackle the trend. Experts further suggest to intensify efforts to increase public awareness of the risks posed by children’s online conduct to better protect them from sexual exploitation. [Reuters] [SCMP]

 

23 June 2020

Thailand: MP suggest legalising prostitution

Thai Civilized Party lawmaker Mongkolkit Suksintharanon on Tuesday announced that he is looking to legalize prostitution and adult toys in order to stem what appears to be a surge in rape and other sexual assault cases in Thailand. Suksintharanon said that he would ask the House committee tasked with combating rape to back his proposal to decriminalise sex workers. [Bangkok Post]

Thailand’s approach to sex work is to criminalize it under the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act 1996 and Article 286 of the Criminal Code. The law forbids selling sex, pimping and running a “prostitution establishment”, but does not punish the customer for purchasing sex. [Chiang Rai Times]

The House committee said it would consider all proposals to deal with sexual assault cases before submitting its own proposals for a new bill in July. [The Thaiger]

 

23 June 2020

Thailand: Prime Minister announces three “new normal”

In a nation-wide address, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday announced his government’s plan for the post-COVID-19 period, calling on his fellow citizens to join in rebuilding and mapping out the future of Thailand. Most significantly, the Prime Minister announced three “new normal” paradigms of working for himself and the government, each of which are designed to harness the knowledge and capabilities of a broad cross-section of Thai society. 

Inviting representatives of all sectors to present their recommendations, the first “new normal” marks the launch of the “Thais Together build Thailand” program, with the objective of achieving greater direct participation of all sectors in determining Thailand’s future.

The second paradigm aims to rethink evaluation of the government’s work. According to the Prime Minister, people who are directly affected by government policies will be able to offer feedback on the efficacy of governmental projects in order to enable state agencies to consider adjustment or improvement.

The third new normal introduces proactive working. Gen Prayut pledged to work more proactively and take a very close interest in a select number of ministry projects that he believes are of the utmost priority for citizens. [Bangkok Post] [Thai PBS World] [The Nation Thailand]

 

 

23 June 2020

Thailand: Charter Court to rule on MP Thammanat’s eligibility to hold office

(lm) Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday announced that it has accepted a petition against the eligibility of Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow to sit as an MP and to hold a cabinet portfolio. Lawmakers of the disbanded Move Forward Party in May had petitioned House of Representatives Speaker Chuan Leekpai to seek a ruling from the Charter Court over Mr Thamanat’s past criminal record in Australia. [Bangkok Post 1]

According to evidence provided by the Australian courts, Mr Thammanat was sentenced to six years in prison in 1993 by an Australian appeal court after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import more than three kilograms of heroin into Australia. He served four years in a Sidney jail before being deported to Thailand. [The Sidney Morning Herald]

According to the Constitution’s Article 98 (10), a person convicted of drug offences cannot hold a ministerial status or a post as lawmaker. However, Mr Thammanat in the past has downplayed the significance of his drug convictions in Australia by continuing to insist he “never pled guilty or served jail time for drug charges in Australia.” [Bangkok Post 2] [The Nation Thailand]

The Charter Court ordered Mr Thammanat to defend the accusations within 15 days of receiving a copy of the petition. He is allowed to continue performing his duties as an MP and Cabinet Minister pending the court’s ruling. [The Thaiger]

 

 

 

16 June 2020

Cambodia opening investigation into forced disappearance of Thai dissident

(jn/ls) Cambodia’s national police has declared that it had launched an investigation into the recent kidnapping of Thai political activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37, a sudden about-face for the department that had called his disappearance “fake news” only some days earlier [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]. The same spokesman who had earlier denied any knowledge of an abduction rejected allegations by the country’s opposition and Wanchalearm’s supporters that Cambodian authorities had kidnapped him on Bangkok’s behalf.

Wanchalearm’s abduction in broad daylight on June 4 in Phnom Penh has been met with protests by human rights group that demanded an independent and transparent probe, and also demonstrations in Thailand. [Radio Free Asia]

Observers argue that enforced disappearances, which characterized Latin American politics for decades, are increasingly becoming a feature of Southeast Asian politics, too. Another prominent case is the Laotian community worker Sombath Somphone, who disappeared in 2014 after being stopped by the police, and others could be added. Activists and dissidents appear to be under increasing danger to their lives and well-being. [The Diplomat

 

 

 

16 June 2020

Thailand: Government warns those undermining the monarchy

(ls) The Thai government has told those involved in what it perceives to be a movement to undermine the monarchy to cease such activities. At the same time, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said that His Majesty the King had mercy and had told him not to use the lèse majesté law against them. The Prime Minister added, “we have never changed the country through violence. Several democratic countries have brought change through violence.” Thailand’s lèse majesté law has not been used over the past two years. Instead, the Computer Crime Act has been increasingly applied.  [Bangkok Post]

 

 

 

16 June 2020

Thailand: Local elections maybe this year – Pheu Thai breakaway

(ls) Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said that elections to local government bodies would be held likely this year if the Interior Ministry and the Election Commission (EC) were ready. Local elections have been suspended since the 2014 coup with the official reason of preventing public unrest. An issue of current concern appears to be the availability of the necessary financing as public funds have partly been diverted to contain the spread of Covid-19. [Bangkok Post 1]

Meanwhile, the opposition Pheu Thai party has seen several key party figures leave and set up a separate “Care” group. These include the former party secretary-general, Phumtham Wechayachai. The party leadership said that the party’s unity is not in doubt and that it may even be a strategic move to gain more party list MPs in the next election. [Bangkok Post 2]

 

 

 

9 June 2020

Thailand: Senate approves unprecedented stimulus package, despite concerns about lack of transparency

(lm) Thailand’s Senate on Sunday approved a 1.9 trillion-baht economic support package, the country’s biggest-ever cash injection, to ease the impact of the coronavirus. The legislation, comprising three executive decrees, include a government plan to borrow 1 trillion baht to finance public health improvements and central bank measures worth another 900 billion aimed at market stabilisation and boosting purchasing power. Earlier on Sunday, the decrees had sailed through the House of Representatives, albeit members of the opposition largely abstaining from voting. [Bangkok Post 1] [SCMP]

The 1 trillion-baht stimulus package will be overseen by the Finance Ministry; 600 billion baht of which have been earmarked as financial aid for farmers and informal workers whose businesses have been battered by the pandemic. From the remaining 400 million baht, each of the 273 government MPs will be allocated 80 million baht and the 207 opposition lawmakers will receive 40 million baht each to be dispensed for relief efforts. Bangkok Post 2

Despite the ruling coalition’s seeming support for a special House committee to ensure spending transparency and accountability over the borrowing, opposition MPs voiced their concern about the lack of transparency in how the stimulus package will be doled out and criticised the government for having failed to create an anti-graft net to prevent policy-oriented corruption. Bangkok Post 3

 

 

 

9 June 2020

Thailand: Palang Pracharath’s political infighting raises questions about the party’s political identity

(lm) Current justice minister and ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) heavyweight Somsak Thepsutin on Wednesday admitted that the upcoming restructuring within the coalition party could lead to a rotation of cabinet seats among PPRP executives. Somsak was among the 18 members of the party’s executive committee to submit their letter of resignation last Monday. [Bangkok Post]

On June 1, the biggest party in Thailand’s ruling coalition was hit by a walkout by 18 of its 34 executive members, paving the way for the election of a new party leader and executive committee. Observers belief the mass resignations to be a coordinated effort by seasoned parliamentarians from at least five fractions to move current Deputy Premier and PPRP chief strategist Prawit Wongsuwon up the party echelons. Despite being seen as a unifying figure within the party, the former army chief has also been involved in a number of blunders and controversies – most recently a scandal over 30-million-baht worth of “borrowed” luxury watches. In keeping with party regulations, Palang Pracharath Party must fix a date for a general assembly to elect a new executive committee within 45 days – by July 16, in this case. [Asia in Review No. 22, June/2020, 1]

More broadly, the political manoeuvring is considered to be the final chord after weeks of simmering broadsides against a technocratic-economic fraction centring around Deputy Prime Minister and economic czar Somkid Jatusripitak, and his allies, the finance minister and hitherto party leader Uttama Savanayana and Sontirat Sontijirawong, the party’s secretary-general and energy minister. [Nikkei Asian Review]

A former close aide to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Jatusripitak was reinstated as deputy prime minister following a cabinet reshuffle mid-2015 to rejuvenate a then-ailing economy. Thus, the Somkid-led technocratic faction was pivotal to the party’s launch before the 2019 general election by giving a civilian face to the military junta. Cultivating ties between the junta and Thailand’s oligarchs, Somkid and his allies were the economic and finance policy architects behind the Public-private program unveiled in 2016 to boost the provincial economy. [Nikkei Asian Review 2]

As the country continues to struggles to weather the economic knock-on effects of the coronavirus, the government might again seek assistance from the country’s richest tycoons to help ease Thailand’s financial woes. In the course of the weekend, some Thai industry leaders were quick to rally behind the Somkid-led fraction and voiced their concerns about a potential hiccup in policy continuity following the purge of the economic team. [Bangkok Post 2]

On Monday, then, the Siam Commercial Bank’s Economic Intelligence Centre (EIC) further revised downward its economic projection for this year to GDP contraction in 2020 of 7.3 per cent. [Thailand Business News]

 

 

9 June 2020

Thailand: Thai Army whistleblower faces Martial Court after exposing graft in the Thai army

(lm) In a press briefing on Thursday, Thai Army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said the army had issued a military court warrant to arrest whistle-blower Sgt Narongchai Intharakawee for dereliction of duty. While denying allegations about mistreatment of Sgt. Narongchai, Suvaree said an internal investigation had found grounds for his allegations, and had forwarded the case to the National Anti-Corruption Commission. [Bangkok Post]

Serving as a budget clerk at the in the Army’s Ordnance Materiel Rebuild Center, Sergeant Narongchai Intharakawi had filed several complaints on a new army whistle-blowing hotline that had been established in February to help crack-down on abuse, corruption, and exploitation in the military’s ranks. However, not only did he see no action taken on his complaints which involved staff allowances at the ordnance centre, he also received death threats and faced a disciplinary inquiry for allegedly undermining unity within the army and disrespecting a superior. Fearing for his safety, he absconded from his barracks in March and sought protection from the parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice, and Human Rights. [The Straits Times] [HRW]

 

 

9 June 2020

Thailand: Rights group says exiled Thai activist was abducted in Cambodia

(jn/lm) In a statement issued on Friday, Human Rights Watch said that Thai pro-democracy activist and dissident Wanchalearm Satsaksit has been abducted in Phnom Penh on Thursday evening. Citing witnesses and apartment security cameras, the rights group said Satsaksit was kidnapped at gunpoint and manhandled into an unmarked vehicle as he walked on a street in front of his apartment in the Cambodian capital. [HRW]

Associated with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship – commonly known as the “Red Shirts” – political movement, Satsaksit fled to Cambodia in 2014 to escape criminal charges for criticising the former Thai junta. From self-imposed exile, he continued to be politically active, operating a Facebook page critical of the Thai government. In 2018, an arrest warrant was issued by the Thai police alleging Satsaksit for violating the Computer Crime Act and committing lèse-majesté. [TIME]

According to human rights activists, Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s suspected abduction is the latest string in a series of disappearances of Southeast Asian political activists living in exile. In recent years, Thai authorities have aggressively pursued the apprehension of 29 pro-democracy activists who took refuge in neighbouring countries. Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia have repeatedly been approached by the Thai government to extradite these exiled activists, at least eight of which have become victims of enforced disappearance in 2016-2018. [HRW 2] [Bangkok Post 1]

The family of Wanchalearm Satsaksit on Sunday called on the government and international agencies to help find the activist. Rangsiman Rome, a Move Forward Party lawmaker and spokesman of the House committee on Legal Affairs, Justice and Human Rights said he would ask the committee on Wednesday to consider summoning state agencies to provide information on Mr Wanchalearm’s abduction. [Bangkok Post 2]

Protests flared outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok on Monday demanding an investigation and accused the Thai state of orchestrating the kidnapping. Throughout the weekend, Cambodian police as well as their Thai counterparts have remained tight-lipped on the activist’s whereabouts. The Cambodian police on Friday denied any knowledge of the abduction and refused to open an investigation into the alleged disappearance. [Bangkok Post 3] [France24] [SCMP]

 

 

2 June 2020

Thailand: Palang Pracharath leadership change imminent after resignations

(ls) Thailand’s ruling coalition party, the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), is in transition toward a major leadership change. On Monday, 18 of its 34 executive members quit the board, thus paving the way for internal elections to pick new executives and a party leader. According to the party’s regulations, if the membership of more than half of the executive committee is terminated, the entire executive committee is dissolved. The party is currently led by Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana. The secretary-general is Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong. Both were ministers in the former military government. Among those executives who resigned was Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao, a controversial figure due to news reports about alleged involvement with drug crimes in the past. [Straits Times]

It is expected that Deputy Prime Minister and PPRP chief strategist Prawit Wongsuwon will be nominated to become the new party leader. Anucha Nakhasai, a member of parliament for Chai Nat province, might become the new secretary-general. He is a key member of the so-called Sam Mitr (Three Allies) group, a faction that has been credited for much of the PPRP’s success in last year’s general election. A Cabinet reshuffle seems also likely. [Bangkok Post 1]

Last week, a letter went viral that was sent by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to an opposition politician explaining why it did not find then Defence and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit guilty of failing to declare 22 watches he claimed to have borrowed from a friend who later died. The explanation given by the NACC (“While a loan for use is a liability, it is not the type the NAAC requires to be declared in its asset declaration form”) has been criticized by many as unsatisfactory. The original ruling was made on 26 December 2018. [Bangkok Post 2]

 

2 June 2020

Thailand reconsiders CPTPP membership to ease economic impact of Covid-19

(ls) The Thai government has agreed to set up a committee to consider whether Thailand should become a member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The commerce ministry said a study it had conducted showed that membership would lift Thailand’s economic growth which could help to mitigate the negative impact of the Covid-19 crisis. Last month, the government still rejected further steps toward membership. Civil society organizations say that CPTPP could negatively affect Thai agricultural and healthcare sectors. [Bangkok Post]

 

 

26 May 2020

Thailand: Quiet anniversary – six years since the Coup 

(jk) On 22 May 2014, now PM General (ret.) Prayuth Chan-O-Cha led a military coup d’etat to assume absolute power in the country as the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) in a professed effort to “return peace and happiness to the people of Thailand”. Six years later, he is leading the country as Prime Minister due to the results of the first elections after the coup in 2019. For a very brief summary of the immediate lead-up to the Coup, see this short [Thisrupt] video. 

On the day in 2020, small rallies were held in Bangkok to protest the events of six years prior and make demands to reduce army budgets. Two protesters were arrested, with police citing the emergency law  in place to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. [Khaosod 1] [Khaosod 2] [Prachatai]

The group “Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)” used the occasion to  launch a report on Thailand’s human rights situation since the coup which notes that “the network of powerful political actors established under the NCPO regime has remained intact as they underwent a successful power inheritance,” and highlights in particular ongoing Human Rights violations such as violations of freedom of expression and freedom of association. More details on the report can be found at [Prachatai English]. 

Another story related to this “power inheritance” of some high ranking military personnel this week uncovered that the armed forces commander-in-chief, the commanders-in-chief of the army, navy, and air force, the police chief and the defence permanent secretary (who all automatically became Senators under a provision in the 2017 Constitution) have the worst records when it comes to showing up in the Senate for voting. Out of 145 votes called by the Senate, the six missed between 99 and 144. [Thai Enquirer][Bangkok Post]

 

 

26 May 2020

Thailand: Data Protection law postponed by a year 

(jk) Thailand, after approving the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) in 2019, was meant to enforce provisions relating to the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data by May 27 this year. Serious sanctions were foreseen for non-compliance, including fines in the millions of Baht as well as imprisonment.  

Last week, with just over a week to go until the intended implementation, authorities  announced that they will postpone the implementation of the law by a year, until May 31 2021. According to the Cabinet, the decision was taken in order to “give the public and private sectors more time to implement data protection measures required by the law, and ease their financial burdens caused by the COVID-19 crisis.” [Khaosod]

 

 

 

26 May 2020

Thailand: Former deputy prime minister under Thaksin plans to form new political party

(jk) Veteran politician Chaturon Chaisang, former Deputy PM and minister under both Shinawatra governments, is looking to establish a new party removed from the influence of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and his Pheua Thai. He said he will introduce key members of his new party next month and complete formal registration later this year. [Bangkok Post] [Khaosod]

 

 

 

19 May 2020

Thailand: 10th anniversary of violent crackdown of Red-shirt protest

(dql) On occasion of the 10th anniversary of the military crackdown of the Red-Shirt protest in May 2010, where almost 100 people – mostly civilian demonstrators and a few security officers – had been killed, a small group of former protesters and supporters gathered to commemorate the incident and to demand justice. According to them no one from the then government under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva or the military or police has been convicted of any wrongdoings related to the shootings.

The crackdown remains divisive. For Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the former leader of the now dissolved Future Forward Party and leader of a progressive civil society group, impunity would prevail “unless and until we can establish a genuine democracy in this country,” adding that: “This is a war, the war of memory. The establishment, the elite, they want us to forget about what happened.” Echoing this demand for holding wrongdoers accountable, Jatuporn Prompan, one of the leaders of the Red Shirts, demands “a thorough investigation, autopsies and trials.” [Reuters] [New York Times]

Defending Abhisit Vejjajiva, Ramet Rattanachaweng, spokesman of the Democrat Party, which is currently part of the ruling coalition, insisted that all allegations of wrongdoing have been dismissed as unfounded by the courts and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. [Thaiger

 

 

 

12 May 2020

Thailand: Soaring suicides pose questions 

(hg) A rising number of tragic suicides – often publicly visible and by parents of little children – poses seriousquestions in the country with the generally highest suicides rate in Southeast Asia where suicide has ranked already second among the non-natural causes of death after traffic accidents. Now, scholars warned the number of suicides caused by economic repercussions due to the COVID-19 lockdown could even exceed the number of coronavirus deaths in the country. [The Diplomat]

Besides shedding some light on the general calculus of COVID-19 containment as it is questioned in many countries around the world, the Thai case of “corona suicides” gives reason to think about some particular problems of state and society in Thailand, be they related to the current situation or to constants whose effects are just aggravated now.  

The mothers and fathers of children who hanged themselves, jumped from bridges or ate rat poison during the last weeks point to a saddening inability to respond to the social and economic hardships that will most probably continue to hit an increasing part of the population despite loosening lockdown conditions. After many of those almost 55% of Thailand’s entire workforce who are occupied in the informal sector have been among the first victims of the pandemic’s economic fallout, many more belonging to the middle class might follow when business is dying, debts aren’t repaid and wages lost. 

The tragedy that unravels and will probably even increase in light of an exceptional suicide rate both in normal and in abnormal times exposes an inadequate social security system, difficulties of the state’s bureaucratic apparatus to effectively tackle unforeseen problems and stem reforms but also a society in which social isolation has become an endemic, yet largely ignored problem. 

 

 

 

12 May 2020

Thailand: Progressive group warned over slogan to “search the truth” about 2010 killings

(hg) Police and soldiers announced investigations against a civil society group, the Progressive Movement, for its recent building projections. With its projected laser messages to various buildings the group called to search for the truth related to the political demonstration crackdown in 2010 in which almost 100 people were killed, mostly by security forces.

After photos of the projection went viral in social media, the deputy national police chief warned of creating conflicts in the country while Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon denied the projection the character of a symbolic demonstration, and the Deputy Defence Minister insisted police were duty-bound to take legal action on the matter.

The Progressive Movement which declared authorship of the laser messages was founded in March this year by the core leadership of Thailand’s progressive party after the party, which had become the third-largest in the 2019 parliamentary elections, was disbanded by the Constitutional Court in February this year. [Bangkok Post]

 

 

 

12 May 2020

Thailand: Former Constitutional Court President appointed Privy Councillor

(jk) Nurak Mapraneet, a former President of the Constitutional Court, has been promoted to the Royal Privy Council, a constitutional body of advisors to the King, appointed by him. Having been a career judge, Nurak became a member of the Constitutional Drafting Council after the 2006 military coup d’état to serve under the 2007 Constitution as a justice at the Constitutional Court since 2007. In 2014, one day after the country’s army chief and incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth imposed martial law and one day before he staged Thailand’s most recent coup, he became President of the Court, a position he held until March 31 this year. [Prachatai] [Bangkok Post]

 

 

 

5 May 2020

Thailand: New violence in the deep south 

(ls) After about a month of silence, new violence has occurred in Thailand’s deep south. During a raid by Thai security forces on Thursday, three suspected insurgents have been shot and killed. The operation in Pattani province was the first since the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) had declared in early April that it was ceasing all activities because of the coronavirus pandemic. This declaration had been dismissed by security forces. [Chiang Rai Times]

Two days after the raid, two men were shot and killed in Narathiwat province by gunmen who escaped. On Sunday, unidentified gunmen shot and killed two soldiers at a COVID-19 checkpoint in Pattani province. [Benar News]

 

 

 

28 April 2020

US cuts Thailand’s Free-Trade benefits over labour rights abuses

(jk) Six months after the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) said it would suspend some trade preferences over the failure to curb labour abuses in the fishing industry, the cuts have now come into effect. [Bangkok Post]

The cuts are minor, however, affecting “less than 4% of the value of U.S. goods imported from Thailand last year”. [Voice of Asia] The International Labor Organization (ILO) affirmed last month that working conditions in Thailand were improving, but not by much and significant human rights abuses remain common [AP News]. 

 

 

 

28 April 2020

Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia extend lockdown measures 

(jk) Due to ongoing concern about the spread of the Covid 19, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) in Thailand decided in a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister to extend the Emergency Decree for another month after it expires at the end of this week. [Bangkok Post]

Malaysia and Singapore have also extended their lockdowns, until May 12 and June 1 respectively, while Vietnam eased restrictions slightly (see below). 

 

 

 

28 April 2020

Thailand: Military temporarily suspends hardware procurement deals 

(jk) After much criticism that in a time where much of the budget is needed to fight the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Thai military has suspended a number of its procurement plans, including the purchase of US made armoured vehicles and other Chinese and South Korean hardware. The suspension also includes a delay of two out of three Chinese-built submarines. Construction of the first submarine (in Wuhan) has already begun and is expected to be delivered in 2023. Overall, a spokesperson said, the Ministry of Defence “slashed US$ 555 million from the budget”. [Benarnews]

Early last week, a plan to buy the vehicles with weapons and technical services from the US was published but immediately met with criticism on social media. The army decided to defer the scheme to next fiscal year and give the money to the government to help it fight Covid-19. [Khaosod English]

 

 

21 April 2020

“Milk tea alliance” unites young Thai, HK and Taiwanese internet users against China

(ls) In unprecedented show of “online solidarity”, mostly young internet users from Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan have jointly rebutted what most observers considered concerted Chinese troll attacks on a Thai celebrity who had mistakenly referred to Taiwan as a country. The Diplomat recounts the events that led to the creation of the self-styled “milk tea alliance”, describing the internet’s unifying potential as opposed to bots, misinformation and media manipulation. [The Diplomat]

“This is the first transnational geopolitical Twitter war Thais have engaged in,” Prajak Kongkirati of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Political Science said. Meanwhile, also users in the Philippines took on the respective hashtag to attack Chinese action in the disputed South China Sea. Twitter is blocked in China and only accessible for those using virtual private networks or with official approval. [Reuters]

 

14 April 2020

Thailand: Southern unrest pauses amid Covid-19 

(jk) At the beginning of April, insurgent Barisan Revolusi Nasional – the National Revolutionary Front (BRN) declared that it was ceasing all hostile actions against the Thai military due to the ongoing struggle against the coronavirus pandemic. Referring to “humanitarian grounds”, the group also made clear it would resume hostilities if the Thai military attacked its forces. [Benar News]

The Thai government has not yet officially responded to the message. It comes after some intense violent clashes earlier this year, including “one of largest operations in the conflict to date” in March when security forces fought rebel fighters in the marshlands near Yala city, and their presumed retaliation in form of a bomb attack on March 17 on the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center (SBPAC) in the city. [Asia Times] [Asia in Review No. 11, March/2020, 3]

A piece on [Asia Sentinel] brings up some interesting developments in the conflict on the side of the insurgents. It looks at some of the differing strands within the separatist movement and for instance raises some doubt that the BRN in particular, which is since the beginning of the year engaged in “discussions” [Asia in Review No. 4, January/2020, 4] with the Thai government in Malaysia, is speaking with one voice. Rather, according to the author, there is the “old guard”, represented in KL at the talks, and a more hard-line and fundamentalist faction.

 

 

14 April 2020

Thailand: Blogger under fire for exposing alleged scandal 

(jk) Last month, a blogger operating a popular Facebook page named “Queen of Spades” (since deleted) published video footage and photographs of an alleged hoarding scandal of some 200 million surgical face masks, implicating an aide to a controversial Deputy Minister of Agriculture from the largest governing-coalition Palang Pracharat Party. 

Soon after the footage was released, allegations were made that the footage was doctored and the Deputy Minister threatened to sue everyone who would link his name to the scandal. A month later, the blogger says she is now wanted by the police [Thisrupt 1] criticising how her case has been handled after another member of Palang Pracharat Party accused her of spreading fake news in violation of the Computer Crime Act. 

The blogger claims she has done nothing but sharing material from the social media page of a businessman who was involved with the face masks and raises the question of a reasonable use of the Computer Crime Act and using fake news to silence critics. [Thisrupt 2] Critics consider the vague definition of “fake news” and very broad, sometimes overlapping laws governing them, paired with the serious consequences of spreading as an invitation to misuse by actors with ulterior motives. 

 

31 March 2020

Mekong River Joint Patrol started 

(jk) The Mekong River joint patrol by China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand began last week. The four countries will engage in “joint visits, inspections and an anti-drug publicity campaign during the four-day patrol” and will include a focus on the Golden Triangle notorious for illegal drug activity. [Navy Recognition]

31 March 2020

Japan-Thailand relations: Local Currency Swap Arrangement signed

(dql) In a move to boost the financial stability of both countries, Thailand’s and Japan’s central bank signed a bilateral local currency swap arrangement (BSA) effective as of 31 March 2020 for a period of three years. The BSA allows for the exchange of local currencies between the two central banks of up to 240 billion Baht or 800 billion Yen (appr. 7.4 billion USD), enabling them to provide baht or yen liquidity to eligible financial institutions in support of their cross-border operations. [Market Screener]

31 March 2020

Thailand: (Some) charges against former Future Forward leader Thanathorn dropped 

(jk) Last week, charges that indicated a violation of the Computer Crime Act against former Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and two other former party executives were dropped. [Bangkok Post]

The particular charges were filed in 2018 after the then ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) filed a complaint against Thanathorn and others over a Facebook live post in which he criticised the leadership.

While the dropped charges are good news for Thanathorn, it is worth pointing out that he continues to face numerous other charges that are still pending. These include the most recently filed criminal charges by the Election Commission over his media shareholdings which carry penalties of 10 years imprisonment. [Asia in Review No. 11, March/2020, 3]

 

31 March 2020

Thailand: 19 Million apply for Covid-19 cash relief 

(jk) A cash relief government programme that was initiated over the weekend granting an around 150 USD monthly handout over three months, has been applied for by close to 20 million people over the first few days. 

The government, stressing the programme is intended only for those who have no social security, has underestimated the number of applications as they initially announced they were expecting around 3 million applicants. [Khaosod]

A short piece, focussing on the poor who are hit hardest by the crisis, eludes to a number of problems with the “no one left behind” programme, including its initial budget as well as access to even register for the hand-out by those who desperately need it. [Thisrupt]

31 March 2020

Caution over Thailand’s and Philippines’ emergency powers over the COVID-19 Crisis

(jk) As reported last week [Asia in Review No. 12, March/2020, 4], both Thailand and the Philippines have granted their leadership emergency powers to handle the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. 

While in both cases no extreme measures have been taken yet, the emergency powers that were granted allow for instance for stringent control of the media and are generally kept vague. Critics argue they could easily be misused by the authorities to stifle critics of the government and increase the risk of unchecked use of power which needs to be watched carefully. Rights groups, such as Freedom House or Forum-Asia, have flagged the issue and voiced concerns the COVID-19 crisis could be used as an excuse for governments to bolster their power. [Benarnews] [Asia Times]

According to remarks by Indonesian President Joko Widodo and a worsening situation in Indonesia, it appears that the government in Jakarta is also considering emergency powers to fight the crisis while Timor-Leste President Francisco Guterres declared a state of emergency across the country from March 28 to April 26. [The Straits Times] [UCA News]

24 March 2020

Thailand: Former Future Forward leaders form movement

(ls) After the dissolution of the Future Forward Party in February, the former party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and the party’s former Secretary-General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul have formally introduced the “Progressive Movement”, a citizen movement, and vowed to continue the pursuit of their political goals outside of parliament. Former Future Forward MPs have joined a new party, the Move Forward Party, earlier this month. [Bangkok Post]

24 March 2020

Thailand: Government announces emergency starting on Thursday

(ls) The Thai government will declare an emergency and introduce new measures to combat the coronavirus disease on this week’s Thursday. However, the exact measures have not yet been clarified. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in a TV announcement that new requirements to control the disease would be enforced. [Bangkok Post]

17 March 2020

Thailand: Two bombs explode outside Thai government office in Yala Province 

(jk) On Tuesday this week, Thailand’s southern province of Yala saw the explosion of two devices outside the building of a Thai government body that oversees the administration of three mostly Malay-Muslim majority provinces in the country’s south (Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC)). The explosions (at the time of writing) has reported to have led to 18 wounded and no fatal casualties. [Reuters]

17 March 2020

Thailand: Election Commission takes criminal action against an opposition leader

(jk) Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, former leader of the now dissolved Future Forward Party, and already banned from politics for 10 years, may face up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine, and a 20-year ban from politics over his media shareholdings after the Election Commission (EC) has decided to file criminal charges against him. The EC alleges he was “applying to be an MP candidate knowing he was not qualified” due to his media shareholdings under Section 151 of the 2018 MP Election Act. [Bangkok Post]

 

10 March 2020

Thailand’s new parties: Future Forward becomes Move Forward; “Kla” is being formed

(ls) Thailand’s political party landscape is seeing some changes. The 55 remaining MPs of the recently dissolved Future Forward party will all move to a newly renamed party. “Kao Klai” (Move Forward) is the new name of a party that until recently was the little-known Phueng Luang Party. It had registered the change of name. The 38-year old Pita Limjaroenrat will become the party leader. He stated that the party’s ideology will be the same as Future Forward’s. [Bangkok Post]

In a separate development, former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij has been made the leader of his newly-registered party “Kla” (Dare) at the party’s first meeting in Bangkok on Saturday with 500 members. Korn quit the coalition Democrat Party, where he served as deputy leader, to set up Kla, which has been described as a start-up party. [Bangkok Post 2]

Finally, Pheu Thai executive Ladawan Wongsriwong announced the setting up of a new party, “Samerpak” (Equality), which she is about to register with the Election Commission.

10 March 2020

Thailand: Judge who tried to kill himself last year commits suicide

(ls) In Thailand, a judge who tried to shoot himself in a courtroom last October, killed himself at his residence in Chiang Mai province. He left a note saying he lost the will to live after he was placed under investigation for his previous suicide attempt, when he carried his gun into the courthouse. In a written statement leaked to social media last year, he said he had been pressured by his supervisor to find suspects guilty despite a lack of concrete evidence. [Khaosod English]

3 March 2020

Thailand: University and High School Students Protest after Party dissolution 

(jk) Triggered by the dissolution of the Future Forward Party [Asia in Review, No. 8, February/2020, 4], students at various universities and high schools, including Thammasat University in Pathum Thani province north of Bangkok or the capital’s Mahidol University, organised protests to vent their anger with the decision and the government in general.

The protests, sometimes referred to as “flash mobs”, are thus far characterised by its use of social media, quick organisation and turn-around, and are in clear contrast to the drawn-out street demonstrations from the mid 2000s until the coup in 2014. PM Prayuth reacted somehow ominously by sharing his “concern” for the students. He said the students “may not have a future” if they are put in prison. [The Straits Times] [VICE]

3 March 2020

Thailand: Government comfortably survives no confidence vote

(jk) As reported in last week’s AiR, the controversial dissolution of the second largest opposition party was followed by a week-long censure debate in Thailand’s House of Representatives, culminating in a vote of no confidence at the end of last week against the PM and five members of his cabinet. [Asia in Review, No. 8, February/2020, 4] The motion was handily defeated. [Thai Enquirer]

While numerous opposition MPs accused the government of various counts of mismanagement and corruption throughout the week, including some well documented and serious accusations, the censure debate showed above all divisions among the opposition parties which boycotted different parts of the proceedings or abstained from voting, and indicated that there is no appetite to topple the regime in this manner at this stage.

All ministers in question, including the PM, were supported by around 270 MPs and had to face no more than 55 votes cast against them, more or less corresponding to the number of MPs of the now dissolved Future Forward Party (FFP). Pheua Thai MPs showed little support during the vote and were in fact accused of conspiring with the government to run down the clock at certain stages of the debate in order to spare in particular Deputy PM Prawit from some more serious question from former FF MPs. [Khaosod English]

In the end, it is hard to argue against the notion that the debate and vote were a win for a government that after the events of the past couple of weeks is in the most powerful position since the elections. The opposition has said however that after the unsuccessful debate in parliament, the next step is to “take the censure debate on the road”  and continue the conversation in countrywide fora to expose the governments mismanagement. [Bangkok Post]

25 February 2020

Thailand: Constitutional Court orders Future Forward Party to be dissolved

(ls) Thailand’s Constitutional Court last week decided to dissolve Future Forward Party (FFP), the second largest opposition party in the House of Representatives. In addition, the Court banned 11 party executives, among them party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and party secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, from running for political office for 10 years. The Court found that the party had violated the financing rules laid down in the Organic Act on Political Parties by accepting 191.2 million baht from Mr. Thanathorn, which he and the party claimed was a legal loan. The initiation of further criminal prosecution against party executives will be subject to the Election Commission’s decision. [Bangkok Post 1] [Khaosod English]

A group of 36 law lecturers at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Law published a statement voicing disagreement with the Constitutional Court’s decision. [Bangkok Post 2] [Statement in Thai]

The United States and the European Union have issued statements expressing concern over the disbandment. The EU’s statement said, “dissolving political parties or banning Members of Parliament runs counter to the process of restoring pluralism initiated last year.” [U.S. Embassy] [EU Delegation]

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is holding a censure debate, with a no-confidence motion scheduled later this week. The 11 banned FFP executives are precluded from taking part in it. The governing coalition thus enjoys a comfortable majority of 264 seats against 224 seats for the opposition. The ruling Palang Pracharath Party was able to win another seat in a by-election in the central province of Kamphaeng Phet on Sunday. [Straits Times]

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

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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]