Prachatai English

“Support good people to rule this country,” says King of Thailand on eve of election.

Prachatai English - 8 ชั่วโมง 9 นาที ago
Submitted on Sun, 2019-03-24 01:37Prachatai

Invoking the historic quote of his father, King Rama X has released announcement on eve of election saying that voters should support ‘good people’ to rule Thailand. The hashtag #WeGrownUpCanChooseForOurselves soars to national no.1 on Twitter. The term 'good people (คนดี)', not quite politically neutral in Thai lexicon, is referred to one day after princess Ubolratana met with Thaksin at his daughter’s wedding in Hongkong.

Source: Khaosod English

The announcement was broadcasted through every TV channel in the country through The Television Pool of Thailand. The first half invokes a speech of the late King given in the opening ceremony of Thai National Jamboree at Chonburi Province in 1989:

“Please be known about an important thing of governing that in a nation, there are both good and bad people. No one can make all people become good people. To make a national peaceful and in order is not about making all become good people, but to support good people to rule the country and restrain bad people from gaining power to prevent chaos.”

The second half is the words of Rama X:

“His majesty Rama X wants the people in Thailand, as well as bureaucrats – be it civilian, military, or police, assigned to protect the national security and serve the people—to review and beware of the Rama IX’s statement. Concerning about national security, and feelings and happiness of the people, the King bring to you this speech to encourage and remind [all] to adopt it into their work, for harmony, national security, and people’s happiness; [and] to recall the contribution of the King Rama Xi and Queen Sirikit, who always loves and cares about this nation.”

The term ‘good people’ is not neutral in Thai political lexicon. Since before the coup in 2004, the conservatives have used it time and again in reference to the political cause of anti-corruption, especially against Thaksin Shinawatra’s political bloc. The military coup and non-elected institutions invoked this word to justify their actions, and oftentimes at the expense of democracy.

The Royal Announcement

When Ubolratana was nominated by Thai Raksa Chart (TRC) last time, King Rama X also released a statement of this style, saying that such action is inappropriate and unconstitutional. Later on, TRC was disbanded by the constitutional court.

This is the second time that a royal announcement was released after there is a sign of alliance between Thaksin and Ubolratana in public. Yesterday (22 March), princess Ubolratana attended the wedding of Thaksin Shinawatra’s daughter at Rosewood Hotel in Hong Kong. The event saw Ubolranta hugging with Thaksin.

Source: @CrazyRichTH

Notably, the timing of release is also almost the same as this one. Whereas the earlier announcement was made at 22.55, this time it was released at 22.45. However, this time it was released on “a howling night.”

In Thai political culture, the term is a synonym of election’s night eve due to a belief that it has the highest rate of vote-buying - the politicians’ team will knock doors and cause dogs to howl. During a howling night, the law will enforce certain restrictions including ban on alcohol and no election campaigns from 6 PM onward.

During this period, Pheu Thai party, the party associated with Thaksin, has closed its Facebook Page to prevent allegations by opponents.

After the speech, the hashtag #WeGrownUpCanChooseForOurselves soared to national no.1 on Twitter. A lot of users tweeted in English to make it more difficult for the authories to prosecute them for violating lese majeste law, which can cause them to live in jail for 20 years at maximum. However, it is expected that around 100k tweets have been posted.

 

 

News2019 general election
Categories: Prachatai English

The military-sponsored General Election of Thailand

Prachatai English - Sat, 2019-03-23 17:50
Submitted on Sat, 2019-03-23 17:50Muhammad Ilyas Yahprung

Source: We Watch

The​ Thai​ incoming general​ election which​ will​ be​ held​ on​ the​ March 24​ later this​ month is part of the whole strategy designed​ by​ the establishment​ of the​ military, technocrat​, and​ monarchical circle to tighten their grip on power.

Aided by conservative party of democrat, the military generals took power through coup d'e tat five years ago, expelling the democratically elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinnawatra, former Prime​ Minister​ Thaksin's younger sister, and put some of her cabinet members in prison. The junta then drafted a constitution which provides a number of provisions aimed at controlling executive, legislative and judicial powers. Worse still, the election commission and constitutional court - the two most crucial players in determining the election result - are appointed by the junta.

After suffered from several postponement due primarily to the rising of the junta's political unpopularity, mainly as a result of corruption and poor economic performance, the election finally declared to be held while the junta still in full control. Pundits and observers alike have been warning that this election going to be witnessed as one of the dirtiest in the Thai history.

The constitution was designed to the effect that regardless of whoever win the vote,  the​ junta's man still​ win​ the​ day - through 250 military appointed senator who can vote together with the newly elected MP to nominate the Prime Minister in the Thai parliamentary system of government.​ As​ Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta's head and incumbent Prime Minister picked himself as​ the​ candidate​ he​ will almost surely be the next Prime Minister.

Frustrating with​ all​ this unfair game, misuse of power by military​ to buttress Gen.Prayut​ and​ his​ co-tyrant Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, the army de facto leader and defend minister, Thai voters have no alternative but to turn as many as possible to ballot box in the hope that their votes would overwhelm Prayut's legitimacy.

This election, though expected to be conducted in such a way that ensuring military to hold on power, nevertheless marks the beginning that Thailand slowly get back to the rocky path of democracy. If Gen. Prayut still hold power, it also means that there will be a very good and active oppositions of Pheu Thai Party and the Future Forward Party of Thanathorn Joungrungroungkit, whose popularity reached to the unprecedented level, reminiscent of that of Thaksin before he became the PM. This would bring back the check and balance system of governance which almost absent in the last five years of military rule. Investors as well as other players in the field of economy would have confidence in the system. Since Thai economy has been adapted quite well to the new normal world after it suffered severe turmoil of 1997 financial crisis; fundamental economic factors such as value of Thai Baht, exports, and tourism sector also still perform on the right direction, the economy would get a firm recovery after the election.

Southern conflict after the election

Since the​ separatists are​ demanding to​ hold​ talk​ with democratically elected government, there will be some progress in the peace negotiation after the election. Bearing in mind that military still not be able to completely control the situation in southern Thailand. Recent bomb planting in several places outside the war-torn provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwas attest to this fact. The separatists have time and again demonstrated their capability to carry out an attack far beyond conventional area of their operation. Peace negotiation, therefore, must go on. However, after election people in the deep South would have more channels to voice their grievance, namely through MP in their constituency. Wan Muhammad Noor's party will get around 4+ seats in the Deep South, his Prachachat party​ - the​ only political​ party​ appeared to​ be​ dominated by​ local​ people​ -​ would get around 8+ from party's list vote. Totally his party will get around 12-15 seats. If Gen. Prayut become PM, this party will be included in the opposition camp. Al​l in​ all, the military will lose some power to wield over local population.

Opinion2019 general election
Categories: Prachatai English

A country for the young: first-time voters in the 2019 general election and how they can change the face of Thai politics

Prachatai English - Sat, 2019-03-23 01:32
Submitted on Sat, 2019-03-23 01:32Anna Lawattanatrakul

After five years under the junta’s rule, Thailand is finally holding a general election on 24 March. This is the first election in eight years, if we don’t count the 2014 general election, which faced severe obstruction and violence, and was subsequently ruled to be invalid by the Constitutional Court.

Due to this long break, Thailand now has a larger than ever group of voters who are eligible to vote for the first time. According to elect.in.th, in 2011, when the last successful election took place, first-time voters made up 1.96% of all eligible votes, whereas right now, first-time voters make up 13.74% of all voters.

The number may seem small when compared to other age group, but first-time voters are a significant factor which can change the outcome of this election. Far from the idea that first-time voters are all teenagers, the group now range in age from 18 to 25 years, and include students as well as young graduates new to the workforce. The past five years under the junta means that they have never had the right to vote, and it is hard to predict where their vote will go, but if they vote, this group may now be the key to changing the face of Thai politics.

A lifetime of conflict, 1994 – 2019

It is not the number alone that make first-time voters important. The oldest first-time voters are 25 years old, and in their lifetime, Thailand has already seen three major political demonstrations: the 2008 protests by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the 2010 protests by the United Front of Democracy Againiest Dictatorship (UDD), and the 2013 - 2014 protests by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). The country has also been through 2 military coups in the last 13 years: the 2006 coup by the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) and the 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

For this reason, despite varying degrees of awareness, most first-time voters’ experience of Thai politics is marked with conflict and instability.

Nichakorn Nutcharoen, a 24-year-old private company employee, said that she remembered when the protests were happening, but she used to feel that they are irrelevant to her life as she grew up far from Bangkok, where most demonstrations happened.

“I know that there are different groups, that there are divisions,” said Nichakorn, “but if there is any protest or violence, I feel that it’s distant and that it’s something that happened only in Bangkok.”

Meanwhile, Natwara Pratchayakul, 24, also a private company employee, said that she has always felt political conflict to be close to home.

“We talked about politics openly at home,” Natwara said, “and I feel like I can say what I think.”

Likewise, Student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal also said that he has always been aware of the situation for the past ten years.

“I was in sixth grade when the 2006 coup happened,” Netiwit said, “My family watches cable TV, ASTV, red shirt TV. I grew up with these kinds of thing. When the PDRC protest happened, I remember it.”

PDRC protestors during their 2014 "Shut Down Bangkok" campaign

Under the NCPO’s rule, young people have had to live in a suffocating atmosphere. They have had to learn where the line is and how not to cross it – essentially that there are limits to their freedom. Most people are aware of the term “attitude adjustment,” used in the early days of the junta’s rule, when former politicians and activists are called in to report to the NCPO, and remember activists getting arrested for peaceful protests. As a result, young people are now paying more attention to politics than ever.  

When asked when she started to feel that Thailand’s circumstances were not normal, Kukasina Kubaha, now a student at Chulalongkorn University, said that it was immediately after the 2014 coup, when she was walking to school and saw armed soldiers standing along the street. She also said that she began to pay more attention to the political situation when she began to see her more politically active friends affected by the junta’s rule.

“I started to see my activists friends get arrested, so I started to this that this is relevant to my life,” said Kukasina. One of her friends was among the 39 people at the protest at MBK Center who were arrested earlier last year.

“My friend wasn’t protesting that day,” Kukasina said, “but her name was already on a list, so she also got taken in.”

Leaders of the 'MBK39' group, from left: Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, Surit Piensuwan, Nutta Mahattana, Veera Somkwamkit, and Sombat Boonngamanong

Like many young people, Kukasina’s family warned her not to get too involved in political activism out of the fear that she will be targeted by the authorities. Combined with legislations like the Cyber Security Act, Kukasina said that she felt frustrated.

N. (pseudonym), another student at Chulalongkorn University, said that she felt that freedom of expression has been suppressed under the NCPO. N. was part of a team of students organizing panel discussions and other activities in her faculty, and for this, she was targeted by the authorities, and she said that this made her feel threatened.

Netiwit, a student activist since his high school days, said he has been facing similar threats. He has been stopped from giving talks he has been invited to give, and officials have spied on him.

But even someone who said that they are not politically active like Nichakorn felt that the situation is not normal. Nichakorn said that she didn’t like it when the military government orders people to report to them, and the frustration has been building up.

Natwara, on the other hand, admitted that, in the early days of the military rule, she thought it was a good thing that all the protests immediately stopped. Five years on, Natwara has changed her mind. She now feel that nothing has gotten better, and that she is being taken advantage of.

“When they said there is going to be an election, and then they postponed it, I felt that my right is being limited. I felt frustrated,” said Natwara. “When they first announced that there would be an election, I felt that it’s finally time, because the coup happened exactly when I reached voting age.”

As a result of their lifetime of political instability, some first-time voters feel that history is always repeating itself. Thai politics has apparently gone around in a cycle of protest-crisis-coup since they were children, and it seems like the country is unable to break free of this cycle. The three major demonstrations in the last 25 years are only 2 – 3 years apart, and the two military coups are only 8 years apart.

“The military coups are the reason why democracy in Thailand has gotten nowhere,” said Netiwit, and N. said that she thinks there is something structurally wrong with Thai politics. For them as well as many people their age, Thai politics has not gotten anywhere in the past decade.

But first-time voters are now more enthusiastic about the election than ever. A survey conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration of 1254 young voters found that 84.93% of the respondents said they will definitely be voting in this election.

As the election draws hear, first-time voters are seeking to inform themselves about the election system, the parties, and the candidates. While former PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban said that parents should urge their children to vote for his party, the Action Coalition for Thailand, because young people only care about being trendy, first-time voters are making sure they know what they are doing and will be making an informed decision at the poll.  

“I have been watching debate shows and looking at the policies,” said Kukasina. “I’m particularly interested in policies about the environment. And I’m also interested in the way each party present themselves.” A survey conducted by King Prajadhipok’s Institute also found that first-time voters choose the party they vote for based on the party leader, the party’s ideologies, and past achievements.

When asked how he is making his decision, Netiwit said that, personally, he takes into consideration each party’s policies, and their position regarding the current military government and the 2017 Constitution, which was drafted under the NCPO’s influence.

Prachatai also recently did a video interview of students at Thammasat University and Ramkhamhaeng University. Titled “The Spectre of Thaksin,” the students are asked about their vision of the future and what they think of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

All the students Prachatai interviewed said that they are choosing which party to vote for from their ideology, policy, and one even say that he will be voting for a party who doesn’t support the NCPO’s continuation of power. Thai election goes online

Another characteristic of the 2019 election which sets it apart from past election is that it is the first election in Thai history in which social media plays a major role. On platforms like Twitter, first-time voters are taking advantage of social media to spread information and speaking out. They are utilizing sites like Twitter and Facebook for discussions and reacting to political events.

Going by their reactions of Twitter and Facebook, this generation of voters are fed up with conflict and anti-democratic actions, and there is nothing the NCPO and Gen Prayut can do to win these netizens over. Not only that they are mocking his every attempt to keep up with pop culture, they are also speaking out against everything they see as unfair, or as the NCPO’s attempt to stay in power.

Prayut’s untimely struggle with pop culture

At the beginning of 2019, when it was announced that the election will be postponed again, the hashtag #เลื่อนแม่มึงสิ (“Delayed again, you motherfucker”) trended on Twitter within hours of the announcement as netizens call out the NCPO for, yet again, denying them their right to vote.

On 7 March, when the Constitutional Court of Thailand ruled to dissolve the Thai Raksa Chart Party (TRC) over the party’s nomination of former princess Ubolratana Mahidol as their candidate for Prime Minister, the hashtag #ยุบให้ตายก็ไม่เลือกลุง (“Dissolved any party and we still won’t vote for uncle”) took first place on Thailand’s Twitter trend. Netizens criticized the NCPO for what they see as an attempt to get rid of a political opponent and rally each other to go out and vote. And just last week, when Gen Prayut refers to Thai people as his children, the hashtag #ใครลูกมึง (“Not your child”) was born.

Dissolve any party and we still won’t vote for you: reactions to the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party

The hashtag system also lends itself to a crowd-sourced categorization of information. The hashtag #เลือกตั้งนอกราชอาณาจักร (#OverseasVoting) trended all week as people share information about the problems they face trying to vote overseas, from missing ballots to long queues at the poll and their posted ballots being returned in the mail. Again, last Sunday, on early voting day, netizens used the hashtag #เลือกตั้งล่วงหน้า (#EarlyVoting) to warn each other of the obstacles they might face going to vote, from long wait time to being given the wrong ballot papers. Not only that, they are sharing advices on how to make voting more convenient, such as checking information on the application Smart Vote before they get to the poll, and encouraging each other to endure the long queue and the hot weather through messages like “Just think of Prayut’s face and keep waiting.”

This group of young voters are also digital natives who can spot fake news from a mile away. For example, when a rumour spread that the Future Forward Party (FFP) wants to abolish government pension, Twitter users quickly disprove the rumour by presenting the correct information, which is then spread through the ‘retweet’ function. Fake news are rarely ever effective on Facebook and Twitter, and if anything gets put on these platforms, chances are someone out there will be fact-checking it.

And the lesson? It’s no longer easy to keep young voters blind.

Are the leaves turning in Thai politics?

Politics in Thailand has always been a field dominated by the older generation. Out of Thailand’s 29 Prime Minister, 13 came into office when they are more than 60 years old. A BBC Thai article also noted that, even in this election, while many parties want to win over young voters, their leaders and executives are mostly old men.

BBC Thai reported that only 3 parties in the 2019 has a party leader who is 40 years old or under: FFP under the 40-year-old Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the now dissolved TRC under the 38-year-old Preechapol Pongpanich, and the Thai Civilized Party under the 37-year-old Mongkolkit Suksintharanont. Meanwhile, 18 parties have party leaders who are past retirement age.

But are things changing?

Not only that we are seeing a large group of first-time voters in this election, we are also seeing a new generation of MP candidates and candidate for Prime Minister.

Some of these candidates are not entirely new to politics, given that they were born into a political family, but this is the first time they themselves become players in the game. For example, the Chartthaipattana Party is now headed by Kanchana Silpa-archa, the daughter of Banhan Silpa-archa, former Prime Minister and former Party leader.

Kanchana Silpa-archa

Meanwhile, TRC was headed by children of Pheu Thai leaders and Thaksin Shinawatra’s relatives. Its leader was Lt Preechapol Pongpanich, son of former Thai Rak Thai executive and former Minister of Education during Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. Chayika Wongnapachant, Thaksin’s niece, and Rupop Shinawatra, Thaksin’s nephew, were also TRC’s party executives. TRC’s party executives are now barred from politics for the next 10 years following the party’s dissolution, but one will have to wait and see what they will become when the ban ends.

Preechapol Pongpanich speaking to reporters after the Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve TRC

On the other hand, there are candidates for whom this election marks their first step into the political field. The Mahachon Party, for example, nominated Palinee “Pauline” Ngarm-pring as one of its three candidates for Prime Minister. Pauline was formerly the founder of the Cheerthai Power group and candidate for President of the Football Association of Thailand, and now she is Thailand’s first-ever transgender candidate for Prime Minister. The party also has Nada Chaiyajit, a trans right activist, as its head of policy.

Pauline Ngarm-pring, the Mahachon Party’s head of strategy, and her first step into politics

Pauline is in her fifties, but she is a new player national politics. When asked why she decided to go into politics, Pauline said that she has always been interested in politics, and she felt that it could be better.

“When I was approached, I thought that maybe I could do something that would be good for Thai politics, and the development of human rights and LGBT rights, so I decided to join,” Pauline said.

And in Chaiyaphum, the Democrat Party has Nattika Loweera, a former journalist, as one of their MP candidates.

Nattika Loweera (left)

When Prachatai spoke to Nattika two weeks ago, she said that she has seen inequality when she worked as a journalist. Realising that journalism can only do so much, she decided to go into politics.

“I am the new generation and a representative of it, a group that will live for 50 - 60 years from now,” Nattika said, “so I think we should participate in public administration.”

Nattika Loweera: the New Dem candidate in Pheu Thai stronghold

Most of FFP’s executives are also new politicians. Party leader Thanathorn is a businessman and former Vice President of the Thai Summit Group, while FFP spokesperson Pannika Wanich was a reporter at Voice TV and Secretary-General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul was a university lecturer. FFP promotes itself as a party for the young, and knows how to use social media in their favour, which may explain both the party’s and Thanathorn’s popularity amoung young voters, especially young urbanites.

Pannika Wanich (white shirt) at FFP's last event before the election

FFP’s supporters, which the party has christened ‘Futuristas’, call themselves ‘Fah’ – a reference to an old soap opera in which a character with the same name is the mistress of a rich older man – and they call Thanathorn ‘Daddy.’ They express their adoration through the hashtag #ฟ้ารักพ่อ (#FahLovesDaddy). They demand selfies at party events, and send him gifts, including bottles of sunscreen. FFP presents itself as the radical new party who openly criticize the junta, and Thanathorn is the hip new candidate who appears on all kind of programmes, from debate shows to variety shows, awkwardly using internet slangs and telling stories of his experience in extreme sports. For many young voters, FFP and Thanathorn are their way out of the cycle of conflict they have been living in.

Thanathorn at FFP's last event before the election

Seeing new faces in Thai politics may be a good sign, but without voters, new politicians can do very little. However, it seems that many first-time voters are counting on new candidates to bring changes to the country. 

In “The Spectre of Thaksin,” a Ramkhamhaeng University student was asked how he choose which party to vote for, he said that he thinks it’s better to vote for new politicians. Meanwhile, Nichakorn said that she wants to see new faces in parliament. “I feel that if there are new people, then I can believe that Thai politics can be changed,” she said. “It’s like placing a bet.” 

They are certainly not alone. The NIDA young voters poll, conducted between 30 Janaury and 2 February 2019 found that, out of the 55.36% of voters who know who they are voting for, 18.74% are voting Pheu Thai and 13.86% said they are voting Future Forward, while a more recent poll of 1266 Chulalongkorn University students found that 70.8% of the respondents said they are voting for Future Forward. In comparison, 16% said that they are voting for Pheu Thai, and only 3.5% said they will vote Palang Pracharat. Of this group, 53.8% would like Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit as Prime Minister and 23.7% would like Chatchart Sittiphan, while only 2.8% would like Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

For many young voters, who have been deprived of their voting right for the past five years, it has been too long and today is the end of the line.

On platforms like Twitter, whose demographic is largely millennials and Gen Z, users are calling out the NCPO’s every move and criticizing the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) for every mistake. They are taking a clear stand: we want a free and fair election and we want Prayut out.

“There is so much youth power in this election,” said Kukasina. “I’ve been seeing this narrative from the older generation, that the country will go to ruin because of young people. First-time voters are a large group in this election, and this shows the older generation’s distrust of the younger generation. They don’t trust us. They think we’re not important.”

Some young voters, like N. and Natwara, are concerned that the EC is trying to rig in the election in the NCPO’s favour. They are concerned about the junta staying in power, and whether would be more protests or anoter coup. Some fears that all of the ECT’s blunders during overseas voting and early voting may be a cause for the election to be invalidated. Nevertheless, many voters think that this is all the more reason for them to vote. For these young people, there is no other way.

“[This election] is the beginning of the fight for democracy and human rights,” said Netiwit. This group of first-time voters are no longer tolerating anti-democratic actions, and after they voice had been essentially silenced for the past five years, they are making themselves heard.

And while this election may not be Thailand’s way out, it is certainly a turning point. Change takes time, but it has to start somewhere, and if first-tie voters turn up at the poll en masse on 24 March, they are more than capable of bringing about the change they have been hoping for.

 

Highlight2019 general electionfirst-time voters
Categories: Prachatai English

More shadows than lights: human rights commitments of Thai political parites

Prachatai English - Fri, 2019-03-22 17:43
Submitted on Fri, 2019-03-22 17:43Prachatai

On 14 March 2019, International Federation on Human Rights held a press conference at The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand to launch More Shadow than Lights: Thailand’s Political Parties and Their Human Rights Commitments, a report which surveyed human rights situation and 32 political parties in Thailand (read the full report here).

More Shadows than Lights

Mr. Andrea Giorgetta, Director of FIDH Asia, Ms. Debbie Stothard, Secretary-General of FIDH, Angkhana Neelaphaijit from The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, and Yingcheep Atchanont from iLaw, joined the press conference. Ambassador of Switzerland and diplomats from European countries, also attended the event.

The conference began with a brief summary by Mr. Andrea Giorgetta, starting with a statement that junta’s repressive NCPO orders are still in place and that junta has been interfering with the election process, most evident in election date delays. With 250 senates appointed by the junta and 20-year strategy which ties the hands of future government, the military still have influence over Thailand even after the general election.

Chronology of election date delays

Since taking power in the 22 May 2014 coup, the NCPO repeatedly promised to hold a general election to return the country to civilian rule, in accordance with its so-called roadmap. However, the NCPO continually delayed its initial pledge to hold the polls.

- 27 June 2014: NCPO head General Prayuth Chan-ocha said the next election would likely be held in October 2015.

- 27 May 2015: The junta confirmed the election would not be held until September 2016. 20 26 January 2016: General Prayuth said the election would go ahead in mid-2017.

- 29 January 2016: CDC Chairman Meechai Ruchupan said the NCPO’s plan to hold elections in mid-2017 would be delayed by a “minimum of two to three months.”

- 21 September 2016: General Prayuth told the UN General Assembly that elections would be held in late 2017.

- 5 January 2017: General Prayuth said polls would not be held until early 2018.

- 8 October 2017: General Prayuth said the election would be held in November 2018.

- 25 January 2018: The junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) passed the law on election of MPs and inexplicably voted to delay its enactment until 90 days after its publication in the Gazette, effectively postponing the election date until February 2019.

- 27 February 2018: General Prayuth promised to hold the election by February 2019.

- 25 June 2018: Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the election would be held between 24 February and 5 May 2019, at the latest.

- 11 December 2018: The Election Commission said the election would be held on 24 February 2019.

- 3 January 2019: Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the election date would likely be delayed from 24 February to avoid post-election activities from overlapping with the coronation ceremonies for King Maha Vajiralongkorn, scheduled to be held from 4 to 6 May 2019.

- 10 January 2019: Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam hinted at a further election delay, due to concerns that the election process would overlap with the coronation ceremonies for King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

- 15 January 2019: A senior Election Commission official said that the election could not take place on 24 February because the body did not have “enough time to organize it.” The official indicated the new possible dates for the polls were either 10 or 24 March 2019.

- 23 January 2019: The Election Commission announced that the election would be held on 24 March 2019. 

Source: FIDH

Also, he highlights about positive development regarding human rights defenders, refugees, and detention conditions. According to the report, 42% of the political parties hold regular meetings with human rights defenders, 56% promote legislation that incorporates the principle of non-refoulement, while significant number of political parites promise to solve overcrowding and improve detention conditions in line with international minimum standards.

However, the shadows remained regarding freedom of expression, death penalty, and role of the military. 88% of political parties still do not support removal of jail terms for violators of lese majeste law, 63% still support to maintain the death penalty, and less than half (41%) support the reduction of military budget in the context that the junta still tightly controls election environment and repressive legal framework remains in place.

Ms. Debbie Stothard highlights about impunity. The political parties have to work harder to support impartial investigations into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, and extra judicial killings by the police and military. Ms. Debbie also highlights about women’s rights in Thailand, saying that only 16% of political parties commit to decriminalizes abortion and only 31% promote more women’s participation in the local and national government.

Moreover, Stothard also mentions about big corporates in Thailand and their investment and infrastructure projects which may have impact on local communities. Thailand’s National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights is currently developing but has so little participation from the civil society.

Thailand’s long history of impunity

Two days before the event was the 15th anniversary of Somchai Neelaphaijit’s enforced disappearance, and the event, his wife, Angkhana Neelaphaijit of The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, highlights the issue of impunity.

Angkhana Neelaphaijit

“As Thailand has long history of impunity, I haven’t seen any political party have clear policy to end impunity. No party mention about rights to know the truth of the victims on the huge human rights violations and how perpetrators will be brought to justice – especially in the emblematic cases of Tak Bai and Kru Sar massacre in Southern Border Provinces, or the case that people were killed during the political crack down in Bangkok during 2010.”

However, Angkhana also highlight the prospects. “On 7th March when Amnesty International Thailand organized the public debate on policies on human rights, one of the question was about enforced disappearance,” said Angkhana. “And many political party committed that if they join the government they will ratified the Convention on Enforced Disappearances and amend the draft organic law on Torture and Enforced Disappearance to comply.”

Angkhana Neelaphaijit also discussed about the Deep South. According to Angkhana, many political parties want to replace the special laws with the criminal code and the criminal procedure code to avoid the arbitrary arrested and detentions.  Many parties focus on civilian based policy to promote decentralization in the Deep South. However, in these areas, people who suffer the most are women and LGBT.

“About ethnic language as mother tongue in deep south, no party promises to allow Malay language to be official language. Regarding Gender Equality for Malay Muslim Women and LGBT persons, it is still not clear for Malay Muslim women how to end forced marriage and all kinds of gender-based violation including lack of right to divorce under Islamic Familty and Inheritance Law, lack of right to work and access to education.”

However, there are some positive signs. “More candidates from ethnic minorities such as Karen activists, Thai Yai or Chinese Yunan and Malay Muslim in the south. Political parties are more inclusive for vulnerable groups such as Malay Muslim women in the Deep South. Mahachon Party is outstanding party of LGBT candidates and its policy focus on 6-7 million LGBTs eligible to vote in this election. … There are more policy debates, including human rights policy, but Phalang Pracharat hasn’t been very interested to join these.”

Surprised, not surprised

After reading the report, Yingcheep Atchanont from iLaw said that he was surprised and not surprised. Findings that surprised him are about political parties’ commitment to support refugees and asylum seekers and prisoners. Whereas the finding about dealth penalty didn’t surprise him. He said he sympathizes with Future Forward Party which did not mention about abolishment of lese majeste law and capital punishment in order to go along with the public sentiment. Yingcheep also emphasized about importance of having a free and fair election, as now the country will have 250 unelected senates and still under the NCPO’s restrictions.

Repressive NCPO orders and announcements still in place

- NCPO Announcement 97/2014, issued on 18 July 2014, bans “criticism of the work of the NCPO” and the dissemination of information that could harm national security, cause confusion, or incite or provoke “conflict or divisions” within the country by media outlets.

- NCPO Announcement 103/2014, issued on 21 July 2014, amended Announcement 97/2014 to change the clause banning “criticism of the work of the NCPO” to criticism with false information with dishonest intent to destroy the credibility of the NCPO.

- NCPO Order 3/2015, issued on 1 April 2015. Article 5 of Order 3/2015 authorizes the military to issue orders that prohibit “the propagation of news or […] any other media that contains [...] information that is intentionally distorted to cause public misunderstanding that affects national security or public order.”

- NCPO Order 3/2015 also grants broad, unchecked powers to military officers to investigate, arrest, and detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to seven days. NCPO Order 41/2016, issued on 14 July 2016, grants the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) broad, unchecked powers to shut down radio or TV stations that broadcast information considered a threat to national security

Source: FIDH

Pravit Rojanaphruk, Senior Journalist of Khaosod English, made an interesting observation that Future Forward Party may be pragmatic during election campaign. As it is under constant attacks, it avoided to talk about it for now. He also asked FIDH why Pheu Thai and Phalang Prachara, the big political parties in Thailand are not in the report. Giorgetta answered that some parties rejected to answer the survey since the beginning such as Phalang Pracharat Party, whereas Pheu Thai party said it would answer the survey form, but the reply never came.

News2019 general election
Categories: Prachatai English

Interview: Pauline Ngarm-pring, the Mahachon Party’s head of strategy, and her first step into politics

Prachatai English - Fri, 2019-03-22 13:57
Submitted on Fri, 2019-03-22 13:57Prachatai

Formerly the founder of the Cheerthai Power group and candidate for President of the Football Association of Thailand, Palinee or “Pauline” Ngarm-pring is today the head of strategy for the Mahachon Party and Thailand’s first transgender candidate for Prime Minister.

Prachatai spoke to Pauline about the 2019 general election, the challenges of being a transwoman politician, LGBT rights in Thailand, and Thai politics in an era of transition.

Why did you decide to run in this election?

Actually it came from the wishes of both sides, meaning the political party wanted policies on LGBT issues. I myself am interested in politics, and have in the past been following it with frustration. I had the feeling that it could be better, so when I was approached, I thought that maybe I could do something that would be good for Thai politics , and the development of human rights and LGBT rights, so I decided to join.

What kind of political party is the Mahachon Party in 2019?

Many people judge the Mahachon Party from our past, but the political changes mean that each political party has evolved to get to this point. In the Mahachon Party, right now the people who have come into the party and do the work, are mostly young people. We have entirely new policies. The party’s political standpoint or approach may still be a little bit the same, meaning that we are a small party.Taking a clear side creates political enemies. That makes things difficult. However, in terms of political ideas, our party’s political standpoint comes from the ideas of the younger generation who joined the party. Obviously, we are pro-democracy. The important thing is to improve politics to prevents coups in the future. We have made it clear that we are pro-democracy, that we don’t want a dictatorship and we don’t want anyone to take power by force. This is clear.

Now it also seems like you are a party of diversity

Yes. Perhaps it is the most notable thing about us. No other party is like this. A lot of our people are members of the LGBT community, but in reality, our party does many things. We have policies on politics, the economy, society, many things. It’s just that this diversity is what people can easily see and is different from other parties. For me, I think this is a good thing because being an LGBT person in politics, I am ready to go beyond being only a representative of LGBT groups.

At the same time, in terms of LGBT diversity we have Nada Chaiyajit (head of policy). We have Anna (Warinthorn Watsang, MP candidate). We have Firzty (Shawathida Kuptawatin, MP candidate). We have Namkleng and Jimmy (Inarin Singhannuta and Kritipat Chotidhanitsakul, MP candidates). These people can speak about LGBT issues very clearly. Therefore, there are more dimensions than just being LGBT. People look at our gender identity and see diversity, but if they look deeper at our knowledge or experience, we can do more than that or go beyond that.

If we say we fight for diversity and for equality, it doesn’t mean we have to be self-centred. We have to really fight for equality. We can’t discriminate against men, or against women, because then we will also be discriminated against. We work for equality. We have to be able to work for everyone and represent everyone.

What do you think about rights situation of LGBT groups in Thailand right now?

Every day, we will see very strange stories, stories which show a lack of respect for our rights, whether it is schools and universities not allowing students to dress according to their gender identity, or some educational institutions forcing transmen students to wear wigs to class, for example. Or sexual violations in hospitals. We hear that a transwoman was placed in the same ward as men. These things are still happening, so this situation is ongoing. Not matter how hard we have worked, we may have to work harder, because society is large and there has long been a lack of knowledge and understanding. Thai people may not have given much importance to learning details about other people or about the social context, so this creates a situation where we don’t know and we don’t understand. It’s like teaching our own children. We have to keep on explaining. We can’t get mad at them. We can’t hit them hard. This is what Thai society is like. It still has weaknesses in knowledge and understanding. You may ask why do we have to know and understand? We need to know and understand others, rather than think of them as not important.

So the way LGBT people are seen makes it hard for us to live, but at the same time, we learn about ourselves and we also learn about other people. So in society we should learn about each other, about diversity, about why they are different from us and what they want. This is an important beginning. We could work slowly or intensely or compassionately, but we have to keep going.

There is still work to be done, right?

There is still work to be done, in addition to legal issues. In terms of the law, it is clear about the right to found a family, either by a civil partnership bill or by amending the civil and commercial code.  2 things have to be done on the issue of gender recognition, or changing our title to match our gender identity. If not, there will be problems, such as I told you about being violated in the hospital ward. This will happen. Other than legal issues, we also have to work on education and on support. We have to educate the public. We have to educate families. We have to educate colleagues at work. We have to educate society. At the same time, we have to support victims, people who have been discriminated against or who have been barred from education or who have been barred from employment, for example. We have to do three things together. The law is one thing, but education, support, and protection are also necessary.

Since you came back to Thailand you have been in the public eye. Do you think that helps create understanding in society?

Little by little. At least it’s an inspiration for people who are still hiding from themselves or can’t accept themselves. It is clear that is an inspiration, and there are more people brave enough to accept who they are. But at the same time, people who are closed off remain closed off. People who are contemptuous remain that way. But this group of people rarely reveal who they are. It’s like they just criticize others day after day, in other things too. But things are gradually changing, but is it better now? I have only been out for a year, so the road is still long. In the end it’s certainly not like society is going to fully accept or understand us. It’s not like that, but at least we can make it better every day. That could be a good thing.

Even though we will get tired, we have to work slowly and really work on it. But in the end, it has to slowly change. It’s like the many ‘songs for life’ on different topics that I listened to when I was young. Today, the society is like before. The expression ‘made in Thailand’ has still not happened. People who value Thainess, it’s not that clear, even if we have communicated these ideas for a long time. We need to keep hammering away at it.

When you were in America, and when you came back to Thailand, are the challenges we face different? How is being a transwoman in America and in Thailand different?

For me, in America, it was not that complicated. I was a woman. I went to work and lived a normal life. On days off, I went out, and nobody paid very much attention to me. When I went shopping, they called me ‘ma’am’, and they use ‘she/her’. They respected me. They treated me like a woman.

But when I came to Thailand, my role was entirely different, because a lot of people know me and know that I’m a transwoman. I can’t expect them to think of me as a woman. People think I’m a transwoman. But how do I make my being out beneficial to other people? That’s what I think.

So I have to make some sacrifices, because in America, I feel comfortable that wherever I go, people just treat me like a woman. They don’t really try to find fault. But in Thailand it’s different. I am open about my identity. Everyone knows I’m a transwoman, so there are things I have to sacrifice. In Thailand, everyone knows Pauline, knows I’m a transwoman. But how do I make my sacrifices beneficial to others?

Being a transwoman in the political field, do you have to face some challenges that are different from what male politicians or female politicians face?

If I really get to be a member of parliament, I don’t see anything as a problem. I have worked with men before, and I have worked as a man before. It doesn’t mean I will go back to being a man and join parliament. I will still be a transwoman. It’s just that my perspective or skills in talking to people is similar to what they were, but the good thing is that I can see more from both sides.

The obstacles don’t come from me. The obstacles may come from what other people think, from other politicians, something like that. Or even now, before the election, the obstacles may come from voters who don’t accept a transwoman like me, but if they study my history or look back at what I have done, they might change their mind. It’s just that right now, we are in a phase where I need to create understanding and make sure they know who I am as much as possible, what kind of transwoman I am and what I have done. These things take time to communicate. I hope that I will get into parliament and will make it much clearer in parliament that LGBT can work with normal people, because we are normal people.

If you actually get to be an MP, what is the first thing you would like to do?

There are a lot of things, not just first thing. The first thing I may have to do is probably to go to meetings. (Laughs.)

But there are many things at different levels: 1, get to know people; try to understand people; 2, prove myself, in ways that don’t upset anyone; prove myself in different kinds of work. But if you ask in terms of legislation, it depends on how many votes we have to push forward, but as far as I have asked, and as far as I can make out, most parties have no problem with legislation about LGBT people. Most politicians, if they have been sincere in their communications, as far as they say, no party has a problem, but that could be because the forum was set up as a forum about LGBT rights, and politicians were trying to please the audience or the media. We have to see how sincere each party actually is, but based on my idea and what I can make out, LGBT law should be an issue where parliament comes together with the same idea more than other issues. There shouldn’t be many problems in legislation, except in the details. But the most important thing, the first thing I should do as a transwoman MP, the first thing I will do is to explain to people in parliament what is appropriate, what they should or should not do, not out of respect just to me. But they have to respect everyone and their diversity. There will have to be quite a bit of discussion with MPs.

If we are to push for a Civil Partnership Act or for an amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code, at parliamentary level, you think that shouldn’t be a problem, right?

The drafting or amending process takes time, but there should be no problem when it comes to the concept or whether people can accept this kind of law. The problems will be in the details, whether people will understand and how they will prioritize these issues. For example, with gender recognition, people are worried about criminal records, about whether it will make it easy for people to change from male to female or female to male. But in fact this should not be a problem if the government computer system or database works as it should, and state officials can track everyone with their national ID number, right? So this is actually not a problem, but people raise it as a problem so that they will see that this is not necessary and can be cut out because it will make problems. But actually, complications or sensitivity on this issue can all be fixed. You have to make it a priority that human rights, the right to gender recognition are important and necessary. We begin by explaining this to parliament first.

Do you think that pushing for an amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code will meet more resistance that if we propose a Civil Partnership Act?

There is a lot of debate about this, isn’t there?

Yes

Amending Article 1448 of the Civil and Commercial Code will cause disputes because it affects other articles. This idea is now being used quite a lot in campaigns, but in the details, there are problems. It is sensitive. The sensitivity of this problem is that it causes new problems. As soon as we fix this problem, there is a new problem. We don’t know how big or small it is. But the draft of the Civil Partnership Act that was passed in the cabinet. It is not perfect. If we can start it over and make it perfect from the beginning, these two things can be done at the same time.

Say we have two tools. This is better than having one. We could pick up a hammer to bang in a nail or we could pick up a spanner to bang in a nail. It might not be the best but at least it is better than having nothing to hammer the nail with. Having more tools that will better help us get to what we want is not a waste, if it doesn’t take up too much effort. With the Civil Partnership Act, we have already made the effort. It would be a waste of time to simply throw it away. It might not be our time that’s wasted, but it’s the time of the people in the network who worked on it. We should consider both options and work on both of them; it won’t do any damage.

So we should do both because the goal is the same anyway?

Yes. It’s much easier to catch mice if you have two cats rather than one.

These two ways are not duplicated. When the time comes and one cat is somewhere else and can’t get the mice, the cat closest to the mice will get it. Or people can choose which cat they want to use.

If you become the Prime Minister, what do you think it would be like?

It’s quite hard to answer this question appropriately because a lot of people think of the person who is Prime Minister in terms of their prestige, their fame, or look at their manner. There are a lot of factors that make someone a Prime Minister. For me, I am confident I can do it, because I have seen past Prime Ministers and I feel I can do it too. But how do I line up all the factors? Today is not the day. Today, I know very well why I’m here. I’m here at least to enter parliament to prove that I can do this, but to get there takes time to line up the people and line up the ideas and people’s support to get to this point. It’s not about money, because if every Prime Minister has to be rich, real issues won’t be fixed. But as I said, I am confident because I have ideas from everyone’s perspective, from a male perspective, from a female perspective, from an LGBT perspective. It’s all combined.

Say we have a sexist Prime Minister. There will be problems for people in the country. If we have an anti-poor Prime Minister, or a Prime Minister who detests rich people, there will be problems, because they represent the thoughts of the few and they represent the few and they go on to manage the entire country. But I am confident because I know my thoughts are for every group. I try to include every group and understand every group.

I came from the middle class, not from the lower or upper classes. Why is it that society has to be divided into classes? We are in fact all the same. So wouldn’t it be better if I became a Prime Minister who sees people as equal and understands the ideas of every gender and social position? I said many times in interviews with the international media “I will make a better Prime Minister.” I don’t mean I’m the best or the most anything, but at least I have something others don’t have, which is that I am confident. But it’s not an easy thing to get to that point, because I don’t want to be PM. I know I can be Prime Minister and what I can do, but I don’t see having power or a position as a goal. I’m just talking about if I get the chance.

Being Prime Minister is just a tool to get what I want, which is changing people’s minds, changing society, making it better.

Some issues are just about changing ideas, like the rich and the poor, sometimes it’s just changing their ideas. Why do we need to have the rich and the poor? Actually, poor people want to have phones like rich people. But what if poor people think they’re already rich because they have food to eat at every meal, they have a house and land, clothing and somewhere to live. But poor people become poor because they don’t have mobile phones like rich people, so they think they’re poor. They don’t have clothes of this brand or that brand, so they see themselves as poor. In fact, no one is poor in this country, because Thailand has plenty of everything. It’s very difficult to starve to death. So if we can change people’s ideas, our country can develop. We can make our own brand of cars. We can have our own brand of mobile phones and use them too. We can help each other develop . That’s possible.

When we talk about the Prime Minister issue, there is a lot that needs to be done, but it is not the goal that I want. But if I get the chance, then it is a tool I can use to reach the goal of changing society for the better.

Mahachon Party nominates Thailand’s first transgender candidate for Prime Minister

At this time, what chance do you think you have of getting a seat in parliament? How confident are you?

When we are doing something that is up to the public’s decision, it’s not possible to say whether we are confident because that is up to the decision of the people. My job is to do my best, to stand by my ideas as well as possible, and to keep my promises as well as possible. But I may not have promised that I will be a politician who is clean and just, but that is something that everyone should promise themselves anyway.  I myself am clear about what my intentions are, what my goals are, and what methods there are to get to my goals. Like I said, my goal is change, not holding office. Am I confident? I really can’t say. We have to wait until 24 March to see.

If I fail, then I will still do my best to carry on. Maybe one day I will get to change society. Or while I’m not in politics, I may support our cause from outside. I will make myself useful to other people in whatever position I have. I have always done that. I am deeply hopeful, but I’m not confident, but I will try my best.

What do you think about a welfare state?

I think it’s an important thing that our country needs to keep working for, without using a welfare state as campaign tool. I say that the policies they are proposing as a welfare state are mostly populism. A welfare state is fulfilling human capital, so that they can compete from birth to death. Fulfilling human capital is valuing people as human beings, having the ability and potential to work and compete with other people and compete with other countries. A welfare state shouldn’t be just setting up a budget and helping the poor, helping the impoverished, helping children, or helping the elderly. It’s not just that. A welfare state has to enhance capability from the beginning, make sure people are educated and must bring out their special abilities. Education doesn’t mean just being educated in a system that aims only to produce employees. Education means giving well-rounded knowledge and the ability to make decisions to choose their own future. What should they excel in, something like that.  A welfare state has to pay attention to this.

I think the best way to manage is in the form of a fund, because it will be fluid in terms of budget. It will be able to sustain itself, like a provident fund or other funds. We should have a human capital fund. If we need to increase the budget, we can inject budget, but if it can run and makes a reasonable profit, this fund will keep running without the state having to support it all the time. So I see a welfare state from the perspective of enhancing capacity, not handing out money.

For example, with young people, it’s not enough set up education as a system and have them study just in the system. Suppose that at the primary level, there needs to be an agency which takes care of special ability, enhance capacity, look after ability in sport, the economy, art and culture, in whatever they have strong qualities in skills, not just make them into company workers. This is important for young people. In Thailand today, only 60% of our children from birth to 5 years have the capacity to compete. The rest have no ability. The 60% will only be able to compete if they receive a proper education. In the end, it’s not more than we can handle. For young people, when they are capable of competition, the welfare state will use less budget, because they are not unemployed; they work in things they like; they can compete; they are the best housepainters in the world; they are the most efficient waste recyclers in Asia, something like that. They won’t be in a situation where they have to rely on social welfare payments from the government. This is the most important thing.

Once they are sixty or sixty-five years old at retirement age — we retire at sixty these days, right? — I think we should set out a budget to support the elderly, or we should make sure that they have the opportunity to take up a job that’s suitable for them, so they feel that they have more worth in their lives.

The welfare state should take care of transportation for the elderly, for travel to work. I have a friend in Japan. He is more than seventy years old now, but he is still working. So when an older person works, there is a special energy. They will live longer, and they won’t really get old, and they have a value to society. But in any case, if they don’t want to work, we have welfare for them, enough for them to travel, pay for healthcare, to live. For me, the welfare state is about supporting the security of people, whether young or old.

If we also consider LGBT issues while discussing the welfare state, which measures do you think would help improve the welfare state and respond more to the LGBT community?

The LGBT community in fact faces the same problem of human capital as other underprivileged groups because in terms of educational opportunity, it’s not like they can’t go to school. They can go to school, but they still face discrimination. They can find employment, but they still face discrimination. How could the welfare state address these issues? It must look at the issue of giving knowledge to people in society, whether in families, so that LGBT people are not kicked out of their homes simply because they are different from other people and because their family is compelled by the fear of what people will say.

The welfare state should have a healthcare agency for LGBT people. Transwomen and transmen in other countries have gender health centres, which look after sex issues for the LGBT community, and there needs to be enough to serve all localities, not just Bangkok and Chiang Mai. These should be everywhere. The welfare state should be responsible for healthcare for all underprivileged groups, including LGBT people. They should give information and understanding on hormone issues, checking hormone levels, controlling hormone levels for transwomen and transmen, so that they do not have health problems. Also, for people who would like to undergo gender confirmation surgery, the welfare state should consider this as something which is important for a person’s happiness in their life and their ability to work for others. But we need to think about what is appropriate, what is a health issue and is a true necessity. The welfare state probably may not include cosmetic procedures, but will include anything that is necessary regarding a change in gender identity. Overseas, the level of welfare state provision is different. If we’re talking about gender transition, even if the cost is high, the health insurance allows it. That is what is important. But they don’t allow for things like top surgery or cosmetic surgery, because those are beyond what is necessary.

What you said earlier was that the problem of poverty is the poor wanting mobile phones like the rich, but I disagree. I think we have real inequality in society, and one of the groups most affected by it is the LGBT community. When we go to schools and universities, we will find that not everyone has access to gender transition procedures, because there is an economic price to pay. What do you think about economic inequality?

What I said earlier meant that social values have been divided into rich and poor. So when social values are divided like that, it makes poor people want more. It makes differences more stark. But it doesn’t mean that poverty and wealth aren’t real. They are real, because people don’t have equal economic opportunity, or equal access to education, access to sources of knowledge, access to connections. It’s not the same. It’s really not equal. This is because Thailand still conducts business on the basis of connections, on who you know, not what you know. We have to change Thailand to conduct business based on what you know and your ability rather than who you know. For example, one of the Mahachon Party policies is about access to online markets, where the government has to help with training and an online structure of its own so that all people who, at the subdistrict level and village level, want to bring their OTOP products or agricultural goods to sell in the online market, can do so with equal market access opportunities, not just one group of people. This is not to mention opening opportunities for everyone to run businesses, a lot of which are now exclusive, or as good as exclusive, such as local alcohol products, or other consumer goods. Today these things are limited to a few capitalists. We need to do all this for people of all levels – I really don’t like using the word ‘level’—to have more access to these opportunities.

Even for the LGBT community—the LGBT community in fact has many opportunities, but not all of them. People who want to work in ordinary companies can’t get in, or once in they can’t progress, even if they have knowledge and ability. LGBT people therefore end up in special businesses, such as owning their own businesses, e-commerce, the beauty industry or in entertainment, but the unfortunate ones are LGBT people who have potential but have to go into the sex industry. In reality, they don’t want to do it, but since society doesn’t give them any opportunity it’s the way they can support their family, , so they have to do it. This is something where we have to give people most equal access to opportunities.

What do you think about Thai politics during the transitional period? Where do you think Thai politics is going?

It’s like a football match, but we don’t know which round we’re in. In a football tournament, there’s the final, the semi-final, but right now we don’t know which round we’re in, because there’s something that is always ready to end the game, change the game, or change the rules. So it’s hard to predict. What we have to do is to keep democracy running for now. If we don’t, it will fall apart. Democracy has to keep going. We have to try to keep it running. We don’t know if anyone is going to overturn it again. But if you ask right now, we are pro-democracy. Now that it’s been started, we try to keep it running, but how long it will have momentum depends on if there is anyone who will overturn democracy again. In that case, we have to try to get it back up.

There is a lot of uncertainty right now, but we can’t give up, and everyone running in this election probably understands democracy. We all should understand democracy well, but there are still many politicians running in this election without understanding democracy. It depends on the agenda of each of us. But if we are pro-democracy, we have to keep trying.

Interview2019 general electionMahachon PartyPauline Ngarmpring
Categories: Prachatai English

Military reform policies in the 2019 general election

Prachatai English - Fri, 2019-03-22 00:13
Submitted on Fri, 2019-03-22 00:13Prachatai

One of the hottest topics in this election is about the military reform. From speeches of MPs candidates, parties’ leadership and information on their website, 4 major political parties promise to reform the military, including Pheu Thai, Future Forward Party, Thai Liberal Party, and Democrat Party.

Regarding issues of law, command system, conscription, personel, personel's welfare, budget, military land, and weapons, each of them emphasizes on these differently. However, all of them agreed to end the conscription and shift to the voluntary system.

According to FIDH, 40.6% of 32 political parties commit to reduce the military budget - which is still less than half. 

Military reform policies of 4 big political parties.

Notably, Pheu Thai Party prioritize legal amendments; Thai Liberal Party is the only one promises to abolish the military court; Future Forward Party’s policies are most detailed but lack legal aspects; while the democrat was the first one who propose to end the conscription, their policies remained vague.

Military reform of other 32 political parties

According to More Shadows than the Light: Thailand’s Political Parties and their Human Rights Commitments, a report by Federal International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) which surveyed 32 political parties, 40.6% of political parties supports reduction of military budget, 18.8% supports the end of conscription, and 46.9% support to set up an investigative committee to independently look into deaths of military cadets.

 

Infographic
Categories: Prachatai English

Welfare state policies in the 2019 general election

Prachatai English - Thu, 2019-03-21 19:25
Submitted on Thu, 2019-03-21 19:25Prachatai

The welfare state is another item on political parties’ agenda in this election, and their policies range from setting up a national pension scheme, universal healthcare, minimum wage, child walfare, education, to tax reform.

Prachatai presents a summary of the welfare state policies proposed by 11 parties in the 2019 general election.

National pension and elderly welfare allowance

Almost every party has a policy on state pension, but set different amount. Commoners’ Party, Pheu Thai, and Prachachat proposed a pension of 3000 baht per month. Chartthaipattana, Chart Pattana, and Puea Chart proposed a pension of 2000 baht per month. The Future Forward party (FFP) said that 1800 baht per month is definitely possible, while Thai Democrat and Palang Pracharat (PPRP) proposed 1000 baht per month, the lowest amount out of all the parties’ proposals.

Universal healthcare

Meanwhile, each party has different ideas about universal healthcare. FFP and Commoners proposed to combine the three schemes, which are the government employee scheme,  the social security scheme, and the universal healthcare scheme. FFP also propose to increase the annual budget to 4000 per person, and Commoners propose to increase the annual budget to 8500 baht per person. Meanwhile, both Thai Democrat and PPRP do not agree with combining the three schemes but said that all three schemes need to offer equal benefits.

Pheu Thai said they will be moving to phase 2 of the universal healthcare project, focusing on decentralization of management to the provinces, by having the budget assigned directly to hospitals without going through the Ministry of Public Health. The model for this proposal is the Ban Phaeo, which was promoted to a public organization.

Meanwhile, Bhumjaithai proposed a telemedicine system to solve the issue of patients dying before they get to the hospital and turn the village public health volunteers into a family care team, and to increase their salary to 2500 - 10,000 baht. The Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT)’s policy focus on prevention rather than treatment. ACT proposed to promote community hospitals’ capacity to decrease the amount of patients at provincial hospitals. Puea Chart, on the other hand, has a “one district, one medical student” policy.

Minimum wage

FFP and Commoners agreed on the same minimum wage policy: that it needs to be increased to account for inflation. However, while FFP thinks that the increase does not need to be a lot if the government is able to balance it out with a good welfare system, Commoners proposed that the minimum wage should be increased to 500 baht per day.

On the other hand, Pheu Thai said that we also have to take in employers’ opinions if the minimum wage is to be increased. PPRP said that the minimum wage should be increased to 400 - 425 baht per day. Thai Democrat proposed an income insurance scheme, in which there will be state contribution for people whose income is lower than the standard. The ACT said they will support people so that they earn enough to reach sufficiency level, while Chart Pattana mentioned a welfare fund for agriculture.

Meanwhile, Prachachat, Chartthaipattana, Bhumjaithai, and Peua Chart did not mention a policy on the minimum wage.

Child welfare policy

FFP, Commoners, Pheu Thai, Thai Democrat, and PPRP all have a child welfare policy. FFP proposed a child welfare allowance of 1200 baht per month from birth to 6 years. Pheu Thai proposed an allowance of 1200 baht per month from birth to 8 years. Thai Democrat said they will give an allowance of 1000 baht per month from birth to 8 years, and in the first month, the child will receive an allowance of 5000 baht. PPRP’s child welfare scheme will pay 3000 baht per month throughout the pregnancy. They will also pay 10,000 baht at birth, and will pay a child support allowance of 2000 baht from birth to 6 years. Meanwhile, Commoners gave no details of their policy.

Education

Most education policies focus on waiving tuition fees and subsidy, and every party has proposed a policy on education. FFP proposed a young people allowance of 2000 baht per month from the age of 18 to 22. Commoners proposed to waive tuition fee and open access to education to every ethnicity. Pheu Thai proposed to waive tuition fees for the first 15 years of school, and to set up a student loan fund. Thai Democrat and the ACT proposed to waive tuition fees up to the high vocational certificate level. Chartthaipattana proposed to waive tuition fees for compulsory education. Bhumjaithai proposed a free, life-long online education programme, while Prachachat said that they will abolish student loan interest and fine. PPRP said that they will solve student loan debt issues, and Chart Pattana proposed a teachers fund.

Tax reform

FFP, Commoners, Pheu Thai, Thai Democrat, and PPRP all have a tax reform policy. FFP proposed to strongly enforce land tax and inheritance tax and reduce BOI privileges. Pheu Thai proposed to expand tax base. PPRP proposed to reduce personal income tax by 10%.

Thai Democrat said they will reform the tax system so that it’s fair for everyone, by taxing high-income taxpayers and landowners according to market value. As for personal income tax, people earning less than 2 million baht per year will have to pay 20% of their income, and they will also promote saving. Thai Democrat also said that they will also expand the tax base and reduce tax to 10% for small and medium businesses so that they can grow. As for international businesses who benefit from new business technology will have to pay business tax and value-added tax.

Meanwhile, Commoners possibly has the most detailed tax policy. They proposed to:

  1. create a fair tax system to reduce societal inequality,
  2. set up a progressive tax rate for land tax and inheritance tax
  3. Set up a land bank,
  4. decentralize land management to the communities
  5. a progressive tax rate for high-income taxpayers,
  6. support tax return for low-income taxpayers
  7. abolish tax deduction for private companies,
  8. Abolish BOI tax reduction and tax reduction for investment in special economic areas
  9. Abolish tax reduction for land rental fees
  10. tax stock market income
The welfare state and We Fair’s 7 requirements

The welfare state is not only about giving, but also about investing in human resources. The welfare state does not make people lazy, but will be an incentive for people to work more readily, because they won’t have to worry about basic necessities. The welfare state is a guarantee that everyone will be able to live. Having benefits such as child welfare allowance, education support, social security, unemployment insurance, universal healthcare, elderly welfare allowance improve quality of life, which will allow people to improve their skills and knowledge, and will be able to help the economy grow.

However, a welfare state also requires tax reform and budget reform. Phasuk Pongpaijit, a lecturer at the Faculty of economics, Chulalongkorn University, said that tax reform may not require a tax increase, but rather require fixing the weaknesses within the current system and reduce tax evasion. For example, land tax rate could be kept low, but tax evenly, and there should be a progressive rate, and if VAT is to be increased to 10%, the government income will increase by about 1.2% of the GDP.

We Fair, the welfare network for equality, proposed 7 welfare state requirements.

  1. An allowance in each age group based on economic status
  2. A single-scheme universal healthcare fund with an annual budget of 8000 - 8500 per person
  3. Access to land and places of residence
  4. A focus on employment, income, and social security, with a minimum wage of 500 baht per day
  5. A pension of 3000 baht per month
  6. A focus on social rights, multiculturalism and marginalized groups
  7. Tax and budget reform for the purpose of decreasing inequality
Infographic2019 general electionpolicywelfare state
Categories: Prachatai English

Nattika Loweera: the New Dem candidate in Pheu Thai stronghold

Prachatai English - Wed, 2019-03-20 16:21
Submitted on Wed, 2019-03-20 16:21Prachatai

Prachatai interviews with Nattika Loweera, a Democrat’s MP candidate in Constituency 1, Chaiyaphum Province. The journalist-turned-politician talks about challenges of campaigning in Pheu Thai’s stronghold, her role as a ‘New Dem’ in a conservative Democrat Party, as a new generation of woman politician in context of political transformation, the trending child welfare policy in Chaiyuphum, as well as her perspective on amnesty of political prisoners and political refugees, amending law that obstructs rights and freedom, and people’s participation in Cyber Security Law, Computer Crime Act, Public Assembly Act, and a solution to Article 112.  

You used to be a journalist. Why did you decide to go into politics?

N: Being a journalist makes you see the truth - not just a point of view, but many points of view. I found political, economic, and social inequality [when I worked as a journalist]. Power of journalism can help solving them to a certain extent. But politics is about equal and fair distribution for the people.

First, I found the problem from my perspective as a journalist. Second, politics is about distribution of benefits. Third, an inspiration of my generation, which manifests in every party, leads me to realize that I am a part of the society which has been facing both old and new challenges. Since I have the opportunity as the society opens the door for the new generation to participate, I decided to work in politics. I am a new generation and a representative of it, a group that will live for 50-60 years from now, so I think we should participate in the public administration.  

In your opinion, what are old problems and what are new problems?

N: Old problems are about inequality in all aspects, including economic, social, and political. Only a few has monopoly of these powers.  New problems are the ones we have been facing with, which resulted from the old problems, such as lack of political participation since the military coup, the Constitution, the National Strategy - take a side note that the society does not oppose the National Strategy, but we need to discuss about participation, reasons, and tendency of it. So, the old problems have kept causing the new problems for us people who have to live on in this society. The enactment of new laws that lack participation [from the people] such as Cyber Security Law, is that compatible with the context? How much people participate in it? These are political inequality as well as inequality in terms of rights and freedom.

How did you come into the political field?

N: The opportunity comes when the government announced to hold the election. Having unlocked restrictions, political parties started recruiting candidates. As the law said that an MP must be a member of a political party, I discuss with my family about my interest in politics. Then, I decided that I was going to join a political party to be an MP. So, this is the pivotal moment.

The country was going to have an election, it wasn’t only me who run for MP. Other political parties such as Future Forward Party also had a motorcycle taxi running as an MP. This opens window for people to participate, not only in terms of who will run this country, but also in terms of policy discussions.

How do the other party members see you, as someone from the new generation? Where do you stand in the Thai Democrat Party, which is often seen as conservative?

N: Young Democrats have always been there, and the New Dem is an extension of the group. We root people in democracy and the New Dem is the group that can run [as a candidate], can learn, and can propose policies. The party members do not see the New Dems as kids, but the colleagues who work for the party as many policies were proposed by the New Dems. I also would like to ask people in the society who sees Democrat Party as conservative as to why you see it that way, because Democrat also support LGBT rights, discuss about gender and support women’s rights. I think the Democrat Party, that even I used to see [it as conservative], is changing when I join it and see the how it works.   

What is the difference between Young Democrats and New Dem?

N: Young Democrats are the kid students in a network that we built for them to participate with the Democrat Party. Activities and seminars have been being held. New Dems can be seen as the seniors who come from all walks of life - they are no longer students. One can say that they are 25-35 years old, and they also connect with the society, not only the schools.

Can we say that Young Democrats are like interns, but New Dem are people who are really working?

N: Yes, and some of the New Dems are not Young Democrats. They are diverse in terms of age, occupations, and personalities.

When New Dem propose policies, was there anything that was rejected by the party?

N: The party did not reject the policies we proposed. What I’ve seen is that they did not promote these policies until they become the main policies. They pay more attention to economic issues. The party has to prioritize, and these are more concrete. When we present them, the people feel like their lives will get better. As for issues of rights and freedom, I have to say that some people think issues of how they will make a living are more important. Some parties proposed that they will pay an elderly welfare allowance of 5000 baht per month, and people like it, but they don’t think about their right and their freedom. They just want to survive month by month. We have to accept that. But at least, even if the party did not really present the policies about right and freedom, we have these policies, and New Dem is the group who is pushing for these policies. The party already has academics and economists working on economic issues.

Abhisit said on a debate show that he won’t be forming a government with Prayut, but he may form a government with the Palang Pracharat Party if PPRP accepts his conditions. Do you think the New Dem will be able to work with PPRP?

N: The Thai Democrat Party’s ideal is for democracy and for the people. Will PPRP be able to accept our condition if we ask them to change and work under democratic principles? Will our intentions be the same if we are to work together?

How do people view you as a female MP candidate running in this election?

N: Politics is a male dominated field and there are a lot of male politicians. There are a lot of men in parliament, and a lot of male candidates. As a woman running in this election, people praise me for being a strong woman. A woman running as an MP candidate is seen as brave. It also make women in the community feel that they are capable of determining where the country will go. They see their own strength. Because of this, when I go to meet people, they say “you’re tiny, but you’re so strong.”

When you campaign, do you feel that people treat you differently from how they treat a male candidate?

N: They don’t treat me differently. This is the first time I’m running in an election, but when people come to welcome me, I tell them “you don’t need to do this. I don’t mind” or something like that, but that’s not what it’s about. This is how they used to treat MP candidates. They will keep doing that. Gender doesn’t make them do anything different.

When you campaign, do you get any nonsensical comments, such as about how you dress?

N: When we’re in a field where men are influential, and suddenly there’s a woman, people say “I’m choosing the girl. She’s a fighter.” The society sees my running in the election as courage, so they don’t give me any nonsense. When I meet people, I don’t give them nonsense either. I present our policies, and our democratic ideal, focusing on equal rights, freedom, and unity. Gender is about equality. Because this is my principle, this is how I present myself, and people don’t use my gender to attack me. I show them that there are problems in the country, not just saying that I’m a woman or anything like that.

What are the roles of women and LGBT in the communities?

N: I see a lot of women who are community leaders. They are leaders of women’s groups and subdistrict administrative organizations. Leaders of elderly groups are women. A woman’s personality is gentle, so in groups like the elderlies who need to be cared for, we see female leaders who find them jobs, take care of them, entertain them. As for men, we see them in every group, like village chiefs or something like that, but I think that, when it comes to gender, goodness is about the person, not about their gender. I see good village chiefs too. As for LGBT, we need to think of them as people. Gender is not relevant.

We know that the Northeastern provinces are Pheu Thai and Puea Chart strongholds. What are the challenges you face while campaigning?

N: The challenge is the people’s attitude. I see that this is Pheu Thai’s area, and if the people don’t like me, I have to accept it. If I can talk to them, then I have to change their attitude. I have to tell them we have policies that will solve their problems, and as a candidate, I want to represent everyone. Our policies aren’t for a specific group, or solve problems of people who support this or that party, but are policies that improve the quality of life for everyone, and I don’t attack anyone. I make sure they see that I take this seriously.

Back to your first question. Why did I go into politics? I want to show people my objective in dealing with people who see the party in a negative light.

Did anyone curse at you while you are campaigning?

N: I think there is less conflict. On social media, you think it’s really bad, with hate speech and such, but in the area, it’s not that bad. The people I hire campaign cars from, at first they said that they don’t want to go into the community, that they’re scared. They won’t take the job if I hire only one car. They said you need two, but then there is a cost, so I asked them why. They told me that people used to throw things at them, but when I go, there’s nothing. People welcomed me. If I knock on someone’s door and they don’t like me, then they don’t talk to me, but there’s no violence and no one is rude.

When Abhisit came to Chaiyaphum, people came to greet him. There is always someone. But people with different ideologies, they came too. Speaking as a political scientist, not as a candidate, isn’t it something to be happy about that there is less conflict?

You said that there is less conflict in the area. What do you think if political prisoners and political exiles will be pardoned in the future?

N: Conflict decreases when we all put the country’s benefit first. Adversity doesn’t take side. When we present a way out, and our intention, we show that we see the problems too, and we want to fix them. When we do this, many groups see that we don’t want to create conflict, and it matches my intention.

I agree with pardoning in cases of people who were charged because they express their opinions. They should be pardoned so we can work on reconciliation. As far political exiles, we have to look at the details of their cases.

When you campaign, which of your policies in particular did people like?

N: The particularly favorite policy is the child welfare policy. This policy is under attack by some groups who think that it will encourage people to have children. Looking into Child Protection Act, a child allowance will be given 600 baht per month, but when the parents register their childbirth, they have to show their financial statement. If they have income to take care of their child, they will not get the allowance.

I explained to the parents that this is a child’s right, not the parents’. A child have the right to be taken care of. The policy should move towards universal coverage, and the allowance should increase to 1,000 baht per month until 8 years old. One childbirth will get 5,000 baht, and from 0-8 years old is the period of a child’s development that requires good caring. So, in taking care of our people, it should be for everybody, not just someone who has poor financial statement. It’s about the children. They’re born, is it their fault? Why not give them allowance? When I explained this to parents, they said yes.   

Was there any policy that is questioned by voters? How do you deal with this challenge?

N: They question the policy about conscription. They said, what about national security? If there is a flood or a fire, it was the soldiers who came to help. I have to explain the policy’s objective to them. It’s like how they don’t get our childcare policy. They said it will make people want to have more children. In this case, they think we want to reduce the size of the army, and then the country will not be secure, so we have to explain to them.

First, we want to see changes in the army. We want to see less soldiers being used as servants. We want to see that we have capable soldiers, and workers can go to work. We have to be clear about what our policies are for. If we aren’t clear, then people will question and attack us. Power dynamic is something that is on a structural level, but the people don’t see it that way.

Do you think Chaiyaphum is different from other Northeastern provinces? What are the characteristics that stand out about campaigning in Chaiyaphum?

N: Chaiyaphum has candidates who are from a younger generation, and not just me. There is another candidate who is a lawyer. He is a rural lawyer (can I say this?) but I think he is part of the new generation. I think he is fair and straightforward, and he takes this seriously. This is something that stands out.

We’re competing with political parties who have always won in this area, and there are several competing political families. We can win, but we need to have interesting options, not just being the same as everyone else. In other electorates or other provinces, if it’s all the same families, then the results won’t change. The results would be predictable, but Chaiyaphun has new candidates, so I think there is fluctuation. The younger generation doesn’t look at the parties. They want someone new. This is different from other areas. I saw someone’s post which said that in their area, it’s all the same candidates. If Chaiyaphum is like that, then we know how this will end.

Has Pheu Thai always win in Chaiyaphum?

N: There are two parties: Phue Thai and Bhumjaithai. These are two political families who have always been competing. It’s been a long time since Thai Democrat has a Chaiyaphum MP, I think the last time was when I was born, so it’s hard to compete.

What are your campaigning strategy?

N: I’m a first-time candidate, so people need to see me in person. I want them to see me as much as possible, and being able to talk to them gives me an opportunity to exchange problems and solutions. Speeches are necessary, but they don’t know me, so I need a way to make sure they know me. At first I think that social media will help, but only 20% of my area is urban. The other 80% is an agricultural area, so I also have to focus on offline work.

Do they not use smartphones at all?

N: No. They don’t know how. When I do fieldwork, I only meet the elderlies who are taking care of their grandchildren. Only 20 - 30% of voters in my area are working people, and for this group, I need to use social media, but looking at the ratio, I can’t neglect offline work. I can’t campaign the way they do it in Bangkok. I have to be part of the society. I have to go to religious events, community events.

When you campaign, is there any slogan that people like?

N: When I got no.12, our campaign make slogans “Let’s think. Let’s try. Vote No.12” “Choose solution, choose Nattika.” And since it’s no.12, we also said that “vote for me, you will get a dozen”. During our political rallies, we will walk as a group and said: “See? Vote me you will get a dozen.” We campaign by marking smiles on faces of people, focusing on solutions, not hate mongering.  

We may have seen speeches of various political parties from social media and likes for ranting, something catchy that feels right. But yesterday I just joined a debate, someone from the other party gave a speech just like in the social media or public stage in Bangkok, but the atmosphere outside Bangkok is different. The locals do not like it, do not listen to it. They are sick of it and feel moody. They do not want to hear about hatred, and when I said “hey, we will solve the problem,” they gave me a big round of applause.   

Do you think voters want to know what you can do for them, rather than about abstract concepts and criticism of other people?

N: Yes. This is what it’s like, or Palang Pracharat wouldn’t be getting votes from people who has social welfare cards. This is what they want. You don’t need to say to them that you don’t want this person or that person. Making a living is the most important thing for them.

As a new generation of politicians, how do you view Thai politics during the transitional period? Where do you think we are going?

N: While we’re in the transitional period, the society might be a bit frustrated with all the problems. First is structural issues, such as the Constitution and the source of senators. This will stay with us for many years. The national strategy is a long-term political issue and we have to be cautious. I do think about how I could take care of these issues if I get elected, how do I make sure that the people have their right and freedom and are able to participate as much as they can under the existing laws.

As for social changes, I think it’s changing for the better. The younger generation are now paying attention to politics, and they see that their right and freedom are important. I’m also an English teacher, and a fifth grade student I teach, who can’t even vote yet, asked me what I’m going to do if I become an MP. This is my student’s question, not his parents’. Older people see me and said I’m trying to do something I can’t. So I see that the society is changing. Children don’t think that it’s worth anything if you pay them 100 baht for them to listen to you or to vote for you. That amount of money, they said that that’s just enough for them to buy items in video games. The younger generation are now forming their own political views, even if it’s not quick, but change takes time. If you don’t want it to take time, then you need a reform or a revolution.

You said that, if you are elected, you want to make sure people are free and are able to participate in politics as much as they can under the law. How do you view the legislations like Article 112, the Cyber Security Act, the Computer Crime Act, and the Public Assembly Act, which are criticized for being tools used to disrupt freedom of expression?

N: The Cyber Security Act, the Computer Crime Act, and the Public Assembly Act need to be amended in a process in which the people can take part. Any legislation that goes against the principle of right and freedom of expression, if the legislation gives the state power to look through personal information, or expression, for the purpose of charging people on security cases, it needs to be changed.

Article 112 is related to the monarch, and the society has different opinions, so every parties and every sectors need to come together to find a way out for the constitutional monarch to exist. What is the appropriate guarantee we can give the people that they will have their right and freedom, that won’t lead to conflict and violence

Who is your main group of supporters? How do younger people see you?

N: The younger generation likes that someone their own age is speaking, and the older generation thinks I’m an interesting option. They think I’m young, but I said no. I’m a member of the society, and I have to right to take part in finding solutions to social problems. They thinks that this is the generation that is most suited to taking care of the country. I think my supporters are from every groups, and I have an advantage in that I can communicate with younger people.

Interview2019 general electionNew DemSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2019/03/81459
Categories: Prachatai English

Prayut the government official cannot run for PM, contends victim convicted of failing to follow order of government official Prayut

Prachatai English - Wed, 2019-03-20 01:00
Submitted on Wed, 2019-03-20 01:00Prachatai

The Ombudsman ruled on Thursday 14 March that Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha is not a government official, and therefore may run as a candidate for Prime Minister. But Sombat Boonngamanong has taken the opportunity to point out that in the Supreme Court ruling on his case, Prayut was considered a government official.

Sombat Boonngamanong submit a letter.

Sombat Boonngamanong, leader of the Gian Party and a prominent political activist, went to the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) last Friday (15 March) to submit a letter saying that he was willing to be a witness in the case of Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha. He insisted that NCPO had sued him on the grounds that Gen Prayut is a government official and the Supreme Court has already ruled in favour of the NCPO.

Wearing a pirate hat, Sombat claimed that he did not come to protest, but to insist that Prayut is not a government official, putting Prayut in a no-win situation. If he is a government official, he cannot run for PM; if he is not, Sombat’s sentence for failing to report to the NCPO under NCPO Order 3/2014, should be cancelled.

Sombat claimed that because the Head of the NCPO is not an official, as the Ombudsman found, Sombat did not have to follow the NCPO Order. However, the Court of First Instance, the Appeal Court, and the Supreme Court all ruled that Gen Prayut, as the head of the NCPO, has legal authority and is therefore an official. He was given a suspended sentence of 2 months’ imprisonment and fined 3,000 baht.

Last Thursday, Raksagecha Chaechai, Secretary-General of the Office of Ombudsman, ruled that Gen Prayut is not a government official. The Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) therefore did not violate any regulation by nominating him as its candidate for Prime Minister.  This ruling was a response to the 5 March complaint filed by Srisuwan Janya, Secretary-General of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, against the PPRP for nominating Gen Prayut.

Raksagecha Chaechai

Srisuwan claimed that because Gen Prayut is a government official, he is barred from running as candidate for Prime Minister and the PPRP had violated Sections 88, 89, and 160 of the 2017 Constitution, which prohibit government officials from running as candidates for Prime Minister.

Srisuwan Janya and his team

Raksagecha said that the Office of the Ombudsman ruled that the head of the NCPO is a position which holds sovereign power for the purpose of keeping the peace in the country while in a transitional period from conflict to peace. The Office cited a Constitutional Court ruling which says that a government official must:

  1. Be legally appointed or elected
  2. Possess active law enforcement authority
  3. Be under the supervision of the state
  4. Receive regular payment.

Since the head of the NCPO was royally appointed, Gen Prayut was not legally appointed or elected, and since the NCPO operates outside of state authority, he does not meet two of the criteria for a government official and is therefore allowed to run as candidate for Prime Minister.

Earlier, on 13 March, Ruengkrai Leekitwattana, former MP candidate for the now dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party (TRC), filed a request with the ECT asking them to speed up their investigation of his earlier submission that Gen Prayut is not qualified to run as candidate for Prime Minister under Section 98 Clause 15 of the 2017 Constitution. He said that he filed his request on 11 February, but the ECT had not informed him what action had been taken. Ruengkrai also filed additional evidence with the ECT from the court ruling in the case of Sombat Boonngamanong. 

On 15 March, activist Nuttaa Mahattana and Winyat Chatmontri, Secretary-General of the United Lawyers for Rights and Liberty, submitted a letter to the ECT asking them to work for a fair election, and to investigate the anti-democratic actions of the PPRP as quickly as the ECT has investigated complaints against anti-NCPO parties. Nuttaa also asked the ECT not to turn a blind eye to election fraud and other issues faced by voters, such as the difficulties faced by overseas voters.

Nuttaa Mahattana and Winyat Chatmontri

Meanwhile, Winyat said that the Office of the Ombudsman has acted beyond its authority in ruling that Gen Prayut is not a government official. He said that only a court and the ECT have the authority to make such a ruling. He said that Gen Prayut knows which kind of official he himself is, and if the ECT was not able to explain this matter before advance voting on 17 March, this can be considered an abuse of function. Winyat said that he also filed a complaint with the ECT on 15 February against Gen Prayut’s nomination for Prime Minister by the PPRP, but so far, no action has been taken.

News2019 general electionNational Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha
Categories: Prachatai English

ECT unprepared for high early voter turnout

Prachatai English - Tue, 2019-03-19 15:19
Submitted on Tue, 2019-03-19 15:19Prachatai

Early voting for the 2019 general election took place yesterday (17 March), with the highest early voter turnout rate than ever. However, the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) seemed unprepared for such high turnout. Early voters faced a long list of obstacles, from the lack of a list of candidates at the poll to long wait time and being given the ballot for the wrong electorate.  

Early voting at the Huai Kwang District Office (Source: We Watch)

According to the ECT more than 2.62 million voters registered to vote early and outside of their registered electorate, with the highest number being Bangkok, with 928, 789 registered voters, and Chonburi, with 221,541 voters. Thairath Online reported that 1.97 million voters turned up to vote, which is 75% of all registered early voters – a significant increase from 57% in 2011.

However, despite voters having to register in advance before voting early or outside of their registered electorate, the ECT did not seem to have been prepared to accommodate such a high turnout. When the poll opened at the Huai Kwang District Office at 8.00 on Sunday, the list of MP candidates was not posted in front of the poll as expected. We Watch reported that the polling officials claimed that the ECT has not sent them the list, and while some voters said that they have checked the candidate list before they came to the poll, a number of voters also said that they don’t know the number for which candidate and that they only remember the parties. iLaw reported that a partial list of candidates was posted at around 10.30, but was later removed because the list was a list of Bangkok candidates, instead of candidates from all the provinces, which is needed by voters who are voting outside of their electorate.

iLaw also reported that, at Bang Kapi, Bang Khun Thian, and Huai Kwang, the candidates from the now dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party (TRC) were still listed among the list of candidates. The officials explained that the ECT has given them this list and told them to use it. However, this could confuse voters and may affect the poll results, as any ballot voting for the TRC party will be invalidated.

Voters also have to endure long wait time at the poll, which is mostly outdoor in the hot weather. At Huai Kwang, where 40, 816 have registered to vote on early voting day, voters have to wait for more than 30 minutes at the poll. At Klong San, voters have to wait for about two hours, while the polling station at the Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Centre has difficulties managing voters, since the Centre has only one entrance.

Voters queuing up at the Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Centre

The hashtag #เลือกตั้งล่วงหน้า (#EarlyVoting) trended on Twitter all of Sunday as netizens inform each other of the problems they face going to vote. Many users said that they have been given the ballot for the wrong electorate. One user said that she complained to the official at the poll that she has been given the ballot for the wrong electorate, but the official refused to give her a new ballot and told her to just vote. She said that she then complained to the official from the ECT and it was found that she was indeed given the wrong ballot, but her vote was invalidated. iLaw reported that they have been notified by at least 109 voters that they have been given the wrong ballot. Of this number, 45 people complained to the poll officials; 21 have their ballot changed while 20 did not.

iLaw speculated that this is probably because the ECT has not prepared the polling staff well enough to deal with both the election system in which each electorate has different ballot rather than out of any ill intention. It is also likely that the staff were too busy dealing with such a high turnout that they did not have time to check whether they are handing out the correct ballot.

Charungwit Phumma, the ECT Secretary-General, said that the ECT has been notified that voters are being given the wrong ballot, both through direct complaint and through posts on social media. However, he said that the ECT cannot immediately investigate the issue, as it will obstruct the poll staff’s work. The EC will be looking into the issue later. Meanwhile, Itthiporn Boonprakong, Chair of the ECT, told Workpoint News that any ballot handed into the wrong electorate will be invalidated.

Charungwait Phumma, the ECT Secretary-General

Activist Nattha Mahattana also shared a post on her Facebook page of a comment in which a voter said that ballots have run out at at least two polling stations in Buriram.

“This is very serious,” said Nattha. Usually, a polling station will have prepared the exact number of ballots as there are registered voters. It should not be possible for the ballots to run out before all voters have turned up. Having too many or not enough ballots at a polling station can also open the door for election fraud.

At least three cases of possible election fraud were also reported. In Uthai Thani, there has been a report of voters’ national ID being used to the poll by someone else to vote in their place. In Kalasin, a candidate was found to have forged their documents, and that the Director of the Provincian Election did not accept their application but that the candidate has put up campaign banners anyway. In Samut Songkram, it was reported that a voter has taken 17 ballots and has cast her vote on all of them. This voter claimed that a staff member at the poll has given them to her, but the Samut Songkram police has investigated the case and found that this is unintentional, as the voter returned the extra ballot to the polling staff.

The problems voters faced on early voting day may have been due to simple mismanagement and lack of preparation, but people are already questioning the ECT’s credibility. The EC has so far accepted every complaint against pro-democracy party, but let the pro-NCPO Palang Pracharat off on every suspicion. It has also spent 12 million baht traveling to study election process in other countries, including the UK, the US, Germany, Switzerland, and Singapore. On Sunday, as complaint after complaint about the way early voting has been organized surface online, the public is becoming more suspicious that the EC is attempting to suppress voting.  

Not only that there are complaints of difficulties early voters faced, there are also concerns surrounding the way the early voting ballots will be stored. Nat Laosiwakul, deputy Secreaty-General of the EC, said that the early voting ballots will be taken to the Lak Si Post Office, where they will be sorted and send to the 350 electorates around the country. Once they arrive, the ballots will be stored at police stations. Nat also said that the public may observe how the ballots are stored at all time, and there are CCTV cameras in the rooms where the ballots are kept. Despite this, many netizens also said on Twitter that they are worried about their ballots being tampered with before 24 March.

Voter suppression or mismanagement? Thais face obstacles as overseas voting begins

Following last week’s report of the obstacles faced by overseas voters, from long wait time at the poll to their ballot not arriving in the mail, and having the already posted ballot returned to sender, the public’s confidence that this election will be free and fair is already waning. It remains to be seen whether the ECT will be able to do better on the election day.

Round Up2019 general electionearly voting
Categories: Prachatai English

Chiang Mai joins Global Climate Strike on its most polluted day.

Prachatai English - Mon, 2019-03-18 18:52
Submitted on Mon, 2019-03-18 18:52Prachatai

Students and international environmentalists have joined a strike in Chiang Mai to show solidarity with the Fridays for Future movement. Just before the strike, Chiang Mai became one of the worst cities in the world in terms of air quality. The movement has been pressuring the Chiang Mai Governor to address air pollution, but the administration has still not taken serious action.

Chiang Mai's Climate Strike
Source: Aidan McAuliffe

On Friday 15 March, the most polluted day of the week according to the Air Quality Index (AQI), students from Chiang Mai and Maejo universities, wearing anti-PM2.5 masks, gathered in front of Chiang Mai University with a “Chiangmai Climate Strike” sign. The group is demanding serious action on air pollution and an improvement in the standard of living.

 

#chiangmaiclimatestrike #FridayForFuture #YouthForClimate #ช่วยคนเชียงใหม่ด้วย #ช่วยเด็กๆด้วย @greenpeaceth pic.twitter.com/rjv2SrrkPt

— Lavagabonda (@Lavagabonda_) March 15, 2019

 

Chiang Mai's AQI on Friday for Future
Source: Air Quality Index

They also showed signs in support of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swede who inspired the Global Climate Strike. The campaign was in solidarity with Fridays for Future, a global student campaign organized in 123 countries with 2052 events. International participants joined the movement demanding serious action for clean air.

On the same day, Thais and Singaporeans donated 3,600 respiratory masks for children through the RADION International Foundation. Before Fridays for Future, the students worshipped at a local shrine in protest, implying that even superstition is more effective than the current administration.

The students worshipped at a local shrine in protest

According to the AQI, which measures PM2.5, PM10, carbon dioxide and other air pollutants, Chiang Mai was the most polluted city in the world on Tuesday 13 March. Many posted pictures of Chiang Mai in smog, a view that saddened the nation. According to Pollution Watch Thailand, “air pollution is costing long-term residents in Chiang Mai and certain areas of the north an average 4 years of their life span.”

Chiang Mai in smog, a view that saddened the nation.
Source: Rungsrit Kanjanavanit

On 13 March, the environmental group handed a letter to the Governor calling for effective action. Rungsrit Kanjanavanit, a professor of cardiology and environmental activist, joined the movement in pressuring the Governor by posting on Facebook a cartoon picture of ‘a missing person.’

In response, the Governor declared a number of measures including a two-month ban on burning, vehicle checks, factory inspections, planting trees, and disseminating self-care information, but some doubted if this would be effective. On 16 March, the group had tried to hand a letter to the Governor again demanding preventive measures, not passive reaction.

PM2.5 in Bangkok reached world-beating unhealthy levels 10 weeks ago, causing the government to close 432 schools temporarily. To address the problem, the government did nothing but spray water into the air. As of today, Chiang Mai remains unhealthy according to the AQI.

News
Categories: Prachatai English

Dissolved TRC’s guerrilla tactics confuse ECT

Prachatai English - Sat, 2019-03-16 23:59
Submitted on Sat, 2019-03-16 23:59Prachatai

The leaders of the now dissolved Thai Raksa Chart (TRC) party started campaigning for democracy right after Constitutional Court decision. Its members have thrown their support behind other political parties, including the Future Forward Party (FFP) and Pheu Tham, and even campaigned for a ‘no’ vote. Confused, the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) has set up an investigative committee to see if they have violated any rules.

TRC's leaders on the way to the event at Roi Et
Source: Keep on for democracy

Keep on for democracy

Former members of the TRC, dissolved by the Constitutional Court a week ago, have continued their election campaign, but now not for themselves. 2 days after the dissolution, the leaders announced that they would promote democracy and end the continuation of NCPO power by holding events in 4 regions of Thailand. They now act under the name “Keep on for democracy”.

Announcement of TRC's leaders
Source: TRC Fanclub

The latest phase of the struggle started when the leaders, including Chaturon Chaisang, Nattawut Saikua, and Pichai Naripthaphan posted on Facebook a video of themselves eating lunchboxes on the road. This was a dig at Prayut who earlier tried to indicate his busy lifestyle by showing himself eating a lunchbox on a ride to the field.

In the video, Nattawut Saikua says “we should have a Chinese banquet,” referring to the corruption case in which the Phalang Pracharat Party used public money to pay for 2 million baht worth of places in its Chinese-style funding-raising dinner, but which the ECT simply let go. However, the scale of their campaign is far greater than just online mockery. So far, they have held events in many districts of Roi Et, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Chachoengsao.

Chaturon Chaisang giving speech at Nakhon Ratchasima
Source: Keep on for democracy

Guerrilla tactics?

What is happening at the membership level is much less clear, raising the question if these are guerrilla tactics. On 10 March, Thitima Chaisang, a former MP candidate in Constituency 1, Chachoengsao Province, and a sister of Chaturon Chaisang, head of the TRC strategy team and a prominent Octobrist, posted on Facebook that she would throw her support behind Kittichai Raengsawat, the FFP candidate in the same constituency:

“The Chaisang family will stand and fight on for democracy. Only the people’s power can overthrow dictatorship and prevent it from continuing in power. The dictatorship led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has seriously damaged the national economy for almost 5 years now. Will we still tolerate this, brothers and sisters? We have learned our lesson. On 24 March, mark your vote for the party of the democratic camp in Constituency 1, Chachoengsao Province. Please vote for FFP, Kittichai Raengsawat, No.10.”

The next day, Thitima’s name appeared on one of the FFP campaign cars. The banner says “Thitima Chaisang asks you to throw your support behind the FFP of the democratic bloc. Vote for Kittichai Roengsawat no. 10.” Thitima also said that she has legally become a campaign assistant for the FFP.


 

Thitima’s name appeared on one of the FFP campaign cars.
Source: Yada Maneeratakul

Constituency 1 of Chachoengsao is the only territory that has no MP candidates from the Pheu Chart or Pheu Thai parties, two parties associated with Thaksin.

Matichon and Prachachat expect that former TRC candidates will campaign for the Pheu Tham Party, the other party associated with Thaksin, in 50 constituencies in southern Thailand, the stronghold of the Democrat Party led by Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Former TRC candidates also launched a ‘vote-no’ campaign in Constituencies 1 and 2 of Phrae Province. Worawat Auapinyakul, former minister, won Constituency 2 with 61,239 votes in the 2014 election, while Tossaporn Serirak was influential as MP for Constituency 2 for many terms until his wife won with 61,871 votes. If the number of ‘no’ votes beats all other candidates, the ECT must hold a re-election in that constituency, but the same candidates will not be able to run again according to Section 92 of the 2017 Constitution.

Worawat Auapinyakul's 'no' vote campaign
Source: Worawat Auapinyakul

iLaw, an independent organization, made the interesting observation that since the TRC’s non-executive members are no longer MP candidates, they can run for other political parties as long as they have been members for 90 days before the re-election.

ECT confused

In response to these campaigns, the ECT has set up a committee to investigate if they violate any rules. ECT Chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong said that “a campaign to vote ‘no’ or to canvass for or transfer votes to others are not allowed because the law clearly says that voters must decide for themselves. Persuading or directing others to do this or that is not permitted.”

Ittiporn also said “any actions regarded as controlling, directing, persuading, or influencing are certainly provisions regarded in the law as offences. We must check and if it falls within this scope, we must take action. Whether it is the fault of the canvasser or the candidate for the votes depends on the witnesses and evidence.”

Leave aside the issue that “persuading” or “influencing” others is exactly what every party does during election campaign, the law does not support his argument. According to the Article 73 of the Organic Law on the Election of MPs, the law is concerned with bribery and intimidation rather than about voting no.

Article 73 of the Organic Law on the Election of MPs

“A candidate or any person may not do anything to influence a voter to vote for them or another candidate, or to refrain from voting for a candidate or to vote for no candidate to be a member of the house of representatives by the following methods:

  1. Give, offer, promise to give, or prepare to give property or any other benefits which may be calculated in monetary terms.
  2. Give, offer, or promise to give money, property or any other benefits, directly or indirectly to a community, association, foundation, temple, educational institution, welfare institution, or any other institution.
  3. Campaign by holding any form of entertainment or amusement.
  4. Provide or arrange to provide food and drink.
  5. Deceive, coerce, intimidate, use threatening influence, falsely slander, or mislead about the popularity of a candidate or political party.”

    According to BBC Thai, ECT Secretary-General Jarungvith Phumma said that it is still okay to campaign for vote-no according to the preliminary investigation, but the committee still doubted the legality on the grounds that it might be not right to campaign “with the intention to make the number of ‘no’ votes larger than the votes for candidates, which is not the objective of an election.” In other words, the ECT, appointed by the NCPO and politically compromised, is confused about what to do to next.

    News2019 general election
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Voter suppression or mismanagement? Thais face obstacles as overseas voting begins

    Prachatai English - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:23
    Submitted on Fri, 2019-03-15 15:23Anna Lawattanatrakul

    Overseas voting for the upcoming 2019 general election began on 4 March and will continue until 16 March. However, many Thai voters living overseas are facing difficulties casting their votes, from long waiting times at the poll to ballots not arriving in the mail.

    Jarungvith Phumma, ECT's secretary
    Source: TVChannel3

    The hashtag #OverseasVoting has been trending on Twitter for the past week, with many Thai netizens living overseas criticizing the Election Commission (EC) and local embassies and consulates for their mismanagement. Thai overseas voters are facing an array of problems: having to wait for hours at the poll; ballots not arriving in the mail; and documents with a candidate’s name printed under the wrong party.

    Voters queing up at the Thai Embassy in Kuala Lumpur (Source: Matichon Online)

    In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the polls opened on 9 March. Thousands turned up to vote, but it was reported that there were only three polling booths, forcing voters to wait for hours. In a photo posted online, embassy staff were shown having to use cardboard boxes as makeshift polling booths, and the embassy had to allow an extra voting day to accommodate voters who had already turned up on the designated day.

    EC Secretary-General Jarungvith Phumma said that making a polling booth out of a cardboard box was not illegal, but didn’t “look very pleasant”. He did not address the cause of the problem.

    Kaimeaw, a political cartoon page, posted a satire that ETC received so much budget, only for it to deploy cardboard boxes as makeshift polling booths. When it was also revealed that the EC spent 12 million baht to study elections in other countries, including UK, US, Germany, Switzerland, and Singapore, the EC’s credibility decreased even further in voters’ eyes. 

     

    In Nanjing, China, it was reported that over 500 voters did not receive their ballots, and that information submitted by voters in online registration forms had either gone missing or become unreadable when the information was sent to the consulate. In response, the Thai consulate in Shanghai claimed no ballot had been lost, and that registered voters had been sent their ballots by mail.  

    In London and New York, the documents sent to voters listing candidates and their numbers contained several mistakes. Democrat Party candidate Parit Wacharasindhu said that the names of some parties were not printed directly under the candidate’s names, which could confuse voters. The Democrat Party’s name, for example, did not appear under Parit’s picture but on the next page.

    “The mistake is not limited to me, but also affects other candidates in other parties,” Parit said in a Facebook post. “Every vote is valuable…I hope that the Election Commission or other relevant agencies will take responsibility for what happened.”

    Voters in the US, Canada, and South Africa also have yet to receive their ballots, and as the polls close on 16 March, voters are now concerned that they will not be able to cast their vote as the mailed ballot might not arrive back at the local embassy or consulate on time. In Toronto, Canada, a voter said that she asked the Thai Embassy what she should do if she does not receive her ballot in time for it to be sent back to the Embassy by 16 March; she was not given an answer. When she asked if she could drive to Ottawa to vote in person, embassy staff told her that they will not be able to issue her a replacement ballot and she will not be able to vote. The only option the embassy has given is for her to wait for the ballot to arrive in the mail, but it might already be too late for her to vote.

    Puangthong Pawakapan, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, currently a visiting scholar at the Harvard-Yenching Institute in Massachusetts, posted on her Facebook page on Tuesday (12 March) that she has yet to receive her ballot. The Thai Embassy in Washington DC informed her that the ballot was posted on 2 March. The embassy staff told her to contact the nearest post office, but she was constantly told to call a different department. Puangthong said that she is now trying to accept that she will not be able to vote, since there is no way she will be able to send her ballot back in time before the poll closes.

    “Why does the Election Commission not make it easier? Why are they not learning from other countries?” Puangthong asks in her Facebook post. “This election is our chance to get rid of the dictatorship and to take back our rights. We’ve lived with it for 5 years and we are following their rules, even if the rules are nonsensical…we would like to use this chance to affirm our voice.”

    In Russia, the embassy requires all voters to vote by post, but instead of sending the ballots to voters’ residences, the embassy sent them to post offices and VFS centers. Voters are then required to pick up their ballots at the nearest post office. Behind Siberia on Facebook posted her account of the process. She said that the embassy did not give her any receipt, but told her to inform the staff at the post office that she is picking up a Thai election ballot. She said that the staff at the post office did not seem to know what she meant and tried to send her away. She finally received her ballot when the staff called another department. She speculated that it was because she lives in a small town.

    Thai voters in Russia are required to pick up their ballot from post offices and VFS centers (Source: Behind Siberia)

    Meanwhile, in many places, voters are finding that their mailed ballots cannot be sent and have been returned. A Twitter user in New York said that she posted her ballot, but the envelope was returned. The post office agency told her that it was because the format of the envelope was confusing and they returned it to the clearest address.

    “I just want democracy back. Why is it so hard?” she said in her tweet.

    In Japan, voters are facing similar problem. The Thai consulate in Osaka has told registered voters that, if their ballot is returned, they should write “from” in Japanese next to their address and send the ballot back again. The Thai Embassy in Tokyo also reported on their Facebook page that 113 envelopes containing ballot papers were returned to the embassy because the receiver’s address was unclear, and that the named voters must bring their passport or national ID to the embassy to receive their ballot.

    The EC’s ability to hold a free and fair election is already being questioned in Thailand, as they have accepted complaint after complaint against pro-democracy parties like Future Forward and the now dissolved Thai Raksa Chart, but dismissed every complaint against the pro-NCPO Palang Pracharat Party. As stories of overseas voting mishaps surface, the public is losing confidence that this election will be genuinely fair.

    Nearly 120,000 people have registered to vote overseas, and polling will close on 16 March, before early voting takes place in Thailand on 17 March. However, overseas voters have expressed concerns that their ballot might be tampered with in the process, and while some cases may genuinely be technical problems, people are becoming more and more suspicious that this is all an attempt by the EC to suppress voting.

    Round Up2019 general electionOverseas votingElection Commission
    Categories: Prachatai English

    A new type of employment, a new pressure? On the immense number of ‘workers’ in electronics factories.

    Prachatai English - Thu, 2019-03-14 15:54
    Submitted on Thu, 2019-03-14 15:54Tewarit Maneechai

    Learn about the diverse changes in the employment system in the electronics industry which employs more than half a million people, like the ‘4 days on 2 days off’ case, where although workers lost this case in court, they still speak of its impact on their incomes, families and health. Or using large numbers of student interns as if they were workers but with low wages and welfare, where some accountancy graduates clean machinery. Or employing Cambodian workers through a system of MOUs with different welfare conditions, which is one of the reasons the labour unions are weak.

    Thai electronics industry progresses to a global level

    The electronics products industry in Thailand, including electrical appliances, has been developing for over 5 decades. Thailand was ranked as the world’s 14th largest exporter of electronics in 2016. In the same year it exported 30% of the hard disk drives on the global market.

    In 2018, the Office of Industrial Economics[1] stated that Thailand exported US$38,841.5 million worth of electronics goods , a 6.4% increase from the previous year as a result of an overall increase in the export market to Japan, China, ASEAN, European Union and the United States. The Office expects that the production and export of electronic goods in 2019 will increase by 7.5% compared to last year.

    This is a picture of the might of the electronics and electronic parts industry in Thailand. In the past we have only seen data and the potential for growth in terms of profit but the “labour” that built this might has been neglected and barely seen. What are their daily lives like? Are their conditions of employment fair? Has the might of this industry supported or exploited them? We will bring you the answers through a small number of examples.

    Half a million workers

    Data from the Electrical and Electronics Institute[2] show that in December 2018, the electrical, electronics, electronic parts and related products industries employed a total of 753,357 workers. In the electronics and electronic parts industries alone, there are a total of 559,237 workers.

    Changes in employment conditions and quality of life, low negotiating power

    Overall labour conditions in the industry have seen an increase in insecure employment. Companies tend to blame serious competition in the industry for a policy of reducing investment. At the same time more automation is replacing human labour so as to be able to increase production or machinery is being sought for new products. Manufacturers are using the method of not hiring new employees to replace retired workers or changing the working system to reduce costs and working days.

    Apart from this, companies seem likely to reduce the number of regular workers by instead hiring subcontract workers and interns on a continuous basis. For example, in the Work-integrated Learning (WiL) project[3], Sony Technology (Thailand) Co. Ltd. hires Cambodian workers through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Employment Cooperation[4] between the governments of the Kingdom of Thailand and the Kingdom of Cambodia, as in the case of Dai Dong Electronics (Thailand) Co. Ltd., a supplier for Sony.

    Case Study: “4 on, 2 off”

    For this case we will take a look at a certain electronics company located on Chaeng Watthana Road, that produces integrated circuit boards used mostly in cars, such as the ABS (anti-lock braking system), and the sensor system. The company has around 3,200 employees of whom about 2,100 are day labourers. The monthly-paid staff includes only the office workers, supervisors, and technicians. In the past there used to be a total of around 3,800 employees, but after 2012 the number of workers has gradually decreased while the quantity of exports remains the same or has even increased.

    Interestingly, there is a labour union that has been standing strong for 40 years, with 1,863 members. However, a union official said that the company has a ‘tradition’ where monthly-paid employees have nothing to do with the union.

    The company started to change its employment system in 2012 with a demand to the labour union for changes to employment conditions,. reducing the number of working days from the original system of 6 days on and 1 day off, to 4 days on and 2 days off. The shifts were also changed from 3 8-hour shifts a day to 2 12-hour shifts.

    This employment system reduced the income of day workers and also affected their daily lives since they could not interact normally with their families and society. So the union held an ongoing campaign to protest against the changes, including rallies in front of the factory, using the National Labour Relations Board mechanisms, complaints to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, etc.

    Verdict No. 1/2013 of the Arbitration Board, the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare, announced on 20 June 2013, stated that the Labour Relations Board, acting as the Arbiter, judged the legal issue according to the bilateral agreement in the case of whether the 4 days on, and 2 days off employment system violated the law or not. Having considered the facts and laws, the Arbiter ruled that the 4 days on, 2 days off system where normal working hours are 7 hours per day, as proposed by the company, does not violate the Labour Protection Act, which is in accordance with the opinion of the Legal Affairs Division, Department of Labour Protection and Welfare, which said that according to the Labour Protection Act 1998, Article 28, Paragraph 1, “An Employer shall provide an Employee a weekly holiday of not less than 1 day per week, and the interval between weekly holidays shall not be more than 6 days. The Employer and the Employee may agree in advance to fix any day of the week as a holiday.”

    This opinion is different from that of the National Human Rights Commission on 8 April 2010 that the changes in the employment system reduced employees’ income. This is a change in conditions of employment which is not beneficial to employees according to the Labour Relations Act 1975, Article 20, and forcing employees to work involuntary overtime is a violation of the Labour Protection Act 1998, Articles 23 and 24. It also impacts the employees’ rights to the opportunity for rest, as well as their daily lives in society, and the culture, traditions and religions that are tied to holidays. This includes the right to compensation for the decrease in employment since the daily pay of workers calculated according to Labour Protection Act, Chapter 11, Article 118, has decreased, including the right to benefits from the Social Insurance Act and right to receive compensation in cases where the compensation for an employee facing danger or injury or loss due to work under Section 18, is calculated on the employee’s pay.

    Today, workers are still working 4 days on, 2 days off like before.

    An attempt was made to contact the Human Resources Department of this company to ask the reasons for changing employment conditions but without success. The operator merely explained, “the information cannot be disclosed” (4 Feb 2019).

    For the 4 days on 2 days off system, the shifts change every 6 days. One working day is divided into 2 shifts; the first shift works 11.00 pm to 7.00 am and the second shift 7.00 am to 3.00 pm. Overtime for the first shift is 7.00 pm to 11.00 pm with a 30 minute break before work. Overtime for the second shift is 3.00 pm to 7.00 pm with a 30 minute break before work. Annual holidays are 12-20 days under work regulations depending on length of service as determined in the regulations and the company has fixed 14 days holiday per year.

    Anyone who is not familiar with factory working systems may be able to see the picture, and the allocation of time seems OK, but the viewpoint of those who really work that way is different.

    A representative of the union further clarified the 4 days on 2 days off system. Originally the workers worked 6 days on and 1 day off, i.e. Monday to Saturday with Sunday off. But in this system, workers work in the morning for 4 days and have 2 days off, then change to working at night for 4 days then 2 days off. Workers are divided into 3 large groups according to shifts, swapping the work times throughout the day.

    “You can think of it easily like this. In the past, we were daily labourers. We worked 26 days per month. When the system changed, we get paid for working 20 days. If we want the same income as before, we have to do overtime. Before it was 8 hours per shift, but in the new system, if we want the same income we have to work 12-hour shifts. This is like being forced to do overtime due to economic conditions, and we are not willing,” one of the union representatives said.

    The representative also said that what was greatly impacted was the health of workers, which deteriorated from changing shifts all the time. This can be seen from the rate of welfare being used, group life insurance is increasing, and the rate of people asking for medicine at the factory’s sick bay is higher. There are also impacts on families since workers do not have time to meet their children or spouses because their holidays rarely coincide on Saturdays or Sundays. The rate of divorce has increased, and there have been colleagues that got into family arguments because their times wouldn’t match up. As for culture, they cannot take religious holidays off. If they ask for leave, then they get less money, while in the old system, workers could better choose whether to do overtime or not, and on what day to do it.

    “Changing the work hours to morning then evening means we can’t adapt in time. Just when we’ve adapted, we have to change again. It makes our physical condition abnormal. Anyone that wants to go to a funeral needs to ask for permission, anyone that gets sick needs a medical certificate. We only want to rest and we can’t. If we insist, our participation points are deducted. When a lot of points are deducted, it affects our annual pay. For those with chronic illnesses such as allergies, changing shifts leads to them being susceptible to sinusitis. Some people working on night shifts have to sleep in the day but can’t fall asleep. Anyone with blood pressure problems will deteriorate very quickly,” the union representative said.

    When their fight to change back to the old system didn’t succeed, the union then turned to demand measures that would help mitigate the impact, whether by increasing welfare, increasing the diligence allowance, increasing the canteens selling cheap food, increasing travel funds for pregnant woman, etc.

    Student interns and migrant workers in the MOU system

    A research group from the Kenan Institute Asia talked about data collected in the eastern industrial region and concluded that outsourced employment, as in the case where a vocational institution has a partnership agreement for students to intern at a factory, hoping to increase the students’ potential. But these students seem to enter the production line and become cheap unskilled labour, having to work 9-10 hours like any other worker.

    These students confirm that these issues were reported to the educational institution, but because they still have to rely on the entrepreneurs, the problems are still not solved. This may not have become a problem if the students received benefits that were similar or equal to regular workers, but what they receive is less despite the same workload.

    Sony’s student interns

    Meanwhile Bunyuen Sukmai, a labour unionist who has researched labour rights and changes in employment conditions in the electronic products industry with the Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) said that an overview of conditions at the Sony Company in Pathum Thani shows a decrease in production. The factory has closed for up to 3 days due to the decrease in orders. That factory produces only circuit boards for phones. In the past a large number of student interns were hired but now the proportion has decreased. Presently there are around 2,000 workers, down from 3,500 with almost 1,000 student interns. The proportion of student interns to workers is 40:60.

    Bunyuen Sukmai, a labour unionist

    Bunyuen says that having students work on the production line has been going on for a long time but the intensive use of students started about 4-5 years ago before orders started to decrease. The system of taking students is a bilateral partnership under an agreement between the private sector and educational institutions for a fixed period of time; 7 months, 9 months or 12 months. If the fixed period is over and it is found that there are still many orders, then their work period will be extended.

    Bunyuen said that students will receive the minimum wage but not other welfare benefits like workers. The shift pay is also less than for workers. For example, workers get 80 baht while students get 50 baht, etc. They don’t get any other benefits like bonuses, diligence allowance,s provident funds, etc. and since they aren’t employees, the students are not members of the union.

    Presently there are students from around 60-70 institutions in this system in factories across the country. Each institution will send 20-30 students. Vocational certificate students will intern for 6 months while higher vocational certificate students intern for 12 months, depending on their programmes. The students work until their curriculum is complete, then the factories receive the next generation. Former students will not stay, since they need to go back to studying.

    What is strange is that the work students are given is different from what they have been studying. Mostly it is no different from the production workers, but some have to brush the floor, mop the floor, or clean the machinery. According to the information Bunyuen has collected, he found that some people were studying accountancy or mechanics but had to clean machinery, mop floors or provide support to production lines carrying things for workers, etc.

    For other problems such as illnesses or accidents at work, Bunyuen said that if we look at the MOU, we will see that it is written in a roundabout way for the company to get insurance so that the rights are no different from a compensation fund. But in reality it is difficult since they have to pay in advance. A problem then occurs because students that are from different areas can’t help themselves. The people who are supposed to look after the students, theoretically, are the teachers, but in reality it is usually found that there are none. Bunyuen believes that they should be included in the social insurance fund. At least these people should have rights no different to an employee’s.

    When sick, they don’t have the right to sick leave. If they stop work because they are sick they do not get paid. If they have to go to the hospital, they will have to pay in advance first and get reimbursed later. In practice, when Bunyuen asked the students, they mostly answer that they don’t know which company their insurance is with, because those documents are with the employer. Nobody has ever seen their insurance card.

    There are also complex power relations at work. Bunyuen said that many came as interns but did not pass, so they have to find new internships or in some cases there are problems of drugs, sexual intercourse, pregnancy. If they are tested positive for drugs, they are sent back. If they are pregnant, they are sent back. Then the educational institutions would retire them, or if there are problems concerning fights and they are sent back, then it’s also retirement. Being sexually harassed is often a problem that students keep quiet about and is difficult to even investigate seriously.

    “They are students. If they make a fuss, they are sent back. Being sent back means not passing the internship. It’s become a situation of servitude. They’re squeezed in all dimensions and are forced to submit. It’s actually something quite worrying,” Bunyuen said and confirmed that this information is from interviews since they are not brave enough to complain and risk getting sent back immediately.

     

    Chalee Loisoong, Secretary-General of the Confederation of Thai Electrical Appliances, Electronic, Automobile, and Metal Workers (TEAM)

    Chalee Loisoong, Secretary-General of the Confederation of Thai Electrical Appliances, Electronic, Automobile, and Metal Workers (TEAM), reflected on the case of Mitsu Air Company, which also uses the student intern system. There are around 2,000 students in a total of 6,000 employees. Students intern for 6 months. They think about using student interns from one perspective, that it reduces costs. The students receive a daily wage according to the minimum wage which is the agreement. If students join correctly under the system, then it’s fine, but if not, then when there is an accident the students lose their future.

    Chalee’s analysis is that hiring a large number of students affects the stability of the union because when the number of the workers goes down, the negotiating power of the union also decreases, making it more difficult to move for negotiations. If a worker who is a member of the union stops work, they still have the subcontractors and interns that can do the work.

    As a solution to this, Bunyuen proposes that the agreement between the Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Education needs to have a broader definition of “employee”. It can be written in the provisions that internship students must receive the same rights as employees, including social insurance and compensation funds.

    Dai Dong’s MOU migrant workers

    Charumon Wilairait, 38, has worked at Dai Dong Electronics Co. Ltd. Chonburi, for 21 years and is currently the Secretary-General of the Dai Dong Thailand Labour Union. She told us that currently there are around 400 workers (295 Thai and 100 foreigners) at the company.

    Charumon Wilairat, a worker at Dai Dong Co. Ltd., and Secretary-General of the Dai Dong Labour Union

    The company started accepting migrant workers in 2016, including both Thai and Cambodian subcontracted workers. The Cambodian workers are subcontracted for 2 years from a company called Rujimin Asia Supply Co. Ltd.  The subcontracted workers get only the minimum wage, unlike normal workers. In January 2019, the relationship with Rujimin was changed from a subcontract to an MOU. Cambodian workers under the MOU get 2 year contracts, while Thai workers have no time limit and no assignment. The approximately 100 Cambodian workers receive the same benefits as Dai Dong employees but no bonuses, no special holidays, and no danger allowance (30 baht per day for permanent workers). They also have to pay for their uniforms, but they receive food allowances and travel expenses. Under the former contract they got a 15 baht per day food allowance (permanent workers get 50 baht), 40 baht per day for shift pay, and no travelling expenses because there is a shuttle service (permanent workers get 600 baht), etc.

    The Union was founded in 2009. After the subcontract and MOU systems were implemented, the negotiating power of the Union decreased drastically since regular workers were originally as many as 80% of all workers, but numbers decreased from 700 people to 296 people in 2014-2015 by subcontracted replacements . Then in 2016, the company expanded the number of subcontracted Cambodian workers.  This reduced the number of union members because subcontracted workers cannot become members of the Dai Dong Labour Union since they are employed by a different judicial entity.

    On the problem of migrant workers in the MOU system joining unions, Bunyuen noted that on International Workers’ Day, he led about 100 migrant workers to march at Din Daeng. Now they have been sent back to their country, so MOU workers have since been afraid to join union activities. MOU workers are employed for a fixed period of 2 years but if there is a problem, they are sent back, and that’s also a problem.

    The proposal to amend the law to reduce the restriction on subcontracted workers joining a union may have a problem with employers being different judicial entities. Allowing migrant workers to become union members, and also student interns, as Bunyuen has suggested, requires the agreement between the Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Education to redefine the meaning of “employee”, possibly with provisions that interns must receive the same rights as other employees, including access to social insurance, compensation funds, etc. These may be basic proposals to help reduce the unfairness among increasingly diverse employment systems.

    Thanks to Patchanee Khamnak and the Good Electronics Thailand network for providing information for this special report.

    [1] Office of Industrial Economics.  Industrial Economic Conditions Report 2018 and Trends for 2019.  Available online at http://www.oie.go.th/sites/default/files/attachments/industry_overview/annual2018.pdf

    [2] Electrical and Electronics Institute.  Number of businesses and workers http://www.thaieei.com/eiu/TableauPage.aspx?MenuID=35

    [3] This happens through a schools-in-factories project, officially known as the Work-integrated Learning (WiL) project which the National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office (STI) (see http://www.sti.or.th/wil.php) explains as a collaboration between the STI, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the industrial sector. The project aims to increase the country’s competitiveness by producing and developing technical and technological manpower (higher vocational certificate and bachelor’s degree level) with skills and knowledge that truly match the needs of the industrial sector and to solve the workforce mismatch between the industrial and educational sectors. All parties, especially “human resources” that participate in the program receive effective benefits.

    [4] Memorandum of Understanding on Employment Cooperation. According to the explanation of Pruek Taotawin and Sutee Satrakom in “MOU for Transnational Employment, Neoliberalism, Labour Protection and Strategic Adjustments to State Regulation” in the Journal of Mekong Societies, Vol. 7 No. 3, September-December 2011, pp 1-26, the MOUs between Thailand and its neighbouring countries, namely the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia and Myanmar, came about between 2002-2003 in a context where labour from neighbouring countries flooded into Thailand. Meanwhile the state mechanisms for managing migrant workers were ineffective, as seen by the many illegal migrant workers in Thailand who could not be managed or stopped. Under these circumstances, the MOUs were initiated.

    HighlightIn-Depth
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Dissolve any party and we still won’t vote for you: reactions to the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party

    Prachatai English - Thu, 2019-03-14 15:22
    Submitted on Thu, 2019-03-14 15:22Prachatai

    On 7 March 2019, the Constitutional Court of Thailand ruled to dissolve the Thai Raksa Chart Party (TRC), claiming that the TRC’s nomination of former princess Ubolratana Mahidol as their candidate for Prime Minister was in opposition to the constitutional monarchy. To many, the verdict was not entirely unexpected. Nevertheless, the court’s ruling is another in a series of political earthquakes which have shaken Thailand in the period leading up to the general election on 24 March 2019, triggering a chain of reaction from the moment the verdict was delivered.

    A crowd gathered after the verdict has been delivered

    Immediately after the hearing concluded, the crowd which had gathered at the Constitutional Court headquarters at the Chaengwattana Government Complex to hear the verdict began to shout “dissolve any party and we’ll still fight” and “a pen can kill a dictatorship” over and over in response to the court’s ruling. They also said that on 24 March, people should vote for the Pheu Thai, Puea Chart, Thai Liberal, and Future Forward parties – the parties they see as pro-democracy and willing to obstruct the NCPO’s power succession. Meanwhile, Ubolratana, who was in Germany at the time, said on her Instagram account nichax that she heard the news of TRC’s dissolution and found it to be very sad and depressing. To a comment which said “This is sad, but I would like to keep standing by you,” she replied “Thank you. I will do my best.”

    “A pen can kill a dictatorship”: the internet speaks out on TRC’s dissolution

    Online, the hashtags #ยุบให้ตายก็ไม่เลือกลุง (“Dissolve any party and we still won’t vote for uncle”) and #24มีนากาพรรคฝั่งประชาธิปไตย (“Vote for pro-democracy parties on 24 March”) trended on Twitter after the verdict was delivered. Student activist Tanawat Wongchai tweeted on 8 March asking netizens to tweet with the hashtag to send a message to Gen Prayut and the NCPO that even if all pro-democracy parties are dissolved, they still won’t vote for any party that would keep the NCPO in power.

    The reactions on Twitter showed increasing opposition against the NCPO as a result of what the public sees as an attempt to eliminate a political rival, and a decreasing faith that the election would be free and fair.

    Meanwhile, satirical Facebook pages such as เรื้อน and ไข่แมวx posted illustrations of the situation. One represents the election as a running race, in which Gen Prayut is in a go-kart, while the TRC candidate has already been shot down by a man in a judge’s robe, while another shows a disappearing pimple on the face of the character representing Gen Prayut. Both of these illustrations reflect the perception that the court decision added to the unfairness of the election.

    (Photo credit: เรื้อน

    (Photo credit: ไข่แมวx)

    The 2019 general election could be the first election in Thai history in which social media plays a major role. The online movement in response to the TRC dissolution invites people to raise questions about Thailand’s political situation and the fairness of the upcoming general election. Many netizens are saying that they are now paying more attention to politics than before, and many are encouraging each other to go out and vote as this is the only way to bring genuine democracy back to the country. One person tweeted “There won’t be any protest. We’ll fight for democracy at the polls.” Since the majority of Twitter’s demographic is between 18 and 30 years old, most users are first-time voters in this election, and now more than ever, they are paying attention to what is happening in the political sphere.

    According to elect.in.th, first-time voters made up 1.96% of all eligible voters in 2012, but because Thailand has not had a general election in 8 years, first-time voters now make up 13.74% of all voters. This group of voters, who are between 18 and 25 years old, have spent their lives experiencing different periods of political unrest, including two military governments, and their vote could now change the outcome of the election.

    Meanwhile, journalists are also speaking out on their personal social media platforms. Jonathan Head of the BBC, for example, tweeted on 7 March that “it’s worth remembering that the Constitutional Court is viewed as partisan by many Thais. It has now dissolved 3 pro-Thaksin parties and ousted 3 pro-Thaksin governments - with two more ousted by coups. No other political faction has been dealt with like this”.

    Is “vote no” the next move?

    In Phrae, a crowd of voters gathered in front of the house of former TRC candidate Worawat Ueaapinyakul on 11 March holding not only signs telling candidates to keep fighting, but also signs calling on voters not to vote for anyone. It has been reported that if more people in Phrae cast a “no” vote than for any one candidate, it is likely that the election will be invalidated for that constituency, and the Election Commission will have to hold another poll.

    Worawat, after the TRC party was dissolved, said that he has re-joined the Pheu Thai party, and that he would like to wait to hear from the public before he figures out his next move.

      FFP and Pheu Thai under fire following TRC dissolution

    Following the court’s decision to dissolve the TRC party, the Future Forward Party (FFP) issued a statement in response to the verdict, which was read by the party’s Secretary-General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul on a Facebook live broadcast. The next day, Col Burin Thongprapai, the NCPO’s legal officer, filed a complaint with the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) against the FFP website administrator for contempt of court over the video post.

    Related:

    Meanwhile, Anat Chang-in, a lawyer from Loei, filed a complaint with the Loei provincial office of the EC calling for the dissolution of the Pheu Thai party. He claimed that Sudarat Keyurapan, the Pheu Thai candidate for Prime Minister, had violated Article 73 Clause 5 of the organic law on the election of MPs by spreading false information with the claim that if people voted for Pheu Thai, Sukklai Chansawang would be elected as a party-list MP, but Sukklai is not on the list of Pheu Thai candidates.

    Round Up2019 general electionThai Raksa Chartfirst-time votersOnline movementPolitical harassment
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Prayut’s untimely struggle with pop culture.

    Prachatai English - Wed, 2019-03-13 20:22
    Submitted on Wed, 2019-03-13 20:22Thammachart Kri-aksorn

    Prayut Chan-o-cha is losing the Thai pop culture war as the election date approaches. Anti-junta groups are not convinced by the junta leader’s choices of song, food, dress, musical instruments and his social media strategy as a whole, while other political parties have already moved on to serious campaign debates. Still, he has the upper hand because of the constitution written for him.

    Prayut's new look

    2.6 million Thais have registered for early voting on 17 March, 5 days from today. Political parties have turned to campaigning on their policies and political positions. 12 days from now, 51 million will cast their votes in the general election and they are eager to learn what political parties will offer them.

    In a public debate held by the Standard, one of the best of its kind in Thailand, Sudarat Keyuraphan of the Pheu Thai party made a pledge to launch a Smart Army policy to professionalize the military, end conscription, and divert the military budget to boosting the economy. The Bhumjaithai Party and Chartthaipattana Party focus on agricultural policies.

    Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat Party, announced in the debate that he will not support Prayut to be the next Prime Minister but may join the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party to form a government coalition if it can meet his conditions. The Future Forward Party criticized the Democrats for siding with the pro-junta party. The anti-junta position of the Thai Liberal Party’s Pol Gen Seripisut Temiyavet faced tough scrutiny as he was appointed Chief of the Royal Thai Police by the 2006 junta government of the time.  

    The Standard's Debate
    Source: The Standard

    The political atmosphere has become more intense as the use of cultural references declined. “Fah loves daddy”, an incredibly popular phrase used by girl fans of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, referring to a famous scene in a Thai soap opera where “Fah”, an ambitious female character, has a relationship with her sugar daddy to advance her career, has faded into the background of the FFP election campaign as it fights a series of lawsuits, allegations and misinformation fabricated by the establishment.

     The "fah loves daddy" scene and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit

    One can also see this pattern in Sudarat Keyuraphan of the Pheu Thai party, whose beautiful daughter has attracted overwhelming support from fanboys. “Love me love my mom” became a popular sentiment among Thai voters. Chatchart Sittiphan of Pheu Thai party also perform well. But now that hype is fading as Pheu Thai has to work hard after the Thai Raksa Chart party, its ally also associated with Thaksin, was dissolved by the Constitutional Court.

    Yossuda 'Jennie' Keyuraphan and her mother

    Meme of Thanathorn losing support to Sudarat's daughter. Source: Anakot Meme


    Chatchart Sittiphan eating dinosaur-shaped fried dough stick to intimidate conservative opponents.

    Other political parties also joined the pop culture war by deploying good-looking personalities on the battle field to attract voters, but nobody joined the battle as late as Prayut Chan-o-cha. And the feedback is mixed because for certain groups it is difficult to dilute a deeply ingrained anti-junta sentiment.

    How dare anyone say that our dear leader is not beloved by all? Well, here we are with the proof. “Wan Mai” (or New Day), the 8th and most recent single release by Prayut, suffered 6.5k dislikes on YouTube and earned only 473 likes from his fans (as of 12 March). If you want to sympathize with him, you can listen to the song below.

    According to Khaosod English, Prayut also posted a picture of his “modest meal” on Facebook to demonstrate his down-to-earth lifestyle. As of now, he has 57k reactions and 11k shares:

    “Delicious stuff doesn’t always have to be expensive. #SmartChoice”

    But it turned out that he faced a barrage of mockery. While some dismiss it as an obvious setup, a twitter user sent a satirical post referring to the junta’s 36 billion baht submarine deal with China:

    “Good submarines don’t always have to be expensive.”

    เรือดำน้ำดี ไม่จำเป็นต้องแพง#ฉลาดเลือก pic.twitter.com/bsXqQbX8rU

    — Kampanart Poorahong (@ArtKampanart) March 11, 2019

    Underlying the point that it is dangerous to engage with popular culture, Facebook user Wachinan Somjai commented: 

    “Other candidates show off their visions. Uncle Tu shows off his meal”.

    Now let’s look at the pictures. On 9 March, Prayut’s fan page posted an album of portraits, attempting a PR strategy of presenting his new character in a positive light:

    His die-hard fans undoubtedly support him, but he received a long lecture from a transgender Facebook page named Tud Review which described the presentation as “wrong personal branding”. In Thai, ‘Tud’ means transgender and in a way, they are regarded by society as gurus in popular culture:

    “The problem with this contradictory presentation may come from an attempt to ‘look younger’, warm-hearted, cute, and cheerful, and erase his previous aggressive image. It is an attempt to change his identity from the serious look of a “high-ranking elderly military officer” to that of a young man who understands teenagers in order to captivate the millennials, the constituency that he hardly gets any support from. This is so that he can focus on teenagers who would otherwise support new parties or parties that look professional and modern.

    This warm-hearted side of Uncle Tu may actually look cute and we rarely see it, but it does not feel right or feel real. He is not himself, because we are so familiar with our previous experiences from the media that stay in our vision. This makes it difficult to fix or adjust his image in this sudden way or for us to accept it.

    Wanting and trying to be someone else is not always a success!”

    Nevertheless, he persisted. On 12 March, several sources reported that Prayut drank a coffee, picked up a guitar, and said that “sometimes I have an artistic mood, sometimes I get angry. This is the feeling of a soldier. This is what’s inside me.” So far so good, but Thai netizens spotted that the guitar has no strings. They also encouraged him to work in music industry instead of pursuing political career.

    Even though he is losing his struggle with popular culture, he may still be winning the game due to the 2017 Constitution that was written to serve him. Backed by the 250 non-elected senators, Prayut Chan-o-cha will need to secure only 126 votes from the House of Representatives to earn a majority of the whole parliament (376 out of 750) and become Prime Minister.

    Prayut also has back-up from other non-elected independent bodies. Having dissolved the TRC party, the Election Commission of Thailand, appointed by the NCPO, decided not to pursue Phalang Pracharat Party for using the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s budget to reserve tables in its fund-raising dinner. A complaint was also made against Phalang Pracharat for offering government welfare cards to citizens who promised to vote for the party, but one can anticipate that ECT will not take up that case.

    Round Up
    Categories: Prachatai English

    “Programming will return shortly”: international news media broadcasts censored?

    Prachatai English - Wed, 2019-03-13 12:33
    Submitted on Wed, 2019-03-13 12:33Prachatai

    Al Jazeera’s news broadcast on True Visions cable TV momentarily stopped on the morning of 8 March. It is currently not confirmed which story was cut.

    At 9.42 on 8 March, it was reported that Al Jazeera’s news broadcast was cut off, leaving only a blank screen with the message: “Programming will return shortly.”

    The BBC’s broadcast, also through True Visions, was also briefly cut both on 7 March and the morning of 8 March, and the same message was shown on the screen. Jonathan Head, BBC’s Southeast Asia correspondent, tweeted “It’s sadly routine now. Thailand is preparing for an election, but the climate of military intolerance persists.”

    A few social media users say that other foreign media channels, such as Australia Network and Bloomberg, also had their broadcasts cut off on 7 and 8 March.

    It is currently uncertain which story has been cut. But it is speculated that it was most likely the report on the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart party. Wayne Hay, an Al Jazeera reporter, told Prachatai that they are aware of this happening, but were never officially informed by the television providers or the government as to why.  

    This is not the first time the international news media have been censored. On 8-9 February, when the TRC Party nominated former princess Ubolratana Mahidol as their candidate for Prime Minister, the broadcasts from BBC and CNN were also blacked out. In 2016, a similar thing happened to both Al Jazeera and BBC. Following the death of King Bhumibol, Al Jazeera ran a report on censorship during the mourning period, which said that foreign media broadcasting through Thai cable networks had been censored. The report also said that students had been recruited to watch both Al Jazeera and BBC and to report content that needed to be cut out, and that True Visions said that they were only following state policy.

     

    NewsAl JazeeraBBCThai Raksa Chartpress freedom
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Access denied: challenges for people with disabilities in the 2019 election

    Prachatai English - Tue, 2019-03-12 15:44
    Submitted on Tue, 2019-03-12 15:44Thisable.me and Prachatai English

    Access to information, mock election, support for people with hearing and/or visual impairment are essential to genuine universal suffrage. ThisAble.me interviewed Pongsak Chan-on, the Thailand coordinator for ANFREL, on the challenges faced by people with disability voting in the upcoming 2019 general election.

    Multimedia
    Categories: Prachatai English

    The fight for love: LGBTQ rights policies in the 2019 general election

    Prachatai English - Tue, 2019-03-12 11:32
    Submitted on Tue, 2019-03-12 11:32Anna Lawattanatrakul (story) and Kittiya On-in (infographic)

    Thailand tries to present itself as an LGBTQ-friendly nation. The Tourism Authority of Thailand’s campaign “Go Thai, Be Free” shows a gay couple chasing each other across a beautiful beach, and a lesbian couple getting married, while the country has no real legal recognition or support for the LGBT community. The slogan “in Thailand, we believe diversity is amazing” still rings false when same-sex couples cannot legally marry or adopt children together, and transgender people cannot change their titles to match their gender identity, or even dress according to their gender identity in schools, universities, and workplaces.

    Related:

    But Thailand is due to have a general election on 24 March, only 18 days from now. This election is the first since the 2014 military coup, and now, at the height of campaigning, it seems that LGBTQ rights are on the agenda of many political parties. Party representatives are presenting their LGBTQ rights policy on various platforms, including debate shows, and representatives of quite a few parties even attended the Chiang Mai Pride festival, which was held on 21 February 2019.

    In this election, the Future Forward Party has said that it will be pushing for an amendment to Article 1448 in the Commercial and Civil Code, so that the definition of marriage is between two persons instead of being between a man and a woman. Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat, an FFP MP candidate, said that the draft of the Civil Partnership Act still has a few problems which need to be amended, and for everyone to be truly equal, we all need to be subject to the same law. The FFP also proposed to adjust the curriculum, so that it no longer propagates stereotypes and prejudice against the LGBTQ community, and so that young people will have the right understanding of gender, sexuality, and diversity. The FFP also proposes educating state officials who work with the LGBTQ community and educating the public. Tunyawaj said that education is important, as the LGBTQ community often faces problems being themselves, which is a serious issue, often leading to self-harm.

    The Mahachon Party is presenting a “Diversity is Thailand’s Pride” campaign, proposing that gender, racial, and ethnic diversity is Thailand’s pride. The party proposes legal recognition and protection, both in terms of law and policy, and to focus on identity-based budgeting, such as gender responsive budgeting, to guarantee that policies can be implemented. As for LGBTQ rights, the Mahachon Party is fighting for the right to found a family, and will propose an equal marriage law which will allow same-sex couples to adopt children together, and to use assisted reproductive technology. The party is also proposing a law which will allow gender assignation to be up to each person, and to allow transgender people to change their title to match their gender identity. This is an important issue, as transgender people often face problems when their gender expression does not match the title on official documents, such as national ID cards and passports. The Mahachon Party is also proposing a “Travel with Pride” scheme, promoting the economy through diversity-friendly tourism.

    The Commoners Party supports the amendment of the marriage law so that LGBTQ couples can legally marry and have equal rights to found a family, and proposes a social welfare and healthcare scheme which will support transgender people to live with dignity. The party also proposes a policy that will allow workers to take medical leave for physical and mental recuperation, and to recover from gender affirmation processes, and will increase the length of maternity leave for every gender, and for workers to be able to take leave with pay in both cases. The party hopes that these policies will reduce social and economic disparity. Chumaporn Taengkliang, one of the party founders, has also mentioned legalizing the change in titles for transgender people.

    The Thai Local Power Party proposes setting up a learning centre for parents with LGBTQ children to promote understanding, and will make changes to the curriculum to make sure young people understand that being LGBTQ is normal. The party also says that it will promote the LGBTQ community’s access to their rights, such as to healthcare, insurance and employment, and will also support laws to ensure that LGBTQ couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

    The Puea Chat Party proposes the legalization of same-sex marriage and for LGBTQ couples to have the right to inheritance, and to make medical decisions on their partner’s behalf. It also proposes to set up a learning centre to promote understanding between the LGBTQ community and those outside the community, and to set up an emergency shelter for members of the LGBTQ community who face violence or human rights violations.

    The Thai Liberal Party said that the LGBTQ community should have equal rights, but only proposes to support the Civil Partnership Act and to implement this Act first. Amendment to the marriage law will have to come later.

    The Pheu Thai Party supports amendment of the Commercial and Civil Code, Article 1448, while the now dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party supports the Civil Partnership Act, but recognizes that the content of the Act needs to be scrutinized. Parit Watcharasin, from the Democrat Party, told Morning News on Channel 3 that there should be an amendment to the marriage law. Parit thinks that LGBTQ couples are denied their rights as partners, such as access to health insurance, child adoption, or to take out a loan together, but these problems can be solved by amending the Commercial and Civil Code, without needing to draft a new law.

    Related: 

    On the long road to equality

    Despite LGBTQ rights being on the agenda of many parties, there are still many parties which do not think that this is a major issue. These parties often group the LGBTQ community with other marginalized groups and present their policies in very vague terms. For example, the Polamuang Thai Party’s representative said during the Thairath debate on LGBTQ issues that the party supports state welfare for the LGBTQ community, the underprivileged, and the elderly, while maintaining Thai culture, but the party does not touch on the issues currently being discussed.

    But this attitude is not dangerous, since it shows that the party acknowledges the existence of the movement for LGBTQ rights and does not show any homophobic or transphobic sentiment. On the other hand, certain parties openly oppose LGBTQ rights. For example, deputy leader Natchapol Supattana of the Thai Civilized Party said that members of the LGBTQ community have been successful in Thailand, and that Thailand is a country of freedom, so LGBTQ rights is not a national issue. Natchapol also said that attention should not be paid to issues of LGBTQ rights, or the situation could resemble the conflict in the deep south of Thailand. This attitude shows the speaker’s lack of understanding of the human rights situation in Thailand and a lack of knowledge about issues being discussed internationally. Such a statement also belittles the seriousness of the deep south conflict and paints the LGBTQ community as having the potential to turn violent. This attitude is harmful.

    It is now likely that the draft of the Civil Partnership Act will not be passed by the NLA, and will have to wait until the next government. The attention paid by political parties to LGBTQ rights issues is a good sign. Many parties also have LGBTQ MP candidates, such as Thanwarin Sukapisit and Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat of the FFP and Palinee Ngarm-Pring of Mahachon. It is important that the LGBTQ community is represented in government to ensure that LGBTQ rights will be protected, but from now we can only hope that these parties will do as they have promised.

    Infographic2019 general electionLGBT rights
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Thanathorn fanpage suddenly withdraws support; dirty tricks suspected

    Prachatai English - Mon, 2019-03-11 15:45
    Submitted on Mon, 2019-03-11 15:45Prachatai

    Savethanathorn, a suspicious fanpage, has withdrawn a support from Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit for bringing Future Forward Party (FFP) back into cycle of conflicts. The FFP told the press that the page was opened just not long ago and several sources observed that it may be information operation by military.

    Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit

    On 9 March, Savethanathorn, a suspicious page, posted on Facebook:

    "Dear our fans. For many months, we have been fighting for justice and so that Thanathorn can earn his justice. Because we believed that Thanathorn will lead our nation to the new better future, constructive politics, conflict transformation, and chance for the country’s development after being stuck in conflict for many decades. We are pleased that Thanathorn will amend the constitution for rights and freedom of Thai people, that Thanathorn will bring new technologies like hyperloop into use of Thai people, and that we can support you in every way possible.

    But in reality Thanathorn not only breaks his promises, but he also tries to bring FFP back into cycle of conflicts, just like the old melodramatic politics: he will bring back Thaksin; he attracts TRC’s MPs to join his party; he also make a statement to defame the Court to appeal to former TRC’s supporters, and do undemocratic actions within the party. So, admin team will officially stop supporting the FFP and we still respect decisions of our fans.

    Good luck.”

    The post was published after there was a misinformation about Thanathorn. Several sources bent his statement and reported that Thanathorn will bring Thaksin back, but actually he said that he will bring Thaksin back into fair judicial process.  

    Pannika Wanich, the spokesperson of FFP, told the press that it is up to the admin to open or close a facebook page and the FFP respect all the supporters and non-supporters. Nonetheless, she observed that the page was opened not long ago on 21 February and it published only 15 posts. The page was not very active and only 676 supporters followed this page. So, this page cannot quite represent the FFP’s supporters.

    SaveThanathorn under question

    “Even though this page stops its role, we believed that most of Future Forwarders are still confident and walking with us side by side, not wavered by distorted news, fake news, aimed for obstructing us,” said Pannika.

    Several sources reported the page maybe a result of information operation by the military to discredit the FFP. “IO”, an abbreviation for it, is the term at everyone’s lip in Thailand.

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