Prachatai English

NCPO pressures political opposition; summons Thanathorn on sedition charge

Prachatai English - Wed, 2019-04-03 14:51
Submitted on Wed, 2019-04-03 14:51Prachatai

Col Burin Thongprapai, the NCPO’s legal officer, has filed sedition charges against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party (FFP). Meanwhile, FFP Secretary-General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul also receive a summon to report as witness to the case on the FFP statement on the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party (TRC). 

Piyabutr Sangkanokkul (left) and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (right)

This morning (3 April), Thanathorn posted on his Facebook page that he has been summoned by the police to answer a sedition charge and has to report to the Pathumwan Police Station at 10:00 on 6 April.

The summon said that Thanathorn has been accused of “making an appearance to the public by words, writings, or any other means which is not an act within the purpoe of the Constitution or for expressing an honest opinion or criticism in order to raise unrest and disaffection amongst the people in a manner likely to cause disturbance in the country or to cause the people to transgress the laws of the country” and of “assisting another person who commits or is alleged of having committed an offence which is not a petty offence so that such person may not be punished by giving him lodging, by hiding, or by assisting him by any means so that he may not be arrested.” Both of these charges together may result in a prison sentence of up to 9 years, under Article 116 and Article 189 of the Criminal Code.

The summon named the accuser as Col Burin Thongprapai, the NCPO’s legal officer, but did not refer to any particular act of alleged sedition.

Thanathorn posted on his Facebook page that he will be reporting to the police as ordered to prove his innocence and to prove that the judicial process in Thailand will not become a tool for the dictatorship.

“It is clear that the old political game didn’t stop after the election. Instead, it intensifies, because they are afraid of Future Forward,” Thanathorn posted on his Facebook. “They are afraid of our victory, which was beyond expectation for many, afraid of the fact that the kind of politics which focus on policies, ideals, and creating faith has received the people’s support without a need for money or influence. They are afraid of the fact that there are almost 6.3 million people who truly support Future Forward.”

“I have neither law nor state power on my side. I don’t have Section 44. I don’t have weapons or prisons I can use to get rid of any opposition. But I believe that I have millions of people who love justice on my side, who are ready to show that they won’t tolerate the dark power that wants to destroy Future Forward.”

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, the FFP Secretary-General, also received a summon to report to the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) at 13.00 today (3 April), as witness to the case about the FFP’s statement on the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party (TRC), which he read on a Facebook live broadcast. Piyabutr said that he only received the summon before noon today, and he has his lawyer informed the inquiry official to move the date.

“After the election, the Future Forward Party has received the trust of the 6.2 million people who voted for us. Throughout the week, we have been calling for the ECT to publish the vote count in each polling station. But instead, we now have a collection of summons,” Piyabutr posted on his Facebook page.

Related:

During the election campaign period, FFP has been hit with several legal prosecutions. Thanathorn and two other party leaders were sued under Section 14 (2) of the Computer Crime Act for criticizing the NCPO in a Facebook Live broadcast. The decision whether to indict the three FFP leaders has now been delayed until 26 April. Lt Gen Pongsakorn Rodchompoo, the FFP Deputy Leader, is also being prosecuted by the TSCD for sharing fake news about Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. The NCPO has also filed a complaint with the TCSD against the FFP website administrator and other relevant personnel for contempt of court, after a video clip of the statement on the dissolution of TRC party, read by Piyabutr, was shared on the website. 

News2019 general electionFuture Forward PartyThanathorn JuangroongruangkitPiyabutr Saengkanokkuljudicial harassment
Categories: Prachatai English

ECT penalties and how it could affect the election results

Prachatai English - Tue, 2019-04-02 20:17
Submitted on Tue, 2019-04-02 20:17Prachatai

The poll for Thailand’s 2019 general election closed on Sunday, 24 March. But while voters wait for the official election result, they also have to wait and see whether the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) will be issuing penalties, known as ‘yellow cards’, ‘orange cards’, ‘red cards’, and ‘black card’ to any candidate.

The 2007 Constitution and the 2007 Organic Law on the Election Commission allowed the ECT to issue a ‘yellow card’ if it found evidence of election fraud but could not specify which candidate cheated, and the ECT could order a re-vote. The ECT could also issue a ‘red card’ if it could specify which candidate committed election fraud, and could order a re-vote and ban the candidate from running.

However, under the 2017 Constitution, the 2017 Organic Law on the Election Commission and the 2017 Organic Law on Election of MPs, the ECT and the courts have the authority to investigate any suspicions that an election did not proceed in a transparent manner and to issue penalties.

According to Nawat Sripathar of King Prajadhipok’s Institute, there are three types of penalty the ECT may issue in this election, ‘yellow cards’, ‘orange cards’ and ‘red cards’.

Under a ‘yellow card’ the ECT has the authority to order a re-vote, without being able to prove which candidate committed election fraud.

If before or on the election day, the ECT finds evidence that the election in any constituency has not proceeded in an honest and just manner, the ECT has the authority to suspend, withhold, rectify, or cancel the election and to order a re-vote or re-count in a particular polling station or in every polling station.

After the election result has been announced, if the ECT finds evidence that the election in any constituency did not proceed in an honest or just manner, but cannot prove that the candidate who won the election committed fraud, the ECT can file a request with the Supreme Court to hold a re-vote and to revoke the candidate’s MP status, valid from the day the court issues a ruling. The ECT must then hold a re-vote as soon as possible.

An ‘orange card’ gives the ECT the authority to temporarily remove a candidate who is unqualified or banned from elections, to prevent such a candidate from getting involved in the election or a re-vote.

If before the election day, the ECT finds that any constituency or party-list MP candidate is unqualified or is prohibited from running in an election, the ECT may file a request with the Supreme Court to remove the candidate from the list of MP candidates.

If before the election result is announced, the ECT finds that any candidate committed any action which means that the election did not proceed in an honest or just manner, or if there is evidence that any candidate makes or support others in committing fraud, or knows of fraud and does not prevent it, the ECT may revoke the candidate’s right to run in elections for up to a year. If the candidate has received enough votes to be elected, the ECT may cancel the election and order a re-vote. If the candidate did not win the election, their votes will not be used in calculating the number of party-list MPs.

A ‘red card’ is the revocation of the right to run in an election for a specific period of time, and is under the authority of the Supreme Court. The ECT may file a request with the Supreme Court to revoke a candidate’s right to run in an election or their right to vote, if it can be proven that the candidate or other person committed fraud or is an accomplice in election fraud. If the Supreme Court rules that the person is guilty, the court may prohibit them from running or voting in elections for 10 years. If the ruling means that there needs to be a re-vote, then the court will also order the guilty candidate or person to be responsible for the cost of holding the re-vote.

Finally, a ‘black card’ is when the Supreme Court impose a lifelong ban on a candidate or person, permanently barring them from running in an election or holding a political office. However, a ‘black card’ is not only a result of committing election fraud. If the Supreme Court or the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Position finds evidence of abnormal wealth, corruption, abuse of power, violation of the Constitution, or serious violation of ethical standards, the Court may also revoke that person’s right to run in an election.

Infographic2019 general election
Categories: Prachatai English

Phrae Sirisakdamkoeng: Within the humanity… of drug users

Prachatai English - Tue, 2019-04-02 16:45
Submitted on Tue, 2019-04-02 16:45Kritsada Subpawanthanakun

Let us look at drug users through the doctoral research of Phrae Sirisakdamkoeng. When they violate all norms set by society, they have to hold onto other values instead to stay within the community. They have to talk to themselves and to God, adjust to their sins without throwing away their religion, when a drug user is more than a “druggie”, but also another human being.

  • When a drug user violates all the main norms of the law, health and religious morals, they have to find other values to hold onto and stay with the community, and those are family relationships.
  • The community doesn’t look at them just from the dimension of being a drug user, but also sees them as children, relatives or friends that grew up in the community.
  • This study leads to an answer in terms of policies on harm reduction and using the community as a base for taking care of drug users.

The attitude of Thai society to drug users is still negative and it is difficult to see how it can be otherwise. The cannabis movement that’s starting to slowly see concrete results is just an exception.

It is hard when Thai society has been inculcated with thoughts, beliefs, and views on drugs and drug users for a long time as we see today. When the spotlight shines on drug users, what people see are druggies, a social burden, criminals, and so on. It is as superficial as that, with no other dimensions for understanding at all.

The PhD dissertation of Phrae Sirisakdamkoeng on ‘Muslims’ Lives in “Drug Dens”: A Southern Community’s Negotiated Normality in Thailand’ tries to look at drug users from a more human dimension, rather than just a one-dimensional completely black character in the drama of life. Drug users well know that they are sinful and not pure according to religious teachings, so they need to find other norms to be able to live in the community and manage some form of relationship that still allows them to relate and see the humanity inside them.

Nevertheless, even though the dissertation mentions religion, this is not something that occurs with any one religion. The use of drugs and intoxication from drugs in every religion is considered sinful. They may be sinners, but they are human.

What was the starting point that made you interested in this topic?

I went to work with the Aids Access Foundation. They wanted to tell the stories of HIV-infected patients in the southern provinces who have a different status compared to patients in other regions, since patients in the three southern provinces were often infected from husbands who injected drugs. They have knowledge about HIV, but they didn’t think it could be passed on within the family. Also, that fact that Islam allows 4 wives means that in some families there is more than 1 wife. The spread of the HIV virus then takes a different form from other places, and the book Under the Hijab’s Shadow was born.

The question when I collected field data was, why are drugs so widespread? I went into the community to interview those infected, and they say that there are a lot of narcotic drugs. The question I had for the people living there is, are they worried about violence? They said that violence is already a normal thing, and that they’re more worried about the drugs that are widespread in the area. This was the origin of my wish to know about this, what is it like, just how bad is it and why do the people here choose to do drugs.

But in the end when I conducted the study, I didn’t choose the southern provinces, because of the problems related to security. So I chose an area with mostly Muslims. The next question is, it’s known that Muslims are religiously strict, so why can’t they deal with drugs? Since we have always believed that religious beliefs will be a protection against all bad things.

So did you get an answer as to why drugs are so widespread even though people are religiously strict?

In the end I didn’t get an answer for that because further along there were various dimensions that appeared to me. When I designed the research methodology, there was only the question of why drugs are still widespread when people are religiously strict. One expression we always hear from people in the area or related to it: ‘wherever there’s a mosque, there’s drugs’. It sounds like Muslim communities have drugs, but actually that’s not it. There are drugs everywhere. Buddhist communities also can’t prevent drugs, because there are many other factors.

We, as people who aren’t related to drugs, perceive drug users as dangerous. The second question of the research is, when so many people are using drugs, then how do they live together with others in society?

When you say many, how many is that?

When I did Under the Hijab’s Shadow, I would ask them how, when they say it is a big problem, should I describe it? People would answer that 60-70% of the men in the village use at least one type of drug. Light drugs would be cannabis or kratom. The heavy drugs are heroin and methamphetamine, which involve a high percentage. 

With women, when I was doing field work there were rumours that they also use drugs. I tried to find out that if only a small number of male drug users are accepted by society, women are accepted even less. Trying to find a woman drug addict who would agree to be interviewed was very difficult, as they are stigmatised. But in the end I did find some women that were happy to talk to us. In the dissertation there is a little about women as well.

What do they do to be able to stay in the community?

When we think of drug users and how they live in society, or how people in society live with drug users, we have major norms in society such as the law. We think that drug users are a group that breaks the law. Second are religious principles, since we know that all religions prohibit drugs. The third is that drug users are breaking norms on health because you’re hurting yourself by consuming substances that are poisonous to the body. Drug users today are considered to be patients. So when we set the research topic, it was not good, because we used our own norms to look at whether they really go against these norms or not and how they live with others. If we don’t establish these norms, we wouldn’t have the question of ‘how do they live with others’, since they are also normal people. Later on we found that this research question also stigmatised them.

What we went to find was how they live with others and found that in reality society doesn’t have just these norms but the society of the community also many other norms whose value they uphold. It doesn’t have to be just these three norms; there are other values that the community has.

The community where we conducted the research isn’t very strict religiously. They are happy to break the law in every way. If people outside the community are asked, they would say it’s because these people aren’t religiously strict, helping each other so well when anyone comes to investigate. This leads to the spread of drugs. The question is what is strict and what is not strict, and law violations exist in every community, not just this one.

We went to see in the community how drug users live. While society stigmatises them as illegal, what do people in the same community think of them? When we walked into the community it seemed quite peaceful. They can live together, and drug users walk here and there. Do people in the community know who uses drugs? They all know. Then what allows them to live side by side, since we always think that drug users are dangerous? They may steal from us, rob us, because they want money to buy drugs, or they may go crazy and hurt us.

However, if we’re asking whether people in the community are scared of drug users, or if they think like this of drug users, we found after collecting some data that they don’t see drug users as just simply drug users. They still see drug users as their children, their grandchildren, their friends, as people who grew up in the community and have seen since they were small. When we look at them, we will see drug users as drug users, but we won’t see their humanity in other dimensions. This is an important point. People in the community said that yes, they are addicted to drugs but they’re still our children, our relatives. Then what will we do?

There were many things showing us that drug users are important to them in one way or another, either as neighbours, siblings, friends, children. They can’t simply be cut off. Calling in the police to arrest them they can’t do either because there is just a relationship that is more than that of drug users.

The first answer we found was because they don’t hold onto mainstream norms but hold onto the importance of family. The fact that drug users stay in the community and people in the community hold onto the value of family is important. What does holding onto these norms lead to? The results are that drug users have to be careful. They know they’re in this kind of community, this kind of relationship, and these relationships make them safe.

From one angle, do drug users see the value in this? They see it, because drug users here choose to use drugs that don’t lead to madness. For example, if sedatives are used in a large amount, users will hallucinate. People often say that you’ll be unable to recognise brothers, sisters and friends. It is likely that users will physically harm them. Or taking a lot of methamphetamine and not sleeping for many days will cause the user to hallucinate, go crazy and hurt others. They know what would happen afterwards if they act like this, so it becomes something like a prohibition of this community against using this kind of drug or overdosing on methamphetamine, because they won’t recognise their friends and family.

Not being able to recognise people in their family means they don’t dare to use the drugs, because they will soon not be able to control themselves and may harm their relatives. They choose not to do it, because if they do harm their relatives, there will be problems with their family relationships. Or heroin is a drug found in this community. They know that if they use heroin they will need to increase the dose. More consumption means more money. When more money is needed, where will they find that money? They have to steal, rob. They say that to avoid having to increase the amount of heroin used, they use methadone which they receive from the hospital instead. Methadone has a long-lasting effect, which means that if you use it now, you’re OK for the whole day and don’t want to use any other drug. So it reduces drug use.

The next issue is that they know that stealing may be something that is still acceptable, but robbery or physically assault is unacceptable in the community. To rob a relative is a serious offence. In the community they say that there’s never been a robbery, rape, or murder by drug users; there’s never been one. When we asked drug users why there aren’t any crimes like these, they say how could they do it? You’ll take money from relatives by robbing them? They’re our relatives you know. All of this places a value on being in a family.

What are the results? The results are that drug users can live without being hated. If a drug user were to rob or murder someone in the community, there wouldn’t be a place for them. Not violating the rules of family relations allows them to live in the community, while at the same time the community can still accept them within the dimension of being family.

Do they make efforts to quit?

Of course they do. I think everyone who has been addicted has been through the feelings of wanting to quit because drug addiction has its own cycle. At the start people know it and use it, use it a lot, then become addicted. When they are heavily addicted, their physical condition will worsen. Everyone knows that their body can’t go on anymore. It’s a period where they feel guilty and have to find a way to quit. The important thing is that many people use religion as a pathway, such as dawah, or proselytizing.

This is a process where men travel to various villages to invite people back into the religion. They don’t invite people of different religions, but people of the same religion to sit and converse on religious beliefs and talk about religion. They may go on a dawah for 3 days, 7 days, 10 days or 100 days; it’s up to them. It’s one of the ways drug users choose to abandon or quit drugs.

This means when they’re at a dawah, they don’t use drugs. So don’t they get withdrawal symptoms?

They do get withdrawal symptoms, but they use religion to treat them, such as praying to God, and taking a shower. During the process many people said that, that period of time caused him to feel that he can quit drugs. Mentally, they feel that their bodies are purer. Many people also choose to be treated in a religious rehabilitation centre, it depends on what they choose. Some people choose the method of making an oath to God that they will quit. In Arabic it’s called tawba.

Are there causes to revoke their oath?

There’re many interpretation issues here, because people ask if it’s okay to make an oath many times that they’re going to quit. Some drug users say it’s okay. When they repent, they have to say they will quit. Then they return to drugs, then they can repent again. Religious leaders say they can make an oath only once in life that they’re going to quit, otherwise God will not accept it. There are various interpretations, depending on how the leaders explain it.

Being a drug user is probably already bad enough, but what about HIV-infected drug users? Will that increase problems in their life?

Generally, when someone is infected with HIV, it’s their right to tell others or not tell others about it, so it’s not certain how much the community knows. We didn’t focus on it, but as far as we’ve seen, many people choose not to tell their family and friends in the community.

There was one person who was infected with HIV and also a heavy drug user. He also steals. We called him Karim in the dissertation. He used drugs since he was a teenager. Originally his family had a good status, and his parents brought him up while giving him everything. In his house there were 2 sons; one is a drug addict, and the other is a drug addict and a drug seller. Karim has used drugs for a long time and became infected with HIV. It was a great pain for Karim when he found out he was infected. Karim was already married. If one were to ask if he loved his wife, he does, but his wife asked him to quit drugs many times and Karim refused. But when he found he was infected, he had his wife leave the house to stay with somebody else and to not have anything to do with him again.

He felt that using drugs was already bad enough, to be infected was even worse. With the love he had, he wasn’t going to hold her back anymore. He tried to get her out of his life. His wife also loved him, but in the end left and remarried. More than 10 years after his wife left him, Karim still hasn’t remarried because he still loves his wife.

After he found out he was infected, he had people at his house separate their plates and cutlery even though he knew that they couldn’t catch it through these things. He protected in every possible way his family from to being close to an infected person, even though he knew it doesn’t spread that way; but he felt that it was the only responsibility he could take towards his family.

In his own family, after his mother died, his older sister who he was very close to, showed him that she did not hate him at all. His sister strictly ordered her children not to ever show signs of hatred towards him. Karim has two duties, which are to look after his sick father and to look after his sister’s children. His sister’s children were brought up by him. Everyone made life normal out of their love for him, but he was still using drugs. Karim was the person who explained that he doesn’t have the courage to meet his religious teachers. He feels ashamed. When he was heavily addicted, he stole everything.

As a Muslim, how do drug users talk to themselves and to God?

Almost all the drug users we interviewed studied religion at school or the house of religious teachers. They know that drugs are against the principles. Do they feel guilty? They always do, but it’s an addiction. You don’t need to be a Muslim, Buddhists also know that it’s against religious principles. All drug users have to fight against themselves with guilty consciences. Many people said they don’t have the courage to look their religious teachers in the face. They would shun them and go by a different way. Some people said that many times when they used the drug they would cry that they would end up in hell. Many are ashamed to go and pray in the mosque because they think they’re dirty from the drugs.

Tawba or taking an oath is to speak to their God, accepting that they’ve sinned. If possible, they would like to redeem themselves. There was one person that tried to quit and went to work with the Ozone Foundation. He said that every Friday he wanted to go to pray because he knew he had sinned. Praying allows him to stay on the path of his religion. When he prayed in the community’s mosque he would be looked at. Sometime people would ask him if he was about to die so he came to pray close to going to the graveyard. It was a way to chase him out. He was stigmatised, and no one accepted him back into his religion. That’s why he worked with the Ozone group in another province. Every weekend he tries to return home, but he has to finish praying on Friday first so that he doesn’t have to pray at home since other mosques don’t know that he’s a drug user even though the best way for Muslims is to pray at their local mosques. Every time he goes to pray is to go to negotiate, to talk to his God, because it is his attempt to get closer to God.

What do they do during month of Ramadan?

They practise fasting (sawm). They won’t take any drugs in the day, but take them at night, going by the normal fasting cycle by not consuming anything. In this village many people go to receive methadone from the hospital. The hospital normally gives out methadone from 8 am to 12 noon only, and patients must take them in front of the nurse, but the hospital understands their ways and wants to support drug users in their fasting. So this hospital allows drug users to receive their methadone after the sun sets, so that their drug-taking cycle goes with their fasting cycle.

As a religious leader they say it’s probably unacceptable. Their fasting probably isn’t accepted because to fast alongside taking drugs, what does that mean? To fast means you have to be pure, and void breaking all religious principles. Taking drugs even at night is still wrong, isn’t it? But this is the process drug users choose to attempt practise their religion. They can manage themselves only this much.

What policies will the discoveries from this work lead to that will allow drug users and non-drug users to live together?

They practise fasting (sawm). They won’t take any drugs in the day, but take them at night, going by the normal fasting cycle by not consuming anything. In this village many people go to receive methadone from the hospital. The hospital normally gives out methadone from 8 am to 12 noon only, and patients must take them in front of the nurse, but the hospital understands their ways and wants to support drug users in their fasting. So this hospital allows drug users to receive their methadone after the sun sets, so that their drug-taking cycle goes with their fasting cycle.

As a religious leader they say it’s probably unacceptable. Their fasting probably isn’t accepted because to fast alongside taking drugs, what does that mean? To fast means you have to be pure, and void breaking all religious principles. Taking drugs even at night is still wrong, isn’t it? But this is the process drug users choose to attempt practise their religion. They can manage themselves only this much.

What policies will the discoveries from this work lead to that will allow drug users and non-drug users to live together?

There are 2 issues; harm reduction from drug usage and the community as a base to look after drug addicts, in which the state has already announced a policy on community care for drugs users.

Reducing harm from drug use by distributing clean syringes, supporting addicts to substitute methadone, are subjects of great discussion in both law and religion. That’s why religious principles won’t say that it’s a principle that can be done, but Islam is good that it gives importance to the safety of the human body. So some religious leaders uphold this value, that is to make the body as safe as possible. So some religious leaders accept harm reduction from drug use from this angle.

Harm reduction from drug use is not just this, but is harm reduction for drug users and the people around them. Distributing syringes is protecting drug users from contracting HIV. Avoiding HIV infection means that people around them will be safe, but it’s not only that. If you’re with them, accept them as human beings, don’t hound them as drug users who contravene all norms. That will allow them to know how to negotiate to live together. It’s like a discovery in research. They know that if they make the community unsafe, they’re not safe, and they are much worse off.  People in the community do not accept them and hound them out of the community. Being outside the community is not safe. So people seeing drug users as children, grandchildren, as human beings and looking after them as much as they can, accepting them as much as they can, accepting them as more than just a drug addict, they feel safe to be with you and you would also feel safe to be with them as well.

Can this angle be suggested as a policy? Making drug users safe, and us safe, is harm reduction from drug use in a way that isn’t just about health. This is the first issue.

The suggestion of community care for drug users actually has many examples. Communities that accept and don’t chase away drug users and look after them as much as they can such as looking after them, warning them, seeing that they’re taking a lot of drugs and telling them to keep it down a bit, warning them as a friend or as family will reduce their drug usage or eventually they may be able to quit. Not chasing them away allows them to stay in a set of relationships and be cared for in the community.

But right now there is a misunderstanding that community care of drug users is the idea that they have to build rehabilitation centres in communities, which is not the case. Building rehabilitation centres is not community care. If you brought drug users who aren’t family members into the community, the community may be concerned. They are people who they don’t know. In the community where we went to collect data, because they know each other, they can trust people they have brought up themselves. No matter if they use drugs, they won’t hurt us, won’t steal from us. Not all drug users steal, not all of them lie. There are those who don’t lie. There are those who don’t steal. There are those who are responsible. Then people in the community are confident that the drug users won’t do anything, because they know that these people were raised here by their own hands; they see it with their own eyes; they know these people. This is community care of drug users. It means the community sees these things. It’s not building rehabilitation centres and bringing in drug users from who knows where.

 

Interviewdrug policy reformwar on drugs
Categories: Prachatai English

How to have an election and avoid having democracy.

Prachatai English - Tue, 2019-04-02 16:42
Submitted on Tue, 2019-04-02 16:42Harrison George

Suppose you are running an elitist authoritarian political system with one of the highest levels of economic inequality in the world.  You’ve managed to spin out your democracy-free administration for almost five years – longer than any democratically-elected government has ever lasted.  But the pressure is mounting to acquire at least the appearance of democratic rule.  Besides, you are getting a bit irritated at being called ‘the last military dictatorship in the world’.

So what can you do?

Forget the violations of human rights, the corruption, the incompetence, the broken promises.  What really sticks out in the public mind as the most blatant failing of your time in power has been the absence of elections.

The simple-minded equation ‘elections = democracy’ is enough to fool most people.  So the trick is to silence the critics by holding an election, but doing it in such a way that it doesn’t involve any real democracy and leaves intact the current elitist, authoritarian and economically iniquitous system and your control over it. 

How do you do that?  Well, it seems to go like this:

1.  Write your own election rules. 

Start with a new constitution, or better still a false start then a second new constitution, because that uses up more time.  Then hold a referendum where it is effectively illegal to campaign against it.  For voters this is good training for when the real vote takes place. 

Dilute the power of the ballot box by giving yourself the right to handpick a totally undemocratic Senate.  Appoint a committee, whose names are kept secret, to draw up a list of candidates, whose names are kept secret, from which you will pick most senators, whose names are kept secret.  If anyone complains about this secrecy, confuse the issue by talking about the secrecy of the ballot, national security and any other irrelevance that you can think of.

Produce a raft of new election laws so detailed and self-contradictory that you can always fault someone for something.  Don’t worry about writing in too many rights for the people or restrictions on your own actions.  These rules are for other people, not you (see 2 below).

2.  Choose your own referee. 

You can’t just get rid of independent organizations.  It looks too obvious.  So make sure you have the right people in them.  Any independent organisation that acts like it is, well, independent, like the National Human Rights Commission or the Election Commission, will have to have a mass clear-out. 

You appoint your supporters to a National Legislative Assembly who then appoint the Election Commissioners, making sure that (a) they do not have enough time to learn the job; (b) they have no relevant experience; and (c) they have no calculators. 

In cases like the Constitutional Court, which has all along acted dutifully like ‘good’ people should, you keep the incumbents on, even if this goes against the constitution you have just written (see 1 above).

3.  Propaganda

Campaign relentlessly on the enduring Thai mantra that politics and politicians are dirty.  All the time you have laws in place to prevent politicians from saying or doing anything that might prove the opposite. 

Then, when it is finally time for an election, ignore everything you have said for four years and become politician yourself.  And do try to smile.

4.  Tilt the playing field. 

Make up your own party and give it a name that is like one of your many government freebie programmes.  Stuff it with as many old-style politicians (see 3 above) as you can afford.

Have serving cabinet members run the party for you.  Hold a fund-raising event where government agencies allegedly donate tax-payers’ money to your party.  Have your Election Commission investigate these claims and decide that since no money came from abroad, that’s all right then. 

Meanwhile mount multiple prosecutions against the party that seems to be galvanizing an anti-military opposition on the social media that, despite your freshly drafted Computer Crimes Act and Cyber Security Act, you still can’t properly control.

5.  Control the vote-counting.

Your handpicked incompetents in the EC will arrange this for you, by losing ballots, misleading voters, giving out contradictory results, explaining the contradictions with contradictory reasons, etc. 

6.  And if all this still doesn’t work.

Select as Army Commander-in-Chief someone who is ready and willing to save the country from democracy by staging the next coup.  And who salutes really, really nicely.

About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

Alien Thoughtsanti-democracydemocracy2019 general electionmilitary dictatorship
Categories: Prachatai English

Protest leader assaulted, Ekkachai's car torched again after campaign to impeach ECT

Prachatai English - Mon, 2019-04-01 19:31
Submitted on Mon, 2019-04-01 19:31Prachatai

On 31 March 2019 at 22.30, two men in black clothes rode a motorcycle to assault Anurak 'Ford' Jeantawanich, the leader of the protest to impeach ECT. Ekkachai's car was also torched, causing damage to documents which people signed to impeach ECT. However, they are still good enough for submission.   

According to Anurak's Facebook post, he was hit in his house with a giant stick and he was injured at his left arm. The perpetrators ran away after people shouted to call for help:

"I was injured during nighttime after I came back from the protest to collect signatures for impeaching the ECT. When I arrived at home around 21.45 by taxi, two perpetrators in black clothes and motorcycle helmets rode a motorcycle and parked it in front my house. One of them ran into my house with a giant stick to assault me. I fought to protect myself. I took the stick from him and hit him until the stick broke in two halves. The perpetrators ran away when people shouted for help. The evidence is the giant stick I hold. I was injured at my bleeding arm, nothing more. I already called 191 for the police."

Ekkachai Hongkangwan, the activist who also campaigns to impeach ECT and have been assaulted for 6 times, also reported his car was torched for the second time. He said that 200-300 documents in the car which people signed to impeach ECT were damaged, but they are still good enough for submission.  

Yesterday (31 March 2019), I and Anurak Jeantawanich co-organised a campaign to impeach the ECT with 200-300 people who signed the document. Last night, I did not bring these documents out of my car, but my car was torched. The documents were partially burned and then soaked as a result of an attempt to extinguish the fire. Now I am trying to dry these documents. Even though they are not in good conditions, but the texts are readable. So, I decided to continue using these documents.   

Anurak Jeantawanich also posted on Facebook that the sound amplifier in the car used in the campaign to impeach ECT was damaged. 

On Sunday (31 March) Bangkok sees 2 protests at Victory Monument and Ratchaprasong. ECT's report on the voter turnout which adjusted from 65.96% at 90% of counting to 74.69% at 100% of counting.The complete but unofficial result favors Phalang Pracharat even more as its vote increase for 500k from 7.9 million to 8.4 million. The campaign aims to collect 1 million signatures in total to impeach the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) for unreliable election results. 

 

News
Categories: Prachatai English

Two protests on Sunday to impeach ECT

Prachatai English - Mon, 2019-04-01 16:40
Submitted on Mon, 2019-04-01 16:40Prachatai

Bangkok sees 2 protests on Sunday (31 March) to impeach ECT. One protest was held at Victory Monument. Another was held at Ratchaprasong. The campaign aims to collect 1 million signatures in total to impeach the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) for unreliable election results.

Nuttaa Mahattana protesting at Victory Monument

Protest at Victory Monument

At Victory Monument’s skywalk, the demonstration began at 15.40 as protesters started gathering. Many police and reporters observed the protest. The protester shows the sign reads "I'm not afraid of invalid ballots, I'm afraid of additional ballots." The sign refers to ECT's report on the voter turnout which adjusted from 65.96% (at 90% of counting) to 74.69% (at 100% of counting). The complete but unofficial result favors Phalang Pracharat even more as its vote increase for 500k from 7.9 million to 8.4 million.

Later on, the police announced that they need to prepare the route for a member of royal family to pass through, and asked the protester to move to Koh Din Dang. When they moved towards there, the protesters prepared the table to collect people's signatures to impeach ECT in front of the Victory Mall. The protesters also prepared copies of ID and House Registration to sign document.  

According to leaflets provided by the protesters, the campaign plans to collect 1 million signatures by 4 April. The leaflets also provide guidelines how to download documents, mail address of where to send them to, etc.

The police asked the protesters to move to one side of the skywalk so people can pass by. The protesters decided to go downstairs, but the crowd still overflew into the road from time to time. The protesters show signs read "respect our voice", "see my god damn head", "stop the election fraud", "invalid ballots, increased ballots, b*****t," etc.

The protest at Victory Monument ended at 18.00. Chonthicha Jangrew, an organizer of the protest, told Prachatai English that she went to Phayathai Police Station after the protest to pay fine of 400 baht for violating Controlling Public Advertisement by Sound Amplifier Act and Road Traffic Act.

Protest at Ratchaprasong

At Ratchaprasong area, the protesters in red shirts started gathering at 15.40 to collect signatures to impeach ECT. Ekkachai Hongkangwan, a leader of the protest, said that ECT is unprofessional for delayed and inaccurate report which adjusts the voter turnout from 65% to 74% out of nowhere.

Left: Ekkachai Hongkangwan

Ekkachai also demanded that the ECT releases the result of calculation of party-list MPs. At least, the unofficial version is okay. The media should not have to do by themselves what ECT is supposed to do for them. As the official result will not be announced until 9 May, the estimated number of party-list MPs is unknown. News agencies tried to report the approximate number of party-list MPs, but their results from the calculation are not the same because the calculation method written in the law is very ambiguous.

Anurak 'Ford' Jeantawanich

Later on, Anurak 'Ford' Jeantawanich read his statement:  

Announcement of the Victory of the People

As the civil society who have been calling for an election from September 2018 until today, for seven months, the People Calling for Elections, as representatives of the people, would like to make a statement for both the national and international media as follows.

1. The election held on 24 March 2019 was full of cheating. They use every trick in the book to support the pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party to win the election including vote buying, printing extra ballots, questionable vote counting, forcing soldiers to vote for the party, etc. This election is considered as one of the dirtiest in Thai history, similar to the election of 1957, in the era of Gen Phibunsongkhram, 62 years ago.

2. Despite all the cheating, a pro-democracy party won the election. After 100% of the votes were counted, the Pheu Thai Party got 138 seats in the House of Representatives. Phalang Pracharat, the party supported by the military, got 118 seats in the House. As Pheu Thai won 20 seats ahead of the runner up, we believe this is a definitive victory.

3. In this election, the people, who are the owners of the country have now decided they prefer pro-democracy political parties than the pro-junta party. It is evident in 254 seats won by various pro-democracy parties, consisting of 138 for Pheu Thai, 88 for Future Forward, 11 for Thai Liberal, 6 for Prachachart, 6 for New Economics, and 5 for Puea Chart, while the pro-junta parties got 123 seats, consisting of Phalang Pracharat, and Action Coalition for Thailand. The rest are small and medium-sized parties which did not clearly announce whether they supported democracy or dictatorship. And so these parties are ready to form a government with the pro-democracy parties which won the election.

4. After the Election Commission announced 100% of the election results, there was an effort by the junta to confuse the citizens by implying that Palang Pracharat Party had won the election based on the popular votes, which was questionably high. And the scores for Palang Pracharat rose so much when they finished counting after 5 days from when they temporarily stopped counting votes. Some media outlets who serve the military dictatorship also misled many citizens to understand that Phalang Pracharat had won the election. 

5. The People Calling for Elections would like to remind everyone that the principle of this calculation, for systems of democracy in and outside of Thailand, is that in an election, the winning political party is decided by the electoral votes not the popular votes received by the parties. And so it is clear, with no need to doubt, that the political party that won the election on March 24, 2019, is the Pheu Thai Party, which got 138 seats in the House of Representatives, 20 seats distant from Palang Pracharat Party, which got 118 seats. And this is a victory that we can call definitive.

6. The party that won the election, which is Pheu Thai, must be the one to form a government, by inviting parties with the same pro-democracy standpoint and policies that benefit the country, and establish a government for the people. And Palang Pracharat Party must stop spreading news that they themselves won the election and end the competition with Pheu Thai to form a government, which creates confusion for the Thai people. Their refusal to accept defeat and their unwillingness to acknowledge the principles of democracy are disgraceful. A political party like this is unsuitable to work in Parliament, regardless of whether on the side of the government or the opposition.

7. The Pheu Thai Party must nominate the Prime Minister only from 3 candidates that they already specified to the Election Commission, and must not give the position of the Prime Minister which should belong to Pheu Thai to other political parties. The Pheu Thai Party needs to respect the decision of the people, who wants to see the Prime Minister coming from the Pheu Thai Party.

8. From now on, which the people have announced this victory, every soldier must stop wearing a uniform to come out to threaten and intimidate the students and the citizens. They must not prohibit the political expression, because these are the rights and freedom which the people have gained back on the day of the election.

The People Who Want Elections

March 31, 2019, at Ratchaprasong

Source: Anurak Jeantawanich

As a result of the successful negotiation with the police, the protesters deployed the audio amplifier, claiming that they want to dance and Anurak wants to improvise his speech to convince people to impeach ECT. The protest continued and the table was open to collect signatures until 20.00. The leaders were brought to Lumpini Police Station. Ekkachai reported that he was fined for 200 baht for violating Controlling Public Advertisement by Sound Amplifier Act.

News2019 general election
Categories: Prachatai English

Kasetsart University bars students from campaigning to impeach ECT

Prachatai English - Fri, 2019-03-29 14:37
Submitted on Fri, 2019-03-29 14:37Prachatai

Yesterday (28 March), a group of students at Kasetsart University said that university officials prohibited them from campaigning to impeace the ECT on university ground, and that they were also photographed by police officers.

Students campaigning at Kasetsart University, after having to move out of university ground

Following the election day on 24 March, an online campaign was started on Change.org to impeach the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) for their incompetence in organizing the election and possible election fraud.

The online campaign now has more than 800,000 signatories, but legally, it cannot be used to impeach the ECT. Because of this, students at universities across the country organized a campaign to impeach the ECT by setting up a spot where people can come to sign the petition.  

At Kasetsart University, a table was set up near the university library yesterday for people to sign the petition. However, Aranyika Changwa, a student at the university, said that police officers came to photograph the campaign table, and that a university official came to tell the group that the university cannot allow them to campaign as they have not request to use the space.

The students moved their campaign to the Faculty of Social Sciences, but Aranyika said that university security and plainclothes police officers stopped their campaign. The university issued an announcement prohibiting any unauthorized activities from taking place on university ground, and university officials told the students that the university cannot get involved in politics.

University officials also stop some students from signing the petition, and Aranyika said that they finally had to move the campaign out of university ground. 

Police officers seen near the campaign spot at Kasetsart University

In addition to the campaign at Kasetsart University, campaigns were also organized at Chulalongkorn University, Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus, Naresuan University, Burapa University, Chiang Mai University, Prince of Songkla University, Rajapat Rajanagarinda University, and at many more institutions across the country.

The campaign at Rajapat Rajanagarinda University was also barred by university authorities. The university issued an announcement saying that the university has never authorize the campaign’s use of university space and therefore cannot allow the campaign to take place, and that the university must remain in a position of political neutrality.

Meanwhile, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that Chiang Mai University has also prohibited students from campaigning, claiming that the students did not ask the university for permission to use the space, and at Khon Kaen University, students said that police officers came to observe the campaign and questioned them. There was also a report that university officials also came to tell the students that the Faculty of Law did not allow them to use the space.

News2019 general electionElection Commission of Thailand (ECT)Kasetsart University
Categories: Prachatai English

Stalemate before catastrophe? – challenges to democratic camp after election result

Prachatai English - Fri, 2019-03-29 00:08
Submitted on Fri, 2019-03-29 00:08Prachatai

Thailand is now stuck in a political stalemate. The democratic camp can win the House, but cannot choose the Prime Minister, while the pro-junta camp can choose the Prime Minister but cannot pass legislation through the House. Only one casualty for the democratic camp, and Thailand will be under a disguised military dictatorship for the next four years.

 Prawit Wongsuwan (left) and Prayut Chan-o-cha (right)

The complete but unofficial election results have been released. Pheu Thai has the most MPs, followed by Phalang Pracharat, Future Forward, Democrat, Bhumjaithai, Thai Liberal Party, Chart Thai Pattana Party, Chart Pattana Party, New Economics Party, Prachachart Party, Phua Chart Party, Phalang Puangchon Thai Party, and others. Even though the official results will not be released until 9 May, we can see where this is going. 

Phalang Pracharat then claimed that it should get to form the government first because it has the most popular votes. This argument has since been debunked by scholars. Pornson Liengboonlertchai from the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, argued that, according to the Constitution, Thailand is a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. It also has a political convention that the party which has the most MPs should get to form the government first. 

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the leader of Future Forward Party (FFP), said that he was ready to become the Prime Minister, but FFP will not nominate him, because the Party did not get the most MPs. So, FFP announced that the Pheu Thai party should be the first party to form the government. FFP also supported Pheu Thai’s candidate Sudarat Keyurapan to be the Prime Minister, although she may not be elected as MP, due to the extremely unusual election system designed by the junta, in which Pheu Thai may get no party-list MPs. 

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul (left)
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (right)

The ball now goes to Pheu Thai. Sudarat has said the party was ready to form the government regardless of whether she becomes the Prime Minister. Yesterday (27 March), 7 parties formed the democratic camp, with 255 out of 500 MPs, including Pheu Thai, Phua Chart, Future Forward, Thai Liberal Party, Prachachat Party, Thai People Power Party, and New Economics Party. All of them signed an anti-NCPO MOU, except the New Economics Party whose leader, Mingkwan Sangsuwan, said he has a meeting with the Election Commission (ECT) during the press conference. However, he confirmed that he is joining the democratic camp in his  interview with The Standard.

So, the democratic camp has apparently won the House. However, the 2017 Constitution said that during the first 5 years after its enforcement, the 250 senators, who are to be appointed by the junta, can join the House in voting for the Prime Minister. If this keeps going, it can lead to a political stalemate and a very unstable government, where the pro-military bloc wins the Prime Ministerial seat but cannot pass legislations, and the democratic camp wins the House but does not get to choose the Prime Minister.

Sudarat Keyurapan 

This political stalemate may continue until parliament is dissolved, which may not take all that long. For now, the only way out could be defection. If the democratic camp is able to pressure the 250 appointed senators into voting for their Prime Minister candidate, the government will be more stable and the House can pass legislations. The democratic camp will also need the other undecided MPs to join them in order to secure 376 out of 750 votes in parliament.

But this is not an easy task, as the Democrat Party, who now has 54 seats in parliament, will most likely join Phalang Pracharat in forming the government. At the end of the election day on 24 March, the then-party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva resigned from his position, his reason being that the party won less than 100 seats. Abhisit said earlier that he would not be supporting Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to become the Prime Minister, but may let Phalang Pracharat join his government if the party accepts his conditions. His resignation therefore opens up the opportunity for the Democrat Party to join a Prayut-led government. Korn Chatikavanij, the deputy leader of Democrat Party, said that it is “impossible” for the Democrat Party to join Pheu Thai’s government. Assawin Wipoosiri, the interim deputy leader of Democrat Party, also said that Prayut would be the legitimate Prime Minister, and it depends on whether Phalang Pracharat will invite Democrat to join its coalition.

Abhisit Vejajiva's resignation

But the Democrat Party is facing an identity crisis. In this election, new parties emerged and forced it to re-position itself: it can no longer be as right wing as Phalang Pracharat and it can no longer be as left wing as Pheu Thai or Future Forward. In Thailand, the Democrat Party is nicknamed the ‘cockroach party’ for its lack of consistency and its support of military coups. However, if it stays that way, it can no longer survive, but it cannot be pro-liberal democracy like the New Dem wishes to be because of its bad record. In face of this identity crisis, Parit Wacharasindhu, the leader of the New Dems, said that he will reconsider himself if the Democrat really joins Phalang Pracharat’s government, since he does not support Prayut’s staying in power. Bhichai Rattakul, the former of the Democrat Party, also told Matichon that he supports the Democrat Party joining Pheu Thai’s government because, according to the principle of representative democracy, the party with the most MPs should get to form the government first. It will take a while before its position is settled.

But since the democratic camp openly announce the forming of their coalition, they have placed themselves at an even greater risk of attacks from both Phalang Pracharat and the ECT. Before the election, Phalang Pracharat was able to convince 112 members of other parties to join them, and there is no guarantee that it won’t happen again. The New Economics Party, which has said that it will join the democratic camp, also has not signed the MOU and may opt out anytime. The democratic bloc has 253 seats in parliament, and if six MPs defect, the democratic bloc will only has 247 MPs and will no longer hold the majority in the House.

The New Economics party led by Mingkwan Sangsuwan may defect.

The democratic camp also has to worry about the ECT’s power to issue penalties, known as ‘yellow card’, ‘orange card’, and ‘red card’. If the ECT finds evidence of fraud, or inaccurate voting counting, but no culprit can be found, the ECT can issue a yellow card to hold re-election with the same candidates. If the ECT finds evidence of a candidate or any other person violating the election law, the ECT can issue an orange card: if the candidate loses, those votes are not used in the calculation to determine the allocation of party-list MPs; if the candidate wins, the ECT may declare the election result for that constituency invalid and order re-voting in that constituency. If a candidate is already elected and evidence is found that they committed election fraud, the ECT can issue a red card and file a request with the Supreme Court to revoke the candidate’s right to run in an election.  If found guilty, the candidate will be banned from running as an MP candidate and from being a minister for 10 years. If there is a re-vote, the candidate who received the red card is responsible for the cost of holding another vote as the ECT specifies. All of these has to be done by 9 May according to the 2017 constitution. The ECT has been widely accused of incompetence and voter suppression during the overseas voting, early voting, and the election day. However, it is unclear whether it was really voter suppression or if the ECT is just incompetent, but if the ECT, which is appointed by the NCPO, starts issuing penalties, it will become more obvious whether the ECT is politically compromised.

Anutin Charnvirakul
Source: Bhumjaithai Party

But the most significant factor of all could be where the Bhumjaithai Party’s allegiance lies. Led by Anutin Charnvirakul, the party has been very careful in playing the political game, and its decision can be pivotal to the government formation, as it won 52 seats in parliament and could be pivotal in determining which side win the majority in the House. 

When asked if FFP would accept it if Pheu Thai is to nominate Anutin as Prime Minister, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, the FFP Secretary-General, said that, if it is not possible to have a Prime Minister who came from the party with the most seats, FFP is ready to vote for anyone who will end the NCPO’s continuation of power, but will not be joining in that party’s government if it does not accept FFP’s proposals. It can therefore be said that the democratic bloc is open to the idea of Anutin becoming the Prime Minister, and even if Bhumjaithai does not accept FFP’s proposal to amend the Constitution and eliminate the NCPO’s legacy, FFP will still vote for Anutin before switching to work as the opposition.

So far, Anutin has made three points: 1. He will not let the 250 senators determine the 500 MPs, 2. He will not announce his allegiance until the official results are announced on 9 May, and 3. If Bhumjaithai gets to form the government, the other parties have to meet certain requirements including (1) no intensification of conflict, (2.) love the people, (3.) cherish monarchy, (4.) have to make Thailand prosperous. Later on, his requirement became more concrete as he requires that other parties have to support legalization of marijuana, and it will not be compromising on this requirement.

The democratic camp

Bhumjaithai possibly realises that the government’s formation may now depend on the number of seats won by small parties, whose loyalties and numbers remain unclear. And its carefulness ensures that it will not be penalized by the ECT for joining the democratic bloc and that it can join the winner when all the casualties are done.

If the democratic bloc can overcome these hard challenges, they can form a government with a certain degree of stability. However, if only one casualty is done against them by defection, or ECT's penalties, or if Anutin decides to join the pro-Prayut coalition, it is very likely that Thailand will continue to be under the junta’s domination, but now with the guise of democracy.

Editorial
Categories: Prachatai English

ANFREL issues a report on election; calls for transparency

Prachatai English - Thu, 2019-03-28 22:03
Submitted on Thu, 2019-03-28 22:03Prachatai

Yesterday (27 March), the Asian Network for Free Election (ANFREL) issued an interim report on the 2019 general election, calling for all issues in the election process to be addressed promptly. Meanwhile, the US and French embassies also issued statements calling for a transparent process of publishing the results and investigating election irregularities.

ANFREL fielded an International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) for over 45 days, monitoring both the campaign and polling. ANFREL was the only foreign organization accredited to launch an election observation mission, and will be issuing a comprehensive Mission Report a month after the publication of the final election results.

While ANFREL recognizes the popular effort and desire to re-establish democratic processes after years of military rules and notes that this election is the first step towards “genuine popular representation in government affairs,” it also highlighted several issues.

ANFREL acknowledges that the campaign environment was “generally peaceful” but it also noted that the campaign environment was heavily tilted in favour of the NCPO and its candidates. The report also notes that the legal framework for this election “contains a variety of undemocratic provisions which tilt the electoral playing field” in favour of the NCPO’s continuation of power. It also notes that the legal framework does not include all Thai citizens in the electoral process, since members of the Buddhist clergy, detainees, and stateless persons are still not able to participate in the election, and ANFREL would like the country to do more to “protect and defend the rights of these deserving potential voters.”

The report acknowledges the difficulties during overseas voting and early voting, from overseas voting ballots being delivered late to long queues in early voting. On the 1542 ballots from New Zealand, which were deemed invalid because they were not delivered to their respective constituencies on time, ANFREL said that this is a disappointment for overseas voters who were disenfranchised because of a lack of planning, and that “it is the duty of the ECT and its partners to ensure that every Thai citizen has access to the fundamental right of expressing their choice through the ballot box.”

And while the report acknowledges the media’s activities during the election, it noted that both the media and individuals face restrictions to the expression of their political views and opinions. Representatives of the media and civil society groups interviewed by ANFREL observers said that there is a normalization of self-censorship in the society. ANFREL also found that CSOs and NGOs are forced by the polarized political environment and legal provisions against defamation to censor some of their statements.

ANFREL invites the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) to release comprehensive election results as soon as possible and calls for the ECT to “conduct its electoral dispute resolution activities without delay and in a transparent and fair manner.”

Diplomatic missions have also issued statements calling for transparency from the ECT. On 25 March, the EU issued a statement saying that “we look forward to the announcement of the election results as soon as possible. It is also important that any reported irregularities are resolved swiftly and transparently.”

On 26 March, the U.S Embassy in Bangkok released a statement by the U.S. Department of State on the election, saying that “We stand with the Thai people in calling for the expeditious announcement of voting results and a fair and transparent investigation of any reported irregularities.” And yesterday (27 March), the French Embassy in Bangkok also released a statement calling for “a transparent process for publishing the results as swiftly as possible and for handling potential disputes in the event of irregularities.”

News2019 general electionAsian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)election observation
Categories: Prachatai English

6 parties united in democratic bloc

Prachatai English - Wed, 2019-03-27 14:45
Submitted on Wed, 2019-03-27 14:45Prachatai

Today (27 March) at 11.00, representatives of the six pro-democracy parties held a press conference at the Lancaster Hotel to announce that they are forming a coalition to become the next government of Thailand.

Leaders of the 6 democratic bloc parties at this morning's press conference

The coalition included the Pheu Thai party, the Future Forward Party, the Puea Chart Party, the Prachachat Party, the Thai Liberal Party, and the Phalang Puangchon Thai Party.

Mingkwan Sangsuwan, leader of the New Economics Party, said that he was not able to attend the press conference but he sent a letter to Pheu Thai Party to assure his alliance with the democratic alliance. The Bhumjaithai Party has yet to announce its allegiance.

Sudarat Keyuraphan, the Pheu Thai candidate for Prime Minister, said that the coalition intends to end the NCPO’s continuation of power. She said that, even if the vote count has yet to be finalised, all the parties present has at least 255 MPs, making them the majority in parliament. Sudarat said that it can be considered that the coalition has received public consensus, and will be working to end the NCPO’s continuation of power and form a democratic government.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party (FFP), said that FFP is siding with the other pro-democracy parties. He insisted that the Prime Minister should come from the party who has the most number of MPs, and therefore Sudarat is the most suitable candidate for Prime Minister. Before the election, he said that Prime Minister must be from MPs, not an outsider, but now he supports Sudarat who may not be an MP because Pheu Thai may have zero MPs from party-list system according to the extremely unusual election system designed by the junta.

Thanathorn also invite other parties who has not joined the coalition to come together to fight the NCPO’s continuation of power, and call for the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) to perform their duties in an honest and just manner. He also called out the minority party who relies on the support of the unelected senate, that it will lead to a political deadlock.

At the end of the press conference, representatives of the 6 democratic parties signed an MOU on their coalition, affirming that together they have more than 255 votes in parliament and will be working to stop the NCPO from staying in power. A representative of the New Economics Party was not present at the press conference and did not sign the MOU. 

Representatives of the 6 parties will also be meeting with the ECT to pressure them to announce the official election result before 9 May. 

The 'Lancaster MOU' signed by the head of all 6 parties
(Source: The Standard)

According to the unofficial election result, the democratic alliance has 255 MPs combined, making it now the majority in the House of Representatives. However, the 2017 Constitution includes the 250 senators appointed by NCPO to have a say in voting for the Prime Minister. So, the democratic alliance needs at least 375 MPs to win against Prayut Chan-o-cha.

 

News2019 general electionFuture Forward PartyPhue ThaiPuea ChartPrachachatThai Liberal PartyPalang Puangchon ThaiNew EconomicsBhumjaithaiDemocratic alliance
Categories: Prachatai English

Vietnamese and Thai authorities must come clean about journalist’s disappearance

Prachatai English - Wed, 2019-03-27 13:27
Submitted on Wed, 2019-03-27 13:27Amnesty International

Reliable reports that independent journalist and former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat is being detained in Viet Nam raise major questions about his safety and the circumstances of his disappearance in Thailand in late January, Amnesty International said today.

 Truong Duy Nhat (middle)

“It has been nearly two months since Truong Duy Nhat disappeared from a Bangkok shopping centre, shortly after submitting an asylum claim and following growing harassment by Vietnamese police. Reports that Nhat is now in a Hanoi prison are extremely worrying, and we are calling on the Vietnamese authorities to confirm whether he is in their custody and disclose his whereabouts at once,” said Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Adviser.

“The Vietnamese and Thai authorities need to come clean about why and how Nhat returned to Viet Nam so soon after he applied for asylum in Bangkok. There is a strong possibility that he was transferred to Vietnamese custody despite the real risk of serious human rights violations,” said Joanne Mariner. “Nhat is a journalist and a former prisoner of conscience who has already suffered greatly for peacefully expressing his political views. If he is being detained he should be given immediate access to legal counsel and brought before a judge. Unless the Vietnamese authorities can show valid grounds to detain Nhat they must free him immediately.” 

According to several media reports, including from Radio Free Asia (RFA), where Nhat published a regular blog, Nhat’s friends and family have recently been able to confirm his detention in Hanoi’s T-16 jail, although they have not yet been able to visit him. He has been reportedly held at the prison since 28 January 2019, shortly after he was last seen in Bangkok.

Credible information indicates that Nhat was seized by unidentified men in a Bangkok shopping centre called Future Park on 26 January 2019.

Truong Duy Nhat  fled Viet Nam in early January 2019. He submitted an asylum claim at the Bangkok office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on 25 January 2019, the day before he disappeared. That day, he sent his relatives two photos of himself at the UNHCR gate. He was also in touch with his employers at RFA. He had not been heard from since the following day.

Truong Duy Nhat was previously jailed from 2013 to 2015 on charges of ‘conducting propaganda against the state for his work as an independent journalist and commentator. Amnesty International considered him a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. After his release he continued working as an independent journalist. In December 2018, he received reports that he was likely to be re-arrested, and he noticed a heightened police presence near his house, prompting him to leave the country.

Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalTruong Duy NhatPolitical exiledeportationrefoulement
Categories: Prachatai English

Japanese Pop Culture - Thai Millenials' Secret Political Weapon

Prachatai English - Tue, 2019-03-26 20:04
Submitted on Tue, 2019-03-26 20:04Thammachart Kri-aksorn

With the rise of Thai millennials, the country is seeing a similar rise of using Japanese pop culture used as political weapon to fight against authoritarianism.

Japanese Pop Culture - Thai Millenials' Secret Political Weapon

The official result of election is coming and many things are going on in Thailand. Accusations, fake news, and lawsuits loom large over the last two months as many groups, especially the status quo, used them as political weapons. The political parties of democratic camp have been working hard on their campaigns too and now they are trying to form a government. But one element is just as important with growing influence in Thai Politics: Japanese popular culture.

The popular culture is always a part of politics. Figures in pop culture always have influence over the public discourse. For examples, Chinese government cancelled Maroon Five concert in 2015 for its member met with Dalai Lama. Sometimes, the popular figures even became politician themselves for example, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Donald Trump. The trend is here in Thailand too since many Thai actors and singers joined the political parties – either for authoritarian or democratic cause.

Left: Rattaphum 'Film' Tokongsup a star running for MP.
Right: Sinjai 'Nok' Plengpanich and Songsit 'Kob' Roongnophakunsri showing support for Prayut before election.

Many politicians, government agencies, and civil society used cultural reference to popularize themselves all the time, and some pop culture contents are taken more seriously than others. But one particular time in Thailand was that Japanese Pop Culture became threat to Thailand's national security. In 2016, Thai government request a meticulous scrutiny into Pokemon Go in 2016 concerning that it might threaten national security. Seeing old conception of geopolitics disappearing in front of his own eyes, the deputy Prime Minister, Gen Pravit Wongsuwan, begged the players not to catch Pokemon near to military bases.

There are other ways that Japanese pop culture has impact on Thai politics too, especially now that millennials grown up with it used them as political weapon against authoritarianism. The junta tried to attract supports from young people using it too, but not without adverse consequences.  

New secret weapon

Recently, Thailand also sees rise of use of Japanese Pop culture. One Piece and Dragon Ball has become a part of political campaigns. On 21 March 2019, in Constituency 2 of Ratchaburi Province, Nithipat Chinchotworasit, MP candidate of Chart Thai Pattana Party, wore Goku’s uniform along with his teammates in the campaign trail. Considering that Chart Thai Pattana is the political party of Chatichai Choonhavan the late, a former Prime Minister of Thailand during the 1990s, this is quite significant.

MP candidate of Chart Thai Pattana Party in Goku's uniform

Asking why did they wore such uniforms, Nithipat said that because orange is the symbolic color of the party. His teammates said it would be fun to try. One can doubt if voters felt awkward to talk to them, but the report said that the team received a good feedback. “Golden economic era, golden era led by “Na Chart” (Chatichai Choonhavan), still remains in memories of many, we will work hard to bring back the golden economic era and peace to Thailand,” said Nithipat.

One Piece’s reference is also widespread in Thailand. Even though he did not run in this election, Sombat Boonngamanong, a pro-democracy activist and now the leader of the Grin Party, wear a Gold Roger’s pirate hat almost all the time to compare winning power with becoming the King of Pirates. He even had his member worn a low-cost version of it to go many anti-junta protests. With One Piece reference and concept of open-source pirate parties combined, the party vows to bring entertainment into Thai politics.

Sombat Boonngamanong
Source: @Aunarisk

Chatchart Sitthipan, a PM candidate of Pheu Thai, famous for his physical strength, also gets help from Ultraman’s power to promote his election campaign. The video produced by his fan got 724k views, 26k likes and 23,709 shares.

Naruto Parody: Shadow Clones in Thai Politics

However, the use of manga and anime are not limited to political parties, but also other social groups. Perhaps, the most prominent of them is Narutu – Thai political parody version of Naruto Shippuden. Sasuke has turned into 'Sasuyut' (Prayut Chan-o-cha). Orochimaru has turned into 'Orojeammaru' (Somsak Jeamteerasakul). Uchiha Itachi has turned into 'Chinnawa Itaki' (Thaksin Shinnawatra). Senju Tobirama has turned into Tobiramark (Abhisit 'Mark' Vejjajiva). Characters in Naruto Shippuden have been transformed into Thai (in)famous political figures one by one. The core of its narrative about friendship, acceptance of pain and grievances, and persistent struggle for recognition, has been turned into hilarious political parody.

Instead of Konoha (hidden leaf village), the term Kalaha has been deployed to describe Thailand (Kala means a coconut shell – a Thai popular slang referring to an echo chamber wherein people blind from an outside world). Kirigakure (Village of Hidden Mist) has been used to describe Phrapradang area in Bangkok drown under air pollution of PM2.5 particulates. Just before the election day, the page also encouraged citizens to vote saying the page had never drawn the protagonist character because everybody is Naruto:

“Why there is no Naruto character on this page? Naruto is a ninja who saves the village. Likewise, on this parody page, the character Naruto is you, all of our fans who will save the village tomorrow. Let’s fight for the village, Kalaha’s shinobi.”

In our interview with the page admin who like people to call him “Genin of Kalaha”, he said he started the page since January 2018. “I was working in the cartoon industry, and I was also interested in politics and Naruto. So, I wanted the cartoon readers to be more interested in politics.”

“I think there is politics in every cartoon, I started this page just because I like Naruto the most. Like, during peace and normalcy of our time, something mysterious, unknown and secretive is going on: [people] seeking power to be the Village’s leader who also has duties to take care of the Village.”  

During 5 years of dictatorship, the slogans propagated by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is peace, orderliness, and happiness. But behind the scene, many people have been suppressed for opposing the junta. Thailand’s is under the restriction of NCPO’s orders, lèse majesté law, Public Assembly Act, and the Computer Crime Act.

According to iLaw, an independent organization, as of July 2018, 94 people have been sued under lèse majesté law, 421 sued for violating NCPO’s order on public assembly, 14 sued for failure to report to NCPO, and 91 sued under Article 116 for instigation. As of March 2019, 55 cases are filed under Article 14 (1) and (2) of the 2017 Computer Crime Act by the junta for causing societal division and public confusion.

Asking him if he is afraid of being sued for mocking the dictator, he said “I felt a bit worried. Because just after I started the page, Kai Meaw [the famous political cartoon page in Thailand] disappeared for quite some time. But I think that I add a lot of hair styles, and blindfolds, and so on. And at that time not so many people click like for my pages, I did not think the big shots would be interested in something like this. But as election approached, I draw more readily and intensely.” A year later, the page gained more than 100,000 likes.

Many politicians and members of junta are the target of Genin of Kalaha’s mockery. As he said in the interview, “I mock everyone equally”. However, it's more hurtful for some than others. For example, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, a deputy prime minister who possess 25 luxury watches without declaring them among his assets as required by anti-corruption law, is mocked as ‘Danzo’, a conservative character who stole Sharingan from members of Uchiha family.

Prawit Wongsuwan and his Deputy Kage Parody

The page also set the tone for election campaigns. A picture of Phalang Pracharat Party’s election campaign which exaggerated the number of their supporters using Photoshopped was mocked as similar to Naruto’s Kage Bunshin no Jutsu (Shadow clone technique). Several Facebook pages also posted about it.

Phalang Pracharat's Kage Bunshin
Source: Basement Karaoke

Leave aside games, anime, and unrecorded numbers, Naruto is one of the best-selling manga in the world with 235 million copies sold. From 1999-2014, a large proportion of Thai millennials must relate to it one way or another. Under Thailand’s restrictive environment, the millennials native to Japanese pop culture use it to speak truth and expose absurdity of authoritarianism.

BNK48’s controversies

Some uses other manga and anime to mock the Thai dictator too. For example, many mocks Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha as ‘Akaiyut,’ a Thai parody version of Gen ‘Akainu’ from One Piece, the best-selling manga of all time with 451 million copies. A particular cartoon post shows a parallel universe where even bounties of Straw Hat declined due to bad economy and falling rubber price under Gen Prayut’s government. This time he is in a parody version of Kizaru. The cartoon also mocks him saying his infamous quote: “just go to Mars if you don’t like it.” The internet also sees Thai politicians and public figures depicted as Straw Hat pirates. 

Source: Taak Sapankaaw

Thanathorn as Luffy, Chatchart as Zoro. Usopp as Abhisit, etc. And guess who is a member of the Celestial Dragons!
Source: ผู้ชายใส่แว่น

But the junta doesn’t want get mocked forever. In April 2018, Prayut Chan-o-cha, in hope to attract young supporters, invited BNK48, a famous Japanese music franchise in Thailand, to Government House to advertise its Happy Family Radio. Cherprang Areekul, Captain of BNK48, also accepted Prayut’s invitation to host “Thailand moves Forward”, a TV program that propagates the junta’s agenda, causing controversial debate if an individual has a right to tolerate or support dictatorship.

January 2019, BNK48 faced with another controversy when Pichayapa ‘Namsai’ Natha was shown on TV performing in a t-shirt with the Nazi symbol. The Israeli Embassy in Thailand issued a statement that the incident was an insult to millions of people whose relatives had been killed in the Holocaust. Namsai and BNK48 apologized to the Israeli Embassy in Thailand and promised to promote awareness about Holocaust.

‘Namsai’  apologized to the Israeli Embassy in Thailand
Source: Israel in Thailand

On the negative side, Japanese pop culture may promote authoritarianism just as it promotes democracy. But one can look at these controversies optimistically. BNK48 agreed with the German Ambassador to hold a workshop about the history of Holocaust, and Cherprang’s controversy triggered activists and intellectuals to educate the society about Carl Popper’s paradox of tolerance: “in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.” At least, Japanese pop culture in Thailand still promotes a fruitful political debates and an authoritarian regime using pop culture to promote itself can have adverse consequence.

Cherprang Areekul
Source: Wikipedia

Before the General Election, Patchanan ‘Orn’ Jiajirachote said to her fans in September 2017 that she wanted to be a presenter for an election and vote just like her parents had done. 2 years later on 17 March 2019, she cast her vote first-time and encouraged people to go out and vote. With 250 unelected senates, and politically compromised Election Commission, the system is unfair and encouraging people to participate in it can be problematic, but boycotting election can also risk giving upper hand for the military to stay in power and in turn reverse 5 years of progress that the democratic opposition fought hard for.

Patchanan ‘Orn’ Jiajirachote
Source: The Standard

In the General Election, 7 million first-time voters are eligible to vote and many more are millennials. Seeing rigged and unfair political system before them, the large proportion of millennials are using Japanese Pop culture they grew up with as best as they can to fight authoritarianism for justice, freedom, and equality.

 

Round Up
Categories: Prachatai English

EU calls for election irregularities to be “resolved swiftly and transparently”

Prachatai English - Tue, 2019-03-26 18:00
Submitted on Tue, 2019-03-26 18:00Prachatai

Yesterday (25 March), Maja Kocijancic, the European Union Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, issued a statement on Thailand’s 2019 general election, which took place last Sunday, 24 March.

The statement says that :

Yesterday’s peaceful holding of the first fully-contested parliamentary elections in Thailand since 2011 constitutes an important step towards restoring a democratic form of governance. Thai citizens have participated in large numbers to this exercise, to shape the future of their country.

We look forward to the announcement of the election results as soon as possible. It is also important that any reported irregularities are resolved swiftly and transparently.

As the European Union, we look forward to the formation of a government that reflects the will of the electorate. We stand ready to work with the new government in order to build a deeper relationship with Thailand, to the benefit of our citizens.

The EU did not field an Election Observation Mission (EOM) to monitor the 2019 general election, since it did not receive an official invitation in time. In its press release on 22 March, the EU said that

EU election observation requires a long-term, country-wide presence of an independent EOM which conducts its activities according to a comprehensive methodology in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation. This requires an official invitation from the host country and a lead-in time of four to six months in order to prepare the mission, including the deployment of long-term observers. In the case of the Thai general elections, the EU did not receive such an invitation in the required timeframe.

However, while it is not fielding an EOM, staff members from the EU delegation, along with diplomatic missions of some EU member states, participated n a “diplomatic watch”, which entails a visit of accredited persons to polling stations on election day. The EU press release said that “such activities are necessarily small both in numbers and geographic scope and therefore do not constitute an "election observation". They are not sufficient for formulating an overall assessment of the electoral process and cannot form the basis of any public statement.”

Related: 

News2019 general electionEuropean Unionelection observation
Categories: Prachatai English

Critique of Thailand’s preliminary Election results 24 March 2019

Prachatai English - Tue, 2019-03-26 14:18
Submitted on Tue, 2019-03-26 14:18Jaran Ditapichai

Although the results of the election on March 24, 2019 are still not confirmed officially, by Thailand’s military appointed Election Commission, the Association of Thai Democrats Without Borders would like to offer the following preliminary analysis, opinions and comments on the numbers for elected political parties and the general election situation. 

Jaran Ditapichai

1. The election results are most unexpected. The pro-democracy Phuea Thai Party, which has won all Thai elections in the last 20 years, has gained only 137 MP, while the Pralang Pracharat Party backed by the Junta got 117 seats. The old Democrat Party, previously the champion of Bangkok and the South, was severely defeated and now have no seats in Bangkok and only half their previous seats in the south. This could be seen as punishment by the public for the party’s previous cooperation with the Junta and their role in usurping democracy by a military coup. The biggest genuine winner in the election is the recently formed (approx. 1 year) progressive Future Forward party who are set to win 80 MPs in their first election.

2. This was the first Thai election in 8 years, 5 of which were under military dictatorship. The election was not free and fair and was held under the undemocratic 2017 military composed Constitution. Obviously the Army supports the Palang Pracharat Party which was set up to prolong military rule under the guise of a democratic election. The military used their control on power to intimidate and harass the democratic Parties and appointed their own handpicked Election Commission (EC). The EC have proved at best very incompetent but at worst complicit in corruption and vote buying (in several districts) by pro junta party’s. This election result does not truly reflect the will of the people and more importantly this result benefits the parties supporting military dictatorship and their ambition of prolonging authoritarian rule.
Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, coup d'état leader in chief, will be the next prime minister (The 2017 military constitution ensures that by giving the 250 member military appointed senate a formal role in selecting the PM) and his regime will be authoritarian and regressive. The military will continue to control politics in Thailand under the guise of democracy.

3. People and Institutions who love and support democracy should protest this election result and support the majority Thai democratic party’s in forming the next Thai government. All democratic Thai movement s will continue to struggle for Democracy, Justice and the well-being of the Thai people.

4. The Association still would like to request the international community to pay attention to the formation of the elected government according to the principles of Democracy.

Opinion2019 general electionJaran Ditapichai
Categories: Prachatai English

The most questionable election in Thai history?

Prachatai English - Mon, 2019-03-25 17:35
Submitted on Mon, 2019-03-25 17:35Prachatai

Thailand’s 2019 general election took place yesterday (24 March), and following the difficulties faced by overseas voters and early voters, the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) did not seem to be doing better on the election day.

Three hashtags about the election took the first three places on Twitter’s Thailand trend since last night, as voters complain about the ECT’s mismanagements and possible election fraud. Reports of several irregularities started to surface later during the day and continue on into the night, from there being too many ballots in a constituency, irregularities in the list of eligible voters, to the live report of the vote count being severely erroneous.

Prachatai presents a brief timeline of the election on 24 March 2019.

24 March 8.00

The poll opens.

UN team observes election, EU says OK came too late.

Polling stations in Bangkok, Nonthaburi, and Pathumthani were monitored by four teams of UN observers. The list of international observers for this election included representatives of foreign embassies and election commissions, and Inter-IDEA. Meanwhile, the EU said they are not participating since the official invitation from the Thai authorities did not come in time.

11:00

Adchara Saravari, a former Thai Raksa Chart Samut Sakorn MP candidate, posted on her Facebook page this morning that her picture is still posted on the board in front of the polling station, even if TRC has already been dissolved. 

Meanwhile, We Watch reported that the TRC candidate's information is still on display in front of a polling station in Pitsanulok's Constituency 3.

Since the Constitutional Court has already ruled to dissolve TRC, any ballot voting for the party will be invalid.

13:47 

Thairath TV reported that soldiers voting at polling stations in Samsen Nai were being observed by an official while in the polling booth.

14:30 

It was reported that the Royal Thai Police Deputy Commissioner Pol Gen Sriwara Rangsipramanakul has been in a video conference with the Metropolitan Police Bureau, Police Division 1 – 9, the Border Patrol Police Bureau, the Immigration Bureau, and the Central Investigation Bureau on election day security plan.

Pol Gen Sriwara said that demonstrations are prohibited after the vote counting, because one needs permission to hold a public assembly. “We have prepared a space large enough to detain at least 1000 people. If you want to protest, you have to ask for permission. If we can, we’ll allow it, but if not, then don’t break the rules.”

15:00 

Nath Laoseesawakool, deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) said earlier yesterday (24 March) that some overseas voting ballots have just arrived in Thailand in the morning, following a flight delay.

Overseas voting ballots may be invalid due to delayed delivery, says ECT

Overseas voting ballots have to be delivered to their respective electorate by 17.00, when the poll closed and counting begins. The ECT said they cannot reveal which country the ballots were being delivered from and how many are there, but if they are not delivered in time, they could become invalid.

According to the Thai Embassy in Wellington’s press release, 1862 Thai voters registered in New Zealand. 1542 people voted, which is 82.81% of all registered voters.   

17.00 

The poll closed and counting began.

17.35 

Vote62 reported that, in Din Daeng, some early voting and overseas voting ballots were found to not have been in ECT-specified envelopes but in Thailand Post envelopes. The staff at the Din Daeng polling station said that it was the post office who delivered the ballot who put them in the wrong envelopes. All of the ballots which arrived in the wrong envelopes are all invalid.

17.58 

Thai PBS reported that, during the vote count in Bangkok’s Constituency 7, it was found that ballot for Phalang Pracharat is valid despite the wrong mark at the number, but a ballot for Future Forward Party is invalid because the official said a ballot was marked twice despite the right mark at the blank box.

19:15 

Channel 7 reported that almost 20,000 people voted for the now dissolved Thai Raksa Chart (TRC) - the party associated with Thaksin and had nominated former princess Ubolratana Madidol as their candidate for Prime Minister.

This might be the result of confusion, since the ECT did not remove TRC from the ballot, and TRC candidates are still included in the list of MP candidates posted in front of polling stations. However, it can also be seen as an attempt to defy the Constitutional Court’s decision to dissolve TRC, but this remains uncertain.

20:40 

Nation TV reported that, in Bueng Kum, after it was revealed that the Palang Pracharat candidate has the highest votes, the Future Forward candidate requested for the votes to be re-counted. It was then found that there were more ballots than there should be in the constituency.

The Bangkok office of the Election Commission said that it will be investigating the matter. If there is indeed too many ballots, voters in Bueng Kum may have to vote again.

21:45 

Abhisit Vejjajiva announced his resignation from being the head of the Democrat Party. 

Abhisit said in a press conference that he would like to thank the people for voting for the Democrat Party, but the results did not turn out as they had hoped. He would like to apologize to their supporters and his colleagues that he is not able to lead them to success, and he would like to take responsibility by resigning from his post as head of the party. The rest of the party executives will continue to work in his place.

25 March 3:00 

A petition was started on Change.org to remove the current ECT

10.01 

Sunai Phasuk, the senior researcher on Thailand in Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, posted on his Facebook page that True Visions has yet again censor international news media broadcast. This time, it is Al Jazeera’s Inside Story programme that was cut.

So far, the ECT has not announced the official election result, nor have they explained the irregularities. Some people have compared it to the 1957 election, which was known as “the dirtiest election in history,” which was extremely rigged and ended with the victory of the Seri Manangkasila Party, headed by Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram. The 1957 election met with protests by students from Chulalongkorn University and Thammasat University. The event later escalated to a conflict between the group of soldiers and police who support Field Marshal Plaek and those who support Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, and eventually led to the 16 September 1957 military coup.

Round Up2019 general election
Categories: Prachatai English

Overseas voting ballots may be invalid due to delayed delivery, says ECT

Prachatai English - Mon, 2019-03-25 17:11
Submitted on Mon, 2019-03-25 17:11Prachatai

The ECT said that overseas voting ballots from New Zealand has not arrived in time, and that they will be deciding tomorrow (26 March) whether these ballots are invalid. 

Nath Laoseesawakool, deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) said earlier yesterday (24 March) that some overseas voting ballots have just arrived in Thailand in the morning, following a flight delay.

Jarungvith Phumma, the ECT Secretary – General, said in a press conference at 21:27 that the ballots were delivered from Wellington to Auckland by an Air New Zealand flight, and was handed over to Thai Airways on 21 March. The ECT has investigated and found that the ballots were stuck in Auckland before arriving in Thailand during the night of 23 March. As of the press conference, the ballots are still being stored by Thai Airways.

The press release from the Thai Embassy in Wellington

Meanwhile, earlier this morning (25 March), the Thai Embassy in Wellington issued a press release saying that the ballots left Wellington by air cargo on 18 March and should have arrived in Thailand on 19 March. However, the Embassy said that the delivery process is not under its control.

“The Embassy understands the feeling of every voters, and we feel very disappointed and sad that our voices and the voice of Thai voters in New Zealand are not reflected in this election, even if all of us, including election organization volunteers, have been preparing this election together for over two months, with the hope that there will be no obstacles to overseas voting in New Zealand.”

Overseas voting ballots have to be delivered to their respective electorate by 17.00, when the poll closed and counting begins. The ECT said they cannot reveal which country the ballots were being delivered from and how many are there, but if they are not delivered in time, they could become invalid.

The ECT said in another press conference today (25 March) that the ECT will make a decision tomorrow whether the ballots from New Zealand are invalid.          

According to Matichon, 1,500 ballots or one-third of all votes from New Zealand may be invalid. However, the Embassy’s press release say that 1862 voters registered in New Zealand. 1542 people voted, which is 82.81% of all registered voters.

                                                       

News2019 general electionOverseas votingNew Zealand
Categories: Prachatai English

UN team observes election, EU says OK came too late.

Prachatai English - Sun, 2019-03-24 15:15
Submitted on Sun, 2019-03-24 15:15Prachatai

UN team observes election which started today (24 March) from 8.00 until 17.00. EU do not join because Thai government did not invite them on time. 

UN's observers

Pokpong Lawansiri from United Nations Human Rights reported that 5 UN teams, consisting of 4 people each, monitors Thailand's election today in Bangkok, Nonthaburi, and Pathumthani. 4 teams are currently deployed and 1 team on standby at the UN.

UN's observers

There is no coverage for the Deep South. 

The team also have participants from many countries, including Myanmar, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Maldives, Malaysia, Bhutan, Cambodia, South Korea, Vietnam, and Australia. 

However, the EU do not participate according to its press release on 22 March:

EU election observation requires a long-term, country-wide presence of an independent EOM which conducts its activities according to a comprehensive methodology in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation. This requires an official invitation from the host country and a lead-in time of four to six months in order to prepare the mission, including the deployment of long-term observers. In the case of the Thai general elections, the EU did not receive such an invitation in the required timeframe.

Before the General Election today, early and overseas voting sees many problems. Many Thai voters living overseas faced with difficulties casting their votes from long waiting times at the poll to ballots not arriving in the mail. Early voters in Thailand also faced a long list of obstacles, including no lists of candidates, long waiting times and being given ballot papers for the wrong constituency.  

 

 

 

 

News2019 general election
Categories: Prachatai English

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

Prachatai English - Sun, 2019-03-24 01:37
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

Pages

Subscribe to ประชาไท Prachatai.com aggregator - Prachatai English