Freedom of assembly, association ahead of election

As the general election is scheduled less than one year from now, people are wondering whether the Thai junta will allow more freedom of association and assembly ahead of the election campaigns. We saw mixed signals last week. Meanwhile, a legal adviser to the junta has suggested ways to amend the election law, which may result in the postponement of the election.
 
In past weeks, several peaceful protests have been allowed in Bangkok including a protest camp near Government House against a new environmental law and the small symbolic protest against the military regime by embattled activist Sirawit Seritiwat, alias ‘Ja New’.
 
But the junta is still actively suppressing opposition voices inside and outside Bangkok.  The authorities prohibited a fundraising concert hosted by the Fairly Tell group, an organisation offering former political prisoners and activists space to voice their stories of injustice.
 
The main singer at the concert was Patiphan Luecha, a former lèse-majesté convict and a skillful mor lam singer (traditional music of the Northeast). The goal of the event was to collect money to help political prisoners in their life after jail. 
 
 
Patiphan Luecha performs mor lam to raise fund for political prisoners. The performance was broadcasted live via Facebook
 
According to Pronthip Munkong, the concert organiser and former lèse-majesté convict, four soldiers in plainclothes visited the restaurant in Bangkok where the group planned to host the concert, and asked the owner to cancel the event, giving as a reason that the concert had a political agenda and could disrupt the so-called ‘social order’.
 
However, the group managed to hold the concert and broadcast it on social media, generating almost 50,000 views on Facebook. They successfully raised 20,178 baht for the political prisoners. 
 
In Samut Songkhram, the authorities last week intimidated a restaurant owner after local red shirts planned to have a new year party at his venue. The party organisers subsequently decided to cancel the event.  
 
Also last week, the police accused human rights lawyer Anon Nampa of criticising a court verdict on Facebook. He will have to report to the police’s Technological Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) on 20 December. 
 
On 13 December, former spokesperson of the Pheu Thai party Sunisa Lertpakawat also had to report to the TCSD to hear accusations against her. The junta’s legal officer Pol Capt Sombat Sombatyotha filed complaints against Sunisa on 7 December for breaching the Computer Crimes Act and the sedition law after she repeatedly criticised the military government on Facebook. 
 

Moves to amend Organic Act may delay election

 
Although the Organic Act on Political Parties was endorsed over two months ago, the junta still strictly prohibits political parties from campaigning and preparing for the election in November 2018. 
 
Various political parties have repeatedly demanded that the junta lift its ban on political activity so that the election process could start as soon as possible but some people want the process to be postponed.
 
On 12 December, Paiboon Nititawan, a junta-appointed former charter drafter, submitted a petition to the junta’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) urging an amendment to the Organic Act on Political Parties.
 
Paiboon stated that the law is unfair for small and newly-emerging parties because old parties’ members are not required to pay registration fees while new parties not only have to recruit members but they also have to pay the fees.
 
Under the draft, to be eligible for elections a party must have at least 500 initial members who must each contribute between 2,000 baht and 50,000 baht each. The party needs to have 5,000 members within a year of its establishment and 20,000 members within four years. Each party must also have a branch in all regions.
 
Paiboon asked the NLA to amend the act to reset the membership of all parties to zero so that wealthy and well-established parties would face the same hurdles as small and newly-emerging ones.
 
According to NLA whip Somchai Sawaengkarn, Suthep Thaugsuban, a key leader of the anti-election protests in 2014, also proposed a similar amendment. The NLA will invite Suthep and Paiboon for a discussion on 22 December, added Somchai. 
 
Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, the NLA President, stated that amendment of the Organic Act would take at least four months, which could delay the election promised for November 2018. 
 
Despite the possible postponement of the election, the Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam stated that an amendment of the problematic Organic Act is still possible because the junta has the absolute power under Section 44 of the Interim Charter. However, he could not tell whether an amendment would affect the election date.