Dissolved TRC’s guerrilla tactics confuse ECT

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

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

Keep on for democracy

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

Announcement of TRC's leaders
Source: TRC Fanclub

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

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

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

Guerrilla tactics?

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

ECT confused

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

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

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

Article 73 of the Organic Law on the Election of MPs

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

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

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