Skip to content

Phuket journalists on trial for quoting Pulitzer-prize winning Rohingya trafficking report

18 April 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on April 17, 2014

UPDATE: After spending five hours in court cell, Phuketwan reporters Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian are released on bail (100,000 Baht each) and are remanded to appear in court again on May 26, according to a report by Australia’s The Age.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

The trial against two Phuket journalists for alleged defamation is set to begin today. The Royal Thai Navy has sued Phuketwan reporters Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian for their coverage of the Thai authorities’ involvement in human trafficking of Rohingya migrants from Burma. This has been complicated by the fact that the offending passage was a quote from another report done by the international news agency Reuters. Both are facing up to seven years in prison if found guilty.

The charges were filed in December last year (see our original blog post here). Both journalists were charged not only for libel, but also also allegedly breaching the Computer Crimes Act, which makes arbitrary legal suits against online dissent (including by third parties) possible thanks to the vague wording of the law. Phuketwan - which has reported extensively on the plight of the Rohingya at the hands of Thai authorities – has quoted from a Reuters special report that specifically accuses members of the Royal Thai Navy of being involved in the trafficking of Rohingya refugees.

The case has drawn international condemnation and has now seen an interesting development:

Reuters won a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for international reporting on the violent persecution of a Muslim minority in Myanmar [Burma], the Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia University announced.

The board commended Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall of Reuters for their “courageous reports” on the Rohingya, who in their efforts to flee the Southeast Asian country, “often falls victim to predatory human-trafficking networks.”

Reuters, Guardian US, Washington Post, Boston Globe win Pulitzer prizes“, Reuters, April 14, 2014

A list of their coverage can be seen here.

Several observers have noted that the Royal Thai Navy have so far not pressed charges against the global news agency Reuters, but instead after the local Phuketwan and to “make an example of them for others,” as Bangkok Pundit blogged yesterday.

Several journalists and media advocacy groups have repeated their calls to drop the charges against Morison and Sidasathian ahead of today’s trial. Their case – as with the plight of the Rohingya refugees themselves – has received hardly any coverage in the Thai-language media:

However, [Chutima Sidasathian] said she received little or no help from the Thai authorities. Neither the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) or the Thai Journalist Association (TJA) has offered their assistance in the legal procedure, Ms. Chutima told Khaosod, while her letter to the Rights and Liberty Protection Department went unanswered.

“I filed the letter to the officials in Phuket last month. I just discovered that somehow they did not forward the document to Bangkok,” Ms. Chutima said, “I am shocked”.

She is also disheartened by the fact that the lawsuit against Phuketwan has received very little coverage in the Thai mainstream media.  

Phuket Journalists To Face Lawsuits Filed By Navy“, Khaosod English, April 8, 2014

The case has already set a worrying precedent – it is reportedly the first time the Thai military has made use of the Computer Crimes Act – and things could get even worse if they are convicted. It shows that the Thai authorities have no apparent interest in the treatment of Rohingya migrants in Thailand (as summarized here) or investigating the human trafficking allegations.

‘Unlawful’ transfer of NSC chief could spell the end for Yingluck

03 April 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on April 2, 2014

Thawil Pliansri. (Screencap: ThaiPBS)

UPDATE: Thailand’s Constitutional Court today decided to accept the petition against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra relating to the transfer of Thawil Pliensri from his position as National Security Council (NSC) secretary in 2011, the Nation reports.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

The legal challenges against the caretaker government of interim-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are mounting as the campaign to  chase her and the ruling Pheu Thai Party out of office gathers steam.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is charging Yingluck with dereliction of duty related to alleged corruption in her government’s rice-pledging scheme, and is also bringing charges against against 308 lawmakers for their role in proposed constitutional amendments, just to name two cases. But since early March, there’s another case that could topple the current government from power.

The Supreme Administrative Court yesterday ruled that the removal of Thawil Pliensri as National Security Council (NSC) secretary in 2011 was unlawful. Mr Thawil was shifted from the position under the orders of the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yesterday’s ruling stated that Mr Thawil (…) must be reinstated to his former role within 45 days. It comes a little more than six months before Mr Thawil’s mandatory retirement in September.

Mr Thawil lodged his initial complaint with the Central Administrative Court in April 2012, accusing Ms Yingluck of unfair treatment after he was transferred from the NSC on Sept 30, 2011.

On May 31 last year, the Administrative Court ruled in favour of Mr Thawil, revoking the prime ministerial order and ordering Mr Thawil’s reinstatement. Appealing against that decision, Ms Yingluck claimed that as head of the government she had the authority to transfer officials to ensure the national administration was in line with the government’s policy manifesto.

However, the court ruled yesterday that while the prime minister could exercise her judgement in transferring personnel, there must be plausible reasons to justify her decisions. Transfers should be free from bias or political preferences, the court said.

Thawil wins fight against NSC transfer“, Bangkok Post, March 8, 2014

Thawil was promoted to head of the NSC in 2009 during the administration of Abhisit Vejjajiva and was transferred to the virtually meaningless position of prime ministerial adviser shortly after Yingluck’s government took charge in August 2011. While such changes whenever a new government comes is nothing unusual, Thawil argues that his move was because of “patronage”:

He was replaced by Pol Gen Vichien Pojposri, then the national police chief, who was replaced by Pol Gen Priewpan Damapong, a brother of Khunying Potjamarn Na Pombejra, Thaksin Shinawatra’s ex-wife, and finally by Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanabut.

Thawil case ‘easier way to impeach’“, Bangkok Post, March 27, 2014

He went on record to say that the patronage system is “reflected in this unlawful transfer. If the patronage system stays strong, how can civil officials be counted on to do their jobs correctly?” However, his critics would highlight his involvement with the previous Abhisit government and close ties to the military – he was one of the men behind the bloody crackdown on the red shirt protests in 2010, but denies he made any order to kill - as aligning to exactly said patronage system.

Thawil’s repeated appearances on the rally stages of the anti-government protests in the past five months don’t help to deter from that assesment either – so much so that Surapong Tovichakchaikul, one of the men tasked by the prime minister to oversee security, openly declares his mistrust of Thawil and his reinstatement.

While the government publicly states that Thawil will get his job back soon (albeit only for a couple of months until his retirement in September), the case surrounding him could become a bigger legal headache for the government:

Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, a senator, wrote on his Facebook page [here] that the transfer of Mr Thawil would be “the knock-out punch” of the caretaker government before or after Songkran.

Thirachai Phuvanatnarabubala, the finance minister in Ms Yingluck’s first cabinet, also quoted on his Facebook [here] another appointed senator, Paibul Nititawan, as saying Ms Yingluck, along with her cabinet, could be impeached much faster over the Thawil case than by the rice-pledging scheme.

Thawil case ‘easier way to impeach’“, Bangkok Post, March 27, 2014

Both of them base their argument on a series of Sections in the Constitution. In a nutshell, Prime Minister Yingluck has allegedly violated the second paragraph of Section 266, since her decision to remove Thawil was politically motivated, since the reshuffle ultimately landed Priewphan Damapong as National Police Chief, who is a brother of Thaksin’s ex-wife and Yingluck’s former sister-in-law Potjaman Na Pombejra:

Section 266: A [MP] and a senator shall not (…) interfere with or intervene in the following matters for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party, whether directly or indirectly: (…) (2) the recruitment, appointment, reshuffle, transfer, promotion and elevation of a salary scale of a Government official holding a permanent position or receiving a permanent salary and not being a political official, or an official or employee of a Government agency (…)”

Thus she would have breached Section 268 (“The Prime Minister (…) shall not perform any act provided in section 266 (…)“), to which Section 182 would take effect (“The ministership (…) terminates upon: (…) (7) having done an act prohibited by section 267, section 268 or section 269 (…)“) and since it would be Prime Minister Yingluck’s position on the line, a ruling against her could also wipe out the entire cabinet according to Section 180 (“Ministers vacate office en masse upon: (1) the termination of ministership of the Prime Minister under section 182 (…)”).

It is speculated that the Constitutional Court will decide today (Wednesday) whether or not to accept such a petition against Yingluck and her government. The court has an ongoing track record of ruling against this caretaker government (see here, here, here and here) and could potentially deal the knockout blow the anti-government movement – campaigning for five months now – is looking for, paving way for a political vacuum that will allow it to install an unelected government.

Analysis: Déjà vu in Thailand as court annuls elections

23 March 2014
tags:

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 22, 2014

The Constitutional Court’s ruling to annul the February 2 elections Friday rewards those that attempted to stop the polls from taking place and marks a dangerous development in the ongoing political crisis – something that we have witnessed before.

Activists have wrapped Democracy Monument in black cloth after the Constitutional Court’s ruling to annul the February 2 elections. The text says “20 million [voters] + 3 < 6 [judges] RIP”.

Ever since the anti-government protesters downsized their rallies and relocated to Lumphini Park earlier this month, the political battlefield has shifted its focus to the judiciary. Whether it’s the crippling of the emergency decree (which has now been lifted) or the ruling against the 2 trillion Baht ($62bn) transport plan, the caretaker government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has faced strong opposition and was handed a series of defeats at the hands of the courts.

On Friday, it suffered another setback:

The judges on Friday voted 6-3 to declare the Feb. 2 vote unconstitutional because elections were not held in 28 constituencies, where anti-government protesters had prevented candidates from registering. The constitution says the election must be held on the same day nationwide.

The court ordered that new elections take place.

Thailand’s court rules elections invalid“, Associated Press, March 21, 2014

The reasoning that the elections were not held on the same day is at best contentious thanks to a one-sided interpretation of the law*. Here’s what fellow blogger Bangkok Pundit wrote before the ruling:

It is important to note that [Section 108 of the Constitution] doesn’t explicitly state the the election must be the same day, it is the election date must be fixed (or set) as the same date. These are slightly different things (…) if the election date is set nationwide for February 2 and then we have a natural disaster or political protests and elections in one more constituencies cannot take place, is this unconstitutional? Essentially, this will be the question considered by the Court, but then when it likely rules it was unconstitutional, the Court should make clear on specifically the extent of the problem.

Thai court nullifies February election“, Bangkok Pundit, March 21, 2014

*(Read Bangkok Pundit’s in-depth analysis and legal expert Verapat Pariyawong’s comment for more details.)

That is exactly what the Constitutional Court did NOT do! It did not acknowledge the circumstances that left the elections incomplete. The court didn’t take into account that the Election Commission – especially commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn - has been all too vocal in its reluctance to hold an election and has also been very hesitant scheduling the catch-up voting dates; it has only held re-runs in five provinces, moving the rest to April.

But the more severe implication of the court’s ruling is that it rewards the anti-democratic behavior of the anti-government protests, since it was them that blocked voting stations in Bangkok and large parts in the South on election day and disrupted the candidacy registration back in December. To add further insult to injury for the caretaker government, the court dismissed its petition to outlaw the protests back in February, effectively endorsing the antics of the main protest group and its affiliates.

While the ruling also ordered for the whole election process to start over again, no time frame has been set yet by the Election Commission – that is, if we’re actually going to get there in the first place. Not only has protest leader Suthep Thuagsuban already promised to derail any near-future elections (while not saying anything against the upcoming senate elections at the end of March – a crucial tool for a potential impeachment), but the caretaker government still has to endure further legal challenges against it.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission’s (NACC) filed charges against Yingluck for alleged negligence of duty in the government’s disastrous rice-pledging scheme and against 308 mostly government lawmakers for their role in constitutional amendments that would have changed the make-up of the senate – both cases could force them out of office.

Yesterday’s decision by the Constitutional Court is a dangerous déjà vu that mirrors the events of 2006, where under similar beleaguered circumstances the government of then-PM and Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra called for snap elections, only to be boycotted by the opposition and to be annulled by the Constitutional Court. While a new election date was set, the military coup pre-empted it and exploited the power vacuum.

With similar circumstances today and the Yingluck government facing more legal torpedoes, the judiciary might have thrown do the gauntlet to pro-government red shirt supporters, which has recently seen a change at the helm: the promotion of Jatuporn Prompan as the leader of the umbrella organization United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) signals a readiness for confrontation should the government by toppled.

That and the utter disregard by the protesters, the opposition (the Democrat Party refused to take part and many of its members are rather at the rallies) and now by the judiciary for the democratic principle of elections makes this development much more dangerous, as the political polarization is getting closer and closer to breaking point.

Thailand threatens to sue Singapore for ‘stealing’ Songkran

20 March 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 19, 2014

As April approaches again, so is the traditional Thai New Year’s festival known as “Songkran”. Many Thais will take the days off and travel to their families, conduct merit-making and/or join in the fun of splashing each other with water – which has arguably taken over as the main part of Songkran for many, most of all foreign tourists.

It is also arguably – besides the Christmas season – the time of year that is most heavily advertised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) in order to bring in a lot tourists (and given the current political crisis, the country needs a lot of tourists now too). Where else in the world could you celebrate the Thai New Year other than in Thailand itself, right?

Well…

A Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) executive said on Tuesday that she plans to consult other state agencies to see if legal action could be taken to protect Thailand’s cultural heritage in the wake of a Singaporean plan to hold a “Songkran” festival in the city-state next month.

TAT Deputy Governor for Tourism Products Vilaiwan Twichasri said she would hold talks with officials at the Department of Intellectual Property, Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Culture to study intellectual property provisions on the issue.

If the law allows, TAT could take legal steps to prevent member states of the Asean Economic Community from conducting and organising traditional cultural activities based on Thai arts and culture, such as Songkran and Loy Krathong festival.

Suit eyed for Singapore Songkran“, Bangkok Post, March 18, 2014

*gasp* How could they! How could the Singaporeans exploit something essentially Thai and attempt to make an easy buck at the same time when the tourists are to supposed to come to Thailand and spend their money here?

Don’t let the ever vigilant Thai Ministry of Culture get hold of this…

A senior Culture Ministry official has threatened to sue organisers of a Songkran festival in Singapore next month, saying it will undermine the value of the rival Thai New Year celebration.

Culture Surveillance Bureau director Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn said Songkran is not just about splashing water for fun, but is aimed at strengthening relationships between family members and communities.

Singapore is using the festival to promote tourism, without acknowledging the value of the traditions behind Songkran, she said. “This is wrong because the value of the traditional celebration is being distorted,” she said.

Official threatens to sue Singapore over Songkran“, Bangkok Post, March 19, 2014

…too late! The self-proclaimed cultural heralds of ‘Thainess’ – or as we regularly call them “ThaiMiniCult” – yet again come out swinging hard, all in the name to protect the sanctimony of Thai culture – or the construct of what they believe it supposedly is. Just as seen numerous times in the past, the (moral) Thai authority knows best how to preserve our values and traditions against pesky foreign influences, as it happened with Thai food just to name one case. Or that one time where it saw Thailand’s moral reputation endangered by a lame SNL-sketch? Or that other time Lady Gaga wanted to buy a fake watch? And does anybody still remember “planking”?

As if that wasn’t enough, the “ThaiMiniCult” also has to explain us Thais what Songkran is actually about – and that is definitely not splashing water and dancing around topless (regardless that the moral crusade was undermined by a traditional painting depicting topless women on the ministry’s website)!

Let’s assume for a minute they would actually go ahead with a legal complaint: where would they file it? And since when has Thailand trademarked Songkran? Even if it would be a registered intangible cultural heritage – which the Thai authorities are working on hard lately - that wouldn’t either. You cannot simply monopolize culture (something “ThaiMiniCult” regularly lays claim on domestically), even if you end up using it a marketing schtick – which the Thai officials are accusing Singapore of of doing exactly that, by the way.

Then there’s the stated fear of Songkran being “distorted” from its original “Thai” roots. How are you going to forbid other countries to celebrate a festival that essentially the same? Mid-April marks the new year for many other countries in the region: Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia, Thingyan in Burma, Pbee Mai Lao in Laos and even in Yunnan, China - they are all essentially celebrating the same festival with the same customs and traditions in the same way the Thais do.

And one more thing: nobody has thought of suing Thailand for its interpretation of Christmas  – and its utter failure to acknowledge the values and tradition of that holiday – yet. Let’s hope they don’t try to steal it.

Thai PM Yingluck challenged to live TV debate by protest leader Suthep

01 March 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 28, 2014

During the campaign for the 2011 general elections, then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party proposed a televised debate with his challenger Yingluck Shinawatra of the Pheu Thai Party, in the hope that the well-skilled public speaker could score some points against an at that time inexperienced and unproven politician – who ultimately declined. Since then, Pheu Thai assumed the rule, Yingluck became prime minister and Abhisit lost his manners. Furthermore, the Democrat Party has entirely given up on elections, many of its senior figures have now taken to the streets, bringing the entire political discourse to a halt.

For four months, anti-government protesters in Bangkok have done a lot – most of all disrupting the February 2 elections – in order to topple the government of Yingluck Shinawatra in their ongoing “crusade” to “eradicate” Yingluck’s brother Thaksin’s strong influence on Thai politics. In his regular nightly (and rabble-rousing) speeches, protest leader Suthep Thuagsuban reflects the group’s uncompromising attitude and has consistently refused to negotiate with the caretaker government whatsoever (as seen here, here, here and just as recently as last Tuesday – links via Bangkok Pundit).

This stance, however, changed on Thursday:

Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has challenged Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to one-on-one talks broadcast live on television in a bid to end the political deadlock. (…)

“If Khun Yingluck really wants to find a solution through talks, I ask her to make an appointment for a one-on-one meeting with me in an open setting,” Suthep told reporters. “The talks should be broadcast live on TV so that the people know what is going on.”

Suthep calls for live TV talks with Yingluck“, The Nation, February 28, 2014

The last time a Thai government openly held talks with anti-government protesters was in 2010 when then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva met with the pro-Thaksin red shirts. While the talks were televised for everyone to see, the two-day negotiations ended in no result. But that was just three weeks into the protests and way before things really escalated. These current protests are entering their fifth month.

The timing of this apparent turnaround is noteworthy: the overall situation deteriorated with last week’s attempts by the authorities to reclaim some protest sites escalating into a gunfight with protesters, killing six. Last weekend then saw attacks on rally sites in Bangkok and Trat that killed five people – four children were among the victims. Also since then, there have been reports of almost nightly gunfire and explosions near rally sites.

Politically the caretaker government is under pressure. It suffered a defeat at the hands of the judiciary last week when the Constitutional Court rejected its petition to outlaw the protests, showing remarkable indifference to the protesters’ actions. Following that decision the Civil Court restricted the authorities’ powers to deal with the protesters, effectively banning the dispersal of the rallies.

Caretaker-PM Yingluck herself is facing charges by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for allegedly neglecting her duty in her implementation of the government’s populist rice-pledging scheme. She did not personally show up to hear the charges and the red shirts – taking a page from the anti-government protesters’ playbook – have chained up the anti-corruption agency.

PM Yingluck’s reply to Suthep’s live TV debate proposal:

Prime Minister Yingluck agrees to engage in a peaceful negotiation with Mr. Suthep. (…) Prime Minister asked Mr. Suthep whether he is ready to have the negotiation under the principle of the present Constitution and whether he is ready to end the protest to pave the way for the election (…) Though there is no basic principle for the negotiation process to be successful, there should at least be a common goal that both sides would initially like to attain through negotiation. If both sides continue to hold different view on the process, it would be difficult to find a common ground. (…) If each party does not show any sign of flexibility, in the end, we would not be able to find a common ground.

Unofficial Translation of PM Yingluck’s reaction to Mr.Suthep’s announcement that is is ready to negotiate as reported in the Thai press.” via Suranand Vejjajiva, February 27, 2014

Her statement is neither a flat-out rejection nor a full agreement: The protesters would have to end their rally and any proposal that is not “under the principle of the constitution” (e.g. Yingluck replaced by a ‘neutral’ caretaker-PM) would not be accepted by the government. And then there’s the format itself:

“The talks have to have a framework though I am not sure what that framework would look like,” she told reporters in the town of Chiang Mai in the north, a Thaksin stronghold. “But many parties have to be involved because I alone cannot answer on behalf of the Thai people.”

Thai PM faces negligence charges as protest leader broaches talks“, Reuters, February 27, 2014

Leaving aside the previous remarks from the anti-government camp that she’s incapable of making her own decisions without consulting her brother Thaksin, it appears unlikely that Yingluck would verbally go head-to-head with Suthep, who has constantly hardened his rhetoric against her – often below the belt.

But on the other hand, months of street protests resulting in 21 deaths and hundreds of injured have possibly worn out the early enthusiasm of the anti-government protesters, as seen in the shrinking attendance numbers. Suthep, who previously had an interest in escalating the protests, might be looking now at an exit strategy in these talks.

P.S.: Suthep has also challenged Chalerm Yubamrung, the labor minister who’s also overseeing the security situation, to a fistfight…!

Thai court renders emergency decree meaningless, limits officials’ powers

21 February 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 20, 2014

The Thai Civil Court yesterday ruled to sharply limit the authorities’ powers to deal with the ongoing anti-government protests, while maintaining the state of emergency which was declared last month amidst increasing violent incidents.

The case was filed to the court by Mr. Thaworn Senniam, a core leader of the People′s Committee for Absolute Democracy With the King As Head of State (PCAD) [sic!], who argued that the State of Emergency enacted by the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra violates the rights to free assembly guaranteed by the 2007 Constitution. (…)

At 15.00 today the majority of the judges ruled that the government will not need to repeal the State of Emergency, but the verdict also prohibits the authorities from exercising many powers prescribed in the emergency decree.

According to the verdict, the security forces cannot launch a crackdown on anti-government protesters, seize any chemicals from the protesters, dismantle any barricades erected by the protesters, prevent individuals from entering any building at their own will, close down traffic, evacuate or seal off protest areas.

Most notably, the authorities are also prohibited from banning political gathering – the crucial aspect of the emergency decree.

Court Strips Govt Of Various Emergency Powers“, Khaosod English, February 19, 2014

The ruling comes a day after deadly violence erupted between security authorities and protesters on Tuesday at Phan Fah Bridge as the police attempted to reclaim some rally sites occupying public roads. One policeman and four protesters were killed by gunshots with 68 reported injured. It appears that both the police, but also men among the protesters, were heavily armed and exchanged gunfire, in addition to a widely circulated online video showing a grenade attack on police officers (WARNING: graphic content!).

Nevertheless though…

The court, however, found that the protests were being carried out “peacefully without weapons,” and ordered that the demonstrators’ rights and freedoms “be protected according to the Constitution.” The decision bars the government from using force or weapons to crack down on the demonstrators.

Thai Court Limits Crackdown on Protesters“, New York Times, February 19, 2014

The Civil Court echoes a decision last week made by the Constitutional Court to reject a petition by the ruling Pheu Thai Party to outlaw the protests, similarly stating that the actions by the protesters – including the seizing of government buildings, threats against members of the media and most of all the obstructions on election day - are covered by the constitutional right to protest and should be challenged under the criminal law instead, if at all.

It has to be noted that during the anti-government red shirt protests of 2010, the Civil Court upheld the authorities’ right to disperse protesters since they have “caused hardships and hurt people’s freedom and [authorities] have full rights to reclaim the area.”

The reactions from the government side have been rather tame: interim deputy-prime minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said the ruling will “complicate” the work of the security officials, while the man in charge of overseeing the protests, Chalerm Yubamrung, remained unconcerned, since they had “no plans to disperse the protesters anyways for now” and even thanked the Civil Court for not outlawing the state of emergency, which is still scheduled to end on March 22.

However, other observers see this as another wrench being thrown into the caretaker government’s works in its dealing with the protesters. Human Right Watch’s Sunai Pasuk sums it up:

Prominent legal analyst Verapat Pariyawong, who earlier called the Constitutional Court “indifferent to the flagrant abuse” by the protesters, goes even so far saying:

The Thai civil court’s order today is one step closer to full scale judicial coup. (…)

2. The constitutional court’s ruling only binds the civil court legally but not factually. That means the civil court is bound by legal interpretation but there is no judicial basis for the civil court to rely on factual determination by the constitutional court. The constitutional court determined the facts at one point in time but facts change by minute, therefore it is judicially impossible and legally illogical for the civil court to disregard the current situation and conveniently rely on the constitutional court’s ruling.

In sum, the civil court basically teamed up with the constitutional court in attempts to intervene in the executive domain, where the court has no accountability, and pave ways for the protestors to claim pseudo-legitimacy to overthrow the government.

Facebook post by Verapat Pariyawong, February 19, 2014

The Civil Court’s ruling has effectively cut off the emergency decree at its knees and the powers of interim Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s caretaker government are seemingly being more and more marginalized – than it already is by law – by the judiciary and (supposedly) neutral government agencies.

The Election Commission has changed its plans again to complete February 2 elections (more background here), while the National Anti-Corruption Commission is investigating against PM Yingluck herself for “neglect of duty” in the government’s increasingly disastrous rice-pledging scheme.

These developments will also very likely embolden the protesters to further up the ante in their disruptive crusade to bring down the government by – judging by past actions – any means necessary.

Thai government, Election Commission clash over catch-up poll dates

13 February 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 12, 2014

The outcome of the February 2 general election in Thailand remains in legal limbo as the Election Commission (EC) has announced the catch-up dates for the constituencies where voting was disrupted by anti-government and anti-election protesters:

The Election Commission is to hold second chance advance voting in 83 constituencies on April 20, followed by general election re-runs at 10,284 polling stations on April 27. (…)

[Election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn] explained that the new dates were set for April because the meeting had concluded that voting disruption was likely to escalate during the Senate elections, the first day of candidacy registration for which is scheduled on March 4. Voting for senators is set to begin on March 30.

Regarding the 28 southern constituencies which are still without candidates for the general election, Mr Somchai said the EC wants the caretaker government to issue a royal decree to fix a new election date for the 28 constituencies. The EC will write a formal request to be submitted to officials tomorrow, he added.

General election re-runs set for April“, Bangkok Post, February 11, 2014

Advance voting on January 26 saw widespread blockades in Bangkok and many parts in the South, preventing 2 million people from voting. On election day 10,284 polling stations in 18 provinces (again mostly in the South and in Bangkok) were forced to shut down or didn’t open at all due to disruptions by anti-government protesters. Official figures show that over 20.5 million people did cast their ballot, a low turnout of 47.2 per cent.

The Election Commission already announced before the polling stations opened (at least those that could) that there would be no official results on that day, leaving a lot of questions unanswered and a lot of issues unresolved. Twenty-eight districts in the South are without any candidates – they were prevented from registering – meaning the mandatory quorum of 95 per cent to form parliament cannot be fulfilled.

Since the election, the EC and the caretaker government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have clashed on what should happen next and when the catch-up polls can be held in the aforementioned districts. In essence, the government argues that the EC has to hold by-elections as soon as possible and has to ensure that it they go smoothly, since that is its duty. On the other hand the EC is reluctant to hold them, citing legal reasons but also safety concerns as many election officials in the South are still being hindered. It should be noted that the Election Commission also displayed some unwillingness to go through with the February 2 elections.

EC officials justified the late catch-up election date with the hope that the political tensions may have calmed down by then, as anti-government protesters are still rallying in central parts of Bangkok, albeit with almost non-existent attendance at their rally stages during the day.

In the interim, elected senators will have completed their term on March 1 and new ones have to be elected on the March 30. That is eight days after the ongoing state of emergency for Bangkok and some surrounding areas is scheduled to be lifted (March 22) – but it would still cover the senate candidate registry on March 4, which is likely to be disrupted by anti-election mobs, as feared by the EC. Should the protests prolong until the scheduled April election dates, the catch-up polls could still be targeted.

As mentioned, 28 districts in the south were not even able to file candidates for the February 2 elections due to blockades in late December and the EC did not extend the registration period. Instead, the commission still proposes that the caretaker government should issue a new royal decree in order to start the entire election process for the affected constituencies. The government, however, has rejected that idea in the past and according to a legal expert of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, it wouldn’t be legally possible since the royal decree process dictates that after the dissolution of parliament the subsequent election day “must be the same throughout the Kingdom” (see Article 108 of the Constitution). Also, a second royal decree could void the original parliament dissolution decree and thus render the February 2 elections nullified and meaningless.

In a related development, that is exactly what the opposition Democrat Party – which boycotted these elections – is trying to achieve as they have petitioned the Constitutional Court to nullify the whole election since it wasn’t held in one day and it would violate Article 68 of the Constitution with the clear intention to get the interim prime minister Yingluck and the ruling Pheu Thai Party banned. But…

Legally, it is difficult to understand this argument. The election could not be held on one day largely because of the actions of a protest movement to which the Democrat party gives thinly-disguised support.

The use of section 68 is even more baffling. This section outlaws any actions that could threaten the existing democratic system, with the King as head of state. The Democrat argument appears to be that in calling the election at a time of turmoil, and against the advice of the Election Commission, the government put the political system in jeopardy.

“The constitution gives a clear and flexible mechanism to re-run the election where it has been obstructed,” says lawyer Verapat Pariyawong. “It is ironic that the Democrats are citing section 68, as this really ought to be used to deal with the disruptions of the protesters rather than the actions of the government. There are no legal grounds I can see for annulling the election.”

No grand bargain amid Thailand political crisis“, by Jonathan Head, BBC News, February 10, 2014

The Constitutional Court is scheduled to decide whether or not to accept the petition today (Wednesday). UPDATE: The court rejected.

So the February 2 election remains in limbo for at least another two-and-a-half months, while the caretaker government is facing more and more problems, most recently with rice farmers waiting to be paid subsidies and a related anti-corruption investigation and another one for proposed constitutional amendments. Thailand’s political crisis continues with no clear answers on where it will go and how it will all end.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers