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  • CSO concerned about increased exploitation after CI centres closure
    CSO concerned about increased exploitation after CI centres closure

    The closure of 7 offices issuing certificates of identity (CI) for undocumented Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand has raised concerns that the move could lead to more labour exploitation and make it harder for workers to obtain documentation to legally work in Thailand.

    The Department of Employment issued an order temporarily closing CI centres in Pathum Thani, Nakhon Sawan, Samut Prakarn, Chonburi, Surat Thani, and Songkhla, leaving only one centre open in Samut Sakorn.

    Colloquially known as “green books,” CIs provide proof of Myanmar citizenship and allow Myanmar migrants to work in Thailand.

    Siwawong Suktawee

    Siwawong Suktawee from the Migrant Working Group (MWG) said that the closures were made following a request from Myanmar authorities, who claimed that only one centre is needed as only a small number of migrant workers need to obtain proof of citizenship.

    Siwawong said that this will create difficulties for workers, since those working in other provinces will have to come to Samut Sakhon to obtain documents. He is also concerned that the unclear booking system will allow employment agencies to exploit workers by making them pay large fees to facilitate the process of getting a certificate.

    He estimates that there could be as many as 1.5 million undocumented Myanmar migrants and refugees in Thailand, too many for a single CI centre to process. He also thinks Thai authorities should publicise contact information for the remaining centre and explain how migrants can obtain a certificate to reduce the risk that they will be exploited.

    According to Siwawong, the government needs to rethink how it works with the Myanmar junta. In his view, acting on their recommendation to close CI centres will make it harder to manage migrant workers in Thailand. 

    For undocumented workers unable to obtain identity document from their country of citizenship, Siwawong said the Thai authorities might need to consider issuing them identification without requiring certification from their country of citizenship to allow them to live and work in Thailand. For example, he said, the Thai government during the Covid-19 pandemic allowed undocumented workers to report to the authorities and obtain a “Pink card” – an identification card for migrants. However, he said that the Thai government is “too concerned” about its relationship with the junta to issue a clear policy.

    He also thinks that they should allow migrants who hope to return to Myanmar to temporarily remain in country.  As for those who want to stay, he suggests that the Foreigners’ Working Management Emergency Decree be used to help them register and obtain permits with the Department of Employment.

    Given the situation in Myanmar following the 2021 military coup, migrants who want to return home might not be able to do so immediately.  In such cases, Siwawong thinks the government should implement measures allowing them to stay until things improve.  Those who only have identification papers issued by Thai authorities could be required to obtain additional documents after returning home if they want to come back to Thailand.

    eng editor 1
    15 July 15 2024
    11018 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Thailand to respond to Myanmar weapon payments made through Thai banks
    Thailand to respond to Myanmar weapon payments made through Thai banks

    Thai commercial banks, which have been reported as facilitating the Myanmar military junta’s buying of weapons, along with government agencies, have committed to halting such transactions. Meanwhile, concerns have been raised regarding the lack of proactive measures.

    Following the UN report ‘Banking on the Death: How Banks and Governments Enable the Military Junta in Myanmar’, the Committee on National Security, Border Affairs, National Strategy, and National Reform on Thursday (11 July), together with Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, summoned representatives of Thai banks and relevant government agencies to clarify the facts and discuss joint measures to prevent weapons procurement for the Myanmar military through Thai banks.

    According to the report, banks in Thailand facilitated at least US$60 million in purchases of weapons and other materials in the 2022 fiscal year and at least US$120 million in 2023. The report noted that throughout 2023, as Singaporean banks stopped processing these transactions, the volume of transactions through Thai banks increased and came to account for around half of the total military procurement of the Military of Defence under the State Administration Council (SAC).

    Five Thai banks were identified in the reports: Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), Bangkok Bank, KBank, TMB Thanachart Bank, and Krung Thai Bank.

    The UN Special Rapporteur said during the meeting that he found no evidence that the government or these Thai banks were aware of in the nature of the transactions they facilitated. He urged the government to make known its stance against transactions related to the weapons trade and to conduct a thorough investigation as Singapore did last year.

    All the Thai banks insisted that they do not support any transactions related to weapons purchases that breach human rights, whether involving the Myanmar military junta or any other government. Meanwhile, the Bank of Thailand (BOT) stated that it obliges financial institutions to comply with sanction measures. All banks are required to verify their customers in high-risk countries.

    The Thai Bankers’ Association mentioned that in some cases, it is beyond banks’ capability to thoroughly investigate which of the transactions they facilitated were linked to weapons procurement by the Myanmar military since banks do not have special departments overseeing the issue. He said banks rely on the government to determine which transactions need to be monitored.

    MP Rangsiman Rome, Chairperson of the Committee, noted that the meeting did not lead to clear measures, but all stakeholders have committed to developing measures to address the issue. He also said that TMB Bank has active bank accounts associated with transactions linked to the Myanmar military’s weapon purchases. He noted that despite the small amount of money, the Committee found it unacceptable as it was used to commit a crime against the Myanmar people.

    The Committee and the UN Special Rapporteur have reached the following resolutions:

    (1) The Committee is concerned about the lack of clear measures taken by the government and Thai banks, which contrasts with the proactive actions overseen by the Singapore government.

    (2) The Committee proposed that all relevant agencies consider establishing working teams with the Singapore government, the UN Special Rapporteur, and other international organisations, to develop measures and investigate the issue.

    (3) The BOT and other agencies are required to investigate 254 companies listed in the report and 2 companies selling oil to the Myanmar military, and report to the Committee within 30 days.

    (4) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Anti-Money Laundering Office are to develop further measures addressing the Committee’s concerns, and report progress within 30 days. 

    eng editor 3
    12 July 12 2024
    11017 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • MP appeals court order ending witness examination in royal defamation trial
    MP appeals court order ending witness examination in royal defamation trial

    Activist-turned-Move Forward Party MP Piyarat Chongthep has filed a request with the Kalasin Provincial Court calling for the repeal of a 1 July court order ending witness examination in a royal defamation trial against him on the grounds that the order makes the trial unlawful. He also requested that the court re-schedule the hearing.

    Piyarat Chongthep (centre) in September 2023 (File photo)

    Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that, on 1 July, the Kalasin Provincial Court ordered an end to defence witness examination in the royal defamation trial against Piyarat and scheduled the verdict reading for 11 October. This order came after the Court refused to postpone the remaining witness examination hearing scheduled for 1 – 2 July, which took place while Piyarat was visiting Poland with the House of Representatives Standing Committee on National Security, Border Affairs, National Strategy, and National Reform.

    The trip was rescheduled to 24 June – 2 July because an extraordinary session was called for parliament to debate the 2025 budget bill. The Court said that it believes Piyarat was trying to stall the trial, since the witness examination hearings were postponed from 11 April to 1 – 2 July because Piyarat’s lawyer is representing another client in Chiang Mai, and documents submitted along with the request did not show that Piyarat opposed to the trip’s rescheduling even though he was aware of the new hearing dates.

    Piyarat previously requested to postpone the defence witness examination hearings 5 times, 4 times because parliament was in session and once because his lawyer was representing another client in a hearing. He said that he has never asked to postpone a hearing unless absolutely necessary. He said that members of the Committee voted to re-schedule the trip, which requires coordination with the House Speaker for a budget and with Polish government agencies. Once a list of participants has been approved, it cannot be changed, he said, and anyone who cancelled would be held responsible for the expenses. They would also have to file for budget approval again, which Piyarat said would not be possible within the time frame.

    TLHR noted that a senior judge in the Kalasin Provincial Court and a presiding judge in the Region 4 Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases were participating in the hearing when Piyarat’s lawyer requested the postponement even though they were not among the panel of judges responsible for Piyarat’s trial.

    On Monday (8 July), Piyarat filed a request with the Kalasin Provinical Court to have the order ending witness examination repealed and for the court to re-schedule the hearings on the grounds that the procedure and order were unlawful under the Law for the Organization of the Courts of Justice and the Criminal Procedure Code since they made the trial unfair.

    Piyarat wrote in the request that the Court is obligated to allow both parties to present evidence and defend themselves under the principle of bilateral hearing. He wrote that not allowing him to present defence witnesses makes the trial unfair, since he is not being allowed to defend himself. This would mean that the public would question and criticize the court, no matter how it ruled on the case.

    He wrote that he is not trying to stall the proceedings, but is obligated to attend parliamentary sessions and participate in any trip or meeting required by the committees of which he is a member. He noted that members of parliament have immunity while parliament is in session, and that he filed documents with each postponement request proving that he has to attend a parliamentary meeting. He also wrote that the Poland trip schedule would not be changed even if he had expressed his opposition because the dates were approved with a vote among the working group, and it would damage his work if he did not participate in the trip. The prosecution also did not oppose having the hearings postponed, so there should be no reason to rush the proceedings to the point of cancelling examination of the remaining defence witnesses.

    Piyarat raised concerns that judges on the panel might not be making their decision to cancel remaining witness examination independently, since Sarawut Yongchaiyudh, Presiding Judge in the Region 4 Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases, sat in on the 1 July hearing although he is not part of the panel or a judge in the Kalasin Provincial Court.

    Piyarat was charged with royal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act for allegedly putting up signs in January 2021 criticising the government’s Covid-19 vaccine procurement scheme and posting pictures of the signs on his Facebook page and the Twitter account for the protest guard group We Volunteer.

    eng editor 1
    12 July 12 2024
    11016 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Cartoon by Stephff: Confusing Thai laws
    Cartoon by Stephff: Confusing Thai laws

    Cartoon by Stephff: Confusing Thai laws

    eng editor 1
    12 July 12 2024
    11015 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Thailand: Montagnard Indigenous activist must not be extradited to face torture in Viet Nam
    Thailand: Montagnard Indigenous activist must not be extradited to face torture in Viet Nam

    Amnesty International has called on Thai authorities not to forcibly return a Montagnard and Ede Indigenous human rights activist to Viet Nam where he would be at severe risk of torture. His extradition hearing will be held next week.

     Amnesty International today (11 July) called on the Thai government not to repatriate Y Quynh Bdap, a UN-recognized refugee who has been in Thailand since 2018.

    He was arrested by Thai authorities for “overstaying” his visa in Bangkok on 11 June 2024 following a request for his extradition by the Vietnamese authorities.

    Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly said the request was because a Vietnamese court had sentenced Bdap to 10 years’ imprisonment on terrorism charges in January 2024.

    “The Vietnamese authorities have a long history of violent and racist persecution against Montagnard Indigenous peoples. Thailand would be in breach of its non-refoulement obligations if it were to accept this farcical extradition request,” said Amnesty International’s Thailand Researcher Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong.

    “Viet Nam’s courts are not independent. Bdap was tried and found guilty of terrorism charges in absentia in a clear violation of his right to a fair trial.”

    Y Quynh Bdap belongs to the Ede ethnic group, one of the Montagnard groups of the Central Highlands of Viet Nam. As the co-founder of Montagnards Stand for Justice, he has been playing an important role as a human rights defender advocating for Montagnard people’s rights through speaking out against religious persecution faced by his community.

    He is one of six Montagnard Indigenous people who Vietnamese authorities charged with terrorism under Article 299 of Viet Nam’s Penal Code for an attack on a government office in June 2023 in Dak Lak province in Viet Nam.

    State-run news in Viet Nam reported that he is wanted for his alleged involvement in the attack that resulted in the death of nine people, including Commune police officers. Bdap, who is currently being held at Bangkok Remand Prison in Thailand, denies the accusations against him. His extradition hearing begins on 15 July 2024.

    “The Vietnamese authorities have a clear pattern of targeting ethnic and religious minorities such as the Montagnards in a way that amounts to persecution,” Tatiyakaroonwong said.

    “Should Bdap be returned to Viet Nam it is highly likely he will be tortured and subjected to misused anti-terrorism laws. Thailand cannot send him back to Viet Nam knowing this will be his fate.”

    Montagnards’ long fight for justice

    Vietnamese authorities have systematically repressed ethnic and religious minority groups exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly, particularly members of independent religious groups not officially recognized by the government.

    Amnesty International spoke with a number of Montagnards who had left the Dak Lak region or were still there after the June 2023 attack. Some described fleeing the country after arbitrary arrest and torture by police officers, often having to cross borders irregularly, at night and through the forest. Others described a total lockdown across the province that was applied for months against the Montagnard Indigenous people.

    In 2023, a Montagnard refugee told Amnesty International that he was arrested by the police and dragged into a dark room where he was injected with unknown substance and detained in the room for two days. During these two days, police entered the room to question him about the attack and hit him on his legs, shoulder, hands and head with a rubber baton.

    “I lost my consciousness, I felt dizzy and had no way of getting back to normal, until the day they released me. I was confused about everything that was happening,” the Montagnard refugee said.

    In an interview with Amnesty International in November 2023, Y Quynh Bdap said that he was taken to a police station and tortured in 2010.

    Torture and ill-treatment in Viet Nam’s prisons

    Despite ratifying the UN Convention against Torture in 2015, the Vietnamese government has taken almost no steps towards implementing changes and continues to torture its prisoners. In the 2016 report Prisons within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam, Amnesty International documented torture and ill-treatment systematically committed by authorities in Vietnamese prisons against activists and prisoners of conscience, including members of ethnic and Indigenous minorities.

    Dar (Pseudonym), a former Montagnard prisoner who was arrested in 2008, was held in solitary confinement in a very small cell for the first 10 months of his detention. He also reported being hit with sticks and rubber tubes, punched, kicked and electrocuted, and said his legs were burnt with lit paper. Sometimes, he said he was hung by the arms while the police beat him until he lost consciousness.

    In March 2021, Amnesty International further received reports that Nguyễn Văn Đức Độ, an activist currently serving 11 years in prison, was kept in solitary confinement for more than 300 days – amounting to torture under international law. During the initial phase of his solitary confinement, he said prison authorities chained both of his legs for 10 consecutive days and gave him dirty water and food mixed with human excrement.

    Thailand must abide by international law

    Thailand has an obligation to respect international law and standards including the non-refoulment principles and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Treatment. As a party to the Convention, Thailand must not return a person to another state where there are substantial grounds that they would be subjected to torture.

    This principle is also reflected in Thailand’s Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance, which came into effect in February 2023. Section 13 of the Act states that, “no government organizations or public officials shall expel, deport, or extradite a person to another country where there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be in danger of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, or enforced disappearance.”

    “The case of Y Quynh Bdap clearly illustrates the Vietnamese authorities’ efforts to exercise its long-arm repression against human rights defenders beyond its own border,” Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong said.

    “Thailand must uphold its international and domestic obligations to prevent refoulement of those seeking refuge in Thailand from forcible return to places where they are at risk of grave human rights violations.

    “Thai authorities must immediately release Bdap, stop his extradition process and ensure the protection of Bdap and other Indigenous and religious minorities who have fled persecution from Viet Nam to Thailand.”

    eng editor 3
    11 July 11 2024
    11014 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Outgoing Senate to form committee investigating Senate election
    Outgoing Senate to form committee investigating Senate election

    The outgoing Senate voted 101 to 10 on Monday (8 July) to form an ad-hoc committee to investigate the Senate election, claiming several irregularities during the election, including vote manipulation.

    Somchai Swangkarn

    The motion was proposed by outgoing Senator Somchai Swangkarn, who said that a committee should be formed to investigate several irregularities during the Senate election, including the fact that several candidates applied to run in groups that do not match their professions. He claimed this was the reason why those with experience in their profession who ran in the correct groups were not elected. He also alleged that there was vote manipulation, claiming that pieces of paper were found telling candidates who to vote for, and that some candidates were in a party.

    The committee would also conduct a study on legal complaints, Somchai said. He proposed that the committee be made of experts from various standing committees and outside experts who drafted the 1997 and 2017 Constitutions.

    Somchai said that the outgoing senators will continue working until the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) certifies the results of the Senate election. He insisted that he is not trying to buy time for the outgoing senators to continue in their positions but is trying to do his “constitutional duties.”

    The outgoing senators voted 101 to 10, with 14 abstentions, to form a 21-person committee, which will have 30 days to conduct a study and present a report, which will include recommendations for new senators and any future constitutional drafting committees.

    Senator-elect Nantana Nantavaropas told Matichon Online that it is not illegal for the outgoing senators to form such a committee, but it might not be appropriate since a new set of senators has been elected and the study would have a long-term effect on the Senate.

    Nantana said that the public might not be happy with the outgoing senators’ move, since they have not been respectful of public opinion and are now trying to do something unrelated to their role when their term has ended. She suggested that the outgoing senators file a complaint with the ECT if they are unhappy with the results of the election.

    Since the ECT announced the certified results this afternoon (10 July), it is unclear whether the new committee can continue conducting the study. Somchai told Matichon Online that it is likely the committee will be disbanded since new senators have been endorsed. The outgoing senators may also not be able to re-convene for another session.

    eng editor 1
    10 July 10 2024
    11013 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Youth activist denied release for royal defamation
    Youth activist denied release for royal defamation

    The Appeal Court for Specialised Cases has upheld the decision not to release a political activist from a juvenile detention centre on a royal defamation charge following his participation in a 2021 protest.

    The Central Juvenile and Family Court denied the release of Phum, a 20-year-old activist, after he appealed the Court order to detain him. The case stems from his participation in a 2021 protest at the Khlong Luang Police Station, demanding the release of the political activist Sirichai Natueng, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

    Phum, who was then 17 years old, and others reportedly threw dog food at an image of King Vajiralongkorn located in front of the police station. He was charged with royal defamation, participating in an assembly of more than 10 people, violating the Emergency Decree, and insulting an official.

    The court stated that his action was believed to target the image of the King, which is a representation of the King who is adored and worshipped by the Thai people. It was also alleged that the activist used offensive and derogatory words towards the image.

    Last year, the activist pleaded guilty and the court used alternative sentencing, ordering him to be detained for 1 year and requiring him to participate in two vocational training programmes.

    Even though his legal advisor filed a petition with the Court, requesting it to change the order since his mother had returned from abroad and was ready to take care of him, the Court refused to reconsider.

    The legal advisor then appealed the case to the Appeal Court for Specialised Cases, stating that the Central Juvenile and Family Court’s decision was illegitimate and breached the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Court was requested to return the activist to his parent’s supervision.

    The Court on Tuesday ruled to uphold the court’s original decision.

    According to TLHR, Phum underwent shoulder surgery in June. Juvenile detention centre officials removed him from the hospital after 5 days, even though he had not fully recovered.

    Phum lived with his mother and grandmother. He has so far been detained for 9 months with no opportunity to work to support his family. While his surgery-related injury has yet to improve, detention is difficult for him as is his participation in the remaining training programme ordered by the court.  

    eng editor 3
    10 July 10 2024
    11012 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Thailand added to human rights watchlist as activists and opposition targeted
    Thailand added to human rights watchlist as activists and opposition targeted

    The CIVICUS Monitor has added Thailand to its watchlist of countries experiencing rapid declines in civic freedoms, due to the targeting of activists, critics and the opposition by the government of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

    In recent months, the government has continued to use royal defamation (lèse-majesté) provisions or Article 112 to arrest and convict activists, critics and politicians on charges of insulting the monarchy. Courts routinely deny bail to individuals charged or impose strict conditions in cases where bail is granted. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), since early 2020, more than 270 people have been charged with violating the law and at least 17 are being held in pre-trial detention.

    Prominent human rights lawyer and democracy activist Arnon Nampa was sentenced to a further two years imprisonment in April 2024, while in May 2024, an opposition lawmaker and activist Chonthicha Jangrew of the Move Forward Party was sentenced to two years jail. Activist Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom, who had been campaigning to repeal the lèse majesté provision, died in custody in May 2024, after suffering a cardiac arrest. No one has been held accountable for her death.

    Despite recently legalising same sex marriage, human rights groups have also raised concerns about women and LGBTQI+ activists being unlawfully targeted with digital surveillance, including Pegasus spyware and online harassment, by state and non-state actors, in an effort to silence them.

    “Thai authorities must drop the cases of all those charged with lèse-majesté and release all those in pre-trial detention or have been convicted. Article 112 is inconsistent with Thailand’s international human rights obligations and must be amended immediately. The authorities must also launch an independent, thorough, and effective investigation into the use of the Pegasus spyware against activists that has created a chilling effect among activists,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia researcher.

    The CIVICUS Monitor is also concerned about transnational repression in Thailand. Human rights groups have reported an upsurge in repression directed at foreign nationals seeking refugee protection in Thailand. Foreign governments have subjected exiled dissidents and activists to harassment, surveillance and physical violence, often with the cooperation and knowledge of Thai authorities. Most recently, Vietnamese activist Y Quynh Bdap was detained in Thailand on 11 June 2024 and is at risk of deportation, where he could be subjected to severe persecution.

    “It is extremely worrying that a country that is seeking a place on the UN Human Rights Council is facilitating harassment, surveillance, and physical violence of activists from abroad seeking refuge in Thailand. The authorities must end such actions and instead create a safe haven for activists fleeing persecution from neighboring countries,” added Benedict

    The opposition Move Forward Party – that won the highest number of seats in parliamentary elections in 2023 - is at risk of being dissolved by the Constitutional Court and its executives face a 10-year ban on political activity for their pledge to amend the royal defamation provisions. The petition to the courts was filed by the Election Commission.

    Disbanding the Move Forward Party would violate the rights to freedom of association and undermine the progress made to restore democracy following the coup and military rule.

    About the CIVICUS Monitor

    Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents. Civic freedoms in 198 countries and territories are categorised as either ‘closed,’ ‘repressed,’ ‘obstructed,’ ‘narrowed’ or ‘open,’ based on a methodology that combines several data sources on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

    Thailand is currently rated ‘Repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. There are a total of 50 countries in the world with this rating (see all). This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights (see the full description of ratings).

    eng editor 1
    10 July 10 2024
    11011 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • ECT yet to certify senate election results after two weeks
    ECT yet to certify senate election results after two weeks

    After an almost two-week delay, the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) has not announced the certified results of the 26 June Senate election.

    Senator candidates arriving at the Impact Forum convention centre for the national-level selection on 26 June

    ThaiPBS reported that the ECT held a confidential meeting on Monday (8 July) to discuss complaints and other reports relating to the senate election, but did not certify the election results due to disagreements among commissioners. They only discussed what needs to be done before the certified results can be announced.

    ECT Chair Ittiporn Boonprakong told the Bangkok Post that “several issues” must be addressed before the certified results can be announced. He declined to say when the ECT would announce the results, but said that it is not stalling.

    Matichon Online reported that the ECT held another meeting yesterday (9 July). However, it has not decided whether to certify the results because some issues still need to be investigated by the ECT office before a decision can be made. Commissioners are to reconvene for another meeting at 9.00 today (10 July).

    The Organic Act on the Selection of Senators does not specify a time limit for the ECT announcement of the certified results, only that the ECT must wait 5 days after the election if it believes the election was conducted fairly and properly.

    The ECT has been criticized for not certifying the results. Nantana Nantavaropas, a senator-elect from the group representing media professionals and writers, said that the complaints the ECT received do not mean that the election should be voided. The ECT should endorse those who won the election fairly, Nantana said, and it can disqualify anyone guilty of cheating or who ran in the wrong professional groups after announcing the results.

    Nantana noted that complaints of irregularities have been filed during past general and local elections. Since 200 senators have been elected along with 100 reserves, the ECT should endorse the results and investigate the accusations against each individual, instead of voiding all results. She called on the ECT to do its job and endorse the results, or senators-elect could file their own complaints about the delay.

    eng editor 1
    10 July 10 2024
    11010 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Thailand’s strange and undemocratic democracy
    Thailand’s strange and undemocratic democracy

    Thailand’s senatorial selection, a unique process distinct from traditional elections, has concluded with significant political implications.

    Unlike other typical elections, the public does not cast votes. Instead, candidates, who are supposed to be independent of political parties, select each other in a three-round process.

    However, as the process unfolded, it quickly became clear which candidate was affiliated with a political party.

    For example, General Kriangkrai Srirak is a close friend of the conservative Bhumjaithai Party’s leader, Anutin Charnvirakul. He was appointed chairman of the advisory committee of the Ministry of Interior, of which Anutin is the minister. General Kraingkrai won his senatorial seat and is a likely candidate for President of the Senate.

    Candidates affiliated with the Bhumjaithai Party secured 123 out of 200 senator seats. Candidates affiliated with the populist Pheu Thai Party fell far short of 100. Candidates affiliated with the reformist Move Forward Party secured fewer than 30 seats, and independent candidates won the remaining seats.

    The senator selection process is convoluted and undemocratic, a legacy of the 2014 military coup.

    This year’s official final results have been postponed indefinitely while the Electoral Commission (EC) investigates complaints of fraud. It’s unclear when the results will be known.

    How does it work

    The selection process was designed to prevent vote buying and maintain the Senate’s independence from political parties.

    It’s been a complete failure.

    After paying a Thai Baht 2,500 (US$68) fee, candidates undergo a district, provincial, and national selection process.

    Thousands competed across the kingdom, forming blocs and negotiating for votes. There are allegations of vote-buying practices, selling votes from ten-thousands to hundred-thousands of baht at the district level and provincial level respectively to millions of baht at the national level.

    Two hundred senators (the previous Senate had 250 seats) were selected, with 100 in reserve in case the EC dismissed anyone due to insufficient documents or other irregularities.

    On July 1, when the official results were expected to be announced the following day, a former senatorial candidate filed a petition asking the court to delay announcing the results until the EC had reviewed the candidates’ qualifications.

    Senators were selected based on expertise in 20 areas, such as justice, education, news media and healthcare, not political affiliation. However, petitioners argued that winners included an event organiser who enrolled in the news media category and winners they deemed “unqualified,” such as a chauffeur, a street vendor, a seamstress, and those with a fourth-grade elementary school education.

    Colour-coded selection

    The Thai media categorised the senatorial candidates into four groups:

    • Blue: Allegedly affiliated with the Bhumjaithai Party, a government coalition partner.
    • Red: Allegedly affiliated with the Pheu Thai Party, the government coalition leader.
    • Orange: Allegedly affiliated with the Move Forward Party, the opposition leader.
    • Independent: Candidates not aligned with any political party.
    Why the Senate is important

    The selection result means the conservatives control the Senate, the body that appoints and checks and balances three powerful institutions: the Constitutional Court, which has the power to ban political parties; the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), which can bring cases against political parties; and the EC, which oversees elections.

    It is worth noting that banning political parties and/or politicians is a common practice in Thailand, namely the Thai Rak Thai Party, the People’s Power Party and the Future Forward Party. In addition, the Senate is involved in rewriting the Constitution.

    The power dynamic of Thailand’s government is as follows: Pheu Thai’s coalition, including Bhumjaithai, controls the Parliament. Blue, allegedly affiliated with Bhumjaithai, controls the Senate. The Move Forward Party is the opposition in Parliament, and Orange is a small minority in the Senate.

    Preventing Move Forward from power is the heart of Thailand’s political struggle.

    With Pheu Thai controlling Parliament, Move Forward’s controversial policies, such as amending Article 112, Thailand’s draconian lese-majeste law, ending military conscription, dismantling economic oligopoly, or establishing the welfare state, would not see the light of day.

    Blue controlling the Senate means the conservatives will retain the power to appoint Constitutional Court judges and the heads of the NACC and the EC. As per the Constitution rewriting, Move Forward wants the Constitution drafting committee to come from a national election; the conservatives do not. Move Forward also wants Sections 1 and 2 regarding the monarchy’s power revised; the conservatives do not. The Blue Senate will ensure the conservative agenda.

    Parliament and the Senate can directly affect changes in Thailand’s politics. However, the conservatives controlling both houses mean changes are not coming anytime soon, which is the legacy of the 2014 military coup.

    How we got here

    The 2017 Constitution designed the senatorial selection system. It was written under the auspices of General Prayut Chan-o-Cha’s junta government, which took power in the 2014 military coup.

    The purpose was to reserve senatorial power for the conservatives. For example, originally, the 250 senators had the power to elect the prime minister, along with the 500 nationally elected members of Parliament.

    In the 2019 national election, this system facilitated General Prayut’s return to the premiership, as the Senate supported no other parties, and no party could secure more than 375 votes from the MPs.

    A similar scenario occurred in the 2023 national election when the Move Forward Party’s leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, could not become prime minister due to insufficient parliamentary support. The Pheu Thai Party, with the Senate’s backing, formed a government with conservative parties, including Bhumjaithai.

    Although the power to elect the prime minister was granted for five years and will not apply in the next election, the Senate retains significant influence and is capable of destabilising any political party.

    While Thailand is no longer under a junta government and General Prayut is no longer actively involved in politics, the legacy of the 2014 military coup and the 2017 constitution continues to dominate the kingdom’s politics, affecting both Parliament and the Senate.

    Voranai Vanijaka is a journalist and a Political Communications and Global Media Industries lecturer at Thammasat University. Between 2008 and 2014, he wrote the Sunday Commentary for the Bangkok Post, critically analysing Thai politics, society, human rights, and democracy. He won the 2010 M.R. Ayumongkol Sonakul Award for his column. 

    Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

    The post "Thailand’s strange and undemocratic democracy" appeared first on 360info.
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    9 July 09 2024
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