Thai Politics Updates June 2012
The month of June started with scenes of violent chaos in parliament about the controversial reconciliation bills. The bills were dropped until the next parliamentary session, reportedly for fear of renewed political violence. The government was no more successful in amending the constitution than it had been on pushing forward the reconciliation bills. The process of revising article 291 of the constitution to allow the election of a constitution drafting committee (CDA) was interrupted by the Constitutional Court, which took it upon itself to consider whether the attempt is unconstitutional. In the end, the parliamentary session was closed on June 19 without any progress being made on the two major electoral promises of the Yingluck administration, namely 1- bring Thaksin back home and 2- proceed with a revision of the 2007 Constitution. An unprecedented institutional crisis between the parliament and the Constitutional Court deployed all its strength throughout June, and promises a heated re-opening of the parliamentary session in August. I.
US-Thai relations A debate about the American presence in Thailand was sparked off by a US request to use U Tapao for conducting research on atmospheric pressure. Government figures claimed that project was initially proposed to and approved in principle by the Abhisit government, though Democrat MP (and former finance minister) Korn Chatikavanij denied this. When the project came to the attention of the media the beginning of the month, opposition from government opponents quickly mounted; to the relatively small extent that the general public cared, there appeared to be some distrust of American motives. The cabinet on 27 June decided to send the US space agency's request for use of U-Tapao naval airbase in Rayong for a climate study to a joint sitting of parliament in August for debate; the matter was referred to parliament under Constitution Section 179 concerning important matters of administration where it is advisable to get parliamentâ€&#x;s opinion, though only through general debate without resolution. NASA subsequently declared the project canceled, with no indication whether it would be proposed again next year. Democrats promptly argued vigorously that the cancellation was entirely the governmentâ€&#x;s fault for the way it had handled the matter.
Court cases/Petitions - Ombudsmen The Office of the Ombudsman stood by its decision to declare the appointment of Nattawut Saikua to the cabinet as ethically inappropriate. The institution reportedly based its decision on a Civil Court ruling that street protests by red shirts, of whom Nattawut is co-leader, were unconstitutional. (Bangkok Post, 15/06/12). Yingluck Shinawatra sent a letter to the Office of the Ombudsman insisting she has the authority to vet the qualifications of cabinet members and will not review their appointments. Ombudsman office secretary-general Raksagecha Chaechai said that the Office of the Ombudsman will ask the House of Representatives and the Senate to take action against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. -NACC The National Anti Corruption Commission has reportedly ruled that Deputy Prime Minister/Interior Minister (and Pheu Thai Party leader) Yongyuth Wichaidit committed malfeasance when, as deputy interior permanent secretary in 2002, he certified the sale of land belonging to Tammikaram temple to Alpine Real Estate Co. and will ask the Interior Ministry permanent secretary to recommend disciplinary action, and also ask the AttorneyGeneral to indict; the NACC also, however, said that this ruling has no impact on Yongyuth‟s cabinet post, so he can remain in office. Nevertheless, Pheua Thai sources have reportedly talked about Yongyuth being expected to lose at least one of his portfolios in an anticipated reshuffle, perhaps in August. - Election Commission Karun Hosakul, a Phuea Thai MP for Bangkok's constituency 12, (Don Mueang) was disqualified by the Election Commission over his defamation of a Democrat Party candidate in last general election‟s campaign. - The Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions The Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions has accepted a case brought against Supachai Phosu, a former deputy agriculture minister of the Bhumjaithai Party, for violating the Criminal Code and the Election Act of 2007. (Bangkok Post, 19/06/12) At the beginning of the month, opposition MPs submitted a petition to Senate Speaker Thiradej Meepien seeking the removal of Somsak Kiatsuranont as House speaker over his handling of the “reconciliation chaos” in parliament on May 30-31.
- Red-shirts Many red shirt detainees were released on bail this month. On 19 June, thirteen of them were released from the Lak Si prison after the Mukdahan Court approved bail for them as
requested by the Lawyers Association of Thailand and the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection. The 13 were sentenced by the Mukdahan Court to 20 years and eight months in jail for setting fire to the provincial hall and trespassing on government offices on May 19, 2010. The Department of Rights and Liberties Protection provided a total of 26 million baht for this purpose. The Lawyers Association of Thailand also sought bail for 40 other detainees on similar charges in Ubon Ratchathani (4), Udon Thani (5), Maha Sarakham (9), and Bangkok (14). (Bangkok Post, 20/06/12)
- Jatuporn Prompan‟s case The Constitutional Court filed a petition with the Criminal Court seeking revocation of Jatuporn‟s Prompan„s bail. The Constitutional Court accused Jatuporn of making allusions against it in his speech outside Parliament on June 7 when he criticized the court‟s order to suspend the final reading of the reconciliation bill in parliament. President of the Constitution Court, Vasan Soipisut, explained "I believe the Office of the Constitution Court has filed the petition in order to ensure that the judges' panel will be able to perform their duties smoothly and without being threatened, "It is necessary to do so because Jatuporn and his associates threatened the court in their speeches [addressed to their followers] outside Parliament [on June 7].(Bangkok Post, 23/06.12) The Criminal Court accepted the petition for consideration. Jatuporn, who faces terrorism charges in connection with redshirt activities, has accused the Constitution Court of overreaching its authority in this matter, and has threatened to go on hunger strike if his bail is revoked. Reconciliation Compensation The second batch of victims of political violence did receive compensation on June 15. The government held a ceremony at the Social Development and Human Security Department to give 246 cheques. Those entitled to the compensation were made up of the families of 15 dead persons, two people who had lost some organs, four people who were left disabled, and 225 who sustained injuries. It was reported that 5,885 people had registered for the compensation package between March 8 and April 12. Of them, 1,003 did not meet the criteria, 945 submitted multiple registrations, 2,366 were undergoing evidence examination, and 1,571 people were declared eligible for the scheme. (Bangkok Post, 17/06/12) Thaksin/negotiation An event to mark the fifth anniversary of the TV show “Truth today” which played an important role in mobilizing red shirts in the first place, was held at Impact Muang Thong Thani on June 2. Thaksin phoned in to comment on the Constitution Court's suspension of the charter amendment bill debate was an attempt to destroy the government. “Are you going to let them steal our power again? (…)We cannot trust the situation now since they still won't play by the rules. "I had earlier thought reconciliation would happen soon, but it won't." (Bangkok Post, 2 June 2012) The address was seen by some observers as an attempt
(seemingly rather successful) by Thaksin to repair his relationship with redshirt supporters after damaged done by his remarks in a 19 May address.
Investigation On 18 June, the southern Bangkok criminal court heard testimony from witnesses and investigators probing the deaths occurred at the temple of Pathum Wanaram on May 2010. During the hearing, investigators from the police confirmed that five of the six people killed at Wat Pathum Wanaram during the crackdown were shot with bullets normally used by military forces and that the victims were shot from an elevated position. The six people killed that day were Suwan Sriraksa, 30, a farmer; Atthachai Chumchan, 28, a law school graduate; Mongkol Khemthong, 36, a rescue worker; Rop Suksathit, 66, a hired driver; Kamonkade Akkahad, 25, a volunteer nurse; and Akkharadej Khankaew, 22, a hired hand. Pol Col Suebsak Pansura, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau's Division 6 and his team had interrogated soldiers based at the skytrain station who said men in black had fired at them from the ground up toward the skytrain track. But ballistics tests showed no bullets had been fired from ground level at the victims in the temple. The army denied it had fired the bullets, arguing that the bullets and firearms used to kill the people in the temple had been stolen during the riots, especially on April 10, 2010, when 12 Tavor rifles, 700 .223 calibre bullets, 35 shotguns and 1,152 rubber bullets were stolen from soldiers at Phra Pinklao Bridge. (Bangkok Post, 21.06.12) Institutional crisis: the charter change The month opened up with the attempt to pass four bills on reconciliation. In the closing days of May, scenes of violence against the President of the Parliament, Somsak Kiatsuranont, by opposition MPs, shocked Thailand. Opposition MPs approached threateningly and surrounded the Speaker in parliament, and one MP attempted (not particularly forcefully) to lead the Speaker from his chair and out of the chamber. MPs threw objects and sarcastically raised Nazi salutes. On at least one occasion, when the Speaker was not in the chamber, a Democrat MP tried to steal the Speakerâ€&#x;s chair and take it out of the chamber. Amidst the uproar, yellow shirts surrounded parliament on May 30-31. Somsak finally declared the postponement of the reconciliation bills until next parliamentary session. Red-shirt MPs in the Pheua Thai party were reportedly disappointed with the decision of postponement. Many red shirts considered the coming out of the PAD to oppose the deliberation of the reconciliation bills in parliament â€œa signal for a power outside parliament to topple the governmentâ€? (Nattawut Saikuea, Bangkok Post, June 1, 2012) At a press conference held by the UDD, Jatuporn Promparn claimed that the yellow-shirts planned to create conditions for a coup, as happened on Sep 19, 2006. On 5 June, Pheu Thai MP Korkaew Pikulthong claimed that a person whose name starts with the initial "S" is lobbying parties in the coalition government and senators to support a plot to topple the government (Bangkok Post, 6/06/12). In the event of a coup, red-shirts in all provinces must travel to Bangkok and gather at Democracy Monument, Jatuporn said. He told the red-shirts to wait
for a signal from Mrs Thida, Nattawut Sakuar or himself before moving on the capital. Without an order from one of these three leaders, the red-shirts must stay put in their respective provinces. (Bangkok Post, June 1, 2012) The following days, the intervention of the Constitutional court against charter revision confirmed in the eyes of the red shirt leadership that an overthrow of the government was to be expected. The constitutional judges ordered parliament to suspend the deliberation of the bill aiming at revision of article 291, initially scheduled for a third and final reading on June 5. Article 291 of the Constitution reads: Section 291. An amendment of the Constitution may be made under the rules and procedures as follows: (1) a motion for amendment must be proposed by the Council of Ministers, members of the House of Representatives of not less than one-fifth of the total number of the existing members of the House of Representatives or members of both Houses of not less than one-fifth of the total number of the existing members thereof or persons having the right to vote of not less than fifty thousand in number under the law on lodging a petition for introducing the law; A motion for amendment which has the effect of changing the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of the State or changing the form of the State shall be prohibited; (2) a motion for amendment must be proposed in the form of a draft Constitution Amendment and the National Assembly shall consider it in three readings; (3) the voting in the first reading for acceptance in principle shall be by roll call and open voting, and the amendment must be approved by votes of not less than one-half of the total number of the existing members of both Houses; (4) the consideration in the second reading section by section shall also be subject to a public hearing participated by persons having the right to vote, who have proposed the draft Constitution Amendment; The voting in the second reading for consideration section by section shall be decided by a simple majority of votes; (5) at the conclusion of the second reading, there shall be an interval of fifteen days after which the National Assembly shall proceed with its third reading; (6) the voting in the third and final reading shall be by roll call and open voting, and its promulgation as the Constitution must be approved by votes of more than one-half of the total number of the existing members of both Houses; (7) after the resolution has been passed in accordance with the rules and procedures hitherto specified, the draft Constitution Amendment shall be presented to the King, and the provisions of section 150 and section 151 shall apply mutatis mutandis.
The Constitutional Court accepted a petition against the charter amendment under section 68 of the constitution. Section 68 stipulates that anyone who becomes aware of acts to overthrow the constitutional monarchy or acquire power to rule the country by any means not based on the constitution may petition the Attorney-General to investigate and submit a motion to the court for a ruling. However, the petition must be about acts that were committed by a person or a political party. The section provides for dissolution of a guilty political party. The Constitution Court scheduled hearing of witnesses for 5-6 July.
In a press conference on June 6, the Constitution Court stated it has not acted beyond the scope of its mandate in accepting petitions against the charter amendment bill and in ordering parliament to temporarily suspend the third reading of the piece of legislation. Court spokesman Pimol Thampithakpong cited Sections 60, 69 and 70 of the 2007 Constitution to support the court's acceptance of the petitions for examination. Here are the mentioned articles: Part 13 : Rights to Protect the Constitution Section 68. No person shall exercise the rights and liberties prescribed in the Constitution to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of the State under this Constitution or to acquire the power to rule the country by any means which is not in accordance with the modes provided in this Constitution. In the case where a person or a political party has committed the act under paragraph one, the person knowing of such act shall have the right to request the Prosecutor General to investigate its facts and submit a motion to the Constitutional Court for ordering cessation of such act without, however, prejudice to the institution of a criminal action against such person. In the case where the Constitutional Court makes a decision compelling the political party to cease to commit the act under paragraph two, the Constitutional Court may order the dissolution of such political party. In the case where the Constitutional Court issues an order dissolving the political party under paragraph three, the right to vote of the dissolved political partyâ€™s leader and executive committee members at the time of the commission of the offence under paragraph one shall be suspended for the period of five years as from the date of such order of the Constitutional Court. Section 69. A person shall have the right to resist peacefully any act committed for the acquisition of the power to rule the country by a means which is not in accordance with the modes provided in this Constitution.
Court spokesman Pimol Thampithakpong said under the two sections anyone who knows of an act to exercise the rights and liberties prescribed in the constitution to overthrow the government under the constitutional monarchy, or to acquire the power to rule the country by any means not allowed by the constitution, can submit a petition through two channels - the Office of the Attorney General and the Constitution Court. (Bangkok Post, 6 June 2012) . He also referred to the article 70 of the Constitution: Section 70. Every person shall have a duty to protect and uphold the Nation, religions, the King and the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of the State under this Constitution.
Deputy court spokesman Somrit Chaiwong reportedly said that the court had accepted the petitions for examination and that if no ulterior motives were found in the charter amendment motion, the petition would be dismissed and the parliament process could resume. At one point, the Office of the Attorney General itself issued a statement that it had considered the petitions and found them without merit, so it would not forward them to the Constitution Court (even though the court had already taken them on its own accord); the Constitution Court remained undeterred. Whether or not the Constitution Court was entitled to consider a petition of this nature without the avail of the Office of the Attorney General, and whether or not the parliament should defy the court injunction, were widely debated among politicians and academics. Nittirat released a statement saying this act of the Constitutional Court was in violation of basic constitutional law principles. Chaturon Chaisaeng, former Thai Rak Thai, and member of the 111 Foundation, asserted that the parliament should proceed with the charter revision without caring for the court order, which was, in his view, illegitimate (Reference) Even Thaksin said in his phone in to red-shirt protesters that "It now depends on the House speaker [Somsak Kiatsuranont] whether he will follow or defy the court's order". Kaewsan Atibodhi, a former member of the coup-installed Assets Scrutiny Committee, said the court's intervention was needed to stop the government from overthrowing the constitutional monarchy. (Bangkok Post, 6 June 2012) A motion to debate whether the Constitution Court's order suspending the third reading of the charter amendment bill was binding on parliament, proposed by Mukdahan Senator Jit Sriyohamukdathanapong, failed to be taken up for debate in parliament. The motion needed one half of the chamber to support it. But before the vote, Democrat Party MPs and some other parliament members walked out in protest, leaving only 323 in the chamber. Parliament voted 319-1 in support of the motion. It was subsequently dropped as it failed to get the required 322 votes. (Bangkok Post, 13 June 2012) (Thaksin reportedly later called Chat Thai Pattana de facto leader Banharn Silpa-archa to account for the absence of several CTP MPs at the time of the vote). Following the open conflict between the Constitutional Court and the parliament, the UDD launched a campaign to gather signatures to remove constitutional judges from their post. At least 50,000 names are required by the Constitution. Thida Thavornseth announced on June 24 that they had now almost 100,000 names (Bangkok Post, 24/06/12) End of the parliamentary session A few days after the Constitutional Courtâ€&#x;s press conference, the cabinet approved a draft royal decree to close the current parliamentary session on June 19. It will reconvene on August 2. Expression of tensions will be put on hold until then. Appointments and cabinet reshuffle Despite much discussion about the threat represented by former Thai Rak Thai executives to current ministers, only two former executive committee members of the now-defunct party were appointed to the government . On June 5, Suranand Vejjajiva was appointed prime minister's secretary-general, and Sansanee Nakpong government spokesperson.
The end of the ban had been feared by both Pheua Thai current ministers and the opposition as paving the way for a Cabinet reshuffle replacing the “Generation C (Pheua Thai) ” with “the Generation A (Thai Rak Thai)”, said to be the most competent generation of Thaksinsupporting politicians. Meanwhile, police transfers occurred in the midst of fears of renewed protests by the PAD. Pol Maj Gen Wichai Sangprapai, deputy commander of the Metropolitan Police, was moved to an inactive post at Royal Thai Police headquarters for 30 days, effective immediately. His transfer came just a day after Pol Gen Priewpan sidelined the Metropolitan Police chief, Winai Thongsong. Elections: Udon Thani (and Thaksin‟s involvement in it) PAO elections held in Udon Thani on 17 June were discussed in the press due to Thaksin‟s involvement in it (or not). Wichian Khaokham, a former Pheu Thai list MP who resigned from parliament to run for PAO chairmanship, was elected chairman of the Udon Thani provincial administration organisation (PAO). He used Thaksin‟s signature in his campaign leaflets, which were described as fake by the opposition party. 24 June 1932‟s anniversary On 24 June 1932, Thai absolute monarchy saw its power limited by the first constitution in Thai history. The 24th of June then became a national celebration for two decades until Sarit Thanarat (1958-1963) ordered that the national day be the King‟s anniversary instead. Mainstream academic discourses on this event tended to consider it as the roots of the vicious circle of coups and military rule in Thailand. Since the last coup in 2006, red-shirts have taken up this day and vowed to terminate this “unfinished business‟ (Suthachai Yimprasert, quoted in the Nation, 22/06/12). This year witnessed the biggest celebration of 24 June redshirt rallies at Democracy Monument. Tida Thavornseth, UDD leader, addressing the crowd, said that the red shirts must encourage the people to take the baton from the Khanarassadorn, who staged the bloodless coup on June 24, 1932, that changed Thailand's administrative system to a constitutional monarchy. (Bangkok Post, 25/06/12) The rally‟s theme was “80 years and yet, still no democracy”. Several UDD leaders took to the stage and reminded the crowd of the six principles upheld by the 1932 revolutionaries as stated in their 1932 manifesto: 1 - to uphold the people as the supreme power, 2- to maintain national security, 3- to maintain the economic welfare of the people in accordance with the Pridi-drafted National Economic Project, 4-to protect the equality of the people, 5-to maintain the people‟s rights and liberties and 6-to provide public education for all citizens. Southern insurgency
The Appeal Court has upheld Criminal Court‟s rejection of an attempt to appeal Songkhla Court‟s ruling that the 78 people killed in the Tak Bai incident in 2004 died as a result of suffocation due to accident and that government officials had performed their duties properly. Appeal Court said that Criminal Court is a court of first instance and thus could not consider a case already ruled upon by Songkhla Court, and furthermore, no appeal could be filed with the Appeals Court either because rulings on autopsies by a court of first instance are final. On 25 October 2004, demonstrators who had gathered outside Tak Bai police station, Narathiwat, to protest the arrest of six villagers accused of collaborating with insurgents were arrested and herded into army trucks for transport to a military camp in Pattani; stacked one on top of the other in the trucks, 78 detainees died apparently of suffocation. III.
Economy and society
Decentralization This month, renewed calls for decentralization as a way to solve the political conflict and improve Thai democracy were echoed in the press, especially in the province of Chiang Mai, known for its „progressive character” over this matter, under the leadership of the “Decentralise Chiang Mai” movement, the Midnight University, the Chiang Mai University and scholars like Dr. Thanet Charoenmuang, Faculty of Political Science and Public Administration, Chiangmai University. A group of residents call for the direct election of their governor, just as Bangkok and Pattaya, and for a local government which would have control over healthcare, forestry, resources management, water, investment, tourism, city planning and provincial security. They also want civil juries. (Bangkok Post, 24/06/12) Academic standards Chulalongkorn University Council has reportedly decided to withdraw the PhD granted to National Innovation Agency director Supachai Lorlohakarn on grounds that he plagiarized 80 percent of his doctoral thesis. The accusations emerged in 2009, a year after the degree was granted, but there was apparently little done about the matter until recently, when it came to international attention (including in the Times Higher Education Supplement). Supachai reportedly says he has not been informed of this decision, and rejects the truth of it, though he also reportedly said he will resign as director of the National Innovation Agency if the Administrative Court rules that he plagiarized his PhD thesis. One of the apparently copied works is Strengthening the Export Capacity of Thailand‟s Organic Agriculture; British agricultural consultant Wyn Ellis claims he wrote that work, but Supachai claims it as his own, saying Ellis was only a copy writer. Supachai said he will file an Administrative Court complaint against Chulalongkorn University. NIA board chairman Pornchai Rujiprapa (also permanent secretary of the Science and Technology Ministry) said that the withdrawal of Supachai‟s doctorate is merely a personal matter because Supachai did not use his PhD to apply for the NIA director post.