Thai Politics Updates May 2012
Reconciliation was still at the top of this month‟s political agenda featuring 1. discussions about amnesties 2. the payment of compensation to victims of the 2010 crackdown on redshirts, and 3. Thaskin Shinawatra‟s highly divisive phone in at the event held in commemoration of May 19‟s dispersal of protests. It culminated at the very end of May with a heated parliamentary debate on the 2012 Reconciliation Act. The article 112 of the Penal Code or lèse majesté law was also widely discussed in the media due to 1. court proceedings on high-profile 112- and Computer Crimes Act- related cases such as Prachatai editor Chiranuch, Voice of Taksin editor Somyot, and Deng Siam leader Surachai 2. the end of the 112-day campaign for the amendment of the 112 law, which featured the submission of a petition containing about 27,000 names to the parliament and 3. the death in custody of Uncle SMS or Akong, condemned in November last year to 20 years in jail for sending SMS deemed critical of the monarchy. The other top issue, the Charter amendment process, proceeded smoothly until the very end of the month, while speculation about the coming end of the 5-year ban for the “House 111” former executives of the Thai Rak Thai party, triggered much discussion. I.
- Burma (Aug San Su Kyi) After recent political reforms in Burma led to Aung San Su Kyi‟s election as a Member of Parliament on 1 April 2012, together with more than 40 other members of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), Thailand was chosen for her first trip abroad. After 24 years without leaving the country, being either detained or under house arrest, she was given a passport in early May. She arrived in Thailand on May 29 to participate in the World Economic Forum on East Asia, and was greeted by a crowd of Thais and Burmese. She met the prime minister, visited Burmese migrants and refugee camps. Days before the Forum, Myanmar‟s leader Thein Sein has abruptly cancelled his scheduled attendance citing urgent matters to attend to in Myanmar; some have speculated his cancellation is related to the WEF‟s decision to invite Aung San Suu Kyi. - World Economic Forum on East Asia. Over 630 participants from 50 countries met at the World Economic Forum on East Asia taking place for the first time in Thailand on May 30-June 1. The meeting in Bangkok welcomed over 50 public figures representing 20 countries, including the heads of state or government of Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. More than 450 business leaders, over
60 Global Growth Companies, 33 Young Global Leaders and 14 Social Entrepreneurs together with other members of civil society and academia will convene to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing East Asia today. The theme of this year‟s meeting: was Shaping the Region’s Future through Connectivity. The changing political situation in Burma was much discussed. It was decided that the next World Economic Forum on East Asia would be held in Myanmar in 2013.
Court cases - Santika fire In May, the Administrative Court rendered its verdict on 5 cases related to the tragic accident of the Santika Fire. A fire had broken out in this middle class/high-so Bangkok pub on a New Year‟s Eve Special Party with fireworks, the 31st of December 2008, leaving 66 people dead and many more injured. So far, no prosecutions have occurred. On May 18, the city of Bangkok was condemned to pay indemnities to victims and their families in 5 cases. - False assets declaration The Supreme Court on May 4 decided to ban Somsak Prissananantakul, a key member of the Chartthaipattana Party, from politics for five years over a false assets declaration. The DSI is now investigating a case against the Democrat Party for receiving flood donations from East Water Group Plc. - Skytrain and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) Pheu Thai Party intends to ask the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra over the recently-signed agreement between the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and Bangkok Mass Transit System, extending the latter‟s skytrain operation contract from its original expiry date in 2029 to 2042. Pheu Thai MP Jiray Huangsap complained that the decision to award the lucrative extension without any bidding appears to violate anti-collusion and anti-corruption laws. Department of Special Investigation director-general Tarit Pengdith suggested that the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration may have acted illegally; DSi investigated and after a short while decided to pursue charges against the BMA on grounds that the BMA had no authority to extend the contract, failed to put the extension up for tender, and failed to seek cabinet approval to choose a contractor to operate the Green Line system. - Defamation Pravit Rojanaphruk : In mid-May, a lèse majesté complaint was filed against Nation reporter Pravit Rojanaphruk, for his contributions to Prachatai. Meanwhile, the trial of Somyot Phreuksakasemsuk, editor of banned Voice of Taksin magazine, for two articles deemed offensive to the Chakri dynasty continued this month. The author of the articles, until then unknown, finally revealed his identity. Jakrapop Penkair, a close ally of Thaksin, and now
living in exile, is the author behind the pen name "Jit Polachan”. The verdict is expected next month. This month, Somyot had his request for a ruling on the constitutionality of the Criminal Code Section 112 rejected by the Constitution Court; the Constitution Court statement indicated it felt Somyot had not first pursued his complaint through other means, so the Constitution Court could not accept the complaint. Chiranuch Premchaiporn: The verdict in the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, initially planned to be rendered at the beginning of the month, was delayed until the 30th of May. She was handed a one-year suspended jail term and a fine of 20,000 THB. International media and human rights groups and observers expressed some relief that Chiranuch was sentenced leniently, but stressed that the case is actually a bad precedent because it established a webmaster‟s liability for content posted by someone else on the webmaster‟s website. Surachai Danwattananusorn: On May 28, the Criminal Court sentenced Surachai Danwattananusorn, alias Sae Dan, a core member of the Red Siam Group, to two years and six months in jail for a speech he made on December 15, 2008 at Sanam Luang during a redshirt rally. It was his fifth lese majeste conviction. Jatuporn Prompan : Lese majeste charges against Jatuporn Promparn for a speech he held at Sanam Luang were dropped by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI). Later, Democrat Party MP Suthep Thaugsuban filed a complaint with the National Anti-Corruption Commission accusing Department of Special Investigation director-general Tarit Pengdith of dereliction of duty for dropping the lese majeste cases against Jatuporn. -Ineligibility to political office In another case, on May 18, the Constitutional Court rendered a verdict (7 to 1) on Jatuporn‟s ineligibility to be an MP. “The Court ruled that Jatuporn‟s detention on election day, and consequent non-participation in the election, disqualified him from serving as a member of parliament under provisionsof the 2007 Constitution and the 2007 Organic Act on Political Parties.The reasoning of the Court was as follows: -Jatuporn was prohibited from voting under Article 100(3) of the 2007Constitution, which specifies “being detained by a warrant of the Court or by a lawful order” on election day as one of the prohibitions leading to disenfranchisement. -Jatuporn ceased to be a member of the Phuea Thai party on the day of the election , July 3, 2011, on the basis of provisions contained in the 2007 Organic Act on Political Parties. Return of the 111 and Cabinet reshuffle The so much expected end of the 5 year ban for members of the 111 Foundation (members of the executive committee of the Thai Rak Thai party dissolved in 2007 by the Constitutional Court) finally came on May 30. On this occasion, key members issued the following press release. (translated from Thai Rath transcript) “The Thai Rak Thai Party was created on the 24th of July 1998 and proposed a concrete political, economic and social programme for the 2001 general
elections. The Thai Rak Thai party Under Thaksin Shinawatra‟s leadership, the party won 248 out of 500 seats. After four years of Thaksin‟s government, in January 2005, the Thai Rak Thai Party, once again under Thaksin‟s leadership, won 377 out of 500 seats. It was the first time in 80 years of Thai electoral history that a political party ever won in a landslide. When the coup occurred on the 19th of September 2006, the Constitution was nullified and the junta issued the order 27 on the 30th of September to withdraw political rights of all members of the executive committee of our party. On the 1st of October 2006, an interim constitution was promulgated which created a constitutional tribunal instead of the constitutional court with the intent to proceed with the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai party. There was the appointment of a new batch of National Anti Corruption Commissioners (NACC) and also the appointment of the Assets Examination Committee (AEC)with the same mandate as the NACC. On the 30th of May 2007, the Constitutional Tribunal ordered Thai Rak Thai‟s dissolution and through a majority vote and a retroactive use of the law, decided ban all members of the party‟s executive committee for five years without notification of charges or holding of hearings or opening of a trial. This is a clear violation of the Rule of Law. This was a planned process to eliminate the 14 million member Thai Rak Thai party from politics. The 111 banned politicians were thus prevented from openly opposing the coup d‟état. The judicial process initiated by the AEC and the NACC which were granted privileges under the article 36 of the interim Constitution and the article 309 of the current 2007 Constitution. These two articles amnesty the junta for all its acts as well as for every official who did follow the orders of the junta. It is a pity that the courts accepted the idea that the junta held sovereign power. If the courts had refused to apply illegitimate acts in violation of the rule of law, a vicious circle would not have been initiated.The 2007 Constitution has introduced the principle of the 5 year ban into Thai legislation through its article 237. This constitution is a „double standard‟ constitution. The coup d‟etat and its consequences damaged the country in all possible aspects. We hope that Thai people will never accept another coup d‟état, that they will oppose any sort of coup in the future. While a new constitution is in the making, we, members of the 111 Foundation, are ready to help push forward a people‟s constitution, a democratic constitution.‟ Members of the 111 Foundation who applied to the Pheu Thai Party membership, directly after the end of their ban included Varathep Rattanakorn, Wan Muhamad Nor Matha, Vichet Kasemthongsri, Veerakan Musikhapong, Suporn Atthawong, Laddawal Wongsriwong, Sermsak Pongpanich and Wichit Plangsrisakul. This event however did not create big emotions as it was eclipsed by the revival of colour politics around parliament due to attempts to pass a reconciliation bill featuring amnesties.
- Compensation Conditions for receiving the 7.5 million THB compensation are that the recipients drop any civil lawsuit against the government before getting reparations from the Yingluck Shinawatra administration. "Such a condition is not appropriate and it amount to bargaining with the people who were affected by the violence. It's a separate issue and an individual has the right to pursue that quest,â€? said Kanit Na Nakorn, Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman (Bangkok Post, 15 May 2012) On 24 May 2012 was held a ceremony to hand out the cheques to 524 people eligible for compensation. The Prime Minister was initially supposed to hand out the cheques but bowed out citing commitments outside Bangkok; she denied speculation that she was trying to avoid legal responsibility for issuing compensation payments. Instead, deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit handed out the compensation cheques. Reportedly, some recipients at least initially refused to accept the cheques and some crossed out the no other compensation/lawsuit clause in the documents. Yongyuth reportedly gave some recipients reassurances that they could still pursue criminal cases after receiving the money. - Prosecution â€“ Investigation (DSI) Red-shirts protest 2010 On 17 May 2012, the DSI (Department of Special Investigation) released a report on the progress of the investigations into the April May 2010 deaths in Bangkok. The report states that at least 25 of the 92 people who died as a result of the 2010 violence may have been killed by security personnel. Yellow-shirts protest 2008 In mid-May, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) found former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, former deputy prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and four senior police officers, including police chief Pol General Patcharawat Wongsuwan, had abused their authority, leading to death and injury during the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) demonstrations on October 7 last year. - Amnesty ? While debate on a possible amnesty in relation to political-related violence continued unabated, international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and FIDH issued statements opposing such a move. On May 15, Human Rights Watch called for full disclosure of those responsible for the deaths during the 2010 political violence. "Despite well-documented atrocities that took place in the full view of cameras and witnesses, no Thai soldier or official has been held accountable. The Yingluck government came to power promising justice to victims of political violence. It should resist pressures to engage in a whitewash," Brad Adams, Asia director, said. He added that current efforts to pass an
amnesty law for serious abuses committed by government forces and armed protesters would be an affront to victims. - TRCT: Cancellation of terrorism laws Meanwhile, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT), issued recommendations for dropping prosecution of “terrorists” in connection to the violent situation. The TRCT called for the abolition of the provisions on terrorism under the criminal code, explaining that it would naturally end more than 20 lawsuits against red-shirts. - Reconciliation Bill 2012 At the end of the month, four reconciliation bills were proposed to the parliament. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the chairman of the parliamentary subcommittee on reconciliation is the author of one of them. Party
Nber of signatories (minimum required by the law = 20 MPs)
1. 2. 3. 4.
Mathubhum Party (Sonthi Boonyaratglin) Phuea Thai UDD Phuea Thai (Niyom Wonpanya)
35 names 50 names 74 names 21 names originally)
Number of articles in the law 8 8 7 5
It has been listed as an "urgent agenda" item for the House sessions on Wednesday 30 and Thursday 31 May. The bill proposes that politicians, state officials and people involved in political rallies between Sept 15, 2005 and May 10, 2011 be granted an amnesty. It seeks to annul legal proceedings initiated by the coup-appointed Assets Scrutiny Committee. The Sonthi and the Phuea Thai versions are very similar. As analyzed by the Nation, “Key points of the National Reconciliation Bill (Sonthi‟s version) include: Article 3: Any conduct related to political assembly or expression of political opinions between September 15, 2005, and May 10, 2011, that were deemed illegal will no longer be illegal and the wrongdoers will be freed from responsibility for their misconduct. The term "misconduct" includes: 1. Misconduct caused by political assembly or expression of political opinion, including violation of the law prohibiting anti-government gatherings, statements or advertisements, or
disobedience of government officials, as well as protests that affect other people physically or their assets. 2. Any conduct by government officials or anybody involved in the prevention or suppression of political assembly, expression of political opinions or any related conduct. Article 4: Once this law is put into force, investigation and legal action against any person as per Article 3 must be stopped. If the case is in court, then the court must dismiss it. If the person is already convicted, then the person must be deemed as never having been convicted. If the person has been serving a penalty, then the penalty must end and the person released. Article 5: People affected by the conduct or operation of an organisation or group of people appointed under orders of the Council for National Security, or the council's chairman, which seized power on September 19, 2006, will not be considered suspects or wrongdoers. The statement in Article 4 shall be applied and all related organisations will treat the people according to the rule of law. Article 6: The revocation of the voting rights of former executives of a dissolved political party will be ended and those persons will be deemed as those whose voting rights had never been revoked, once this law is effective. Article 7: Any conduct according to this law will not be considered as a reason to end one's right to take civil action and seek compensation for any damages caused by people whose penalty has been lifted as per this law. In specific terms, Phuea Thai MPs have interpreted the clauses to mean that Thaksin would be given a retrial and the two-year jail term handed down earlier by the court would be nullified. As well, coup leader Sonthi would be absolved from any guilt for overthrowing the Thaksin government.” (The Nation, 31 May 2012) The question is whether one of these bills could lead to genuine reconciliation. Looking at how much trouble they created, both in parliament and outside parliament, when they were introduced, one can doubt of their effectiveness to achieve win-win reconciliation. According to Suriyasai Katasila, yellow-shirt core leader, “The Sept 19, 2006 coup is the lesser of two evils compared to the reconciliation bill proposed by Gen Sonthi Boonyaritgalin, the coup maker” (Bangkok Post, 27/05/12)
- Red-shirt villages The opening of red shirt villages made the headlines this month after a red-shirt banner was burnt down in Songkla. On May 5, the UDD held a ceremony to open 14 red shirt villages in Cho Airong district of Narathiwat province. Veera Musiakpohong, Weng Tojirakarn, and Thida Thavornseth were speakers at the launching ceremony. The next day, the red pavilion, symbol of red-shirt area, was burnt down. Korkaew Pithulkun, Pheua Thai MP and red-shirt
leader, accused a politician in Songkhla of plotting the burning of the pavilion. Democrat spokesman denied his party was behind the act of arson. Red-shirts reaffirmed that the aim of red shirt villages was to act as a protection towel against the coup. However, many Southerners, traditionally loyal to the Democrat Party, feel uneasy with the expansion of redshirt villages. - Charter change "A coup can bring down the law overnight but it takes the people of a democracy a very long time to amend an article of the law," said Phokin Phonkun, a member of the House 111 Foundation, one of Thaksin Shinawatra's key legal adviser. Many seminars were organized this month in relation to the reflection about a possible overhaul of power relations between the political and the judiciary. At a conference on a "The role of the judiciary in the prevention and suppression of corruption - particularly the Supreme Court's Criminal Division against Holders of Political Positions" organised by the office of the NACC, Mr Wicha Mahakhun, a panelist and member of the National Anti Corruption Commission, said Supreme Court judges have been intimidated in various forms by politicians, both of the government and opposition blocs, who were afraid they would be banned from politics if found guilty of wrongdoing, (Bangkok Post, 23 May 2012)
Red-shirts and Thaksin - May 19 Speech On the occasion of the second anniversary of the repression against the red shirts which cause 90 deaths, red-shirts organized a mass gathering at Ratchaprasong. A stage was installed and all the red-shirts leaders climbed on stage to deliver speeches. Other smaller stages featured more radical red-shirts, like in Lumpini where the Democracy Network focused on the lese majeste issue. On the main stage in Ratchaprasong, Thaksin phoned in. He started his speech by thanking all the red-shirts who came to visit him in Lao and Cambodia and thanked them for not forgetting him yet. He then praised Jatuporn Promparn as being a fighter (naksu) [in reference to the possible withdrawal of his MP status due to the fact that he did not vote in the July 3, 2011, election]. After that, he moved on to the Constitutional amendment process, expressing his satisfaction over the fact that it has passed the second reading already and seemed optimistic about the passing of the law in its third reading on June 5. Thakin seemed certain that the constitutional amendment process would proceed smoothly and that the CDA (Constitution Drafting Assembly) would “return democracy to Thailand”. Then he talked about the 2-year anniversary of the crackdown on protesters. saying that himself “suffered less than Thai people who had to endure this unbearable situation‟ He stressed that since he
was ousted six years ago, the economic situation deteriorated, that Thailand was increasingly falling behind its neighbours, The part of his speech which triggered dissatisfaction within the red shirts is related to reconciliation. “If you don’t want reconciliation, that is OK, I will stay abroad if you ask me if I miss you then I will reply yes I miss you very much … I want to give back to you what you have given me… if you tell me you don’t want to be rewarded… that is OK” This speech triggered wide criticism from inside the red-shirt movement, as it was interpreted as meaning that red-shirts should accept to drop their calls for prosecution of the ones responsible for the 91 deaths in the April May 2010 dispersal of protests. Red-shirt leader Sombat Boonngamanong, tweeted that the red shirts were getting fed up with Thaksin."The red shirts were fighting for democracy, so Thaksin must stop talking about himself". After Thaksin‟s phone-in, many observers spoke and wrote enthusiastically, speculating about the fragmenting and impending death of the red-shirt movement, or at the very least that the movement would soon abandon Thaksin. At the end of the month, during the party for the end of the Foundation 111 5-year ban, Thaksin Shinawatra apologized, saying his message was "incomplete" and that he "might not have spoken clearly that day”. He added “My brothers, today it's time for us to return to resume political roles and help drive the country forward" (Bangkok Post, 31/05/12). The death of Amporn Tangnoppakul (Akong) Another issue potentially leading to a Thaksin/Phuea Thai – red-shirts rift is the issue of lèse majesté prisoners. This month, the death of one of them led opened the Pandora Box. On the 8th of May, Amporn died in jail. He had been convicted in November to 20 years in jail for sending 4 SMS deemed offensive to the monarchy. His lawyer said that he requested bail eight times in vain. In April, Amporn reportedly abandoned an appeal of his conviction to instead seek a royal pardon. Following this news, many red-shirts grasped the occasion to campaign against the lèse majesté law and stage protests in front of the Criminal Court. While the government repeatedly said that the Akong‟s case would not change its stance on the article 112 of the Penal Code, many MPs participated in Akong‟s funerals. The two wreaths flanking Akong‟s coffin were those sent by Nattawut Saikua and Jatuporn Promparn. Southern insurgency Early this month, a delegation of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference visited the Deep South. The OIC ambassador condemned the violence and urged the government to lift the Emergency Law. The visit came just weeks after massive car bombs in Yala and Hat Yai that resulted in more than 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries. No group claimed responsibility but exiled separatist leaders and Thai officials said separatist militants on the ground affiliated with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate (BRN-C) were behind the attacks.
(The Nation, May 10, 2012). Violent incidents were still reported on a daily basis this month. Casualties included a police sergeant on May 25 in Narathiwat.
Human rights : transgender rights A transgender won a councilor seat in Nan‟s PAO on May 27. Yollada Suanyos is the first elected transgender. She chairs the TransFemale Association of Thailand that she founded to campaign for transgender rights. She ran for provincial councilor under her male name. There is no legal framework for the recognition of transgender rights in Thailand.
Economy and society
King‟s visit to Ayutthaya The King, who has been staying at Siriraj Hospital since Sept 2009, made a visit to Ayuthaya on 25 May 2012. Massive crowds gathered to greet the King, the Queen and the Princess Sirindhorn. Dressed in a military uniform, the King of Thailand visited Thung Makham Yong district in Ayutthaya where he personally harvested rice on 14 May 1996. The Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra also presented the title deed of a 7-rai, 3-ngan land plot at Thung Makham Yong field which she and her family donated to the King. She declared "My family and I would like to donate this land to His Majesty for use at your discretion," (Bangkok Post, 27/05/12) Domestic growth forecast The World Bank's forecast for Thailand‟s gross domestic product growth for 2012 is 4.5 per cent and it has warned the country of the impact of the global economic crisis on its exports, the bank's senior economist Kirida Paopichit said on 23 May. 2013 Budget Bill During parliamentary debate of the 2013 budget bill, Finance Minister Kittitatt Na-Ranong insisted the government does not plan to increase value-added tax or diesel levies; the bill describes a 2.4-trillion baht budget, with a deficit of 300 billion baht. Democrats questioned where the expected revenue would come from, and complained the budget fails to address improving people‟s quality of life, social inequality, and poverty. The 2013 budget bill passed first reading in the House of Representatives; a 63-member scrutiny committee has been formed to examine the bill. Inflation In a meeting with the Commerce Ministry, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra complained that prices of consumer products have not fallen even though actual costs have; she directed the ministry and the National Economic and Social Development Board to analyze cost structures to find ways to reduce consumer prices. The ministry reportedly will identify
where products are being marked up, and then take action against middle-men found to be making too much profit. Also, the government continued to talk about imposing price controls on a variety of popular cooked foods typically sold from roadside shops and stalls; vendors say price controls would be impractical, adding that they will face troubles if authorities somehow force them to comply because input prices have not fallen as the government claims. Nevertheless, Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom promised that consumer prices would go down by the end of the year after new price control measures are implemented. In mid May, cabinet rejected the Commerce Ministryâ€&#x;s proposal for price controls on cooked food on grounds that the details were unclear and impracticable; the ministry was asked to clarify and resubmit the plan. The Commerce Ministry also pressured 200 manufacturers to freeze the retail prices of their products for a period of four months. Thai Chamber of Commerce secretary-general Vichai Assarasakorn complained that price controls imposed by the government distort market mechanisms and hurt labour-intensive industries; he called for the government not to impose any more controls and to relax controls when the price control list is reviewed in August. Environment A ministerial letter sent to Cabinet, dated 23 March and signed by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Preecha Rengsomboonsuk, warned that construction of the Mae Wong Dam in Nakhon Sawan would destroy over 13,000 rai of forest, in violation of national park law, and that the project would likely be classed as harmful to the environment and requiring an environmental and health impact assessment. Cabinet approved the dam project on 10 April, apparently without any impact assessment. There will be a public hearing about environmental and health effects of the Nae Wong Dam project. The Royal Irrigation Department will present the final results of an environmental and health impact assessment and seek localsâ€&#x; opinion. Pro-dam billboards, apparently sponsored by state agencies or Pheu Thai, have sprung up all over the area. It has been claimed that conservationists have been warned not to talk about negative effects of the dam.