August 17, 2008

Dismemberment and Thai Politics

It's been a tough few months for some people; the cartoons below capture something of the situation. This week, the Election Commission of Thailand may consider recommending the dissolution of the Democrat Party, after one of its executive members admitted distributing free movie tickets. Also in the pipe line is the case against the governing People's Power Party, after executive member Yongyuth was found guilty of electoral fraud.

It's hard to see how anything can be achieved by pursuing the dissolution of parties on the basis of actions by individuals - the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai by the Constitutional Tribunal in 2007 being a case in point.

Of course, the constitutional article (Article 237) on this matter doesn't stipulate that a party must be dissolved if an executive member is found guilty of electoral fraud/corruption, only that the Constitution Court consider the matter.

In the mean time, with Thaksin in exile, the effort to undo the post-coup political settlement continues by anti-coup/pro Thaksin forces. The June 24th Democracy Group will this week commence a new round of protests to try and dislodge the National Counter Corruption Commission on the basis that its nine members were not royally appointed (they were appointed by the 2006 coupsters). It considers the NCCC and the entire post-coup legal and political order illegitimate, with the exception of the elected parliament.

(UPDATE 18th August) And on another front the campaign against Jaravan, the Auditor General, heats up. Citing Article 301 of the 2007 Constitution, Prachathat, the pro-Thaksin newspaper, has called for Jaravan to leave office. Article 301 stipulates that: "The selection for the State Audit Commission and the Auditor-General shall finish within one hundred and twenty days as from the date of appointment of the President of the House of Representatives and the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives after the first general election of members of the House of Representatives under this Constitution and, if the President of the Constitutional Court from the selection proceedings under this Constitution does not exist, the Selective Committee shall consist of the existing members."

Cartoon from Khao Sut 15th August. The text reprises Thaksin's assurance - after speaking to an astrologer - that after July 2nd everything would be okay.

Cartoon is from Naew Naa 17th August. A tree (People's Power Party) is cut down by a saw-wielding man (The Election Commission of Thailand).

August 5, 2008

Asia Sentinel Article on Judicialisation of Thai Politics

"The Morass of Thai Law":

"This week’s guilty verdict on tax evasion charges against Pojaman Shinawatra, the wife of the ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has been described as politically loaded. Had the Criminal Court’s decision been otherwise, it would have also been so described."

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Please note that I made a mistake in the piece above, regarding Truth Today's presentation of the case against the Auditor General. Their evidence regarded her ability to afford builing on the property, not the property itself. Their basic point is that she appears to be unusually wealthy. A clarification of this issue would be good, both for the integrity of the office of the Auditor General, and for questions of accountability of all public servants and politicians.

Thailand’s Media and Law Wars: the hijacking of state media.

Thailand’s Media and Law Wars: the hijacking of state media.

When you take up Sondhi’s Manager newspaper or watch ASTV “protest TV” you know what you are getting: the politics of the People’s Alliance for Democracy. I am not sure, but my guess is that ASTV is probably a first in history: a television channel dedicated to broadcasting ongoing protests and making those protests, and its stage entertainment and addresses, its full content. These outlets are private concerns, and while they probably violate every rule of objectivity (such as it is), they are not media instruments of the state.

Some weeks ago Prime Minister Samak indicated he would expand his weekly television address to a nightly show to answer his critics. That idea was dropped, but for the last two weeks “Truth Today” has been broadcast on a nightly basis on NBT, the national broadcaster.

The program is fascinating viewing. It is unashamedly pro-government. It declares itself against PAD and the Democrat Party (describing this as the party that works with dictators); it wages a relentless attack on the Constitution Court, the National Counter Corruption Commission, the constitution and the Auditor General.

Truth Today’s basic premise (also argued for in the pro-Thaksin paper Prachathat) is that the coup was illegitimate and therefore everything that has flowed from the coup is illegitimate, including the cases against Thaksin. The constitution is a child of a dictatorship. What makes the tv program absolutely fascinating is its decidedly politicised nature. It holds no punches, being hosted by leading members of the pro-Thaksin Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship, or the DAAD: Veera Musikapong (former Democrat Party member who led a defection from the party in the 1980s and who was found guilty of lese majeste for rather innocent comments), Nattawut Saikue (former deputy spokesperson for the Thaksin government), and Jatuporn Prompan (People’s Power MP).

Truth Today is firebrand television. Veera is one of the leaders of DAAD who moved protestors to General Prem’s (President of the Privy Council) residence in mid 2007, accusing him of being behind the 2006 coup against Thaksin.

The three presenters were also involved in the formation of the pro-Thaksin PTV channel that faced opposition from the coup group in 2007. They have now graduated to state television for an hour each evening, waging a war of accusations and argument in the manner of PAD.

Last night (August 3) the presenters launched an assault on the opposition Democrat Party as a party that supports dictators. The presenters discussed plans to try and appoint Democrat Party leader Aphisit as prime minister after the December 2007 election, but they noted that the numbers made it impossible for the Democrats to form government. They spoke of electoral fraud, and the unclear issue of excessive ballot papers (on that matter, no one has ever explained the party list vote of December which initially gave the the Democrat Party and the People’s Power Party 14 million votes each, in the end both got around 12 million). On the same evening Veera read an announcement of PAD, and paid especial attention to PAD’s professed support for democracy with the king as head of state. Ah, “we are on the same side” he declared.

The presenters have also spoken about Article 309 and the need to abolish it (this is an Article that Samak has reserved judgement on). It declares as legal all actions of the 2006 coup group. His reticence on that question may have something to do with when Samak served as Interior Minister after the massacre at Thammasat University in October 1976. Following that event he served in a government formed by the coup group and governed under a temporary constitution that had a very similar article (Article 29 of the 1976 Constitution basically states that all that the 1976 coup group did was legal).

Indeed, so common is this kind of article that to declare coup law as illegitimate is indeed to wage a war against the body of law of Thailand. That war is long overdue, and just as the embedding of the rule of law in the cases against Thaksin have found a strange handmaiden, so to one might reflect on the oddity of a government led by Samak being the one to launch a reform of Thai law (if indeed it goes beyond a mere consitutional amendment).

By the way, this evening’s episode of Truth Today (4th of August) ended with a reading of one of the king’s addresses on the role of justice. It seems that both sides support democracy with the king as head of state. Each is attempting to present itself as loyal to the monarchy.