Asia in Review Archive (2018)


Date of AiR edition

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4 December 2018

Thailand outlines economic topics for ASEAN chair

(ls) Thailand’s Trade Negotiation Department has proposed twelve economic issues, including the conclusion of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), for consideration as Thailand prepares itself to assume ASEAN’s chairmanship. Beside the RCEP, the issue of human resources development to handle the fourth industrial revolution, promotion of micro, small and medium enterprises, and the expansion of the ASEAN Single Window Customs System – which is now available only in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – to include all the 10 Asean members, were also highlighted as priorities. [Bangkok Post]

4 December 2018

Thai PM Prayut meets German Chancellor Merkel in Berlin

(ls) German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday met with Thailand’s Prime Minister, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, in Berlin. Merkel said, “Thailand has had very difficult years on the domestic front and … I will encourage the prime minister to continue along the path of Thailand’s return to democratic order as soon as possible.” [Khaosod English]

Prayut responded, “we are advancing toward elections in February 2019, and I have every intention of making the elections a fair and transparent process.” He also met with some members of the Thai expatriate community in Germany as well as with executives of German companies. One day before, around 20-30 Thai expats had gathered at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and raised placards in protest against the Thai prime minister. [Bangkok Post]

27 November 2018

Thailand: Defections hit Pheu Thai Party, again

(dql) [AiR 3/11/18] reported that key members of the Pheu Thai party have resigned or are expected to resign from the party and join the newly formed Thai Raksa Chart Party to contest the next election. In this issue we again report on more heavyweights having defected Pheu Thai Party to the government-supporting Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), further weakening the former ruling party. The latest defectors mostly belong to the Pheu Thai’s powerful Wang Bua Ban faction, controlled by Yaowapa Wongsawat, a younger sister of former Thaksin Shinawatra and a former MP for Chiang Mai. [Bangkok Post 1]

The latest round defections are to be seen against the background of fears that the Pheu Thai Party might be dissolved the Election Commission’s the inquiry into a meeting of party members with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Hong Kong finds the party let a non-member or outsider interfere in its internal affairs. [The Nation]

Meanwhile, key party figure Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan took the top place in a latest poll on the people’s choice for the post of the prime minister conducted by the National Institute for Development Administration. She received 25.2%, followed by General Prayut with 24.1%; Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the Future Forward Party leader, 14.5%; and Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Democrat Party leader, 11.7%. Asked for the party for form the core of the next government the respondents put the Pheu Thai Party on the first place with 31.8%, ahead of the Palang Pracharath Party 19.9%; the Democrat Party 17%; the Future Forward Party 15.6%. [Bangkok Post 2]

For an assessment of the Future Forward Party in comparison with another new-comer party, the Commoners’ Party, see [New Mandala].

27 November 2018

Thailand: Sweeping cyber security law in the making

(dql) Citing the “need to set a legal system whereby we can protect our society”, Minister of Digital Economy and Society Pichet Durongkaveroj defended a cyber-security bill which has sparked fierce criticism from business communities, academics, social activists, and lawyers  over the formidable powers the bill grants to involved agencies, in particular to the National Cyber Security Committee (NCSC) which would be created under the new law and which would be authorized to access and seize computers and hard drives of individuals and private companies without a court order in cases of “reasonable suspicion” and “emergency”. The bill is currently finalized and is expected to be submitted to the National Assembly for approval by end of the year. [Bangkok Post] [South China Morning Post] 

20 November 2018

Thailand: Pre-election party shuffles

(ls) Key members of the Pheu Thai party have resigned or are expected to resign from the party and join the newly formed Thai Raksa Chart Party to contest the next election. Among them is core party member Chaturon Chaisang. Pheu Thai is focusing on winning the constituency race as it has been predicted to capture few, if any, party-list seats under the new election system. The party appears to be counting on its “sister” party, Thai Raksa Chart, to bring in the party-list seats. If the two win enough MPs, they are likely to band together and form a coalition government along with other aligned parties. [Bangkok Post] [The Nation]

The military government partially eased restrictions on electioneering before the general election, expected to take place on 24 February 2019, allowing parties to spring up and recruit members but withholding the right to campaign. The deadline to join and be eligible to run closes later this month and the past weekend saw a lot of activity as the closing date nears. Golf star Thongchai Jaidee added some star power to the Thai Raksa Chart Party. Nahatai Lekbumrung, the 2006 Miss Global Beauty Queen competition winner, also signed up to the Pheu Thai spinoff. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, the party Palang Pracharat, believed to be a military proxy, attracted some 50 former MPs to join its ranks on the same day. It was pulling in more and more former MPs and government ministers, as well as celebrities. In an illustration of traditionally loose party affiliations in Thailand, many of the new Palang Pracharat members come from the previously ruling Pheu Thai Party. Palang Pracharat is expected to nominate General Prayut as its prime ministerial candidate in the run-up to the next election. [The Nation 2]

The military government’s decision to invoke the controversial Section 44 of the interim constitution to empower the Election Commission (EC) to make changes to constituency boundaries has attracted criticism. According to the order, the EC is authorized to examine complaints and revise the boundaries “if needed”. It as the reason complaints by several parties about the constituency map proposed by the EC and inadequate and incomprehensive hearings on them. [Bangkok Post 2]

20 November 2018

Thailand’s new left-wing political parties: Rivals or allies?

(ls) Kriangsak Teerakowitkajorn examines two new left-wing Thai political parties, the Future Forward Party and the Commoners’ Party. Both cater to distinctive constituencies, but he argues that one pushes for change from above, the other from below. He holds that, “contrary to the Future Forward’s elitist, think-tank style, the Commoners’ Party sets out to be governed by the working poor. (…) the party’s identity is shaped by shared concerns around the poor’s lack of power and the destructive impacts of uneven development in the Northeast—a region of origin for many activists.” [New Mandala]

13 November 2018

Thailand: New party announced/ Democrat Party picks Abhisit as its leader

(jk) Last week, family members of the Shinawatra family have announced to form a new party, the Thai Raksa Chart Party. Key members include the nephew and niece of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra who both live in exile. The party is expected to be very close of course to the Pheu Thai party which will at least be weakened under the military government’s new constitution and is still under threat of being dissolved entirely. [ASEAN Post] The new constitution calls for a mixed-member proportional representation voting system and the use of a single ballot for both constituency and party-list MPs, which will most likely harm bigger parties like Pheu Thai. The setting-up of a smaller “back-up” party is therefore seen as a strategy to alleviate this, or to serve as a backup in case of dissolvement of Pheu Thai. [Bangkok Post]

Over at the Democrat Party, former Thai PM and incumbent party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva again won the party leadership election last week as most observers had expected. [Nation]

13 November 2018

Thailand: UN body petitioned over the longest ongoing detention of a lèse-majesté defendant

(jk) The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) organisation has petitioned the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) to seek the release of a man in prison on lèse-majesté charges for over four years. This is the longest time for a person currently serving a prison sentence under the charge. [fidh] While there has been a surge in lèse-majesté cases after the coup in 2014, the numbers of charges have dropped again significantly more recently. 

6 November 2018

Thailand: Political restrictions on campaigning to be lifted next month

(jk) According to Deputy PM General Prawit Wongsuwan, the current political restrictions would be completely relaxed by early December. This would pave the way for campaigning in the run-up to the general election, which has been tentatively scheduled for February next year. The Election Commission (EC) is preparing a meeting with political parties in November to discuss primary voting to select election candidates, campaigning through electronic media and debates on public television stations. [The Nation]

Other sources suggest that political parties can fully engage in political activities from November 26. November 26 is 90 days away from the previously suggested election date of February 24 and would therefore constitute the deadline before which election candidates have to register with a political party in accordance with new laws. [Thai PBS]

At an expert panel discussion at Thammasat University on Sunday, academics, politicians, activists and former and current EC officials discussed whether a free and fair election can be expected – and largely argued against is. [The Nation II]

6 November 2018

Thailand’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2019

CPG is organising an international conference on the topic of the upcoming Thai chairmanship from 3-4 December in Bangkok. Please consult our website for further information.

(jk) On November 15, when leaders gather in Singapore for the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, Singapore will hand over the ASEAN chairmanship it currently holds to Thailand. The chair is the primus inter pares among the ten leaders, it rotates annually and officially organises, hosts and leads all ASEAN institutions and meetings. The chair is also setting the agenda, acts as ASEAN’s spokesperson and crucially, is in the position and responsibility to informally forge consensus among the members.

At the same time, Thailand is in the interesting position of also aiming to hold elections in 2019. This would be the first time that an incumbent chair would hold general elections in ASEAN’s 50+ years of existence. Close observers suggest that a national election, particularly the one potentially coming up in Thailand, could become a challenge to domestic political stability, and that the domestic instability could negatively impact the regional association. A first direct impact could be the date of the first of the two ASEAN summits (the 34th ASEAN Summit), which is usually held in April or early May. If elections in Thailand were to take place in May, and not in February as it has been suggested, the date of the summit will likely be pushed back as it last happened in 2016 when Laos was chair. A graver fear for instability is however based on Thai history. In 1991, army chief General Suchinda Kraprayoon seized power from an elected government. Following a new constitution and elections in 1992, he became prime minister without being elected to parliament. His premiership ended with serious violence on the streets in May 1992. [Nikkei]

30 October 2018

Thailand: Timid political activity as Pheua Thai party elect new leader

(jk) The Pheua Thai Party picked acting head Viroj Pao-in as its leader ahead of a general election expected in 2019 last week after more than four years of military rule. The new leader, a retired police lieutenant-general, was the only name on the leadership ballot. He was once a deputy prime minister but whether or not he will be Pheua Thai’s candidate for prime minister in the national poll is yet to be decided. [Strait Times I] The party is currently under the scrutiny of the Election Commission and if it were to be proved that it was influenced by an outsider, such as former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, the party could be dissolved – a punishment imposed by a new law. [Nation]

Another former deputy prime minister and former Secretary General of the Democrat Party, Suthep Thaugsuban, who also led Bangkok street protests which paved the way for a coup in 2014, returned to Bangkok last week to find members for the newly formed Action Coalition for Thailand party. The party is perceived to support PM Prayuth, and is apparently looking favourably at the new Phalang Pracharat party, which aims to re-install Prayut as premier after the election. 

Despite the fact that the long-time ban on political activities has yet to be fully lifted, political protagonists are increasingly making moves to position themselves ahead of potential elections in 2019. PM Prayuth himself is due to travel to the northern provinces of Chiang Rai and Phayao, where he will meet with farmers. He has also recently launched a Facebook and Twitter account as well as a website. [Strait Times II]

30 October 2018

Thai-Malay border discussions

(jk) Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his Malaysian counterpart PM Mahathir discussed the problems facing Thailand’s southern border provinces and agreed on greater cooperation last week. The 15-year-old separatist conflict has so far claimed more than 7,000 lives. Thailand and Malaysia have each named their own facilitators for the talks, both of whom are high-ranking security officials. [SCMP]

Malaysia’s facilitator served as national police chief and earlier as head of the Police Special Branch (SB), Malaysia’s leading internal security and intelligence agency which also monitors Patani-Malay separatist exiles living in Malaysia. Thailand appointed an army general who previously served as southern region army commander.

While a spokesperson for the Patani-Malay National Revolutionary Front (BRN) declared readiness for sincere and authentic negotiations with Bangkok, the group also warned that any attempt without considering the BRN’s proposals would mean “there will be no peace or security” in the border provinces. The BRN will only accept the work of facilitators on any side if its proposals and wishes for a way forward are respected. [ATimes]

23 October 2018

Thailand: Party donations, political campaigning, and a 20 year-long policy entering into force

(ls) About four months before possible parliamentary elections in Thailand, the Election Commission said that political parties could receive donations only with approval from the supreme state body created in the wake of the 2014 Coup, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The donations must also be made in line with the organic law on political parties, according to which a person is not allowed to donate more than one million baht per year and a juristic person is prohibited from giving above 10 million baht in donation per year. [Bangkok Post 1]

Meanwhile, four ministers who have announced to join a newly formed party, the Palang Pracharath Party, which is widely believed to be one of the military regime-backed parties set up to help return Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as premier after a general election, met with civic groups, a move that critics described as political activities, which are still banned for other political parties. The Election Commission said it would only be illegal if the ministers used state resources or their office time talking about the party or its policies. [Bangkok Post 2]

Last week, the military government’s 20-year National Strategy was announced with immediate effect in the Royal Gazette. It requires that governments between 2018 to 2038 adhere to strategies detailed by a committee appointed by current Prime Minister General Prayuth. The plan covers national security, national competitiveness, human resources development, social equality, quality of life and the environment and development of state administrative systems. Critics have said the plan is a tool to prolong the power of the military, which staged a coup in 2014, for 20 more years. [Khaosod English]

23 October 2018

Threats by radical groups in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines

(ls) The decades-old and still ongoing conflict between the Royal Thai Armed Forces and Thai Malay secessionists in the deep south of Thailand represents a growing national security threat for Malaysian authorities, as many firearms from southern Thailand’s black markets find their way to Malaysians aligned with the Islamic State (ISIS). Whereas gun control legislation is strict in Malaysia, it is more lenient north of the border. Meanwhile, though ISIS has so far struggled to get a foothold in southern Thailand, observers continue to worry about possible Malaysian ISIS sympathizers who might radicalize Thai Malay insurgents across the border. [The Diplomat]

In the Philippines, the resurgence of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), takes more shape. Analysts warn that poverty and military operations, which displaced large numbers of civilians, push many into the arms of the group. The resurgence comes at a time when pro-Islamic State militants are deepening their presence on Mindanao, increasing the security threat in southern Philippines. [Channel News Asia]

16 October 2018

Thailand: Upgraded Royal Police Security Unit

(jk) The head of the royal police security unit, known as the Special Service Division, said recently that the number of personnel of the unit will be upgraded from around 400 to around 1600. The unit will be subdivided into a number of divisions which will for example conduct intelligence and police patrolling to safeguard royal activities. [Jakarta Post]

16 October 2018

Thailand: Son of former Thaksin Shinawatra indicted for collusion in money laundering

(jk) The son of the former PM was indicted last week for his alleged involvement in a loan scandal around the property group Krisada Mahanakorn which had received a loan dishonestly from a state-run bank at a time when his father was serving as prime minister. The court released him on a bail of Bt1 million on condition that he would not leave the country without court permission. In addition to him, public prosecutors had received an investigation report from the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) regarding 159 people accused of colluding in money laundering, in connection with the loan scandal.

In 2015, the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders sentenced then-senior executives of Krungthai Bank and Krisada Mahanakorn’s company executives to lengthy jail terms for their involvement in the scandal. [The Nation]

9 October 2018

Thailand’s prime minister making arrangements for his election

(ls) Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he may prefer being elected as prime minister on a political party’s ticket rather than becoming an unelected or “outsider” premier when the general election is held early next year. According to the 2017 constitution, a prime minister can be nominated as a non-elected “outsider” prime minister. This arrangement could be triggered if parliament fails to choose a prime minister, provided at least two thirds of all senators and MPs throw their support behind him. [Bangkok Post 1]

Meanwhile, the Sam Mitr (Three Allies) group will bring its 70 members to join the Palang Pracharath Party, which is seen as a political vehicle to support Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s return to power. The Sam Mitr group, seen as the regime’s recruiting arm, has been accused of working to secure a political support base for the newly-established Palang Pracharath by poaching former MPs from other parties, many of whom previously belonged to the Pheu Thai Party, the party of former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra. [Bangkok Post 2]

Moreover, four current ministers of Prime Minister Prayuth’s cabinet have already joined the Palang Pracharath Party, prompting further concerns over the competitive advantage the party may have. Prayut defended the right of the four to join the party, saying it was a “private matter” and they were able to do so as long as it did not affect their ability to do their public duty. [The Nation]

9 October 2018

Japan: Countering Chinese influence in Southeast Asia

(dql/ls) Reflecting Japan’s efforts to expand its economic foothold in the Mekong region to counter China’s growing influence, Japan at the 10th Mekong-Japan Summit in Tokyo together with the Mekong countries Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan vowed in a joint statement to promote development programs and further improve “connectivity” and “quality infrastructure” projects in the region while also confirming the importance of maintaining the rules-based order and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. [Japan Times 1]

In a related development, Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Prayuth Chan-ocha ahead of the Mekong-Japan summit affirmed both countries’ cooperation in promoting free trade, with the latter voicing Thailand’s readiness to participate in the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. [Japan Times 2]

Meanwhile, Japanese troops participated in joint exercises in the Philippines with US and Filipino troops. The exercise, code-named Kamandag (Venom), marked the first time Japanese armoured military vehicles were used on foreign soil since the country adopted a pacifist constitution after its 1945 defeat. A US Marine communications officer said, “it has nothing to do with a foreign nation or any sort of foreign army. This is exclusively counterterrorism within the Philippines.” [South China Morning Post]

2 October 2018

Thailand: New Army Chief takes command

(jk) General Apirat Kongsompong, 58, of the King’s Guard faction in the First Infantry Division of the First Army Region took command of the Thai Army as part of the annual reshuffle on October 1st. He is the son of late Gen. Sunthorn Kongsompong, who led a coup in 1991 and also a member of the NCPO appointed National Legislative Assembly.

According to CPG Senior Research Fellow Paul Chambers, the appointment is a sign of further consolidation of the relationship between the monarchy and the military in Thailand. [Reuters]

2 October 2018

Thailand: Cabinet members take key roles in new party

(jk) This past weekend, at its first general assembly, Palang Pracharath Party unveiled an executive committee with four NCPO cabinet ministers in crucial roles, including the Industry Minister as its leader, the Science and Technology Minister as deputy leader, Commerce Minister as secretary-general, and the Prime Minister’s Office Minister as its spokesman. [Strait Times]

The news came just a short while after PM Prayuth said for the first time that he was “interested in politics.” It is now being speculated that the party would support his role in the next election. [Khaosod]

Despite some discussion on a potential conflict of interests, the ministers said they would not resign from their current posts. [Bangkok Post]

25 September 2018

Thailand’s Human Rights Commission to investigate army’s special control zone

(ot) The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) will investigate a complaint filed by Pattani residents against the Fourth Army Region for declaring one of the districts a “special control zone”. Following the declaration, the army conducted house raids, detentions, and confiscation of people’s firearms and vehicles for inspection. The individuals arrested and detained were suspected of carrying out an attack earlier this month that killed two soldiers and wounded four others. Their families feared they might be beaten or tortured into confessing. An NHRCT member said the organization will investigate the allegations and seek whether the army’s measures were legal and not merely an act of intimidation. [The Nation]

25 September 2018

Thailand: Parties see significant cut in constituency candidates

(ot) The Election Commission (EC) announced the redistribution of constituencies for the general election, tentatively set for February next year. Thailand will elect 350 MPs, one for each constituency, based on the 2017 constitution. The total number of constituencies was reduced by 25, from 375 in previous elections. The northeastern region, the Pheu Thai Party’s strongholds, saw the largest cut in the number of MPs. At the provincial level, 23 provinces nationwide, including Bangkok, will see their number of MPs reduced. Bangkok will have the most seats of MPs with 30. [Bangkok Post 1]

The EC also approved a set of regulations on the redrawing of constituencies, expected to be completed in early November. Political parties could then be able to proceed with primary voting before the organic bill for the election of MPs comes into effect in early December. [Bangkok Post 2]

The changes in the number of MPs were criticized for undermining all political parties. Some critics also warned of possible gerrymandering with the redrawing of constituencies. The new map could affect old parties with established power bases, rather than new parties. [Khaosod English, The Nation]

Meanwhile, Prime Minister and head of the ruling National Council for Pace and Order (NCPO) General Prayut Chan-O-Cha has for the first time openly admitted that he is interested in pursuing a political career. However, he has yet to decide which party he will support. [Bangkok Post] PM Prayuth had previously refused to clarify his political future, but the latest confirmation came off as little or no surprise to many political observers. Critics suspected over the years that he would seek to retain his power following the general election. He has been travelling around the country, seen by political parties as an attempt to gain publicity in the lead-up to the election. In addition, some parties have declared their support for PM’s Prayut’s return as premier after the election. [Khaosod English]

25 September 2018

Sri Lanka-Thailand free trade agreement on the way

(jm) Representatives of the Sri Lankan government were in Bangkok last week for bilateral trade and investment talks in preparation of a free trade agreement between both countries whose conclusion is set for 2020. Both sides seek to triple bilateral trade to 1.5 billion USD by the end of 2020. According to Auramon Supthaweethum, director general of the trade negotiation department under Thailand’s Commerce Ministry, massive Chinese infrastructure investment in Sri Lanka in the frame of the Belt and Road initiative has made the island attractive for Thailand to access other regional markets as Sri Lanka has FTAs with India and Pakistan. [Nikkei Asian Review]

18 September 2018

Asian countries on UN’s shameful list over attacks on human rights activists

(am) A number of Asian countries found themselves on the UN’s list of 38 “shameful” countries displaying an “alarming” level of harsh reprisals and intimidation against those who cooperate with the UN on human rights issues. [Reuters]Pointed out are also practices of selective application of laws and new legislation that restrict or obstruct organisations from cooperating with the UN, including by limiting their funding capacity, especially from foreign donors.

Among the Asian countries listed with new cases are China, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand. Other countries listed are Colombia, Hungary, Israel, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela. [Times of India]

18 September 2018

Laws on MPs and Senators royally endorsed, paving way for 2019 Thai election

(ot) The organic laws on the election of MPs and the selection of senators, the last two key pieces of legislation required for the general election to be held in Thailand, received royal endorsement and were published in the Royal Gazette.  The law on senator selection goes into force immediately. The law on the election of MPs will come into effect in 90 days, after which an election is required by the 2017 constitution to be held within 150 days, or around mid-December. As a result, the legal deadline for the election is effectively set for May 2019, five years after the 2014 coup d’état. [Al Jazeera]

During this period, constituencies will be redrawn by the Election Commission (EC). Five hundred MPs, including the winners in 350 constituencies and 150 party-list MPs allocated on the basis of proportional representation, will be elected in the lower house. Under an interim provision of the law on the selection of senators, 250 senators will be appointed. The EC is responsible for selecting 50 senators, and the remaining 200 senators will be hand-picked by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Several seats are also reserved for military leaders. [Bangkok Post 1, Bangkok Post 2]

Following the royal endorsement, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha invoked his special power under Section 44 for the first time to partially lift the ban on political activities. NCPO Order 13/2018 allows political parties to hold certain ‘necessary activities’ in the lead-up to the elections, on condition that they inform the EC at least five days in advance. These include holding executive meetings, recruiting new members, selecting their candidates for the poll, and holding public forum, among other administrative tasks.

Primary voting, required by the constitution to ensure better participation, but made difficult by time constraints, was also adjusted under the order. The extensive voting procedure will now be exempted in the first national election, and replaced by the selection process of a committee comprising 11 members to screen potential candidates who will then be approved by the party executives. Seven of the committee members are ordinary party members, while four others are party executives themselves.

However, electoral campaigns remain restricted, and parties are instructed to comply with NCPO orders and regulations. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-Ngam also added that the political ban will not be fully lifted until the organic law on the election of MP takes effect. [Khaosod English, The Nation 1, Bangkok Post 3]

The government has continued to reiterate that the general elections will be held on 24 February, despite the NCPO’s history of failed promises. Analysts and politicians are also concerned about the absolute power the junta has until a new government takes office and the prospect of the free and fair elections. The easing of the political activity ban only granted parties limited freedom and did not end political suppression. The exemption of the primary voting has been seen as the junta’s backtracking on political reform. Many have urged the government to stop over-exercising its power and act as a caretaker government during the preparations for the poll. Political parties are set to meet the government to discuss election preparations on 28 September. [The Nation 2, Bangkok Post 4, The Nation 3]

18 September 2018

Thailand listed on UN reprisal report

(ot) Thailand was listed among 38 countries that have carried out acts of intimidation or reprisal against those who seek to cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations (UN) in the annual report on reprisals of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The report detailed country by country cases of allegations of killing, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention, surveillance, criminalization, and public stigmatization campaigns targeting victims and human rights defenders. Two of such cases in Thailand were mentioned in the report, including the harassment of an ethnic Lahu indigenous rights defender and the prosecution of a member of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. [Bangkok Post 1, The Nation]

The Thai government has responded to the report, saying that it will investigate the details of the cases and ask relevant authorities for clarification. [Bangkok Post 2]

18 September 2018

ASEAN cyber security center opened in Thailand

(ls) A cyber security center opened in Thailand to train personnel from countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to help combat cyber threats in the attack-prone region. About 700 cybersecurity personnel from Southeast Asia are expected to graduate from the Japan-designed programs, which include cyber defense, digital forensics and malware analysis. [Reuters]

11 September 2018

Thailand: Election Commission set to elect senators as ban on political activities remains in place

(ot) The selection of senators by the Election Commission (EC) will begin as soon as the organic law on the election of senators is royally endorsed and published in the Royal Gazette expected to take place within this month. The selection will likely to be completed within 90 days. Under the provisional clause of the organic law, the EC is responsible for selection 50 senators, while the military government will hand-pick the remaining 200 senators. Several seats are also reserved for military leaders. [Bangkok Post 1]

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-Ngam said political parties will only be able to start campaigning for the general election after the government has lifted its ban on political activities which will take place no later than December. As a result, parties will have around 60 days before the election takes place in February next year. [ The Nation 1]

Politicians, however, remain anxious about the limited time to campaign and the continued ban on political activities, making for an election that might neither be fair or free. Some argued that political parties, especially new ones, may need more time to make preparations to prove themselves to voters. Such limited time may also impact voters’ understanding of policies and their choice. Moreover, the 60-day period could pose some serious challenges for parties as they are required to submit their policy plans to the Election Commission (EC) for approval before they can proceed with the campaigning. [Khaosod English 1, The Nation 2]

Moreover, the head of the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC), Meechai Ruchupan, said this week that local elections will take place after the general election. The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) will have to pass the six draft bills governing local elections, after which the Election Commission (EC) will need sufficient time to make preparations. [Bangkok Post 2] Critics said the delay of local elections is inconsistent with the government’s promised roadmap to democracy, whose main goal is to prolong the grip on power. [Khaosod English 2]

11 September 2018

Thailand: Where sharing false news online can get you in prison

(ls) The Thai police has arrested and released on bail 12 people over Facebook posts they shared about a British tourist’s complaint that she had been raped on the holiday island of Koh Tao, a claim that police have deemed to be an untrue. Human Rights Watch urged Thai authorities to drop the legal cases, pointing to disproportionate restrictions of freedom of expression. [Reuters]

According to Sec. 14 of Thailand’s Computer Crime Act, it is, besides other prohibitions, illegal to disseminate or forward false computer data that is likely to damage the maintenance of national security, public safety, national economic security or public infrastructure serving national’s public interest or cause panic in the public. The crime can be punished with imprisonment up to five years. [Computer Crime Act]

4 September 2018

Thailand’s deep south sees new surge in insurgency attacks

(ot) Thailand’s restive southernmost region has seen a new surge in deadly attacks this past month after having gone through a relatively calm period under the military rule. The increase in violence, however, has barely been covered in the local media, underlining the lack of attention given to the decades-old conflict. Despite the fall in incidents, the military government’s current peace initiative and development schemes have not actually undermined support for the separatist movement. Rather, insurgents have shifted their tactics from carrying out small-scale violent incidents to attacks with greater intensity and psychological impact. [Asia Times]

4 September 2018

Thailand: New limited primary voting systems; Pheu Thai wins back MPs

(ot) The Thai government is considering a new primary voting system that would ease the time constraints as its ban on political activities has yet to be lifted. Primary voting system was introduced to give party members power in choosing the party’s MP candidates and prevent party executives from dominating the party. Originally, at least 100 registered party members would have to vote in a primary election to find potential MP candidates for each constituency. Under the newly proposed alternative, each party will have to appoint an 11-member panel, consisting of four party executives and seven ordinary party members, to come up with a list of potential candidates. The party executives will then pick MP candidates to stand in the next election. [The Nation]

Analysts said that, even though the new system will cut out many steps in the candidate selection process, the authority to select potential MP candidates will revert back to the party executives. This appears to be inconsistent with the initial aim of primary voting and comes as a surprise for some parties, including the Democrat and Pheu Thai, that have made preparations to conduct primary votes. Some also suggested that the new method was motivated by the government’s attempt to help new small and medium parties that pledged their allegiance to the regime to establish a coalition government after the election. [Bangkok Post 1]

Meanwhile, the former ruling Pheu Thai Party said that some of its members have decided to stay with the party following heavy lobbying by the Sam Mitr (Three Allies) group to join the pro-regime Phalang Pracharat Party. [Bangkok Post 2]

4 September 2018

Ethnic minority refugees, asylum seekers arrested and detained in Thailand

(ot) Thai authorities arrested and detained over 160 refugees and asylum seekers, including children, living in the outskirts of Bangkok. Most of them are recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They are mostly ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Cambodia who escaped persecution in their home countries due to land and religious conflicts. There are over 10,000 refugees living in urban areas in Thailand, but their status is not recognized by the Thai government. The authorities continue to arrest and detain them on charges of illegal immigration. [Prachatai]

In response, international NGO Human Rights Watch called on the Thai government to respect the rights of refugees under international standards and uphold its pledge to end the immigration detention of children. [Human Rights Watch]

4 September 2018

Article series on constitutional reform in the Philippines

(ls) The planned constitutional reform in the Philippines has sparked not only political, but also vivid scholarly debates. The New Mandala has published three particularly interesting views on the topic. John Paolo Villasor revisits the proposed changes’ main aspects including federalism and federated regions, the distribution of governmental powers and rights. [New Mandala 1] Bryan Dennis Gabito Tiojanco, drawing upon Ackerman’s classification of constitution-making, argues that the present push for charter is a textbook example of elite constitutionalism. [New Mandala 2] And Björn Dressel draws comparisons to Thailand’s frequent experiences with constitutional reform. [New Mandala 3]

28 August 2018

Thai anti-regime party charged with computer crimes

(ot) Thai Police, acting on behalf of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), pressed charges against the leader and two other senior members of the anti-regime Future Forward Party, including its leader Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit, for violating the Computer Crimes Act. The police accusations stem from a Facebook live broadcast, in which party members allegedly violated a section of the law that makes it a crime to transmit false information or information that damages the country’s stability. [Khaosod English, Bangkok Post]

28 August 2018

Thai PM to invoke absolute power to ease political ban

(ot) Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said this week that Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha will invoke the absolute power under Section 44 to partially ease the ban on political activities in September. Following Gen Prayut’s latest pledge that the election has been tentatively set for 24 February next year, the junta is planning to allow parties to carry out some of the activities, including holding meetings to select executives and recruiting members, conducting primary votes to choose poll candidates and contacting party members. However, campaigning will only be allowed after a decree on the election date is issued. [Bangkok Post 1, The Nation]

Army chief Chalermchai Sittisad added that the military is prepared to enforce strict security measures in Bangkok to maintain peace and order once the long-standing ban is lifted. [Bangkok Post 2]

28 August 2018

Thailand, China sign MoUs to deepen economic ties

(ot) Thailand and China signed five Memorandums of Understanding for the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme. Both countries expect to further strengthen trade and development ties and expand strategic cooperation in Southeast Asia. [Bangkok Post]

21 August 2018

Thailand: Absolute power invoked for two dismissals

(ot) NCPO chairman and prime minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha invoked his absolute power under Article 44 of the interim charter, but which remains enshrined in the current constitution, to dismiss the director of the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO). The move came as a surprise because the director was just appointed a month ago. The government has yet to give an explanation regarding the sudden firing, but critics suspected that it is trying to assert authority over the agency, which operates independently of the government. [Khaosod English]

Another order under Article 44 was issued this week, releaving Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who earlier this year was hit by a scandal over his collection of luxury watches, from his duties as head advisor of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). However, it was denied that the dismissal was the result of the scandal, but rather an attempt to reduce Prawit’s workload. The agency has been investigating Prawit’s case since late last year, but so far failed to rule whether there was any violation of a law. [The Nation] 

14 August 2018

Thailand: Uncertain future and challenges facing Thai rights commission

(ot) The selection of members of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) is expected to take place by the end of this year. Critics are concerned that the NHRCT will become increasingly ineffective as a result of the selection process by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) and the new law that weakened its mandate. Under the new law, the NHRCT has lost its authority to take government policies that are deemed to be in violation of human rights or the constitution to the Constitutional Court. It will also be unable to take cases and its recommendation to the courts on behalf the victims. The NHRCT also has a duty to defend Thailand’s rights record in the international community in case of any “misunderstanding”, a provision which stripped it of its independence.

Despite uncertainties and skeptics of the body’s credibility, prominent human rights activists hoping to sit in the NHRCT said they are ready to tackle urgent human rights issues, including capital punishment, civil and political rights, the rights of the Rohingya people, and police reform. Many share the same outlook on the fundamental issue facing Thai society that is the lack of understanding and misinterpretation of concepts such as human rights, liberty, and equality. As Thailand has yet to return to democratic rule, people will not be able to fully exercise their rights. [Khaosod English]

14 August 2018

Thailand: Proposed amendment to poll body leads to heated debate

(ot) A group of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) members is considering proposing an amendment to the organic law on the Election Commission (EC) concerning the selection of the election inspectors. The selection process of the first poll inspectors to be deployed in 77 provinces was initiated by the outgoing EC chaired by Supachai Somcharoen. However, with the new EC members awaiting royal endorsement, the proposed amendment seeks to reverse the decision and leave it to the new commissioners. [Bangkok Post 1]

The election inspectors were introduced by the 2017 Constitution to aid the EC in monitoring and ensuring the integrity of elections nationwide. Poll inspectors also play a significant role in investigating complaints regarding the elections and forwarding them to the EC for consideration which can result in the change of election outcome or suspension of elections in any given constituency. The regulations concerning poll inspectors were issued by the EC and published in the Royal Gazette earlier in April. Each province can have up to eight poll inspectors, selected by a committee chaired by the provincial governor. The selection committee must shortlist 16 candidates for the EC who will make the final decision. [Posttoday, Bangkok Post 2]

The proposal was seen by some politicians as another attempt to delay promised elections, which are expected to be held between February and May 2019. Any proposed changes must undergo a public hearing process and be reviewed by the Constitutional Court. [The Nation 1, The Nation 2, Khaosod English]

Following heavy criticism, the NLA reportedly dropped the idea, reasoning that the amendment of the organic law on the EC by the Parliament would interfere with the body’s independence and create a bad precedent. [The Nation 3, Bangkok Post 3]

14 August 2018

Thailand: Pro-junta group continues recruitment of former MPs, while political activity ban still in place

(ot) Another former Pheu Thai MP from Khon Kaen Province has been recruited by the Sam Mitr group (Three Allies) to join the pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party as they visited villagers in the northeast region and listened to their problems. The group includes former transport minister Suriya Juengrungruangkit, former industry minister Somsak Thepsuthin from the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai party (the Pheu Thai party’s predecessor), and Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who is currently in charge of the government’s economic team. The party is believed to have been set up to support Gen Prayuth’s return as premier after the election. [The Nation 1]

Meanwhile, the junta continued to insist on the need to maintain order and warned that the ban on political activities is still in place. [The Nation 2]

14 August 2018

VThailand: Pro-junta party ready to support Prayut as PM candidate

(ot) The head of the new pro-regime political party Action Coalition of Thailand (Palang Prachachat Thai) which is figure-headed by Suthep Thaugsuban, said that it would support the prime minister and junta leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s return as prime minister after the next elections if he joins its roster of list candidates. [Khaosod English]

14 August 2018

US-Southeast Asia Naval Exercises

(jk) The US Navy and Marine Corps are currently conducting the 24th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) which includes a series of bilateral exercises with several ASEAN states as well as Bangladesh. This year’s CARAT started with Thai-US Navy exercises back in June and is currently continuing with both Malaysia [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command 1] and Indonesia [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command 2]. Similar training will also occur with Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines. [Stars and Stripes]

Much of the training is taking place in the South China Sea and includes all claimant states but China and Taiwan.

7 August 2018

Thailand: Government confirms extradition request for exiled PM

(ot) The Thai government confirmed that it has officially requested the extradition of ousted PM Yingluck Shinawatra believed to be living in Britain.

A letter dated 5 July 2018 from the Thai embassy in London to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office showed the embassy, upon instruction of the Thai government, asking the UK government to extradite the former prime minister. It referred to a treaty on the extradition of fugitive criminals between both countries signed in 1911 which prohibits extradition for political offenses, but the letter assures that the case against Yingluck was a corruption case and not a political one. The embassy also asked that the request be “kept strictly confidential and executed as a matter of urgency”. [BBC Thai, in Thai]

However, in response, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said the action was not a policy matter, but a normal legal procedure by the police and public prosecutors. Don said he could not recall seeing any document seeking his approval for the extradition request. PM Prayut also stressed that the decision on whether Yingluck will be extradited lies with the UK government, and not the Thai law enforcement. [The Nation]

Yingluck and her administration was overthrown by the 2014 military coup led by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). She fled the country last year shortly after the Supreme Court convicted her of malfeasance for mishandling a rice subsidy program. She was sentenced in absentia to 5 years in prison. It was widely believed that Yingluck sought asylum in Britain after photos and video clips of her and her supporters appeared on various social media sites. She also reportedly obtained a multiple-entry visa from the UK government. [Bangkok Post]

7 August 2018

Thailand: Former diplomat named election commission chairman

(ot) Former Thai ambassador to the Netherlands Ittiporn Boonpracong has been selected as the new chairman of the Election Commission (EC), although two seats of the body remain empty. Earlier in July, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) approved five candidates for the seven-post commission and rejected two candidates. Some critics argued that, despite the law allowing five commissioners to selected a chairman, it can only be done after all seven commissioners have been installed. [Bangkok Post, Thairath, in Thai]

7 August 2018

Thailand: Regime filed complaints against new anti-junta party 

(ot) The military junta lodged police complaints against Future Forward Party figures for critical comments against the regime.

The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) filed complaints against leader of the Future Forward party Thanatorn Juangroongruangkit and some other party figures, accusing them of provoking public disturbance, in violation of the Computer Crimes Act. Under the law, any person who imports false information that may compromise national security, public safety, economic security or infrastructure, or cause panic among the public into computer systems could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. The accusation stemmed from the live broadcast on their Facebook pages in which Thanathorn criticized the junta’s campaign to woo politicians to join Phalang Pracharat Party, while other political parties are still being restricted by a ban on political activities. The Phalang Pracharat was allegedly set up to support Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s return as premier after the next general elections.  [Bangkok Post 1]

The party hit back at the junta, accusing it of abusing the power to suppress political dissidents and damaging the country’s image. Thanathorn also reaffirmed his right and said he would continue making critical comments on his regular Facebook broadcasts. [Bangkok Post 2, The Nation 1]

A NCPO spokesperson insisted that the legal action was not intended to intimidate the party, but was in line with the law because the party distorted information that adversely affected the NCPO’s reputation. He also clarified that the NCPO has no plan to detain anybody for “attitude adjustment”. [Bangkok Post 3, The Nation 2]

7 August 2018

Thailand: Human trafficking remains a serious issue due to failure in law enforcement

(ot) The human rights organization Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) and Anti-Labor Trafficking Project in a joint report said Human trafficking remains prevalent in Thailand. The report, which monitored the situation of human trafficking from 2016 to 2017, found that most cases of human trafficking in the country involved sex trade and persons being forced into prostitution. Labor trafficking, especially in the agriculture and fishing industries, are still rife as well. The report also suggested that despite years of effort by the military government to tackle the issue, including by passing legislation and legal amendments in light of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, the problems come from the inefficient enforcement of the laws by authorities. In addition, the low number of cases was due to poor record-keeping and lack of cooperation among relevant government agencies. [The Nation, Prachatai]

7 August 2018

Thai Government rejects calls against Thailand’s ASEAN chairmanship

(ot) An Indonesian columnist wrote an article, calling on the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to deny Thai Prime Minister and junta leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha the regional grouping’s rotating chairmanship until an election is held in the country. As Thailand is scheduled to become the chair of the ASEAN next year, the columnist opined that “the Thai junta does not deserve the position amid strong waves of democratization in the region.” The article also cited the case of Myanmar, which was once dismissed of its ASEAN chairmanship in 2006 in an effort to pressure the country towards democratization in the then-military-ruled country. The Thai government denounced the columnist’s comment, saying that the country has made substantial contribution to the region and provided its cooperation to the member countries. [The Nation 1]

The issue was widely discussed in the country, especially among political dissidents. General Prayut urged the Thais not to politicize the issue to cause further division in the country [The Nation 2].

31 July 2018

Thailand: New political party supporting Prayuth officially established

(ls) Another political party, the Palang Chart Thai Party (Thai Nation Power Party) was officially registered at the Thai Election Commission. It vows to support current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s return as prime minister after next year’s elections. Party leader police Lt. Gen. Songklod Tiprat said he believes Prayuth has the qualities to become the next prime minister after the elections tentatively scheduled for February 2019. Despite contrary indications, he denied that Palang Chart Thai is an ad hoc party to support Prayuth. [Khaosod English]

24 July 2018

Thailand: European Parliament calls for free and fair election before resuming ties

(ot) The European Parliament’s Human Rights subcommittee called on the Thai junta to ensure free and fair elections in line with international standards before ties can be normalized, including the resumption of negotiations for a free trade agreement. It highlighted that the elections should lead to having “a democratically elected civilian government with functional democratic institutions.” The chairman of the subcommittee also added that the European Union would send its observers to the elections only if invited by the Thai government.

The subcommittee went on a three-day official visit to the Thai government last week where they discussed a broad range of human rights issues, including civil and political rights, labor rights in the fishing industry, migrant workers’ rights, human trafficking, official impunity, and the upcoming election. The subcommittee also urged the government to adhere to its third national human rights action plan by moving toward abolishing capital punishment. [The Nation]

However, some critics are not satisfied with the EU’s action, especially in calling for a fair vote when many people have been detained and prosecuted for calling for an election to be held. [Khaosod English]

In a related event, CPG hosted a panel discussion on human rights protection participated by member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights Barbara Lochbihler as one of the speakers. She raised various concerns and recommendations on human rights protection, both in Europe and ASEAN countries, including calling for a stronger transnational cooperation on human rights issues both on state and civil society levels [CPG Events]. 

24 July 2018

Thailand: New army chief to be appointed in September

(ot) Since a coup d’-etat of Army Commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha in 2014, Thailand is governed by a military government with General Prayuth as Prime Minister and head of the constitutionally institutionalized coup-group, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) which is partly identical with the cabinet while enjoying a higher constitutional rank.

The upcoming regular annual military reshuffle is an important event indicating the future balances of power within the military and beyond. In particular, the reshuffle will see current Army commander-in-chief General Chalermchai Sitthisat retire. He is expected to be replaced by assistant army chief General Apirat Kongsompong.

The army commander-in-chief is the most powerful commanding general in the Thai Armed Forces. General Apirat is said to be one of the current regime’s most trusted lieutenants and was one of the major players in the 2014 coup in which he supervised the 1stDivision, the King’s Guard, a key infantry division in the operation. Nevertheless, General Apirat does not belong to the same officer’s circle as Prime Minister and NCPO head General Prayuth and most of the other military men of the NCPO and cabinet who are from the Queen’s Guard which is a rival group to the King’s Guard.

General Apirat is believed to play a crucial role in maintaining national security in the run-up to the next general election next year. Noteworthy, he is a son of General Sunthorn Kongsompong, a former Supreme Commander of the Royal Thai Armed Forces who was a key member of the 1991 coup group who later fostered relations with then Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

During his military career, General he participated in several programs of the US armed forces and graduated among others from the Infantry Officer Advanced Course at Fort Banning. Later he served as Assistant Logistic Officer at the Royal Thai Army Defense Attache Office in Washington D.C., USA.

Other important replacements in wake of the reshuffle include those of the commanders-in-chief of the Navy and the Air Force, the Defense Ministry permanent secretary, and the Royal Thai Armed Forces Supreme Commander. [Bangkok Post, The Nation, Posttoday, in Thai]

24 July 2018

Thailand: Pheu Thai, red shirts suffer ongoing defections

(ot) The Pheu Thai Party and red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) are facing a series of setbacks as their former MPs and members defect to join the pro-regime Sam Mitr Group (Three Allies).

The Pheu Thai is losing some of its politicians in the Northeast, which is the party’s political stronghold, to the Sam Mitr Group, a group of veteran politicians believed to be the junta’s recruiting arm to court former MPs to join the Phalang Pracharat Party. The new party was allegedly set up to support General Prayuth Chan-O-Cha’s return as premier after the election. In the latest development, the Sam Mitr has reportedly tapped into the two biggest northeastern provinces of Nakhon Ratchasima and Ubon Ratchathani, leaving the Pheu Thai increasingly unnerved.

Apart from the defections of its MPs, the former ruling party is also struggling with internal administration due to the lack of clear leadership and protracted division. Potential candidates include Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, who has reportedly gained the support from the party’s de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra, Chaturon Chaisaeng, a party heavyweight, former deputy leader of its predecessor Thai Rak Thai Party, and the education minister in the Yingluck administration, and Pongthep Thepkanchana, former justice minister known to be of one Thaksin’s trusted aides. According to observers, Thaksin will face a tough decision with regard to the party’s future after the next poll because of the changing political landscape that is not in the party’s favor. He has also been vocal in criticizing the defections and the poaching tactic. [Bangkok Post 1]

Members of the UDD, which is the main Pheu Thai’s electoral support, are also on the Sam Mitr’s radar. Some of its members have been poached by the Sam Mitr despite warnings from its leader that they could be expelled. The UDD also came out to oppose the junta’s undemocratic attempt to prolong its grip on power. One key member of the northeastern province of Surin has admitted in switching camp. [Bangkok Post 2, Bangkok Post 3]

Despite ongoing blows, leaders from both the party and the group have downplayed the tactic and remained confident in their supporters. [Bangkok Post 4]

24 July 2018

Thailand: Deputy PM Wissanu brushes off accusations of junta’s control of poll regulator

(ot) Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam defended the junta of looking to invite people to apply for the two remaining seats in the Election Commission (EC).

Last week, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) voted to approve five candidates for the seven-post commission, leaving two places to be filled. Rumors were sparked that the junta would invite people that can be manipulated to be the last two commissioners, instead of having an open application. Critics also said that the delayed selection could hint at a further postponement of the election roadmap. Deputy PM Wissanu fended off the rumors, saying they were baseless and that the five commissioners are enough to function as they reach a quorum on important decisions. [Bangkok Post 1, Bangkok Post 2]

In another statement, Deputy PM Wissanu also said that the lifting of political restrictions will begin after the new commissioners receive royal approval and assume office. [The Nation]

17 July 2018

Thailand: “Set zero” policies shake up Election Commission and Human Rights Commission

(ot) The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) approved five new members of the Election Commission (EC). The majority of them are former government officials. The previous EC members were all dismissed as the new organic law governing the body came into effect last year, the so-called “set zero” principles. The law requires the agency to have seven members in total, and the remaining two vacancies could take up to five or six months, according to the NLA whip secretary. It was the second time the NLA voted on the candidates. The first selection took place in February where all candidates were turned down. [Bangkok Post 1, The Nation]

In a separate but connected development, the chairman of Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRCT) criticized the government’s “set zero” principles as an attempt to undermine the commission. As a result of the law, the six NHRCT commissioners were dismissed and given a caretaker role until a new set of commissioners is appointed. Another critic added that the government’s policy affected the independence of the NHRCT, by giving the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) the power to say whether the commissioners would be allowed to stay in the next selection process. In 2016, the NHRCT was downgraded to the “B” status by the Geneva-based National Human Rights Institutions because of its politically-biased nature and slow working. [Bangkok Post 2]

17 July 2018

Thailand: In landmark ruling, court acquits migrant workers of defamation

(ot) In a landmark ruling and a rare victory for migrant workers’ rights in Thailand, a court dismissed criminal defamation charges against a group of migrant workers who had accused their employer of human rights abuses. The case stemmed from a complaint by 14 migrant workers from Myanmar to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) concerning their mistreatment, including forced overtime, being paid under the minimum wage, confiscation of passports, and limited freedom of movement. In response, their employer, a chicken farm, launched a defamation lawsuit against them.

The court found that the workers had filed their complaint in good faith to protect their rights as guaranteed by the Thai constitution and international human rights standards. Thailand has been at the center of international spotlight for its slavery and human trafficking record, including in its seafood sector. [Bangkok Post, Human Rights Watch]

10 July 2018

Thailand: Rohingya found abandoned on Thai-Myanmar border

(ot) A group of 24 Rohingya were rescued by a team of soldiers and border patrol police after they were abandoned by their smugglers on a Thai-Myanmar border mountain in the south of the country for 9 days. An interrogation will be conducted to determine whether the incidence would be classified as human trafficking. [The Nation]

10 July 2018

Thailand: King granted prerogative power under the new Sangha Act

(ot) Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) unanimously voted to pass the amendment to the Sangha Act, the law governing the monastic community, in three quick readings. The new law extensively curbs the power of the Sangha Council, the main body overseeing Buddhist monks and monastic affairs in Thailand, by granting the King the sole authority to appoint members of the Council and remove monks’ rankings. The return of the royal power reversed the practice back to that in place between the reign of King Rama V and King Rama VIII, which ended in 1939.

The passing of the law came at the time when senior monks and members of the Sangha Council were hit by a series of allegations of corruption and misconduct. Many have been arrested, defrocked, and held in detention. However, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the amendment has been planned before the government crackdown. A prominent Buddhist scholar said that the return of royal power is in consistent with state secularism and will make Buddhism and the Sangha Council a mechanism to support conservative ideology. [Bangkok Post, The Nation, Khaosod English]

10 July 2018

Thailand: junta’s 20-year strategic plan approved

(ot) The 20-year national strategy plan has been unanimously approved by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) this week.

The plan sets out six strategic areas for future governments to adhere in policy making or they could be removed from office by the Constitutional Court or face criminal liabilities. Senators are also tasked with monitoring compliance with the strategy. The six areas include security, competitiveness enhancement, human resource development, social equality, sustainable development, and public sector development. Amendments to the plan are very difficult.

The plan will now be submitted for royal endorsement within 20 days. Once royally approved,

A drafting panel will be appointed to prepare a master plan for each of the areas, which will have to be approved by the National Strategy Committee and then the cabinet in order to come into force. The controversial plan is seen by political parties and analysts as an attempt by the junta to stay in power to control the course of politics in the next two decades. Major political parties such as the Democrat and Pheu Thai have been vocal in opposing the strategy, saying that they would seek to amend or scrap it after the elections. [Khaosod English, Bangkok Post, The Nation]

10 July 2018

Thailand: junta denied special treatment for pro-Prayuth party

(ot) Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-Cha and other junta figures have denied any double-standard regarding its treatment of the Palang Pracharat party, a new pro-junta political party believed to have been set up to support Gen Prayuth’s return as premier after the election. The party is linked to a group of veteran politicians, “Sam Mitr” (Three Allies), who have been accused of recruiting former MPs for the party. The group includes former transport minister Suriya Juengrungruangkit and former industry minister Somsak Thepsuthin from the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai party (the Pheu Thai party’s predecessor). The last member of the group is said to be current Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who is in charge of the government’s economic team.

Major political parties, including the Democrats and Pheu Thai, have called on the Election Commission (EC) to investigate whether the attempt to poach MPs is in violation of the constitution which prohibits meddling in political party affairs. Some other high-profile government figures have also been accused of acting unlawfully in the group’s poaching of former MPs. To some observers, this could be a test of the EC’s independence. [Bangkok Post, The Nation]

10 July 2018

Thailand: ban on political activities to be lifted after September meeting

(ot) Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said this week that the ban on political activities will be revoked after the junta meets political parties for the second time in September. [Khaosod English]

3 July 2018

Thailand: Courts drop two lèse-majesté cases

(ot) In two separate cases, Thai courts have dropped charges of lèse-majesté (article 112 of the Criminal Code), or the royal defamation law, against two political dissents. One case was against a civil rights lawyer who was arbitrarily arrested for sedition and royal defamation and has been in pre-trial detention for the last 14 months. Military officers accused him of being behind a group calling for Thailand to be a republic. The court sentenced him to 16 months in prison for sedition, but the royal defamation charge has been dropped without explanation, as it was not mentioned in the court’s verdict. [Khaosod English]

Moreover, a political activist and country singer was acquitted of royal defamation charge because of lack of evidence, despite his guilty plea. His charge was in relation to speeches he made at rallies supporting ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2013. He was previously found guilty of lèse-majesté and is currently serving a jail sentence. [The Nation]

The lèse-majesté law is often criticized for its potential to stifle freedom of speech by punishing political dissidents and activists. The arrests, detentions, and prosecutions of persons for lèse-majesté have increased substantially since the 2014 coup. Most of the cases have resulted in convictions and lengthy prison terms. At least 162 people have been charged under the lèse-majesté law since the military seized power. [Thai Lawyers for Human Rights]

3 July 2018

Thailand: Elections to be held at the latest in May next year

(ot) In the latest development regarding the general elections, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that the elections could be held some time between 24 February and 5 May next year. It was another signal for possible election delay coming from the military government who has repeatedly promised that polls will be in February next year.

The statement came after the junta’s first meeting with political parties where they reportedly discussed legal issues and regulation hassles faced by the parties in the lead-up to the election. Seventy-four political parties attended the meeting, including the Democrats, Chartthaipattana, and Bhumjaithai, while the Pheu Thai and Future Forward parties turned down the invitation, citing the lack of transparency of the meeting. The meeting ended with the ban on political activities still in place. [Bangkok Post 1, Bangkok Post 2, Khaosod English]

As for the election date, Wissanu explained that it would depend on 4 factors: the state of peace and order following the coronation ceremony of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the enforcement of the organic law on the election of the members of parliament, the organization of local administration elections, and the general state of peace and order in the country.  [Thai PBS]

26 June 2018

Thailand: Junta’s first visit to Europe met with support and opposition

(ot) Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha started his week-long visit to the United Kingdom and France.

It is the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s first official visit to the European countries since taking power. It only became possible after the European Union softened its stance on resuming political engagement at all levels with the Thai military government late last year. On his first stop in London, he met with Prime Minister Theresa May and assured that the general election will take place early next year following the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The British prime minister in response urged the Thai government to lift restrictions on political parties in order for the elections to be free and fair. [Bangkok Post]

Two groups of Thai people living in the UK, one welcoming the PM and the other demonstrating against the visit, were present as the two leaders met. Gen Prayut insisted his visit is not political, but only intends to enhance trade and encourage European investment. Anti-junta activists in Thailand and abroad expressed their disappointment of the European nations to prioritize their national interests above democracy and human rights for inviting the junta leader. [BBC News Thai, Khaosod English]

In France, the junta’s meeting with President Emmanuel Macron is expected to highlight economic relations as well as the issue of democratization and human rights. Over 50 French companies have agreed to participate in the meeting, including the manufacturers and distributors of aircrafts, spacecrafts, and weaponry. Well-known Thai activists and dissidents living in exile in Paris organized a series of protests against PM Prayut’s visit and urged the French government to pressure the junta’s leader on the suppression of democracy and human rights abuses. [The Nation]

26 June 2018

Thailand: Pheu Thai still top of chart despite internal turbulence and setbacks

(ot) A poll conducted this week revealed that a majority of people (55.59%) questioned find Pheu Thai “the most interesting party” among both new and old political parties. The new Future Forward party came second (34.18%), followed by Democrat (33.88%), Palang Pracharat (17.39%), and Bhumjaithai (12.59%). In addition, most people (54.33%) said that they will base their decision more on political parties than individual candidates. [Matichon, Bangkok Post 1]

The poll result came amid reports of internal conflict regarding the party’s leadership and its former members defecting to new parties ahead of the general elections expected to be held next year. The Party still lacks a clear leader since ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra went into exile last year. The Party is reportedly divided into two groups in terms of its leadership; those who favor someone with a strong stance against the military, and those who support Sudarat Keyuraphan. Sudarat is said to be a favorite candidate of the party’s de facto leader Thanksin Shinawatra, but many question her pro-establishment image and close ties to the military. Sudarat reportedly does not want to engage in any succession warfare with other executives and denied any reports that she will leave the party if not chosen as its next leader. Pheu Thai also faces the possibility of having nearly half of its former MPs in the Northeast, its key stronghold, switching side to the pro-regime Palang Pracharat Party. [Khaosod Enligsh, Bangkok Post 2, Bangkok Post 3]

Despite the setbacks, Thaksin said in an interview [BBC News Thai] that he remains confident that the party will win the next election with more seats than in previous polls. He said he is not discouraged by the defections, saying it is a new opportunity for newcomers. He also urged the junta to hold general elections as promised and to not underestimate the power of the people.

26 June 2018

Thailand: High court dismissed lawsuit against Prime Minister

(ot) The Supreme Court of Thailand upheld the rulings of two lower courts dismissing a lawsuit Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha and four other generals of illegally overthrowing the elected government in the 2014 coup d’état. The Court reaffirmed the lower court’s decision that even though the coup was in violation of the law, the defendants were retroactively granted amnesty by the interim constitution. [Khaosod English]

26 June 2018

Thailand: General elections to take place after coronation

(ot) The Thai government said general elections will not take place before the coronation of the King, suggesting another possible delay.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said this week that the general elections will only be held after the royal coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The issue of the royal ceremony had not been publicly discussed, and the PM did not mention a specific date for the event or clarify how it would affect the promised February 2019 timeframe for the general elections.

Nevertheless, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam explained that the date and organization of the coronation is entirely subject to the King. He also added that the government had already submitted the organic laws on the election of the senates and the members of the parliament for royal endorsement. They are the last two organic laws required by the Constitution to be promulgated prior to holding general elections. [Khaosod English, BBC News Thai]

26 June 2018

Thailand: Death penalty resumed after 9 years

(ot) Thailand carried out the first execution in 9 years, sparking controversy and debate.

A statement was issued by Thailand’s Department of Corrections this week that Theerasak Longji, 26 years old, was executed by lethal injection. He was found guilty of a premeditated murder that he had committed in 2012. His execution was carried out without prior notice. The Department said that it hoped the execution would serve as deterrence. The statement cited the United States and China that still maintain the death sentence as countries that focus on “protecting society and the general public from crimes more than focusing on the rights and freedoms of wrongdoers.” [Matichon, in Thai]

The resumption of executions came as a surprise as the country had not carried out the death sentence in 9 years. The last execution took place in 2009 when two men were put to death for drug-related crimes. The standard practice is to obtain a royal pardon commuting death to life in prison as the last resort of clemency. Thailand was also one year short of becoming a de facto abolitionist country. In 2016, the Ministry of Justice ruled out the death penalty for rapists, despite widespread calls for harsher punishments from the public.  The government also reflected its commitment to becoming an abolitionist state in the third national human rights master plan for 2014 to 2018. No explanation was given by the authority about the unexpected execution. [Bangkok Post, Khaosod English]

In response, the United Nations Human Rights Office for South-East Asia (OHCHR) and other international non-governmental organizations have issued statements deploring the government’s action and calling for immediate end to the death penalty. A small protest against the death penalty was staged outside Bangkok’s Bang Kwang Prison. The European Union has also expressed their concern over the reintroduction of the death sentence. [OHCHR, Amnesty International, FIDH, EU EEAS]

However, capital punishment still receives widespread support from the Thai general public. Online comments and polls show mass public approval for execution of criminals, believing it to be an effective measure to prevent serious crimes. Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha this time added his support for the punishment, saying that it was essential in keeping law and order and that it is agreed by the majority of Thai people. [The Nation]

26 June 2018

Thailand: King granted full control of assets

(ot) Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) has been granted full control of royal assets in the latest changes to the management of royal affairs since taking the throne.

The Crown Property Bureau (CPB), the financial arm of the Thai Monarchy, issued an announcement [The Crown Property Bureau, in Thai] that the shareholdings in two major Thai companies will now be in the name of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The companies are Siam Cement Pcl and Siam Commercial Bank Pcl, whose assets are worth more than USD 7 billion combined. The CPB manages the multi-billion dollar holdings of the monarchy as well as controls huge swathes of land in Bangkok. The extent of the CPB’s wealth, however, is not made public. In 2012, Forbes magazine valued the CPB’s holdings in real estates and other investments at more than USD 30 billion.

The CPB also stated in the announcement that any asset owned by the CPB will now be formally handed over to the King. The handover followed the amendment to the Crown Property Act last year. The amendment reorganized all assets belonging to the monarchy by combining the previously separated categories of assets, the King’s personal assets and assets under the ownership of the CPB, into a new category of “Crown Property Assets”. The management of the Crown Property Assets was transferred to be entirely under the discretion of the King.

According to the announcement, the registration of the King’s name as a shareholder in the companies intends to “contribute to the administration of the enterprises to ensure they will continue to thrive and prosper for the future benefits of Thailand”. The CPB’s announcement also stated that the Crown Property Assets will now be “subject to the same duties and taxation as would assets belong to any other citizen”.  Previously, assets registered in the name of the CPB were exempted from duties and taxation. [Reuters, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera]

17 June 2018

Thailand: Army chief visits China to deepen military ties

(ot) Army Chief and National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Secretary-General Chalermchai Sitthisart went on an official visit to China this week to discuss better military cooperation between the two countries, including the progress of the Thai government’s procurement of VT4 main battle tanks and VN1 armored personnel carriers from China. The countries have also agreed on defense industry cooperation as they plan to establish a weapons manufacturing and service in Thailand later this year. [Khaosod English, Matichon]

17 June 2018

Thailand: Data Protection bill with extraterritorial applicability

(ls) After last month’s entry into force of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation that sparked world-wide reactions due to its extraterritorial applicability, Thailand is about to adopt a law with a similar reach. For the first time, the concept of extraterritorial application is introduced in the current draft. Data controllers and data processors who collect, use, or disclose personal data outside Thailand but (1) any parts of such actions occurred in Thailand, or (2) the consequence of such actions intentionally occur in Thailand, or (3) the consequence of such action should occur, or it could be foreseen that the consequence would occur in Thailand, will be subject to the new law. [Lexology]

17 June 2018

Thailand: Resort to Art. 44 to safeguard primaries, lift of ban on political gatherings in sight?

(ot) With a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam and law makers, charter drafters and the Election Commission, convened to address member recruitment problems of political parties arising from the tight timeline for holding primaries to select candidates for the general election under the order of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) 53/2560, ending without results, the Deputy Prime Minister hinted to the possibility of invoking Art. 44 as a way out of the problem. [The Nation 1]

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister General Pravit Wongsuwon announced that he has been assigned to chair the first meeting with politicians later this month to discuss partial revocation of the ban on political gatherings. He, however, insisted that permission to hold election campaigns would only be granted when the organic law on the election of Members of the Parliament, which has been sent to Prime Minister Prayut for submission to the King for royal approval [Bangkok Post 1] takes effect. At the current stage, parties are only allowed to hold meetings and recruit members. [Bangkok Post 2, The Nation 2]

In related development, prominent politicians from four political parties, including Chaturon Chaisang from the Pheu Thai Party, leader of the Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Democrat Party Abhisit Vejjajiva, and leader of the People’s Reform Party Paiboon Nititawan, gathered at a public forum at Thammasat University for an account on the current status and prospects of country’s democracy development. The People’s Reform Party was the only one present that showed full support for the current government, arguing that electoral democracy had created polarization in Thai politics in the past decade. The three other parties were united in saying that the 2017 Constitution, the NCPO orders, and the involvement of the 250 selected senators are obstacles in achieving democracy in Thailand. They also said they would put forward plan to amend the Constitution if so desired by the people. [Khaosod English]

10 June 2018

Thailand: Pro-democracy activists hear charges for demanding elections

(ot) Scores of pro-democracy activists marched to a police station to support those summoned by the police over last month’s rally calling for elections.

A group of 45 protesters from the “People Who Want Elections” group went to acknowledge charges pressed against them over a protest against the repeated postponement of the general elections earlier on 22 May which marked the fourth anniversary of the coup. A total of 62 people from the movement were accused of disturbing public order, disobeying law enforcement officers, and violating the political assembly ban, among other allegations. The police decided not to detain the protestors.

The six leaders of the movement had already been arrested on the day of the protest and later released. They were additionally accused of sedition. [Bangkok Post, Khaosod English, Prachatai, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights]

The event received much attention from international rights agencies as well as the diplomatic community in Thailand who went to observe the activity. The United Nations Human Rights Council also made public three letters it had sent to the Thai government between December last year and February. [The Nation]

10 June 2018

Thailand: Constitutional Court ruling on NCPO order on political parties

(ot) Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order 53/2560 amending the organic law on political parties was constitutional.

The Order, issued on 22 December last year under Section 44 of the interim constitution, amended Sections 140 and 141 of the organic law on political parties. It sought to extend the deadlines for political parties to attend to administrative work. The amendments required members of existing political parties to reconfirm their membership by verifying their qualifications and pay membership fees within 30 days from 1 April. Parties are also required to hold general assemblies, elect leaders and executives, write regulations, and establish provincial branches within 90 days of the NCPO ban on political activities being lifted.

The Court ruling was in response to separate petitions filed through the Office of the Ombudsman by two main political parties, Pheu Thai and the Democrats. They claimed that the new requirements violated the 2017 Constitution by restricting their rights as well as imposing unreasonably heavy burden on their members, and as a result putting them at a disadvantage ahead of the election.  [Bangkok Post 1, Bangkok Post 2, Matichon]

The Court, however, ruled against these allegations, clearing the last legal controversy that could push back a general election tentatively scheduled for February next year. Despite that, a ban on political activities is yet to be repealed amid growing calls from political parties. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said that political parties should not expect to run their election campaigns freely, and political activities will still need to be approved on a case-by-case basis. He also said that the NCPO would hold a dialogue with parties and related agencies over election preparations this month. [Bangkok Post 3]

10 June 2018

Thailand: New party vows to defend charter 

(ot) A new political party was found by former prominent protest leaders, with determination to protect the 2017 Constitution. The Action Coalition for Thailand Party (ACT) was launched and held its inaugural meeting this week. The Party’s main position is to protect the 2017 Constitution and oppose any attempt to pardon political prisoners. They also vowed to protect the monarchy and tackle corruption problems in Thailand.

One of its key co-founders include Suthep Thaugsuban, former politician from the Democrats and Secretary-General of the now defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) that ousted then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai Party from power. Suthep once said not to be involved in national politics anymore, but has continued to openly endorse the junta and Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha. However, he vowed he would not take any executive position or any political position the Party becomes the government.

Suthep’s latest political stunt has drawn many criticisms. The establishment of the party and Suthep’s decision to return to politics have also led many observers to believe it to be a reincarnation of the PDRC set up to support General Prayut’s return to power after the general elections. [Khaosod English, Bangkok Post 1, Bangkok Post 2, Thai PBS]

3 June 2018

Thailand: Reports of 10-year UK visa for Yingluck

(jk) The United Kingdom reportedly granted a 10-year visa to former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who has been sentenced in absentia to a five-year prison term by a court in Thailand for her role in her government’s rice-pledging scheme. [The Straits Times]. As of last week, the story that broke on the BBC Thai website was not confirmed yet and the Royal Thai Police will send an official confirmation request to the British embassy in Bangkok. [Bangkok Post]

3 June 2018

Thailand PM Prayut to decide on calls for removal of national police chief

(am) The Prime Minister has responded to calls for the removal of the national police chief for what many consider to have been excessive use of force in the arrest of a former activist Buddhist monk.

Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Monday that he, as the leader of the government, would like to offer the public an apology for the police’s recent raid and arrest of 62-year-old Suwit Thongprasert, who was best known as Phra Buddha Issara.

When asked if this investigation might even lead to the removal of the national police chief, the PM said that such a decision would be made by himself, although it would not be done because of pressure from any particular group. [National News Bureau of Thailand]

3 June 2018

Thailand: Constitutional Court rules on the organic law on election of MPs, elections can go ahead

(jk) This past week, the court’s judges unanimously ruled that the bill on the election of MPs does not violate the 2017 constitution. It looked into two particular sections of the bill, regarding the consequences of failing to vote for Thai citizens (where voting is mandatory), as well as the possibility for others to mark someone else’s ballot paper in case of disabilities.

The court had been petitioned by 27 members of the National Legislative Assembly and some observers feared that it could have been a ploy to further delay elections. Had the court ruled the bill unconstitutional, the law would have had to change and in consequence, once again affected the timeline on the way to elections. With this ruling however, the prime minister can submit the bill for royal endorsement and after it is published in the Royal Gazette, the law will take 90 days to come into effect. The constitution then prescribes that elections are to be held within 150 days after that.

Next week, the court will rule on the constitutionality of the NCPO’s amendment to the organic law on political parties last year which required members of parties to produce letters confirming their membership and pay party fees, lest they lose their membership [Bangkok Post, The Nation].

27 May 2018

Thailand, Australia host regional peacekeeping exercise

(am) Thailand’s Supreme Commander, Gen. Thanchaiyan Srisuwan, and the Vice Chief of the Australian Defence Force, VADM Ray Griggs, presided over the opening ceremony of the Pirab – Jabiru 2018 regional peacekeeping exercise at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Strategic Study Center in Chonburi province. During the exercise, participants were tested by realistic scenario-based problems that reflect contemporary United Nations (UN) operations, including how to protect vulnerable populations, understanding peacekeepers, rights and obligations under international and domestic law, and how to maintain logistics support in austere environments. [National News Bureau of Thailand]

27 May 2018

Thailand/Myanmar agree to boost anti-drug efforts

(am) Thailand and Myanmar have agreed on increased border cooperation to crackdown on the narcotics trade. Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister ACM Prajin Jantong, along with the Thai delegation, met with Myanmar’s Union Minister for Home Affairs Lt Gen Kyaw Swe where he confirmed the Thai government’s readiness to support joint efforts in all respects, which includes dedicating the necessary fund and human resources to Myanmar’s anti-drug effort. Following discussions, Thailand accepted Myanmar’s offer to boost cooperation on all security agendas other than narcotics. Both countries also agreed to hold regular ministerial meetings as well as a meeting on chemical products control between Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and China. [National News Bureau of Thailand]

27 May 2018

Thailand: Multiple bomb attacks in the deep south

(ls) Multiple bomb attacks by suspected separatist insurgents injured at least three people in Thailand’s far south on last week’s Sunday. Explosives were placed near ATM machines and bank branches in 14 locations across four southern provinces, including Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, as well as Songkhla province. The decades-old separatist insurgency has claimed the lives of nearly 7,000 people since 2004. [Reuters]

27 May 2018

Thailand: Protests at fourth anniversary of the military coup

(ls) Marking the fourth anniversary of 2014’s military coup in Thailand, pro-democracy activists protested for elections to be held this year. However, most of the protesters were contained at Thammasat University in Bangkok’s old quarter. The rally attracted several hundred people, far short of the thousands the democracy movement had hoped. Security provisions imposed by the ruling junta have made any political gathering of more than four people illegal. [The New York Times]

15 activists who were arrested on Tuesday have subsequently been released on bail. They each face six counts including sedition, the most serious charge, which carries a maximum prison term of seven years. The court approved bail on condition they refrain from taking part in any political activities during their temporary release. [Bangkok Post]

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha declared last year that the election would be held by this November, but that date was changed again when junta-appointed legislators agreed to delay the enactment of an election law by 90 days, placing it at next February. In the face of the protests, Prayut Tuesday insisted that the poll would be no sooner than early 2019. [The Nation]

With more than 1,600 days in office, Prayuth has already served longer than the last elected prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra (1,006 days) and her predecessor Abhisit Vejjajiva (961 days). In Khaosod English, Teeranai Charuvastra analyzes how the ruling National Council for Peace and Order managed to stay in office that long. According to his assessment, the reasons range from the junta’s use of brute force to Prayuth’s personal influence. [Khaosod English]

20 May 2018

Thailand: Draft legislation on medicinal marijuana heads to Cabinet for approval

(am) Thailand’s new draft narcotics law to be proposed to the Cabinet will allow the manufacturing, import, distribution, and possession of cannabis for research purposes and medical use. Sirinya Sitdhichai, secretary-general of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), was quoted by the [National News Bureau of Thailand] on Sunday as saying he expected the legislative process to get complete by the end of this month.

20 May 2018

Thailand’s new cryptocurrency law

(ls) Thailand put a royal decree in place to control and regulate cryptocurrency transactions and Initial Coins Offerings (ICOs). The royal decree stipulates jail terms and fines for unregistered token brokers or those who perform token transactions through unregistered brokers as well as for fraudulent filings and unauthorized digital asset business activities. A separate decree has set a 15 per cent capital gains tax on each digital transaction. [The Straits Times]

20 May 2018

Thailand: Bangkok Post editor forced to resign in another blow against press freedom

(ls) The editor of the Bangkok Post, who has held the position since July 2016, said the newspaper’s board of directors had asked him to “tone down” the newspaper’s reporting and editorials on the actions of the military government, particularly over their suppression of freedom of speech and the delays over long-promised elections. After refusing to curtail critical coverage, he said he has been forced to step down. [The Guardian] Thailand is ranked 140 of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. [Reporters Without Borders]

13 May 2018

Thailand: “Watchman” saga drags on Swift action against protester and TV station

(ls) The probe by Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) into the luxury watches allegedly owned by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon is still ongoing. In a stunning statement, the NACC secretary-general said that it was actually not complicated verifying the 22 watches’ owners via the serial numbers, but that it took time repeating the same process for each watch. The investigation was launched in December last year. [Bangkok Post 1]

In a separate development, a woman who took part in a pro-democracy rally last week in Bangkok was swiftly arrested by the police and sent to a state-run psychiatric hospital, where she was held four days and injected against her will with sedatives. Police officers said they wanted to make sure that she is not mentally ill. [Khaosod English]

Meanwhile, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has suspended for one month the licence of Peace TV, a broadcaster linked to the (red-shirt) United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). The NBTC said the station’s content was considered likely to incite conflict. [Bangkok Post 2]

13 May 2018

Thailand: Prayut tours the country, gathering political support

(ls) Thai Prime Minister Prayut this week went to Buriram, a northeastern province dominated by Newin Chidchob, an ex-politician and key political “kingmaker”. Prayut denied that he was on the campaign trail. But there are few doubts that he is out to seek the support of local leaders. He was greeted by more than 30,000 people in Buriram’s football stadium. [Bangkok Post 1]

The Nation writes that all signs point to Prayut building an alliance made up of those same politicians he pledged to eradicate from power after the coup. Newin, who played significant roles in the premierships of Thaksin Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva, vowed to distance himself from political activities in 2011 but is still regarded as an influential local figure. Bhum Jai Thai party’s current leader, Anutin Charnvirakul, also made an appearance on stage and claimed that the mass local gathering had no political agenda. [The Nation]

At a mobile cabinet meeting in Buri Ram, the government approved in principle a total of 121 development projects for the lower northeastern provinces worth more than 20 billion baht proposed by the private sector. “I am seeking cooperation on national reform, to explain the national strategy… I do not want anything in return,” Gen Prayut said. [Bangkok Post 2]

6 May 2018

Thailand: Lèse majesté law once again in the spotlight

(ls) One of Thailand’s most prominent lèse majesté convicts, labour rights activist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, has been released from prison after seven years of jail time. Back in 2011, the authorities charged Somyot as the editor of a red-shirt magazine that had published two articles written by an exiled politician. Groups dedicated to human rights have pointed to wide-ranging examples of the lèse majesté law being misused for political purposes, rather than to protect the monarchy. At least 94 people have been charged with the crime since the 2014 coup. [The Nation 1]

In the otherwise conservative “Nation”, a remarkable editorial titled “Thailand can do without lese majeste statute” calls to review the law. The editorial describes how even criticizing the monarchy in good faith “can be and is deemed lese majeste”, and that cases were often “handled as though Thailand was still an absolute monarchy rather than a nation under the modern rule of law.” [The Nation 2]

6 May 2018

Thailand: Is the old parties’ loss the new parties’ gain?

(ls) The Constitutional Court of Thailand has given the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) a deadline to provide an explanation on its controversial order on political party affairs. According to NCPO Order 53/2017 issued last December, members of parties were required to reconfirm their membership and pay related fees between April 1-30, or they would lose their membership status. In April, the Constitutional Court accepted petitions by the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties asking it to rule on the validity of the order amending the organic law on political parties. [Bangkok Post 1]

As for the Democrat Party, only 1 in 25 members have confirmed their party membership, resulting in a membership drop from 2.5 million to only 100,000. What contributed to the sharp drop was the fact that the parties were not allowed to communicate messages about the reconfirmation requirement to their members. Moreover, most members are not prepared to pay a membership fee. [Bangkok Post 2] The order has largely been seen as an attempt by the ruling junta to set the stage for a new party backing the military. The Pracharath Party, which is among the new parties applying to register with the Election Commission, is reported to be backed by the regime.

Last month, the Future Forward Party, or Anakot Mai, burst into Thailand’s political scene, led by the auto parts tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Thammasat University law lecturer Piyabutr Saengkanokkul. Thanatorn has spoken with the New Mandala about the compromised electoral conditions the Future Forward Party is likely to face and the kepticism that followed the party’s debut. [New Mandala]

In another development, the Supreme Administrative Court has ruled that the termination of Pheu Thai Party key member Chaturon Chaisaeng’s passports was illegal. The court agreed with Chaturon that the termination of his passport was politically motivated, since the former minister had criticized the junta-sponsored draft of constitution. [The Nation]

6 May 2018

Thailand hoping to join new TPP

(ls) Thailand has expressed its hope of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). “Thailand has made it clear that it wants to take part in the TPP,” Japan’s Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, Toshimitsu Motegi, told reporters after meeting with Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak. Following the US pullout in January 2017 with the launch of President Donald Trump’s administration, the remaining 11 participating countries signed a revised TPP in March this year and are proceeding with domestic processes. Prior to the US pullout, Thailand had long rejected becoming a member of TPP. [Bangkok Post]

29 April 2018

U.S.-Thai-relations: Strengthened cooperation agreed on Prawit’s visit in Washington

(ls) Thailand and the United States have agreed to strengthen cooperation on various aspects of security affairs including cyber and marine security, terrorism as well as transnational crimes. The agreement was reached during a visit of Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon in Washington at the invitation of US Defence Secretary Mattis. The visit included a meeting with Claire Grady, Under-Secretary for Management of the US Department of Homeland Security. Prawit’s visit was aimed at reinforcing bilateral ties on security affairs in the year that marks 200 years of Thai-US relations. [Bangkok Post]

29 April 2018

Thailand/Cambodia/Laos: Cooperation to track down political enemies

(ls) Thai immigration police have detained Sam Serey, head of the Cambodian opposition group Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF). A Cambodian official said the government was in discussion with Thailand on the man’s extradition. In 2016, a Cambodian court sentenced Sam Serey in absentia to nine years in prison for plotting an attack. This month, Prime Minister Hun Sen accused Sam Serey and his group of plotting attacks in Cambodia, calling him a “traitor”. [Reuters]

In March, Thailand and Cambodia had agreed on cooperation in searching for “fugitives”. Concerns have formed about an authoritarian alliance of sort emerging between the ruling junta in Thailand led by Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen as they seek to suppress dissent and consolidate their authority at home, as Prashanth Parameswaran describes in [The Diplomat].

At the same time, the government of Laos has assured Thailand that Thai political fugitives in Laos will be kept under strict surveillance to prevent them from engaging in lèse majesté activities. The Chief-of-staff of the Lao People’s Armed Forces, on a visit to Thailand, added that “We [Thai and Laos people] are like siblings. (…) we have to help, love and respect each other. We also have to help preserve our traditional rituals and uphold Buddhism so it lasts forever.” [Bangkok Post]

22 April 2018

Thailand: Defense Minister Prawit to visit Washington

(jk) Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who remains under investigation by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) over failing to declare assets, is set to meet US Secretary of Defense Mattis in Washington this week. [The Washington Times]. Secretary Mattis led a US delegation to Bangkok in October last year, attending the royal cremation of Thailand’s late King.

Under the Obama administration and particularly since the coup in 2014, US – Thai relations had somewhat soured despite the US “pivot” to Asia and Thailand’s historically deep ties to the US. But Thailand also has a history of skillfully hedging between the great powers and has recently been working closer with Beijing which raised some alarm bells in Washington. Notwithstanding Obama meeting the Thai PM and the continuation of Cobra Gold exercises, if downscaled, it is fair to say that with human rights concerns taking more of a backseat under US President Trump, US-Thai relations are intensifying again. The upcoming visit where defense and security matters will be discussed is another sign of that development.

For a detailed analysis of US-Thai relations as well as Thailand’s relations to Beijing, Benjamin Zawacki has recently published a highly recommendable book titled “Thailand: Shifting Ground Between the US and a Rising China” [Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia].

15 April 2018

Thailand: Political parties on the way back to life?

(dql) The 2018 annual report of Freedom House rated Thailand with a ‘freedom score’ of 31 out of 100 for the year 2017 and ranked it among the ‘not free’-countries which make up 25% of all assessed countries, while 30% are considered ‘partly free’ and 45% ‘free’. The US think tank points to the lack of legitimacy of the un-elected military government and an appointed National Legislative Assembly, the repeated delay of general elections, the ban on any political activity, a systematic use of censorship and intimidation to suppress dissent in press, academia, and online, as well as the impunity of counter-insurgent forces operating in Thailand’s South. A government spokesman rejected the findings as based on “a number of factual inaccuracies … which has led to incomplete conclusions and presumptive arguments.”  [Freedom House] [Bangkok Post 1]

Meanwhile, 15 political parties have been approved by the Election Commission (EC) for the coming elections with further approvals expected next week. To be registered a political party must have  at least 500 members, acquire funds of no less than one million baht which approximates to 160.000 USD. If approved, the parties will proceed to select their executive boards,  party leader and executives and produce a party manifesto  for submission to the EC to become formally endorsed. All this has to been done within 180 days. [Bangkok Post 2]

8 April 2018

Thailand: First cross-border class-action lawsuit over alleged human rights abuses

(ls) Farmers from Cambodia have filed a lawsuit in a Thai civil court against Asia’s largest sugar producer from Thailand, accusing it of rights abuses after it allegedly kicked farmers off their land. It is the first class-action lawsuit filed in a Thai court by plaintiffs from another country against a Thai company operating outside Thailand. [Reuters]

8 April 2018

Thailand: A party for Prayut – Pheu Thai distancing itself from the Shinawatras

(ls) Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak has hinted the formation of a new party is under way to support Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to keep his office after the general election. The party, the “Pracharath Party”, is expected to include key figures from the government as well as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Instead of hoping that Prayut will be chosen as an “outsider prime minister” (one who has not been nominated by any of the parties beforehand), the new strategy to keep Prayut in power thus appears to include his name on one of the parties’ lists of prime ministerial candidates. [Bangkok Post 1]

Meanwhile, the Pheu Thai party is publicly distancing itself from the Shinawatra family in a move to prevent dissolution on charges of third parties’ influence. The party not only decided that former prime minister Thaksin will not take part by video conference from overseas during the party’s traditional Songkran ceremony. [Bangkok Post 2] More importantly, Yaowapa Wongsawat, the sister of Thaksin and Yingluck, has left the Pheu Thai Party and quit politics. Yaowapa once held significant influence and bargaining power in the party. [Bangkok Post 3]

8 April 2018

Indonesia-Thailand Defense Pact

(hg) A closer look at the status of an agreement reached by both sides back in 2015.

Late last month, Thailand and Indonesia have agreed to ratify a new defense pact which has be seen against the background of a series of developments indicating intensifying bilateral relationships in general and regarding security ties in particular and is based on an initial MoU from May 2015

Both countries are Southeast Asia’s largest economies and among the initial founding members of ASEAN have long had a bilateral relationship that includes a security component. While substance and pace of the bilateral defense cooperation seem to remain still modest, it is highlighting the fact that Thailand and Indonesia could be decisive for the future of ASEAN amidst the changing geopolitical chess board in Asia. [The Diplomat]

8 April 2018

Belarusian couple held in Thailand still claims to have U.S.-Russia secrets

(ls) The Belarusian couple who has been detained in Thailand insists that it has evidence demonstrating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States. They say they have offered it to the F.B.I. in exchange for a guarantee of their safety. The two were arrested with the help of a “foreign spy,” according to the Thai police, and jailed on the minor offense of working without a permit. The F.B.I. did try to talk to the pair, suggesting that American investigators had not dismissed their account out of hand. The New York Times has compiled the unusual circumstances of the case. [The New York Times]

1 April 2018

Thailand: New political parties – Weakened Pheu Thai – More political protests

(ls) In Thailand, the political party landscape remains in flux as more new parties apply for registration with the Election Commission ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. AiR reported about the formation of the new “Future Forward” party in recent editions. Reuters reported this week how this party, which may be an alternative for young urban people, is already under fire from royalist-conservative camps. [Reuters 1]

In the south of Thailand, the so-called Wadah group of Muslim politicians, as well as other former MPs in the three southernmost border provinces, have agreed to form a new political party as well. The group, which vows to take a neutral stance on the violent conflict in the south, is in the process of compiling a list of at least 500 co-founders for the new party as required by law. [The Nation] The coalition of Muslim politicians, until recently, supported the Pheu Thai Party. The split therefore exemplifies the weakening of the former governing party that claimed electoral victories under Thaksin Shinawatra as well as his sister Yingluck, both currently in political exile. Political allies in the northeast and the central plain may also distance themselves, possibly exacerbating the trend. [Khaosod English 1]

As a side note, the Election Commission on Monday rejected the formation of a communist party, saying that “the name violated the law and the constitution”. Thailand’s Anti-Communist Activities Act of 1952, banning acts linked to communist activities and ideology, was repealed in 2000 under former prime minister Chuan Leekpai. [Khaosod English 2]

Meanwhile, political protest against the military government has become a regular event on Saturdays in Bangkok. Last week, more than 300 pro-democracy demonstrators marched to the gates of the army headquarters to call on soldiers to withdraw their support for the ruling junta. [Reuters 2] Extended rallies are expected for May. In response, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered security forces to closely monitor political groups. “The government and the NCPO will try their very best to not to allow the nation to slip back into the same vicious circle,” he was quoted saying, adding “if the unrest continues to rage, is it likely an election can proceed smoothly?” [Bangkok Post 1]

The election date still remains unclear. Two organic acts (on the appointment of senators and the election of MPs) have been forwarded to the Constitutional Court for constitutional review. The government insists that the move would have little effect on preparations for the general election. [Bangkok Post 2]

1 April 2018

The specter of authoritarianism in Asia

(ls) Claudio Sopranzetti introduces his new book ”Owners of the Map: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok” in this blog post. In the book, he examines the growing popularity of authoritarian ideology among local middle class, a popularity that, according to him, finds its roots in the shifting local meaning of words like corruption, good governance, and rule of law. He argues that something deeper is changing around Southeast Asia, the meaning of which only emerges “when we spend long stretch of time with people and participate in their lives”. [UC Press]

25 March 2018

Malaysia/ Thailand border: Planned wall a political matter

(thn) Last week, it was announced that Thailand and Malaysia agreed on a plan for a border wall in Songkla. Though stated as efforts to strengthen security operations and fight transnational crime, according to ASEAN today, it is based on more of a „political calculation“, with an eye on elections that will eventually be held in Thailand. Critics are questioning the impact of the wall, particularly on smuggling efforts. There are already walls along the border but these are ineffective. Often, smugglers and traffickers cut holes in the fences and break holes in the walls. Moreover, the Thai PM is seen to use the wall in order to demonstrate progress and actions he is taking on the issue in the south [ASEAN today, The Straits Times].

18 March 2018

Thailand: Indictments sought in Thai League’s match-fixing scandal

(ls) Prosecutors have been requested for indictments for 15 men including top-flight footballers, referees and a club director on suspicion of match-fixing in Thailand’s top domestic league. The charges relate to irregularities that occurred in the Toyota Thai League from July to September last year. This is the first time police have concluded and forwarded the results of an investigation to prosecutors since the Professional Sports Promotion Act came into force in 2013, marking the first serious crackdown on cheating in Thai football. [Bangkok Post]

18 March 2018

Thailand: New “Future Forward” party attracts attention

(ls) The new party founded by business family offspring Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Thammasat law professor Piyabutr Saengkanokkul – see AiR reports two weeks ago – has now received a name: the “Future Forward” party. The duo unveiled their new party in Bangkok on Thursday, vowing to lead Thailand out of a decade-long political deadlock between two main political factions. [South China Morning Post]

The party’s founding members include university students, young entrepreneurs, academics, labour and LGBT activists and a representative from the disabled community. Mr Thanathorn said in an introduction video that “the future cannot be designed by those who would not live in it”. He is the nephew of Mr Suriya Juangroongruangkit, a former transport minister during Thaksin Shinawatra’s tenure as prime minister. [The Straits Times]

Regarding the issue whether the party would rely on Thanathorn’s massive wealth and whether it would become another “Thaksin party”, Thanathorn said it is considering crowdfunding options that would increase public participation and ownership. “We plan to raise the biggest amount of party funding from the public, via online tools or otherwise,” Thanatorn said. However, like all other parties, Future Forward is barred by the junta from campaigning and has yet to articulate a policy platform. [Khaosod English]

Meanwhile, pro-election activists have stepped up their campaign, demanding that the military junta step down. About 200 people gathered at the football field on the Tha Phrachan campus of Thammasat University on Saturday evening under the eyes of 45 policemen. [Bangkok Post]

11 March 2018

Thailand: Thaksin Trial resumed – in absentia; party registration for elections

(jk) Alongside the report of past week’s AiR that Thailand´s major opposition party Pheu Thai Party may face dissolution after it was accused of allowing former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to control its internal affairs, the supreme court in Bangkok has resumed a trial against the latter for alleged manipulation of telecom concession fees 15 years ago. Thaksin, who already faces a prison sentence for abuse of power should he return to his home country, has stayed away from the trial and not appointed a lawyer to represent him either. According to a new law, passed in September last year, trials can proceed in absentia against politicians in cases where trials have been suspended due to the defendants fleeing the country. A new arrest warrant for Thaksin has been issued. [Bangkok Post 1] [The Straits Times].

These developments set forth a years-long battle against the Thaksin camp with two Thaksin dominated parties having been dissolved in 2007 and 2008, three Thaksin related governments having been ousted by constitutional court decisions in 2008 and 2014 and two more by coup d’états in 2006 and 2014. As such they have to be seen against the background of slowly resuming electoral politics ahead of the still not determined first national elections after the 2014 military putsch which are expected for 2019.

Now, for the first time, some of those having been appealed by the Thaksin camp might get alternative choices though as two new progressive parties seem to emerge with the opening of party registrations for the elections. At the same time, a number of newly registered parties has either voiced or is assumed to support incumbent Prime Minister and 2014 coup leader General Prayuth. [Bangkok Post 2]

4 March 2018

Thailand: New parties forming themselves ahead of elections

(ls) In Thailand, the Election Commission began on Friday the first political party registration since 2014. It will last until March 31. Political activists are expected to try and apply to form political parties. After the applications are accepted, political groups must find the required number of 500 people and submit a request to hold a general assembly. Moreover, they are required to select a party leader and executives and write a party manifesto and regulations before their party status is endorsed. The entire process must be completed within 180 days. [Bangkok Post 1]

The New Palang Dhamma Party (NPDP) was already inaugurated on Thursday. The party was formed to follow the goals of the old Palang Dhamma Party of Major General Chamlong Srimuang, which was dissolved a decade ago. The majority of NPDP members are former members of that now-defunct party combined with some ex-members of the New Aspiration Party, Democrat Party, People’s Alliance for Democracy and Thai Social Democratic Party. Speaking at the launch ceremony, Ravee Machamadol, the party leader, said his party is ready to throw its support behind current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to lead the next government if the Lower House fails to reach a consensus on a replacement for him. [Bangkok Post 2]

Another new political group will be the Great Mass of People Party (GMPP), which is connected to veteran politician Suthep Thaugsuban, who was previously secretary-general of the Democrat Party. He left the party to form the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and led prolonged street protests against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, which culminated in the military coup of May 2014. [The Nation]

While many newborn parties will be led by familiar faces, a party so new it has not yet come up with a name will be headed by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a 39-year-old billionaire who, in the past, has frequently attacked the political establishment. The new party is said to pursue progressive policies and adhere to a social democracy ideology. It is likely to be joined by prominent academics and pro-democracy activists such as Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law professor from Thammasat University and member of the legal reform group Nitirat. [Khaosod English]

At the same time, the Pheu Thai Party faces the prospect of dissolution after it was accused of allowing former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is widely believed to be its de facto leader, to control its internal affairs. According to the new constitution of 2017, a political party is prohibited from being influenced or controlled by an outsider. Thaksin allegedly met with high-ranking Pheu Thai party members in Hong Kong over Chinese New Year to discuss the future of the party’s leadership. [Bangkok Post 3]

4 March 2018

Thai authorities detain Belarusian woman who claims to possess information on Russian interference in 2016 U.S. election

(ls) The Thai police arrested a Belarusian woman on Sunday in Pattaya on charges of pursuing business activities without a proper permit. Unrelated to these charges, the woman, Anastasia Vashukevich, claims that she has witnessed a meeting between a Russian oligarch and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko in August 2016, in which the two allegedly talked about Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The woman said she will offer her information to U.S. authorities if they can prevent her from being deported to Russia. [Khaosod English]

25 February 2018

Thailand: Support for government plunges as old rivals pull strings in the background

(ls) Pro-election activists in Thailand on Wednesday petitioned the Constitutional Court to strike down the regime’s ban on political gatherings, which they said violates their rights. According to the motion, investigators charged members of the group with violating a National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) order which bans political gatherings of five or more people. The group said the order runs counter to the constitution which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly. [Bangkok Post 1]

The constitutional complaint is an interesting case in two respects. First, the Court will have to address whether the individual complaints against the NCPO order are admissible. According to Section 213 of the new constitution of 2017, a person whose rights or liberties recognized by the constitution are violated is entitled to file a complaint with the Constitutional Court. Second, if admissible, the Court would have to define the limits of freedom of assembly. According to the constitution’s Section 44, this right may be limited to maintain the security of the state, public safety, public order or good morals, or for protecting the rights or liberties of other persons.

Meanwhile, the “Watchman” saga involving Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan is dragging on, as the National Anti-Corruption Commission extended the deadline for Prawit to explain his apparent possession of more than two dozen luxury watches without declaring these assets to anti-corruption authorities. [Bangkok Post 2] Public support for the military government has dropped significantly within recent weeks, as public polls clearly demonstrated. For instance, asked to name the areas in which they were least satisfied, 53.05% of respondents in a recent poll cited the government’s poor management of economic problems, and 37.28% its handling of corruption. [Bangkok Post 3]

At the same time, it has been reported that Suthep Thaugsuban, core leader of the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), plans to found a political party to support Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to remain in this office after the next general election. Suthep, having been the secretary-general of the Democrat Party until 2013, sharply differs from his former party which declared that it could not accept the prolonged power of the military junta. [The Nation]

Meanwhile, in the Pheu Thai party, former Prime Minister and patron in the background, Thaksin Shinawatra, met with Pheu Thai representatives in Hong Kong to determine the party’s new leadership. Thaksin favors deputy party leader Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan for the post, while a considerable number of party representatives support ex-transport minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal. [Bangkok Post 4] The leadership question will be an indicator of Thaksin’s continued influence within the party.

18 February 2018

Thailand: Prime Minister Prayut invokes government unity – U.K. trusts reform efforts

(ls) After a series of public protests against Thailand’s military government and the continued postponement of elections, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday vowed to get tough on political agitators, saying all people must be subject to the law. He said the media should tell the protesters that they are breaking the law and causing trouble for motorists. “I do not know what they want,” he said. “They’re trying to take the country backwards … and the government cannot condone it.” [Bangkok Post 1]

At the same time, Prayut insisted that there were no cracks in the government. Earlier this week, Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, while abroad in London, criticized Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon over the scandal involving luxury watches, saying that he would have stepped down in such situation, indicating the regime may be experiencing internal divisions. After his return, however, Teerakiat immediately apologized for his remarks. [Bangkok Post 2]

Meanwhile, U.K. foreign minister Boris Johnson, on an official visit to Bangkok, expressed confidence in Thailand’s reform process and return to democracy after he met with Prime Minister Prayut. The minister’s visit was the first from the U.K. since the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council’s decision to resume political contacts at all levels late last year. [Bangkok Post 3]

18 February 2018

Security in Southeast Asia: Increased cooperation since Marawi

(ls) After years of lukewarm security cooperation between Southeast countries, last year’s five-month siege of Marawi by Islamic State-aligned militants proved to be a game-changer, argues Michael Hart in the Asian Correspondent. Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines began conducting naval patrols to restrict the movement of jihadist fighters to-and-from Mindanao. These measures were later bolstered by the addition of coordinated air patrols to spot suspicious activity from the skies. In mid-November last year, the Southeast Asian Counter-Terrorism Financing Working Group (SACTFWG) was established, and last month, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand signed up to a new intelligence-sharing pact labelled the “Our Eyes” initiative. [Asian Correspondent]

11 February 2018

Thailand: Abused workers sued for defamation

(ls) A Bangkok court began a defamation trial on Wednesday against 14 Myanmar migrant workers who accused a Thai chicken farm of labor abuse. The poultry farm charged the workers with criminal defamation after they filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission in 2016 alleging they had been overworked and underpaid. [The Straits Times]

11 February 2018

Thailand: Military government under continued public pressure

(ls) The scandal over luxury watches and undeclared assets of Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan continues to draw widespread public attention. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) placed Prawit under investigation. He himself said that he borrowed the watches from friends, but would resign if that was the public’s wish. [South China Morning Post] However, on Monday, a spokesperson said that he does not plan to resign and is determined to continue working in the interests of national security and public safety. [Bangkok Post] Adding to the public outcry, an online petition demanding Prawit to step down appeared having been manipulated in favor of Prawit by members of the Thai military. [The Nation 1]

On the weekend, students from Chulalongkorn University and Thammasat University satirized Thai politics under the junta government before the traditional Chula-Thammasat football game. Political satire and papier-mache puppets addressed the “Watchman” scandal, mocked Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha and attacked the junta regime’s authoritarian rule. [The Nation 2]

Meanwhile, the general election, already delayed various times, may be delayed another time if a Constitutional Court ruling is sought on whether proposed revisions to two organic laws are constitutional. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the current road map to democracy did not take into account time for such “legal detours”. [The Nation 3]

11 February 2018

Thai – U.S. ties consolidated again

(hg) Two events last week offered valuable insights in the current state of U.S. – Thai relations against the backdrop of the upcoming massive military Cobra Gold exercise: the celebration of 200 years American – Thai friendship and the visit of the highests – ranking US general, the USMC general Joe Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff.

After another delay of the first elections since the 2014 Coup election is looming, both the Prime Minister and U.S. ambassador Davies found clear words in their mutual attempt to serve democratic rhetoric while acknowledging the strategic priorities of each side. Despite considerable domestic criticism and with obligatory and polite reminders of democratic compliance, Davies core message was that “our relationship and priority will be balanced on strategic interests […] and on our principles that will continue under any administration”, meaning also in the absence of democracy in a Western sense. [The Nation]

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Defense quotes General Dunford on his´ visit of the Thai Prime Minister and the most important representatives of the Thai military including Dep. Prime Minister and Minister of Defense General Prawit Wongsuwan, that it is about to “foster strong military-to-military relationships” and, to also “establish a personal relationship”. With an ally like Thailand, the general is quoted that this is “to be prepared to fight together should that be required.” [US Department of Defense 1]

On the meeting between General Dunford and General Prawit, who is currently under investigation by the National Corruption Commission, the Thai government stated that the generals discussed the security in the Asia Pacific.
Noteworthy, against the background of the domestically sharpening election debate, the U.S. general remarked regarding his talks with the Thai government that he was “very encouraged by the Thai leadership’s commitment to return to a democratic government.” [US Department of Defense 2]

The common message of these statements reinforces those of the way the Cobra Gold exercise is executed this year, smoothly and determined. [Bangkok Post 1]Plain and simple, the U.S. wants to keep Thailand as a key ally in a key region in a transformative period. If there was another sign needed, the remarks signal the final conclusion of a long and initially moderately painful change of the discursive parameter to eventually acknowledge the 2014 coup at least de facto as a fait accompli but also to increasingly relate the encouragement to hold elections to the domestic realities from the perspective of the regime. This is, after all, in line with the adjustment of other Western states and consistent with similar policies of leading Western powers towards countries with a significantly worse governance record on the one hand and the fact that Western ideas of democratic governance are at best only resembled in the region on the other, – and this even only by very, very few countries. At the same time, democracy and human rights are still an important diplomatic currency coined by the West, albeit one which is facing domestic devaluation and a competition with powerfully emerging new ‘currencies’ leading to a continuous shrinking of the old´s potential to second power projection if necessary. In the words of Prime Minister, General Prayuth, on the cordial encounter with the U.S. ambassador: “He didn’t ask or worry about Thai elections, […] he just encouraged us on our democratic path.” Cunningly quoting President Trump – who he referred to with the informal Thai phrase indicating a familiar relation to a senior one – General Prayuth said: “P’ President declared, ‘America first!’ So for me, I have to declare, ‘Thailand first!’ I have to take care of my people and our country’s interests.” [Khaosod English]

More importantly, not only the national interest seems to be common ground now in the bilateral exchange on elections, but the Prime Minister also took the initiative to ideologically beef up the always more or less subtle insistence that democracy is a term with various meanings and that the Thai one is essentially different than those of the West. Now, General Prayuth has announced to launch a nation – wide campaign to promote ‘Thainess’, Thai Niyom, to foster the way forward to a “true democracy”for the people. [Bangkok Post 2]

4 February 2018

Thailand: Activists charged – elections delayed – government pressured – new political party announced – Yingluck’s assets seized

(ls) The police in Bangkok has summoned 39 people to acknowledge charges of violating the Public Assembly Act af-ter they joined a demonstration last Saturday to call for a general election by November. [The Nation] Moreover, eight activists of a civil rights group were charged with violating the military government’s ban on public gatherings, after it kicked off a cross-country march on 20 January. The developments show the growing public discontent over the military government’s continued grip on power. [Reuters] Amnesty International called on the government to end its far-reaching crackdown on peaceful demonstrations. [Amnesty International]

Last week, Thailand’s junta-appointed parliament approved a controversial change to an electoral law that could push back the country’s already long-delayed general election to February 2019. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s latest pledge for the election date has been November 2018. Just after the military government staged a coup in 2014, it promised to hold an election by October 2015, but dates have been slipping. [Nikkei Asian Review] This week, Prayuth urged the public to be patient, insisting he would respect the “road map”, however also calling to “give me some more time to lay a solid foundation.” [Bangkok Post 1]

The government remains under pressure with current polls showing increasing discontent in the population. Moreo-ver, calls that Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan should resign over the wrist watch affair have become louder and more open. [Bangkok Post 2]

Furthermore, a group of 30 former Members of Parliament have announced to set up a new political party, the “Citi-zen Power Party”. The group of ex-MPs is to a large extent made up of veteran politicians from the New Aspiration Party which was once established by ex-Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. Chavalith was also Deputy Prime Min-ister under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and, in 2009, joined the Pheu Thai Party. Samphan Lertnuwat who served as a minister during the Chavalit administration told reporters, however, that the new party would not be a puppet of the Pheu Thai Party. [Bangkok Post 3]

Meanwhile, assets belonging to former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra have been seized by the Legal Execution Department to cover some of the alleged losses of her administration’s rice-pledging scheme. The assets include her house, apartments, parcels of land, and more than a dozen bank accounts. [Bangkok Post 4]

4 February 2018

Thailand in the newly emerging Asian security order

(hg) The Diplomat highlights Thailand’s cooperation with Beijing in the defense realm in light of recent weapon deals with China indicating that the long-established bilateral relations are constantly deepening since the 2014 military coup. [The Diplomat]

The observation of a Sino-Thai rapprochement has to be measured in context though. It is first of all none which is sharply breaking with diplomatic traditions and also not openly provoking established expectations. Rather it might currently be seen as a gradual enhancement which compensates the somehow inevitable temporary post-Coup recession of Thai – US ties, while it also reflects a generally growing Chinese imprint in the region, albeit in a less dramatical form than in many other ASEAN states.

Different from neighboring states like Cambodia and Laos, Thailand still is a close partner of the U.S. and yet, different from Vietnam for instance, also a constant, even if frequently less visible close partner to China which, undisputable, gains relatively influence. Yet, most of all, Thailand is a country pursuing one of the most skillful bamboo diplomacies in the region, a craft that has been cultivated since the days of the beginning Cold War and the non-alignment movement. Recent Sino-Thai developments have to be seen within this frame and within it they make all sense without indicating a profound re-alignment. For the present military government, arms-deals with China seem to have been more convenient than with Western partners for some reasons but should not be overestimated. Regarding its flexible foreign policy in times of aligning spheres of influences, Thailand remains one of currently most interesting countries to watch in the Indo-Pacific region. Given its geo-strategic location, its weight within the ASEAN, its relative stability and long-established partnership with NATO, any sustaining changes to the dominating foreign policy direction would represent one of the more interesting regional developments indeed.

Against this background, the Bangkok Post offers an interesting comment on Thailand’s weight in the Indo – Pacific region that, arguably, reflects the Kingdom’s long established foreign policy dichotomy as much as the shifting realities with the ‘Quad’ dialogue at the center of the current dynamics.

According to Kavi, the author, “Thailand does not want the Indo-Pacific to concentrate on consultations” among the Quad as a major mechanism in the frame of the new US National Defense Strategy with its blunt qualification of Russo and Sino threats at its heart. The instead highlighted Thai preferences for a broader, less security focused Indo-Pacific community might remain a possible goal, but also one which will face increasing pressure by the inevitably emerging tenets of the developing security architecture.

The second point made in the article is a more inclusive security cooperation for the sake of stability and prosperity, both on land and at sea. At the first glance, the reiteration of Thailand’s particular geopolitical location between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and as the destination of important Asian rivers, also hints at the preference to continue an enhancement of connectivity and communication with China. [Bangkok Post]

While Thailand is assumed to support India’s greater engagement in ASEAN and to be integrated in the regional security dialogue with the Cobra Gold exercise leading the way, it is also expected to resist attempts to “turn the Indo-Pacific into a bulwark against China or Russia”. With Thailand taking up the ASEAN chair next year, it will be interesting to see in how far it might successfully mediate with those ASEAN states welcoming the Quad’s entrenchment, with those siding with China, and those who might have their own agenda of a more independently acting ASEAN. [Bangkok Post]

Currently, Thailand seems to pursue a much less accentuated, strategically directed foreign policy regarding the security related looming of greater spheres of influence than other regional actors do. If this will turn out to be a missed opportunity, a blessing or at least to offer the potential to assume the role of regional mediator by which it could buy some time to preserve its dichotomous foreign policy approach remains to be seen.

4 February 2018

Six ASEAN countries form “Our Eyes” intelligence network

(ls) Six Southeast Asian nations launched an intelligence pact on Thursday aimed at combating Islamist militants and improving cooperation on security threats, overcoming what analysts described as a high level of distrust. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei – all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – have signed up to the “Our Eyes” pact according to which senior defence officials will meet every two weeks to swap information on militant groups and develop a common database of violent extremists. [South China Morning Post]

26 January 2018

Thailand: Human trafficking in fishing industry still widespread

(ls) A Human Rights Watch report released this week states that forced labor and other rights abuses are still wide-spread in Thailand’s fishing fleets. Despite significant resources provided to the Thai Ministry of Labour and its de-partments, the report argues that there was no effective or systematic inspection of fishers working aboard Thai ves-sels. Thailand’s fishing industry employs more than 300,000 people, many of them migrant workers from neighbour-ing countries. The sector has long been dogged by allegations of abuses. [Human Rights Watch]

The Royal Thai Police rejected the criticism, claiming a successful crackdown has led to the prosecution of some 100 trafficking suspects and the rescue of 160 victims since May 2015, when the EU issued its “yellow card” warning. Thailand is expecting an updated assessment from the EU in April this year. [Bangkok Post]

In an opinion piece, “The Nation” criticizes Thailand’s general approach to migrant labor, as workers around the country have lately been subjected to a 1979 law that bars foreigners from 39 specific professions, resulting in the arrest of more than 1,600 migrants, mostly from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. The Nation argues that the Labour Ministry is being nationalistic with its crackdown and misleading the people by saying that the foreign workers usurp jobs that Thais could be doing. [The Nation]

26 January 2018

Thailand: “Bangkok Shutdown” leaders indicted for insurrection as uncertainty about future Democrat Party lead-ership continues

(ls) Thailand’s Office of the Attorney-General on Wednesday indicted nine former key members of the Democrat Party on multiple charges relating to the anti-Yingluck Shinawatra government protests in Bangkok in 2013/14 and the so called “Bangkok Shutdown”. The nine were charged with insurrection, illegal assembly and obstructing an election, among others. Among the indicted is also Suthep Thaugsuban, the most prominent figure of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), who was also charged with terrorism. Until recently, it was speculated which role Suthep could play in Thailand’s Democrat Party on the way to parliamentary elections being held in late 2018 or early 2019. [Bangkok Post]

Speculations about the future leadership in the Democrat Party have also reached new heights as former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai has been mentioned in the discussions. Though he is unlikely to take such position, the fact that his name is being suggested at all can provide some insights into the current political situation, both at party and national levels. Former Prime Minister and incumbent Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is put under increasing pressure. [The Straits Times]

26 January 2018

To change Asian geopolitics in Thailand: The Kra – canal

(hg) Since 1677, an ambitious canal project, the Kra – canal, has been contemplated in Thailand in various forms to re-surface now with huge potential impact. This long-envisioned channel through the country’s southern isthmus would connect the Indian and Pacific Oceans and dramatically shorten East-West shipping routes. It would, in fact, save approximately 1,200 kilometers posing an alternative to the Malacca Strait, the world’s busiest maritime area where an estimated 84,000 ships and around 30% of global trade currently passes each year with an estimated increase to over 140,000 per year. Moreover, as much as 80% of China’s fuel imports currently pass through the Malacca Strait. To build the Kra – canal would severely hurt Singapore, potentially form an important part of the Chinese maritime silk-road and cost between US$20-US$30 billion.

If built, the Thai canal would change the Asian geopolitical environment at sea significantly by bypassing Malacca which is easily controlled by the US navy. Even if built, however, the US Navy could still choke the new entry points, the greater efforts notwithstanding. Still, it would create a lane of communication of huge importance giving advantage probably to China.

At present, the Thai Canal Association (TCA), a group of influential former top brass soldiers advocating for the project, is reinforced in its efforts by the Chinese government. Until now, Beijing has publicly distanced itself from private Chinese companies which had engaged Thai trade and lobby groups in favor of the mega project. As a surprising change, China´s newly appointed ambassador to Bangkok seems now to have said in recent high-level meetings that China envisions the Thai canal as part of its US$1 trillion ‘One Belt One Road’ (Obor) global infrastructure initiative. Naturally, this created a new momentum whose backgrounds, implications and potentials are well explored in the Asia Times piece. [Asia Times]

19 January 2018

Thailand: Orders of military junta will remain part of Thai law

(ls) Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) is likely to pass about 50 “Section 44” orders into law to ensure they remain in effect after the dissolution of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), following this year’s parliamentary election. After the military coup of May 2014 and since the enactment of an interim constitution, Section 44 gave NCPO Chief and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha the power to override laws and regulations, without the possibility of judicial review. Critics argue that the Section was used mainly to silence the opposition. [Bangkok Post]

19 January 2018

Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand: Stand-off with EU over palm oil

(ls) The governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are considering their response to the European Union in the dispute over palm oil exports, to the extent of threatening to retaliate with a ban on imports from European countries. “If these hate campaigns and discriminatory policy against palm oil were to go on, we can also retaliate. Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are collectively big purchasers of EU products,” said Malaysian Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong. [New Straits Times]

Last year, the EU Parliament enacted a resolution to phase out the use of palm oil based biodiesel by the end of 2020 in order to prevent further deforestation in palm oil-producing countries. The three Southeast Asian countries, all major palm oil exporters, however, claim that thousands of small farmers rely on the trade with the EU and are not engage in clearing forests for oil palm cultivation. One Malaysian economist opines that Malaysia might have been unfairly targeted. [Free Malaysia Today]

12 January 2018

Thailand: Pre-election speculations and Yingluck’s appearance in the U.K.

(ls) Thailand’s upcoming elections continue to be the subject of various speculations. Against the backdrop of an or-der by Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) which terminated the membership of existing political parties and which was claimed by the NCPO to level the playing field between old and new parties, Khemthong Ton-sakulrungruang analyzes possible exit or non-exit strategies of the current government [New Mandala].

Meanwhile, the Thai Foreign Ministry confirmed on Tuesday that fugitive former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been in London since September. Yingluck mysteriously disappeared shortly before the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions was scheduled to deliver judgement in her rice-pledging scheme corruption trial in August last year [Bangkok Post 1].

At the same time, the luxury watches scandal surrounding Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon continues after photos of, so far, 17 different luxury wristwatches worn by General Prawit appeared on social media. The National Anti-Corruption Commission announced that it will take until the end of this month or early next month to complete its probe into the affair [Bangkok Post 2].

5 January 2018

Thailand: Will there be an election in 2018? And who will be running?

A lot of rumors are circulating in advance of the next parliamentary elections in Thailand, which are scheduled for the end of 2018. Most prominently among the rumors figures the increasingly likely formation of a new political party with close proximity to the ruling military junta. Duncan McCargo assesses different possible scenarios, from another election postponement to a Pheu Thai victory, with or without an unelected individual becoming prime minister [Nikkei Asian Review].

For his part, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared openly for the first time Wednesday that he is no longer a soldier but a politician, though he said he felt compelled to become premier out of a sense of responsibility [Bangkok Post 1]. Meanwhile, Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and Pheu Thai key figure Chaturon Chaisang gave separate interviews to the Bangkok Post, deploring the obstacles created for old and established political parties, while newly established parties appeared to receive a more favorable treatment [Bangkok Post 2]. At the same time, there are indications that Pheu Thai party members have been approached to be recruited for a newly to be formed political party [Bangkok Post 3].

The Nation provides a brief but concise overview of the military government’s roadmap and the detours that have been taken so far. Despite the announcement of elections for 2018, the newspaper holds that the road remains bumpy and difficult, and uncertainty remains [The Nation 1]. In another piece, the Thai elections are put into a wider Southeast Asian perspective, as the upcoming elections in Cambodia, Malaysia as well as Thailand are poised to legitimize authoritarian governments while democratic values and citizen freedoms are increasingly eroded [The Nation 2].

5 January 2018

Will the Mekong River become the new South China Sea?

In 2015, China established the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC), a potentially rival organization to the long-standing Mekong River Commission, which has been around in various guises for more than 60 years, but in which China and Myanmar never participated. Last month, foreign ministers from the six LMC countries met in southwestern China to approve a draft of a five-year development plan for the river. Some analysts argue that the Mekong issue has the potential to be the largest China-Asean conflict flashpoint after the South China Sea, and that Beijing regarded controlling the river as a strategic objective [South China Morning Post].

Thailand’s foreign ministry has just announced that it hopes to push forward concrete cooperation among the LMC countries under the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China. The country will bring documents concerning cooperation of the six riparian countries of the Mekong River for endorsement at the 2nd Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) Leaders’ Meeting next week [Xinhua].