Thai Coup 2014

Thailand's post-coup constitution: Will the people have a say?

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 12, 2015 Thailand’s draft for the next constitution is still subject to heated debate. But  the hottest issue at the moment is whether the Thai people will actually have a say in the next charter via a referendum.

It’s been almost a month now since the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) presented the fruits of their labor with the new draft that will become Thailand’s 20th constitution (download the draft and English translation here, more analysis in the coming weeks) - that is, if it actually survives the coming weeks and months.

Since a military coup ousted the popularly elected but embattled government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra almost exactly a year ago, Thailand’s military junta government is trying its absolute best to ensure that this draft, and with it its singular vision about the country’s political power structure, is written into law with minimal changes.

After the previous military coup of 2006 that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra the Constitution of 1997 was scrapped. Instead of what was widely regarded as the "People’s Constitution" that pushed Thailand towards democracy, the interim government drew up the 2007 Constitution. It included stipulations like a two-term limit for the prime minister, a half-appointed senate and easier processes to impeach the government.

Curiously, and specified in the 2006 interim constitution, the then-military junta put this draft to a referendum and launched a far-reaching PR-campaign (knowing well that it controlled the airwaves, see more examples herehere, and here) calling on the people to vote in favor of it. Eventually, the referendum in August 2007 went in favor of the constitution with 58 to 42 per cent (turnout: 57 per cent) and elections were held later that year in December - only for another Thaksin-associated party to come to power (and later repeated in 2011 with Thaksin’s sister Yingluck).

Now, with the 2007 version thrown into the bin again, another Shinawatra government toppled, and the military tightening its grip on power, a new draft has been drawn up by the junta’s all-appointed Constitutional Drafting Committee and the question many are asking is if there will be a referendum again?

There were signs as early as one month after the coup that the military is against a referendum this time. Then later in October - with the country still under martial law - National Reform Council (NRC) member Chai-Anan Samudavanija had this rather singular take on the issue:

Once the constitution had been drafted, he saw no need for a national referendum, because there weren’t any clearly conflicting issues.

“Usually, a referendum is required when opinions are split between alternative options; whether society wants A or B. However in the current situation, those alternative options aren’t apparent, therefore, a referendum is not necessary.”

“Public endorsement of the constitution can, instead, be demonstrated through the absence of public dissent,” he pointed out.

'Fewer MPs would mean less corruption’”, The Nation, October 13, 2015 - via Bangkok Pundit

The referendum issue flared up again in March when the sidelined political parties from both sides of the spectrum (the ousted, Thaksin-associated Pheu Thai Party and the opposition, ‘Democrat’ Party) started to become more vocal:

In an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, Pheu Thai legal experts, led by Pongthep Thepkanchana and secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai, insist a referendum must be carried out — and the public should be given a choice of an alternative if they don't like the one currently being written.

Asking the public to simply accept or reject the new charter is not enough, they say. The voters should be given options and allowed to pick a version of a charter — for example the 1997 version — if they disagree with the coup-sponsored draft.

The experts' suggestion is in line with what the Democrat Party has proposed, but the Democrats called for the 2007 version (…) to be one of the choices. (…) [Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva] outlined his support for a referendum in a previous interview with the Bangkok Post, saying it will not only ensure the legitimacy of the new charter, but it will also help quell any suspicions the charter has been designed to allow the coup-makers and other bodies set up after the coup to prolong their hold on power.

Pheu Thai backs charter referendum”, Bangkok Post, March 16, 2015

These calls were repeated by both parties and have been echoed in the most unlikeliest of places, as both NRC member Alongkorn Polabutr and even the CDC’s chairman Borwornsak Uwanno voiced their support for a vote by the people.

However, the military junta government is still staunchly against this and put some people back in their place:

"The CDC needs not say anything because a public referendum is neither the matter nor duty of the drafting panel," Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngarm said. "It is the matter for the cabinet and the National Council for Peace and Order to decide." (…) "The CDC's job was finished once it completed drafting the new constitution," Mr Wissanu said.

Govt lashes out at CDC, NRC for referendum remarks”, Bangkok Post, April 30, 2015

However, junta leader and Prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha said on the same day that it’s not up to him but the CDC and NRC to decide whether or not to hold a referendum. The question here if he was either referring to himself as the prime minister or the leader of the “National Council for Peace and Order” (NCPO), as the junta is officially called, since both positions are occupied by him - in the same way many positions are in the NCPO and in the cabinet.

Meanwhile, civil society groups are speaking up on this matter, while academics, activists, students, NGOs and alternative media organizations have launched their pro-referendum campaign with the unveiling of the website prachamati.org (the Thai word for referendum), providing a forum where users can debate and vote on crucial parts of the draft constitution - because that’s exactly what’s currently not happening in the real world.

We can expect a pretty clear schedule in the coming weeks: The cabinet and the junta (essentially the same people) submit their comments to the CDC by May 25. Then the CDC has until July 23 to amend the draft and send the final version to the NRC, which has two weeks to review and approve by August 6 - or not and then start the whole process all over again.

The issue of whether or not to let the Thai people vote on the new constitution is yet another thorny one for the military junta, which doesn't like leaving anything to chance (or rather choice in this case), most evidently illustrated by the junta’s threat in case of a referendum to delay the future election even further into 2016.

After martial law in Thailand, there is Article 44 - and a backlash against the junta

Originally published at Siam Voices on April 2, 2015 The removal of martial law in Thailand has not been met with relief, but with more anxiety and criticism - not only from abroad - amid fears of a descent into a fully-fledged dictatorship under Article 44, which gives the junta near-absolute power.

Television viewers in Thailand saw their regular programs interrupted Wednesday evening for an official statement. First came a statement from the Royal Gazette declaring that King Bhumibol Adulyadej had approved the removal of martial law throughout* the country, effective immediately. This was widely expected, as Thai military junta leader and Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha asked the King for permission earlier this week and it was just a matter of time for it to be granted.

Martial law was declared shortly before Thai military staged a coup almost a year ago on May 22, 2014. It gave the junta far-reaching powers to detain people without charges, send them to military court, ban public rallies and political seminars, and impose stringent media censorship.

"There is no need to use martial law anymore,” said the royal announcement on the evening of April 1. Thankfully it wasn't an April Fool's joke, and what followed instead was no joke either.

On Tuesday before the announcement we already talked about Article 44 of the military-installed interim constitution that will be utilized from now on to "maintain peace and order". The section gives prime minister Gen. Prayuth unprecedented, very far-reaching powers to issue any order to maintain what he thinks is "national security" and "public unity" for an indefinite amount of time with no political or judicial oversight.

The TV announcement Wednesday also included "Order Number 3/2558", issued by Gen. Prayuth as head of the “National Council for Peace and Order” (NCPO), as the military junta formally calls itself.

The communique (which can be read in its entirety here and translated into English here) lists 14 regulations which stipulate that every military officer ranked Lieutenant or above is tasked to be a "Peace Keeping Officer” (sic!), authorized to summon and detain suspects without charge for up to seven days, seize and search properties without warrant, ban public gatherings of more than five people, and censor the media, among other actions, without any liability. (A detailed critical analysis can be read here.)

So why has martial law been lifted, when replacing it with Article 44 only strengthens the junta's grip on power? One main reason is that martial law has discouraged a lot of tourists and foreign investment to come to Thailand.

Another argument is that martial law has been one of the main points of contention by foreign governments, as they have repeatedly called for its repeal as a first step back to democratic civilian rule. But as reactions from abroad have shown, nobody’s buying the junta's alternative.

The European Union published a statement saying Wednesday’s orders ”does not bring Thailand closer to [a] democratic and accountable government.” A representative of the U.S. State Department expressed concern ”that moving to a security order (...) will not accomplish any of these objectives," while calling for ”a full restoration of civil liberties in Thailand.”

But the strongest response came from Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who wrote this borderline scathing statement:

Normally I would warmly welcome the lifting of martial law – and indeed strongly advocated for it to be lifted in Thailand, (…) But I am alarmed at the decision to replace martial law with something even more draconian (…) This clearly leaves the door wide open to serious violations of fundamental human rights. I appeal to the Government to ensure that these extraordinary powers, even if provided for by the Interim Constitution, will nevertheless not be exercised imprudently.” (…)

The NCPO Order issued on Wednesday also annihilates freedom of expression.

UN Human Rights Chief alarmed by Thai Government’s adoption of potentially unlimited and “draconian” powers”, United Nations Office High Commissioner for Human Rights, April 2, 2015

This is the second strongly worded statement by the UN this week alone after they criticized Gen. Prayuth's threat to execute reporters critical of the junta.

The Thai military government already anticipated such criticism from abroad, as for instance deputy prime minister Wissanu Kruea-ngam argued that Article 44 is "the best option" to regain international confidence while still maintaining national security. Meanwhile his colleague, deputy prime minister, former army chief and the junta's (nominal) number two General Prawit Wongsuwan lashed out against critics, saying that "no real Thai is afraid of Article 44", but only foreigners. His advisor Panitan Wattanayagorn urged the United Nations' officers to "study the text carefully." Gen. Prayuth himself on the other hand simply shrugged it off when asked by reporters.

One thing is for sure given the reactions: there’s hardly anybody that is being hoodwinked, anybody being bamboozled or anybody being led astray by this nominal change, as many see right through the junta’s gambit - if it ever was supposed to be one.

*Note: Martial law has been in effect in the provinces Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and parts of Songkhla at the South border since 2004 and is not being affected by the latest or any other previous NCPO order.

Assuming absolute control: Thai military junta revokes martial law, but...

Originally published at Siam Voices on April 1, 2015 UPDATE [April 1, 2015]: Martial law has been officially lifted, according to a Royal Gazette statement televised (full PDF in Thai) on Wednesday evening at around 9.40pm local Bangkok time. As widely expected, Article 44 of the interim constitution is being referred to instead along with orders for every military officer with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and above to "maintain peace" and those ranked below acting as their assistants, authorizing them to summon, detain suspects, confiscate and enter premises without a warrant. More details about Article 44 in the original story below and an English-language summary on the additional stipulations of the order can be read here by legal expert Verapat Pariyawong.

ORGINAL STORY

The good news: the Thai military junta may soon lift martial law, which has been in place for nearly a year. The bad news: it will be replaced by something worse that could give junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha much more power.

You know there's a problem when even Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NRHC) makes a stand. The normally tepid and toothless paper tiger of a human rights watchdog criticized the military junta’s plans to replace the still ongoing martial law with something even worse.

Martial law was declared before Thai military staged a coup almost a year ago, which gives them far-reaching powers to detain people without charges, send them to military court, ban public rallies and political seminars, and impose stringent media censorship. The interim constitution was put in place shortly thereafter in July 2014.

Needless to say, the military government’s handling - or rather mishandling - of civil liberties under martial law has drawn heavy criticism, especially from many foreign countries, who demand the repeal of it.

Developments this week suggest that martial law will likely be indeed revoked. However - and this is what has alarmed the NHRC, among others - the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), as the junta formally calls itself, plans to replace it with this:

Section 44. In the case where the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order is of opinion that it is necessary for the benefit of reform in any field and to strengthen public unity and harmony, or for the prevention, disruption or suppression of any act which undermines public peace and order or national security, the Monarchy, national economics or administration of State affairs, whether that act emerges inside or outside the Kingdom, the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order shall have the powers to make any order to disrupt or suppress regardless of the legislative, executive or judicial force of that order. In this case, that order, act or any performance in accordance with that order is deemed to be legal, constitutional and conclusive, and it shall be reported to the National Legislative Assembly and the Prime Minister without delay.

Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (Interim), B.E. 2557 (2014) - Unofficial translation

In layman’s terms, the head of the junta General Prayuth Chan-ocha can issue any order he thinks is appropriate to ensure what he thinks is "national security”, ”public unity and harmony” or ”public peace and order”, without any judicial and political oversight other than to immediately report to the fully-appointed, military-dominated ersatz-parliament (the National Legislative Assembly) and the Prime Minister - who happens to be General Prayuth Chan-ocha as well. A practical and handy carte blanche.

General Prayuth himself said on Tuesday that he has asked King Bhumibol Adulyadej for permission to lift martial law. Though this is seen as something of a formality.

Ever since the hostile power takeover last May, the military government has been in tight control of nearly every aspect of the Thai political discourse (e.g. the junta’s constitutional drafters are wrapping up their work on a new full charter soon). So it is not surprising that they want to maintain that for the short and mid-term future, while at the same time trying to pacify the criticism against them by doing away one of the main issues.

The problem is that the same critics (including this blog) see right through this move and are now concerned that Article 44 gives Gen. Prayuth unprecedented, nigh absolute powers to do nearly everything and also for an indefinite amount of time, regardless of the junta’s much purported "reform roadmap" to return "true democracy" to Thailand sometime soon.

Many observers have drawn a comparison to Article 17 of the interim constitution of 1952, which contains some very uncanny parallels…

. . . whenever the Prime Minister deems it appropriate for the purpose of impressing or suppressing actions, whether of internal or external origin, which jeopardize the national security or the Throne or subvert or threaten law and order, the Prime Minister, by resolution of the Council of Ministers, is empowered to issue orders to take steps accordingly. Such orders or steps shall be considered legal.

—Article 17, Interim Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, 2502 B.E. [1952 C.E.]

From: ”Article 17, a Totalitarian Movement, and a Military Dictatorship”, by Tyrell Haberkorn, Cultural Anthropology, September 23, 2014

This section was created during the dictatorship of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat (1958–1963) and later used frequently during the equally ruthless rule of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn (1963–1973), both of whom authorized a total of 76 executions based on this passage.

The junta is currently busy trying to convince people that history is not going to repeat itself. The chairman of the National Legislative Assembly Pornpetch Wichitcholchai has urged the Thai people to simply ”trust” Gen. Prayuth, while the deputy PM and effectively the junta’s number two, Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, has assured that the law will only be used for protection against "ill-intended elements", and effectively told the NHRC to buzz off.

Meanwhile, his more cantankerous and (nominal) superior Gen. Prayuth had a hard time himself dispelling criticism and ended up chewing out yet another reporter at a press conference on Monday, singling out a Channel 7 journalist (an army-owned TV channel, no less) while insisting that he’s not angry - and that on heels of him quipping last week that he would "execute" critical reporters.

His promise to use the law "constructively" is to be met with skepticism, since civil liberties have taken a nosedive since the coup almost 11 months ago and Article 44 seems to be Gen. Prayuth’s catch-all solution to nearly all problems. He has already indicted that he will utilize it rather creatively, resolving issues concerning forest encroachment and apparent safety issues of Thailand-based airlines which have led several Asian countries to ban new flights after the International Civil Aviation Organisation raised concerns.

The question is not so much if Gen. Prayuth is going to (ab)use the power bestowed on him by Article 44 - the fact that he has these powers and he sees the need to still have them in the first place to cement his rule is more worrying.

To borrow a much-used phrase by a 19th-century English politician: ”Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Thai junta's lawmakers see 'nothing wrong' with hiring family members

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 2, 2015 Dozens of Thailand's lawmakers have employed their family members with state money and see nothing wrong with that, while they claim to eradicate exactly that kind of behavior out of Thai politics.

The Thai military junta pledged to do everything better and cleaner than their politician counterparts when they executed their hostile takeover of powers in a coup last year. The mindset of them and their allies is that Thai politics is so tainted with corruption it is incapable of redeeming itself, hence the indefinite suspension of electoral democracy and an almost crusade-like campaign to "eradicate" corruption from Thai politics. In order to achieve this, the junta has created fully appointed government bodies that have been busy "reforming" the country and also claim to adhere to a very high ethical standard.

And then this happens:

report published by the investigative newsite Isra News revealed that 57 lawmakers in the 220-member National Legislative Assembly (NLA) have hired their own spouses, siblings, children, and cousins as staff.

Salaries for the aides range from 15,000 - 24,000 baht per month. The positions awarded to relatives include legislative specialists, who must hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, experts, who need at least three years of relevant work experience, and assistants, who must be at least 18 years old.

"Thai Government Defends Hiring Relatives", Khaosod English, February 28, 2015

For example, Nipon Narapitakkul has appointed his wife, daughter and son to help with his work while Adm Taratorn Kajitsuwan appointed his wife and daughter.

As the regulation states that one person can take only one position at a time, Adm Taratorn appointed his wife three times to different positions, with the latest one as personal specialist, effective on Jan 1, 2015.

"57 lawmakers name kin as aides", Bangkok Post, February 27, 2015

This is rather embarrassing for these people since they are supposed to be much, much better than your regular (elected) politicians. In fact, it is the same political camp - though a different government body (the Constitutional Drafting Committee) - that has recently floated the proposal to have an "indirectly elected" Senate that is essentially nothing but a fully appointed one, as we have deconstructed last week.

It is also the same political camp that have been vocally against the constitutional amendments by the government of then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (ironically the younger sister of former Premier Thaksin) that would have not only made the Senate a fully elected one, but also done away with the one term-limits and (surprise!) direct relatives of politicians to run for office - a regulation previously set by the 2007 Constitution after the previous military coup of 2006! The opponents were that vocal, so much so that they dragged the case to the Constitutional Court and won.

So, how are the current military government and its lawmakers reacting? Like nothing has happened apparently:

National Legislative Assembly President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai said the regulations did not prohibit NLA members from appointing their spouses and children as their helpers, and thus making them eligible for salaries from the state.

When asked whether the practice was appropriate, Pornpetch said the NLA simply wanted to have helpers whom they could trust and the practice has been done earlier.

"President says NLA members can hire spouses, children as helpers", The Nation, February 27, 2015

Today [Saturday] a member of the ruling military junta also came out to defend the practice.

"I share the same view as Mr. Pornpetch. They didn't break any laws," said army chief and junta member Gen. Udomdet Sitabutr. "Your relatives have knowledge and expertise, and be qualified for the jobs. This is personal matter, and it is in accordance with the regulations about what is prohibited and what is not prohibited."

"Thai Government Defends Hiring Relatives", Khaosod English, February 28, 2015

And of course, the junta leader and Prime Minister also chimed in on this as well, saying that

พล.อ.ประยุทธ์ จันทร์โอชา นายกรัฐมนตรี (...) ว่า (...) อย่าไปพันกันกับเรื่องสภาผัว-สภาเมีย เพราะมันคนละสมัย ครั้งนั้นก็บอกว่ากฎหมายไม่ได้ห้าม ครั้งนี้ก็เหมือนกัน (...)

Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha (...) said that (...) this shouldn't be confused for the house-wife Senate [as mentioned above] because that was at a different time and back then it wasn't illegal either, as it is this time (...).

มีเหตุผลความจำเป็นหรือไม่ หรืออาจจะเขียนกฎหมายในรัฐธรรมนูญหรือระเบียบเพื่อระบุว่ากลไกเหล่านี้จะต้องไม่มีครอบครัวซึ่งจะเขียนได้หรือไม่ตนก็ไม่ทราบ (...) เพราะทุกคนก็ต้องการประชาธิปไตยอีกทั้งเป็นเรื่องส่วนบุคคลด้วย เรื่องนี้คงต้องพูดด้วยกฎหมาย แต่ถ้าถามตนว่าถูกหรือไม่ ตนไม่ขอตอบ

"Whether or not it is necessary to write in the constitution or into law to specify that there can be no family members [being employed] I don't know, (...) because everybody needs democracy, but it is also a personal matter. This matter has to be addressed by law but if you ask me if it's right or wrong, I prefer not to answer.

"นายกฯยันสนช.ตั้งลูก เมีย ญาติเป็นที่ปรึกษาได้ ไม่ผิดกม.", Krungthep Turakij, March 1, 2015

The problem in this obvious case of nepotism is not so much whether or not it is illegal (it isn't, but then again it's the junta currently making up their own new rules), but rather that it is highly unethical, especially because this government and its fully-appointed bodies claims to adhere itself to a much higher ethical standard.

Tongue-Thai’ed! - Special Edition: Top 10 things the junta said in 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 31, 2014 This is part XXVIII of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

An image of the military junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha is displayed on a giant screen during the army-organised concert at Siam Paragon shopping mall on June 26, 2014. (Pic: Khaosod/Facebook)

As you may have noticed, we here at Siam Voices have used our light-hearted Tongue-Thai'ed!-section not as much in 2014 as we would have liked to, since the coup and the ongoing authoritarian rule by the military junta were mostly no laughing matter. However, the generals now in charge of nearly every aspect of life in Thailand are not shy when it comes to sharing their ideas to the population - with varying results.

Former army-chief, now Prime Minister and junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has always been an outspoken man (as seen pre-coup here, here, here, here and here) and had a lot to say since the takeover of power over seven months ago. And while many things that the junta said have serious and dire implications for the foreseeable future, one can't help laugh at the generals' (delusions of) grand(eur) visions. You simply can't make this stuff up - hm, which would explain why the satirical Not the Nation hasn't written anything new in a while...

So without further ado, here's the definitively incomplete look at the top 10 things the Thai military junta said this past year, ranked in reverse order of ridiculousness/outlandishness:

10. General Prayuth Chan-ocha - As an example that he seems to know pretty much everything, he offered to improve the popular, but infamous Thai TV soap operas and he knows exactly where the problems are:

"I have ordered that scripts be written, including plays on reconciliation, on tourism and on Thai culture," Prayuth told reporters. "They are writing plots at the moment and if they can't finish it I will write it myself," he said of a team of government-appointed writers.

"Thai PM bemoans divisive soap operas, offers to write better ones", Reuters, September 26, 2014

9. Lt.-Gen. Suchart Pongput - The secretary-general of the junta’s media watchdog has his very own definition of press freedom:

“Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister and NCPO leader, has never censored the media. We are open, but please stay within the limits. [We] don’t want any colour. [You media] must report news positively. Sometimes, headlines lead to discomfort. Please don’t make them too harsh, although I understand that [headlines] are the highlights, but please soften them. I’d like to ask for the cooperation of columnists too. You editors please remind them for me,” the Daily News quoted Suchai as saying.

"Thai junta: we don’t limit media freedom but freedom must be within limits", Prachatai English, November 14, 2014

8. Admiral Narong Pipatanasai - The former navy chief and now Education Minister overseeing the junta's education "reform" found an unlikely kindred spirit when he met the North Korean Ambassador to Thailand:

According to the Office of the Minister Newsline, Admiral Narong Pipatanasai, the Thai Education Minister, (...) met with Mun Song Mo, the Ambassador of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea on Friday at Government House. The two agreed that the educational systems of both countries are similar. The similar elements include free 12-year basic education. Moreover, a few students from North Korea come to Thailand to study.

"Thai Education Minister: Thai education resembles North Korea", Prachatai English, November 17, 2014

7. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, again - As persistent criticism of the military government remains, the junta has moved against universities and detained academics for holding political forums. Amidst that, General Prayuth gave his reasoning why there shouldn't be any critical discussion now:

"Please understand that I don't come from an election. I'm well aware of that. So please put on hold all political criticism and forums on politics," said the prime minister, who came to administrative power through a military coup on May 22.

"'Unelected' Prayut warns against political forums", Bangkok Post, September 19, 2014

6. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul - After the murder of two British tourists in September and following messy police investigation that resulted in the rather suspicious arrest of two Burmese men (the trial started on December 26), the Tourism Minister's had some novel ideas on how to ensure tourist safety:

Under the new plan, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said hotels would hand out wristbands to tourists on check-in that would show a “serial number that matches their I.D. and shows the contact details of the resort they are staying in”. It was not immediately clear whether tourists would be obliged to wear the wristbands. (…)

Minister Kobkarn added Tuesday: “The next step would be some sort of electronic tracking device but this has not yet been discussed in detail.”

Thailand considers ID wristbands for tourists“, Asian Correspondent, September 30, 2014

5. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, once more - After the murder of the aforementioned two British tourists, it was critical that the Thai military government reacted to this murder case with the appropriate sensitivity in order to show the world how serious his administration was taking this bloody crime. Unfortunately though, it didn’t turn out that way:

“There are always problems with tourist safety. They think our country is beautiful and is safe so they can do whatever they want, they can wear bikinis and walk everywhere,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is also the army chief, told government officials. But “can they be safe in bikinis… unless they are not beautiful?” he said, addressing the issue of tourist safety in a speech broadcast live on television.

Thai PM questions if ‘tourists in bikinis’ safe after murders“, AFP, September 17, 2014

He would later apologise for his flippant remark.

4. Maj.-Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd - In his quest for regaining international recognition, General Prayuth took his first major trip to the West to attend the Asia-Europe Meeting in Milan. However, there were protesters telling him that he's not welcome. The junta spokesman sees this differently - that is, if he has seen anything at all:

"There have been claims on social media and a number of websites, especially on a website called Thai E News, about images that attempt to depict a protest against Gen. Prayuth and his delegates," said Maj.Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd. "Let me stress that these claims are false."

"Govt Insists Images of Milan Anti-Prayuth Protest Are Fake", Khaosod English, October 17, 2014

Quite a few would disagree with him later.

3. General Thanasak Patimaprakorn - The junta's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister has recently summed up his work to regain said international recognition - and he was quite proud of it:

"คนทั่วโลกมี 6 พันกว่าล้านคน เราได้แล้วประมาณ 4700 ล้านคนที่เป็นฝ่ายเรา 100 เปอร์เซนต์ (...)" พล.อ.ธนศักดิ์ กล่าว

"Of the 6 billion people on this world, 4.7 billion already support us 100 per cent (...)," Gen. Thanasak said.

"รมต.ต่างประเทศ เชื่อคนมากกว่าครึ่งโลกเห็นด้วยกับรัฐบาล ยันต่างชาติเชื่อมั่นไทย", Matichon, December 25, 2014

2. General Thanasak Patimaprakorn, again -  A couple days later, he backed up the previous diplomatic claim with some more breath-taking math:

พลเอกธนะศักดิ์ ปฏิมาประกร (...) กล่าวถึงการทำงานของรัฐบาล ช่วงที่ผ่านมา ว่า ได้ได้เดินหน้าตามแผนโรดแมปที่วางเอาไว้ ทำให้ประเทศต่างๆทั่วโลก ร้อยละ 85 เชื่อมั่น

General Thanasak Patimaprakorn (...) referring to the government's recent performance, said that it has progressed according to the roadmap [and] of the all the countries worldwide, 85 per cent are confident [with us]

"“พล.อ.ธนะศักดิ์” ระบุ 85% ประเทศทั่วโลกเชื่อมั่นรัฐบาลไทย", Spring News, December 30, 2014

And the number 1 is from... you guessed it...Prime Minister Prayuth!

He was referring to the media's suggestions for him to try to improve his personality. "I would like to thank [the media] for warning and suggestions. I won't change my personality because I am a person with multiple personalities," Prayut said.

"Prayut admits he has 'multiple personalities'", The Nation, November 3, 2014

Honorable mention: While not necessarily a quote but there were two incidents that shows General Prayuth's rather sardonic relationship with the press:

Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the head of the Thai junta, was caught on camera by Thairath throwing a banana peel at a cameraman’s head in front of the media and several others during a public event on Wednesday.

The mocking action from the junta head and now Thai Prime Minister seemed to draw laughter from the crowd at the event, who had probably witnessed his unique mocking style before.

In late November, he was also recorded on camera pulling the ears and ruffling the hair of a reporter while the reporter was reaching out with his microphone and kneeling down so that he would not be in the camera frame.

Earlier in late September, he mocked a journalist during a press conference at Government House with his now iconic sentence “I’ll smack you with the podium” after he was asked whether he intended to be PM from a coup d’état only, but not from an election.

"Thai junta leader throws banana peel at cameraman’s head", Prachatai English, December 24, 2014

Thailand in 2014: Some personal thoughts

Originally published on Siam Voices on December 30, 2014 Looking back in the past 12 months in Thailand I’m reminded of the 'The Fire Raisers' ('Biedermann und die Brandstifter'). The play written by Swiss author Max Frisch in 1953 is set in a town regularly attacked by arsonists who talk their way into their victims’ homes to set off the fires.

The central character is a moralistic businessman who pledges not to be taken in by them, only to have the very same arsonists coercing themselves into his home and filling his attic with oil drums. Refusing to believe until the very end that his ”guests” are actually the arsonists - despite being always openly blunt about their intentions - the businessman in the end even gives them the matches to set the fire, actively becoming an accomplice to the crime and the demise of himself and the entire town.

So, in the parable that was Thailand in the year 2014, who were the fire raisers and who the arsonists?

The anti-government protests that ended 2013 continued and gathered pace in 2014. Be it their prolonged blockades of the streets of Bangkok, the harassment or open assault on members of the media or the obstruction of fellow Thais from exercising their democratic right to vote in the February 2 elections, with each passing week it became more clearer the the people behind the protests didn't want more democracy, but less of it.

The protesters themselves - spectating in the thousands, blowing whistles in the ten of thousands and taking selfies in the millions - may not be the villains, yet they were dangerously confusing naive idealism for misplaced fear of the political forces they were protesting against, while missing the bigger threat looming in the shadows.

And they even helped measuring the fuse, not (willingly) knowing for what.

Nevertheless, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuagsuban and almost the entire former leadership of the absolutely misnamed ”Democrat” Party, the daily delusions of grandeur, the political weaponization of the Thai flag and the spurious claims of righteousness and a self-proclaimed moral high ground enabled the complete disruption of any reasonable political discourse.

And the attic was stacked to the brim with petrol drums.

The so-called "independent" agencies also did their part  - such as the reluctant Election Commission and the Constitutional Court - annulling the successfully sabotaged February 2 elections and eventually chasing then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra out of office. With the man-made political impasse in place, Thailand’s military was free to launch the coup of May 22, 2014.

We have already extensively discussed in our week-long special last month about what has happened to Thailand under the military junta after the 12th coup in Thailand's history and will continue to do so going forward.

But it still bears repeating: The rule of the military junta led by former army chief and now-Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha is both tight- and ham-fisted in its sovereignty, both overzealous and insecure in its confidence, and both clear and vague in its intentions. The deep re-imagineering of the country, its political system, its teaching and its "myths" will irreconcilably scar Thailand for years to come and an end is not in sight, as the junta can conveniently move its goal posts (i.e. until new elections) indefinitely.

If this year were a play then we’ve been in the afterpiece for quite some time and still don’t know when it will end. But the afterpiece also reflects on what has been before.

A year ago, both The Nation and the Bangkok Post crowned the anti-government protesters as 'People of the Year' - only then to see that they were in fact anti-democracy protests. It was political blindness to a possible transformation, complacency to adapt to another reality and sheer intellectual failure to face a new tomorrow. It was that well-maintained ignorance that eventually culminated in the death of Thai democracy as we know it.

And they handed them the matches in blind faith.

With martial law still in effect and critics and dissidents being silenced, the whistle mob of last year has gone quiet, either silently enjoying their ”victory” - Suthep, who has admitted that it was planned all along, is now practically in political refuge as a monk - or slowly realizing that the cost of said "victory" was too high.

2014 was a bad year for Thailand and hardly anything points to any improvement in 2015. Is that assessment bleak? Absolutely. A little bit too cynical? Perhaps. But what the protests, the coup and the rule of the military junta shows is that a change is in progress in Thailand, it has just been halted yet again by a few not able to see that yet - or as one of the arsonists in 'The Fire Raisers' put it:

Jest is the third best disguise. The second best: sentimentality. (...) But the best and most safe disguise is still the blunt and naked truth. Oddly enough. Nobody believes that!

Thai junta seeks deeper 'China pivot', lauds Beijing's leadership style

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 29, 2014 Thai prime minister and junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinxing during APAC Bilateral Meeting at the Great Hall of the People on November 9, 2014 in Beijing, China. (Picture: Facebook/Khaosod)

Thailand's military government is seemingly seeking closer ties with China, as seen with the approval of a big infrastructure project and some odd words by Thai junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

It is no big surprise that Thailand is not on best terms with some countries since the coup and still has an uphill task to gain the international reputation and respect it craves, despite being an authoritarian military government that does not tolerate dissent and continues to move the date for promised elections further and further into 2016.

With many relations - especially with Western countries - decidedly chilly (we reported), Thailand is looking closer to home for allies. We have previously reported that neighboring Cambodia and Burma have welcomed the military junta and gave their amicable endorsement of the new regime. And while it has maintained the familiar official stance talking to those countries that "understand" Thailand and those who "don't understand" (read: all those that condemned the coup), it nonetheless tries to play nice with countries that play a crucial economic role, especially with Thailand's biggest foreign investor Japan.

The other regional superpower Thailand's junta has been trying to court is China. Given that nearly all Western countries - especially the United States - have downgraded (but not completely given up due to strategic reasons) their relations with Thailand since the coup, it did not come as a surprise when then-army chief and still-to-this-day-junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha greeted Chinese businessmen as his first guests shortly after the coup of May 22 in an effort to woo investors back to the country and help jump start Thailand's struggling economy. That was shortly followed by a visit of Thai military commanders to China.

Other bilateral meetings between Prayuth and Chinese leaders took place during the Asia-Europe Meeting in October, where he met China's premier Li Keqiang and a month later at the APEC Conference hosted in Beijing with president Xi Jingping. The latter would welcome Prayuth again to the Chinese capital last week, where both countries signed a memorandum of understanding to develop and build a "medium-speed" rail network linking the countries.

And it was after that most recent visit General Prayuth Prayuth said in his weekly TV address last Friday:

"I spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping and he told me that 60 years ago his country was (one of) the poorest in the world. In 30 years they were able to make their country a world economic superpower," Prayuth said. "But we are still bickering amongst ourselves."

"Thai leader cites China as positive example in year-end message", Reuters, December 25, 2014

It's not so much the envy towards China's economic growth and power that is striking, but the apparent perception by the junta leader that the "bickering" in the Thai political discourse is what's holding us back. One could mark this down as yet another of the half-baked throwaway thoughts that General Prayuth has become quite (in)famous for. He essentially ignores the fact this "bickering" is in fact the political discourse that in the past decade has turned into an ongoing crisis mostly because of the refusal of the politically established elite to accommodate a changing social and political landscape, as this blog has debated for years and most recently here. Also, it doesn't help that the junta is intolerant of dissent and criticism, as evident in yet another blow-out by Prayuth against the press, threatening to shut shut dissenting outlets down - a threat supported by his deputy.

Nevertheless, Prayuth's remark also hints at a genuine reverence towards an effective, authoritarian one-party rule in exchange for economic propensity. With the junta currently sitting comfortably in power (in part thanks to ongoing martial law)  and pushing its political "reforms" through appointed bodies, it can consider implementing some of these elements, as the some of the constant chatter from the Constitutional Drafting Committee suggests:

ส่วน คสช.จะทำหน้าที่ต่อไป โดยอาจปรับเปลี่ยนใหม่ อาจเป็นรูปแบบของ "คณะกรรมการพิทักษ์รัฐธรรมนูญ" เพื่อดูแลการทำงานของรัฐบาล ซึ่งจะมีลักษณะคล้ายกับรูปแบบของกรรมการโปลิตบูโร

Concerning the future of the “National Council for Peace and Order” [NCPO, the junta's official name], it may be transformed into something like a "Committee to Protect the Constitution" that oversees the work of the government,  similar to a politburo.

"สะพัด! คสช.เสนอโมเดลใหม่! สส.ลต.รวมสว.สรรหา 500 คน-ให้คสช.อยู่ต่อ ควบคุมรัฐบาล", Matichon, December 23, 2014

A politburo is an executive committee usually found in one-party-ruled, communist countries like, guess what, China! Now, the idea here seems to be more that the junta will remain to co-exist beside a partially or fully elected parliament and would hawkishly watch over the government.

With the number of possible partners abroad ever dwindling - in contrast with the foreign minister stating that Thailand is getting "due recognition" by "4.7bn" of the world that support the junta "100 per cent" - Thailand's military junta hopes that its relationship with China may be its ace in the hole. But that may turn out to be a zero-sum game because, as The Economist argued, in the end China has nothing significant to gain or to lose from this relationship, while the junta is under more pressure (especially domestically) to deliver on all fronts.

LINE denies Thai junta’s claim it is monitoring popular chat app

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 23, 2014 Claims by the Thai military junta that it is monitoring the popular chat app LINE for content deemed insulting towards the monarchy have been refuted by South Korea-based parent company Naver.

The Thai Minister for Information and Communication Technology (MICT) Pornchai Rujiprap stated on Monday that the authorities can "monitor all the nearly 40 million LINE messages sent by people in Thailand each day." LINE has at least 24 million registered users in Thailand, according to the company's latest figures in August - while Pornchai estimated the number to be at 33 million users, based on his own claims.

He continued:

"We can see what type of messages are being forwarded," Pornchai told reporters, "We focus especially on those that are libelous, anti-monarchy, or threatening national security." (...)

"The suspects cannot claim that they were not aware of the consequences of their actions, because the law regards them as conspirators in the crimes," Pornchai said, "Therefore, if you receive [anti-monarchy] messages, you should not forward them."

The Minister also vowed to seek IP addresses and other information about anti-monarchy websites from foreign companies that host their servers, though he admitted that the process could take a long time.

"It could take a long while because there needs to be a negotiation. Some countries have cultures that are different to Thai," Pornchai explained.

"ICT Pledges To Sniff Out Anti-Monarchy Chat Messages", Khaosod English, December 23, 2014

The South Korean parent company of LINE has been quick to dismiss the junta's claims:

“No monitoring by the Thailand government has been conducted,” Nam Ji Woong, a spokesman for South Korea-based Naver Corp., which owns Line Corp., said by e-mail today. “Line considers consumers’ privacy as a top priority.”

"Line Application Denies Reports Thailand Is Monitoring Messages", Bloomberg News, December 23, 2014

The draconian lèse majesté law criminalizes perceived criticism of Thailand's monarchy and carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail. Charges based on this law, where every citizen can file a complaint against anyone and police are obliged to investigate every one of them, have seen a rampant rise in recent years and even more so since the military coup of May 22, 2014. According to the Thai legal watchdog ilaw at least 22 people have been arrested on lèse majesté charges since the coup and also on the equally draconian yet vague worded Computer Crimes Act, which also penalizes digital content deemed a threat to national security.

The military junta - more than ever the self-proclaimed protector of the Thai monarchy and intolerant of dissent and criticism - has also imposed widespread media censorship and set up its own media watchdogs. Not only has the junta reactivated the 'cyber-scout' program, which recruits volunteer students to monitor the Internet, it even considered launching its own national social network, and it has also reportedly implemented the technical capabilities for widespread online surveillance.

This is not the first time that LINE and its Thai users have been targeted by Thai authorities. Last year, an overzealous Police Maj.-Gen. Pisit Pao-in of the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) of the Royal Thai Police has also sought access to user information and chat logs of the messaging app and was even considering criminalizing Facebook users for 'liking' what he thinks is "unlawful" content. Ultimately he was unsuccessful - so much so that even the hawkish then-ICT minister Anudith Nakorn-thap chided him for his overeagerness.

The biggest irony of the junta's boisterous claims that it is able to monitor LINE (that is unless the parent company is cooperating after all or the junta has found another way) is that it was made at the same event when the military junta was presenting series of LINE 'stickers' representing the junta's proclaimed and much touted "12 core values" (more on that in a future Siam Voices post), aimed at instilling what they think makes a "good Thai" like showing respect to superiors, resisting the temptation of “religious sins”, upholding “Thai customs and traditions”, and sacrificing oneself for the good of the country.

In their continuous, widespread media campaign - including commissioning propaganda short movies (one of which gained infamy for a brief, but bizarre Hitler scene) - the military government hopes (after it has spend 7 million baht or almost $213,000 on them) that LINE users will promote these "12 core values" by sending the stickers to each other - if only the junta can find a way to make sure that actually happens...

UPDATE [Dec 24]: ICT Minister Pornchai Rujiprapa has practically backtracked his boisterous claims:

He said it was merely a misunderstanding that the MICT can monitor ‘Line’ and that it is much easier to find evidences lese majeste and others cases via Facebook and websites which the IP address can be tracked. If he ministry need information on Line, it will have to cooperate with its headquarter.

“I merely said don’t send the [lese majeste] messages via Line because the police can make arrests when people file complaints with the messages as evidences. Not that the MICT was monitoring the chat traffic on Line. And warn people to be careful not to share the [lese majeste] messages because it is illegal according to 2007 Computer Crime Act.” Prachatai quoted Pornchai as saying.

"Thai authorities say no surveillance on popular chat app", Prachatai English, December 24, 2014

The Thai office of LINE has also emphasized that there's no surveillance and the Thai authorities need a court order to do so.

And in somewhat related news and ironic timing, LINE Thailand has a job opening for a "Content Editor and Monitoring"...

Bizarre Hitler scene sneaks into Thai junta propaganda movie

A screenshot from the short film '30' shows students painting a picture of HItler. Pic: AP. A bizarre and brief scene depicting Thai students painting a picture of Adolf Hitler has made its way into a propaganda short film financed by the military government. "30" by director Kulp Kaljaruek is part of the "Thai Niyom" ("Thai Pride") movie aimed at promoting the "12 core values" drawn up by by junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha shortly after the military coup of May 22, 2014.

These commandments "12 values" are essentially the junta's guide to becoming a "good" Thai citizen. It includes values like showing respect to superiors, resisting the temptation of "religious sins", upholding "Thai customs and traditions", and sacrificing oneself for the good of the country. School children (and sometimes even adults) are advised to recite them daily, and to further push their agenda the military junta has financed short films based on said values.

And so we have the short film "30", about a spoiled brat young, wealthy and neatly-kempt Thai boy and his underachieving, goofy (and darker-skinned!) best friend in school (a private school, mind you!), learning about friendship and acceptance. This would all be as expected if it wasn't for that intro sequence stylized like a children's coloring book showing the different school activities,  one of which involves the protagonist standing in front of a  portrait of Adolf Hitler during art class, while winking suggestively at the camera (0:54 min. in video below).

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFu5whDYq-Q]

The movie was uploaded to YouTube and was unsurprisingly removed from official channels after a sufficient amount of baffled outrage on social media at the odd inclusion the scene. As usual, bootleg copies have popped up elsewhere already. This not the first time that there has been outrage at the insensitive or just simply misplaced use of Nazi symbols and Adolf Hitler depictions. In the past unsuspecting school and university students (and certain Bangkok hipster shops) have been criticized for their trivial use of such images.

But was this just yet another lapse in judgment and a show of ignorance stemming from a rather dismal education system? Or - given the apparent winks and nods throughout the whole short film (e.g. rich, spoiled, overachieving boy living in mansion attending a private school) - is this part of an almost satirical subtext undercutting the whole "12 core values" and the military junta's re-imagineering of what makes a "good" Thai?

(MORE: Thailand’s junta brings its message to the silver screen)

Whatever the case may be, it must have somehow flown over the heads of the officials - Thai junta Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth and several other ministers are credited in the movie as sponsors before the actual cast and crew - and thus found its way to an astonished general public. Certainly not what the generals had in mind.

UPDATE [Dec 9]: The colleagues at Khaosod English have talked to "30" director Kulp Kaljaruek and he seemingly shows no regret or remorse or any deeper meaning at all:

"As for Hitler's portrait, I have seen so many people using it on T-Shirts everywhere. It's even considered a fashion. It doesn't mean I agree with it, but I didn't expect it to be an issue at all." [...]

When asked whether "30" was an attempt to poke fun at Gen. Prayuth's Twelve Values in a subversive way, Kulp insisted that he did not intend the film to be political at all.

"Director Defends 'Hitler Scene' in Thai Junta Film", Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Just as much as Hitler is sometimes being treated as a pop cultural icon in Thailand (see above), his production company "Kantana Motion Pictures" (and part of one of the largest TV and film companies in Thailand) also seems to like some of the same motifs and color schemes...! The director continues:

"[Hitler] is the character of this child," Kulp explained, [...] "He's always been 'number one,' and he's selfish. Hitler is also a 'number one,' in a bad way," Kulp continued. "He was good at persuading a lot of people, but he refused to listen to the majority. He was always arrogant. That's why the war happened."

"Director Defends 'Hitler Scene' in Thai Junta Film", Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Apart from incorrectly stating almost any historical fact about Hitler and the Third Reich (is he suggesting that Hitler started World War 2 out of arrogance and there was widespread opposition against him? Really?!), he has absolutely fumbled artistically justify that scene other than making a shrewd reference to the dangers of a charismatic evil swaying the population - which is further supplemented by a military junta spokesman:

Col. Sansern Kaewkumnerd, spokesperson of the Office of Prime Minister, admitted that he has not had time to see the film, but offered a possible explanation of why the Hitler cameo was included. "If I were to make an uneducated guess, it may have been intended to say that democracy has good and bad sides," Col. Sansern said.

"Director Defends 'Hitler Scene' in Thai Junta Film", Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Uneducated indeed, since Thai ultra-conservatives - including the anti-government protesters, whose actions this and last year have paved the way for the military coup - like to often play the "Hitler-also-came-from-elections"-card in order to denounce democracy as a whole, as we have previously discussed here, here and here.

UPDATE 2 [Dec 11]: The Prime Minister's Office Minister Pannada Diskul told Reuters, after apologizing for the understandably upset Israeli ambassador, that "The director had decided to make changes to the film even before it made news to ease everybody's concerns." That's rather surprising to hear since, as seen above, the director initially said that he  "didn't expect to be an issue at all"...!

Thailand's military junta to delay elections to 2016 - is anyone surprised?

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 28, 2014

In the immediate aftermath of the military coup of the May 22 earlier this year, there was some early hope by rather optimistic (but ultimately naive) observers that this hostile takeover of powers would be just a "speed bump" or a "slight setback" for Thailand's democracy. The hope was that, as with the previous coup in 2006, powers would be returned to a quasi-civilian government that would organize fresh democratic elections within a year.

However, the 2006 military takeover failed to purge the political forces of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, with his sister Yingluck taking power in 2011, only to be ousted earlier this year. This time the military junta, led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has been particularly cagey (as mentioned here) about the near- and mid-term future of Thailand's political discourse - particularly about when elections will take place - so much so that the piercing questions by the media at one press conference provoked a walk-out by the junta leader.

In the weeks following that the junta set the agenda: the so-called "roadmap" sees "reconciliation" by the "reform process" as a main pretext before democratic elections can be eventually held. Now six months after the coup, with the establishment of a fully junta-appointed ersatz-parliament called the "National Legislative Assembly" (more than half stacked with active and retired military officers), a fully junta-appointed "National Reform Council" tasked with making reform recommendations, and the rather exclusive "Constitutional Drafting Committee", the institutional bodies for the junta's political groundwork have been set, joined by a cabinet of ministers that is largely the same as the military junta at the top.

The junta said that, all going to plan, elections could be possible in late 2015. However, that prospect is now very unlikely:

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also defense minister, said elections will take place in 2016, citing groups opposed to the junta, or National Council for Peace and Order, as it is formally known, as one reason for the delay.

"We will be able to organize elections around the start of 2016 once the constitution is drafted," Prawit told reporters. "Right now there are elements opposed to the National Council for Peace and Order."

"Thai election pushed back to 2016: deputy PM", Reuters, November 27, 2014

This should come as NO surprise to even the casual observer. There have been quite a few times already that a delay of elections has been hinted at. Here they are in reverse chronological order:

Speaking to the BBC's chief business correspondent Linda Yueh, [Thai finance minister Sommai] Phasee said that from his conversations with Gen Prayuth "I think it may take, maybe, a year and a half" for elections to be held.

He said both he and the prime minister wanted to see an end to martial law, but that it was still needed now "as his tool to deal with security".

"Thailand elections 'could be delayed until 2016'", BBC News, November 27, 2014

[สัมภาษณ์กับนายเทียนฉาย กีระนันทน์ ประธานสภาปฏิรูปแห่งชาติ (สปช.)]

"กฎหมายลูกที่ต้องร่างเพิ่มเติมภายหลังได้รัฐธรรมนูญจะใช้เวลาเท่าไร บอกไม่ได้ ตอบได้เพียงว่าไม่นาน รวมเวลาการทำหน้าที่ของสปช.ทั้งหมดน่าจะห้อยไปถึงปี '59"

[Interview except with Thienchay Keeranan, President of the National Reform Council]

"How much time it will take to amend the constitution [for a referendum] once this is set - I cannot say. I can only say that it won't take long, the work of the National Reform Council will be done by 2016."

"แนวทางปฏิรูป-กรอบร่างรัฐธรรมนูญ - สัมภาษณ์พิเศษ", Khao Sod, October 27, 2014

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (...) said on Wednesday that elections planned for 2015 will depend on whether wide-ranging national reforms can be completed within a year.

"I outlined a roadmap. The election must come with a new constitution and eleven reform areas," said Prayuth. "Everything depends on the roadmap so we must see first if the roadmap can be completed. Elections take time to organize," he added, giving no further details.

"Leader of Thai junta hints at delay in return to elections", Reuters, October 15, 2014

The actual reasons for the delay are pretty simple: the so-called "reform" plans by the junta - aimed at marginalizing the electoral power of Thaksin Shinawatra's political forces even at the cost of disenfranchising nearly half the electorate - are apparently taking longer than initially believed, despite all the government institutions being dominated by its political allies.

Furthermore, martial law is still in place in order to quash any form of opposition, seen this past week (read here and here). It is these public displays of dissent that the junta will use as a pretense to claim that "reconciliation" hasn't been achieved yet and thus an election cannot be held under the present circumstances. At risk of sounding like  broken record, the real problem isn't the fact that there is opposition to the military junta, it is rather that the opposition is banned from expressing it publicly  - if at all, it should be done silently, says the junta.

The junta's attitude to its commitment to the "roadmap" (and a lot of other things) can be summed up by what junta Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister (and largely assumed main backer of the coup) General Prawit Wongsuwan said earlier this month at a press conference after a case of junta interference in the media (we reported):

I would like to remind the media that the government, the NCPO are currently in the process to achieve reconciliation in this country. Everything that is an obstacle to reconciliation… everything that will create divisions – we won’t let that happen! Let it rest, wait for now. [...] so wait… for a year! We have our roadmap, the government, the NCPO are following it, they’re following their promise. So why the hurry?!

Why the hurry indeed when you cannot be actually held accountable for missing the deadline...?