Democrat Party

Upcoming FCCT panel to feature Thai political heavyweights - if the junta allows it...

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 24, 2015 The Foreign Correspondent's Club of Thailand (FCCT) has just announced this upcoming panel discussion in March.

The Future of Politics in Thailand

7pm, Wednesday March 11, 2015

Non-members: 350 Baht entry; Members: Free entry

What kind if future does the military's reform programme promise for Thailand? And will there be space for existing political parties in this new future?

For the first time since the coup, the FCCT is pleased to host a high-level debate, by inviting some of the country's most experienced politicians to the club.

Alongkorn Polabutr, senior member of the National Reform Council and former deputy leader, Democrat Party

Chaturon Chaiseng, former Education Minister, Pheu Thai Party

Kasit Piromya, former Foreign Minister, Democrat Party

Phongthep Thepkanjana, Former Deputy Prime Minister, Pheu Thai Party

This really looks interesting because this indeed an illustrious high-profile panel. A couple of notes about the panelists:

Alongkorn Polabutr was considered by many as the prospect to reform and revive the ailing "Democrat" Party, as he was the most vocal advocate calling on his fellow party members to stop blaming vote-buying for the streak of election losses. However, in late 2013 - during the anti-Yingluck government protests and weeks away from snap-elections - he was practically demoted from his position as deputy leader of the "Democrat" Party. This likely contributed to his departure from the party last November but also, much to the dismay of many progressive supporters, to his joining the junta-installed and fully-appointed National Reform Council. Being a NRC member alone makes him a high-profile panelist.

Chaturon Chaiseng is regarded as stalwart from the era of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, as he filled many positions in his cabinet: Prime Minister's Office Minister (2001–02), Justice Minister (2002), Deputy Prime Minister (2002–05), and Minister of Education (2005–06). After Thaksin's government was toppled by the 2006 military coup, his Thai Rak Thai Party was subsequently disbanded and most of its members, including Chaturon, banned from politics for five years. Chaturon returned to the Yingluck government in mid-2013 as Education Minister, but was putsched again in May 2014. He was one of the few to defy the junta's mass summons and appeared at the FCCT to give a press conference, only for the military to barge in, arrest him on the spot and bring him in front of a military court. He's currently out on bail and returns to the very same spot at the FCCT next month.

Kasit Piromya. It is often said that the diplomatic sensibilities of the former ambassador to Germany and Japan (especially by this author) are more akin to a wrecking ball. Especially during his tenure as Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (2009-11), he seemed to be solely focused on the fugitive, self-exiled Prime Minister Thaksin. In any case, if circumstances are right, he can be highly entertaining to watch.

Phongthep Thepkanjana is another ex-cabinet member of Thaksin Shinawatra (Minister of Justice, Minister of Energy, Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office - see a pattern?) and was Chaturon's predecessor as Education Minister in Yingluck's cabinet.

In any case, it should also be interesting to see, considering at least 50 per cent of the panel, if the Thai military will actually allow the event to take place or at least send a representative with in a humvee to "defend" the government's point of view.

Thai government, Election Commission clash over catch-up poll dates

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 12, 2014

The outcome of the February 2 general election in Thailand remains in legal limbo as the Election Commission (EC) has announced the catch-up dates for the constituencies where voting was disrupted by anti-government and anti-election protesters:

The Election Commission is to hold second chance advance voting in 83 constituencies on April 20, followed by general election re-runs at 10,284 polling stations on April 27. (...)

[Election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn] explained that the new dates were set for April because the meeting had concluded that voting disruption was likely to escalate during the Senate elections, the first day of candidacy registration for which is scheduled on March 4. Voting for senators is set to begin on March 30.

Regarding the 28 southern constituencies which are still without candidates for the general election, Mr Somchai said the EC wants the caretaker government to issue a royal decree to fix a new election date for the 28 constituencies. The EC will write a formal request to be submitted to officials tomorrow, he added.

"General election re-runs set for April", Bangkok Post, February 11, 2014

Advance voting on January 26 saw widespread blockades in Bangkok and many parts in the South, preventing 2 million people from voting. On election day 10,284 polling stations in 18 provinces (again mostly in the South and in Bangkok) were forced to shut down or didn't open at all due to disruptions by anti-government protesters. Official figures show that over 20.5 million people did cast their ballot, a low turnout of 47.2 per cent.

The Election Commission already announced before the polling stations opened (at least those that could) that there would be no official results on that day, leaving a lot of questions unanswered and a lot of issues unresolved. Twenty-eight districts in the South are without any candidates - they were prevented from registering - meaning the mandatory quorum of 95 per cent to form parliament cannot be fulfilled.

Since the election, the EC and the caretaker government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have clashed on what should happen next and when the catch-up polls can be held in the aforementioned districts. In essence, the government argues that the EC has to hold by-elections as soon as possible and has to ensure that it they go smoothly, since that is its duty. On the other hand the EC is reluctant to hold them, citing legal reasons but also safety concerns as many election officials in the South are still being hindered. It should be noted that the Election Commission also displayed some unwillingness to go through with the February 2 elections.

EC officials justified the late catch-up election date with the hope that the political tensions may have calmed down by then, as anti-government protesters are still rallying in central parts of Bangkok, albeit with almost non-existent attendance at their rally stages during the day.

In the interim, elected senators will have completed their term on March 1 and new ones have to be elected on the March 30. That is eight days after the ongoing state of emergency for Bangkok and some surrounding areas is scheduled to be lifted (March 22) - but it would still cover the senate candidate registry on March 4, which is likely to be disrupted by anti-election mobs, as feared by the EC. Should the protests prolong until the scheduled April election dates, the catch-up polls could still be targeted.

As mentioned, 28 districts in the south were not even able to file candidates for the February 2 elections due to blockades in late December and the EC did not extend the registration period. Instead, the commission still proposes that the caretaker government should issue a new royal decree in order to start the entire election process for the affected constituencies. The government, however, has rejected that idea in the past and according to a legal expert of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, it wouldn't be legally possible since the royal decree process dictates that after the dissolution of parliament the subsequent election day "must be the same throughout the Kingdom" (see Article 108 of the Constitution). Also, a second royal decree could void the original parliament dissolution decree and thus render the February 2 elections nullified and meaningless.

In a related development, that is exactly what the opposition Democrat Party - which boycotted these elections - is trying to achieve as they have petitioned the Constitutional Court to nullify the whole election since it wasn't held in one day and it would violate Article 68 of the Constitution with the clear intention to get the interim prime minister Yingluck and the ruling Pheu Thai Party banned. But...

Legally, it is difficult to understand this argument. The election could not be held on one day largely because of the actions of a protest movement to which the Democrat party gives thinly-disguised support.

The use of section 68 is even more baffling. This section outlaws any actions that could threaten the existing democratic system, with the King as head of state. The Democrat argument appears to be that in calling the election at a time of turmoil, and against the advice of the Election Commission, the government put the political system in jeopardy.

"The constitution gives a clear and flexible mechanism to re-run the election where it has been obstructed," says lawyer Verapat Pariyawong. "It is ironic that the Democrats are citing section 68, as this really ought to be used to deal with the disruptions of the protesters rather than the actions of the government. There are no legal grounds I can see for annulling the election."

"No grand bargain amid Thailand political crisis", by Jonathan Head, BBC News, February 10, 2014

The Constitutional Court is scheduled to decide whether or not to accept the petition today (Wednesday). UPDATE: The court rejected.

So the February 2 election remains in limbo for at least another two-and-a-half months, while the caretaker government is facing more and more problems, most recently with rice farmers waiting to be paid subsidies and a related anti-corruption investigation and another one for proposed constitutional amendments. Thailand's political crisis continues with no clear answers on where it will go and how it will all end.

Siam Voices 2013 Review - Part 1: Blowing the final whistle on Thailand's political calm

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 27, 2013 Welcome to the Siam Voices 2013 year in review series, where we look back at the most important and interesting headlines, issues and stories that happened in Thailand this past year. Today we start with the political 2013, which looked very different when it started compared to the chaos on the street we have now - and it is far from being over.

NOTE: This was written before Thursday's escalation of violence that killed a police officer. Furthermore, the Election Commission is openly calling to indefinitely postpone the February 2 snap-elections, which was rejected by the caretaker government.

For a while, it looked like the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was seemingly unshaken by almost everything this year. Neither the increasingly erratic and rabid opposition in and outside parliament nor the problems of their own policies threatened the relative stability of this rule - almost.

The government launched or continued a series of populist policies that were well-intended but not perfect. The rice-pledging scheme did not lift international market prices as anticipated and Thailand lost its top exporter spot. Instead, the country sits on millions of tons of stockpiled rice it cannot get rid of - if so, only at a loss. Furthermore the scheme was tainted by alleged corruption and scaremongering over its safety.

Other incentives didn't bring in the desired effects either, such as tax rebates for first-car-buyers that proved to be a short-term success but backfired later with car owners defaulting on their purchases, or the raise of the daily minimum wage to 300 Baht (about $10) that benefitted a lot of employees but was met with resistance by their employers, especially small and middle enterprises. Also, the 2 trillion Baht borrowing scheme drew considerable criticism, despite the fact that an overhaul of the country's crumbling infrastructure is much-needed.

Politically, Yingluck herself faced a volley of criticism, for example about her constant absence in parliament or the back-and-forth fallout after her uncharacteristically sharp and committed Mongolia-speech in late April. Even the various anti-government (and utterly mislabeled) groups over the year - "Pitak Siam""Thai Spring", "V for Thailand", "PEFOT" etc. - were not able to do much, but in hindsight were a sign of things to come later that year.

Despite all this, Yingluck managed to maintain a tense, but relative calm in the Thai power struggle at least for the first half the year. Even the military didn't mind that much to have Yingluck taking up the defense minister portfolio in the last cabinet reshuffle.

Maybe that was the reason why her government and the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PT) felt so confident that they thought it could ram a broad amnesty bill through both parliament and senate. Initially only meant to absolve political protesters from the rallies between 2006 and 2010 but not their leaders (and none convicted of lèse majesté either), a parliamentary committee dominated by PT MPs did an audacious bait-and-switch and re-wrote to expand those "accused of wrongdoing by an organisation set up after the coup of 2006" - which would have included former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's conviction in 2008 and paved him his return to Thailand after years of self-imposed exile.

Protesters' explosion and Democrat Party's implosion

The Pheu Thai Party absolutely underestimated the outrage the bill would spark. It managed to create an amnesty bill broad enough to upset nearly everybody, even their own red shirt supporter base, since it also would have covered those responsible for the violent crackdown of 2010. Thaksin, who undoubtedly still wields considerable influence from afar - has gambled away his ticket home and it'd take a long while until he or his party can try another attempt.

Despite the bill unanimously struck down in the senate and repeated pledges by the government not to resubmit it again, the controversy ignited the anti-amnesty protests which re-united the anti-Thaksin forces and brought them together as a motley crew of self-proclaimed "saviors" against corruption and for "true democracy". After the bill's demise, the movement unmasked itself as an all-out anti-government campaign led by veteran Democrat Party politician Suthep Thuagsuban. The Constitutional Court's rejection of the government's proposed charter amendments did change a little at that time already, as did the House dissolution and scheduling of snap-elections on February 2, 2014.

A lot has been already said here about the protesters and their intentions lately, but it still bears repeating: this drive is not a push against corruption and for true, sustainable political reforms, but an undemocratic power grab that keeps on escalating until there is a complete derailment of the democratic process and the resulting vacuum is replaced by a system (e.g. in form of the appointed "People's Council") that is aimed at disenfranchising a large portion of the electorate only in order to prevent Thaksin and his political influences taking hold in Thailand again, no matter how high the cost. The fact that somebody with such a chequered past like Suthep can now brand himself as the "people's champion" is a cruel punchline of the flexible moralities in Thai politics. Corruption and abuse of power in Thai politics existed before Thaksin and surely will not end with his often demanded "eradication" - somebody like Suthep should know it best.

This is the result of the opposition's pent-up frustration at the electoral invincibility of Thaksin-affiliated parties and the failure to adapt to the changing political and social landscape - especially in the North and Northeast, of which many of the protesters hold dangerously outdated views (e.g. "uneducated rural", "dictatorship of the majority", "vote-buying") of them. The steady demise of the opposition Democrat Party was illustrated by repeated antics in parliament and party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva calling Yingluck a "stupid bitch". After much meandering, the Democrat Party decided not to be part of the democratic solution but part of the anti-democratic problem by announcing to boycott the elections of February 2 and thus declaring political bankruptcy.

This year and especially the last two months have left us with an uncertain future for the state of the country's political stability; divisions are greater than ever before with compromise never further away as we inch ever closer to the brink of chaos. The elections will help little to ease the tensions, but alternatives are no better. The question is now: how do you fix democracy? Surely not by taking down the whole house and letting it be only rebuilt and inhabited by a selected few.

The Siam Voices 2013 year in review series continues tomorrow. Read all parts here: Part 1: Politics - Part 2: Lèse Majesté & the media - Part 3: The Rohingya - Part 4: Education and reform calls - Part 5: What else happened?

Opinion: Thai opposition boycott a slap in the face to voters

Orginally published at Siam Voices on December 22, 2013 Thailand's opposition Democrat Party is to boycott the February 2 elections, prolonging the current political crisis. But this move will hurt the country's oldest political party in the long-run, writes Saksith Saiyasombut

When Sukhumband Paribatra was reelected as Governor of Bangkok in March this year he did it with a record number of over 1.25m votes, maintaining the Democrat Party's stranglehold on Thailand's capital. However, the rival Pheu Thai Party was able to make ground, especially in the city's outskirts. In a city of roughly 12 million people, only 5 million are registered in Bangkok, while 4.2 million of them were eligible to vote. That means only about a third decided on the future of the other two-thirds. I commented back then that it was important for the Democrat Party to look beyond the city borders to the rest of the country since the next general election would likely be their "very last chance" to make a nationwide impact at the polls.

On Saturday, they slammed the door on that chance.

With the reportedly "unanimous" decision not to file any MP candidates and effectively boycott the February 2 general election, the Democrat Party of Thailand, somewhat ironically, has turned its back on democratic discourse in Thailand. Instead, it has decided to heed the the vague but shrill calls of the anti-government protesters for "reform before elections" in the form of the appointed "People's Assembly", proposed by protest leader and former fellow senior party figure Suthep Thuagsuban and his motley crew of like-minded ultra-conservatives.

Granted, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Democrat Party. It hasn't won an election in two decades and would be unlikely to sway voters in less than two months. It is also undeniable that Thailand needs political (and social) reform on several fronts and the upcoming election won't solve all these problems. But by siding with the protesters and endorsing their demands, the Democrats have delivered a slap to the face of not only to the 47m eligible voters, but also the 11.5m people that voted for them in the last general elections 2011.

While Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai Party won that election easily, there were surely still a lot of people willing to give then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva a second chance to initiate reforms he failed to put in place while in power from 2008-20011 and are bemoaning now to be missing today, such as the proposals by Suthep for police reform (despite being deputy-PM in charge of national security under Abhisit back then) or the sudden embrace for decentralization in form of election of all provincial governors (also not mentioned during the Abhisit premiership).

On Saturday, Democrat Party leader Abhisit lamented "the loss of trust in Thailand's political system, and respect for political parties and elections." He didn't, however, touch on the failure of the Democrat Party in the past decade to effectively adapt to the politics and policies of Thaksin Shinawatra's government(s) and the changing political landscape. The need for reform of the Democrat Party into a healthy, rational political opposition is evident. However, in the party meetings this past week, with the re-election of Abhisit and Alongkorn Ponlaboot - the party's most outspoken proponent for reform - effectively sidelined, it showed that the party is unwilling to change itself for now. The boycott decision also shows that it doesn't even acknowledge that it could have been part of the solution, but instead is becoming part of the problem. The Democrats did not "play the ball back" to caretaker-Prime Minister Yingluck, as Abhisit said. They took the ball and simply popped it.

Whatever their gambit is (most likely creating a political gridlock in order to provoke a military or "judicial" coup), it will hurt the Democrat Party in the long-run. A 2006-style impasse is not possible due to amendments in the election rules that doesn't require 20 per cent of the vote for a MP candidate in the third by-election round and also due to the fact that, unlike over seven years ago, other opposition parties have not decided on a boycott yet.

Last week, the new secretary-general Juti Krairiksh said that entering the elections would “kill” and a boycott “cripple” the party respectively. Thailand's Democrat Party chose this weekend to cripple itself and it is doubtful whether or not it can recover in its current form.

'It will hurt either way': Thai opposition still undecided on elections

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 18, 2013 In Southeast Asian Buddhist mythology, the goddess that is known in Thailand as Phra Mae Thorani (พระแม่ธรณี) was called upon by the Bodhisattva to help him fend off the demon Māra, who tried to distract him from seeking enlightenment. According to the myth, Thorani then twisted her very long hair and out came an enormous torrent of water that washed away Māra and his army, clearing the way for the Bodhisattva to reach enlightenment and to become the Buddha.

Thorani's image graces the seal of the opposition Democrat Party, which is currently at a crucial junction. The party is torn between entering the snap-elections on February 2, 2014 or boycotting them. The latter would show full support for the anti-government protesters who have paralyzed the country's politics since early November and have increased the pressure on caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down, while openly calling for the suspension of electoral democracy in order to "reform" Thailand. The protesters are led by former deputy prime minister and veteran Democrat Party bruiser - and now self-styled "people's champion" - Suthep Thuagsuban, joined by many other recently resigned party executives, including the former finance minister Korn Chatikavananij.

The tensions have receded for now, though protesters - albeit in significantly lower numbers - are still roaming around Democracy Monument and Government House. Over the weekend, both the protesters and the government held public and private forums in order to win public support for either the "reform first" drive by the protesters or the February 2 elections set by the caretaker government.

The lines between the protest movement - calling themselves (somewhat ironically) the "People’s Democratic Reform Committee" (PDRC)* - and the Democrat Party are (intentionally) blurry, not only because the mobilization of the rallies had been rehearsed long ago, but also because of the regular involvement of Democrat Party figures. The party itself was meandering in recent weeks until its MPs decided to resign from parliament earlier this month, effectively forcing Prime Minister Yingluck to dissolve parliament and call for new elections - something that the protesters are uncompromisingly rejecting and instead lobbying (especially the military) for their undemocratic, appointed "People's Assembly".

Since Monday, the Democrat Party has been in meetings to determine what to do next as election day approaches. Apart from extending the numbers of executives to 35, the party also re-elected Abhisit Vejjajiva as its party leader.

One major casualty of the party meeting was Alongkorn Ponlaboot, until Tuesday deputy party leader before he was defeated by Satit Pitudecha by 63 to 30 per cent. An outspoken proponent for reform of the party, Alongkorn regularly insisted that the Democrats should stop blaming their electoral losses on "vote-buying, electoral fraud or populism" and instead "come up with better strategies" in order to eventually beat the ruling Pheu Thai Party. Alongkorn was also notably absent from the party's meeting that resulted in the MPs' mass resignation. After the vote, he simply tweeted "I lost" and asked the party in a following tweet to "continue to reform," since this is "the only way to regain trust in the Democrat Party".

This affirmation of Abhisit and the demotion of Alongkorn shows that Thailand's main opposition party is unwilling to make big changes, let alone reform itself, in order to halt the ongoing streak of elections defeats since 1992. And it has also (as of writing) deferred the decision whether or not to run in the February 2 elections, facing the dilemma of being beaten at the polls again by Pheu Thai - but then being shunned by the protesters - or losing (even more) political credit with a boycott. A repeat of the 2006 snap-elections - when the Democrat Party along with other opposition parties staged a boycott that created a political deadlock and a subsequent vacuum that led to the military coup that ousted then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - is not possible thanks to an amendment that does away with the 20 per cent requirement of the vote for a MP candidate in the third by-election (more background on that at Bangkok Pundit). Also, all other parties have not yet publicly considered an election boycott. It is reported that the newly-elected executive board will decide on the question this Saturday.

According to reports, the party is almost evenly split on the election question. Newly elected secretary-general Juti Krairiksh was quoted as saying that entering the contest would "kill" and a boycott "cripple" the party respectively ("ส่งก็ตายไม่ส่งก็พิการ"), to which Abhisit responded that "it will hurt either way" ("มองว่าเจ็บทุกทาง"), adding...

"(...) หากทำให้ชาติไปสู่สิ่งที่ดีกว่าเราก็ต้องยอม เพราะประเทศสำคัญกว่าพรรค (...) ไม่ส่งก็เสียระบบหรือไม่ สิ่งสำคัญที่สุดคือการปฏิรูปประเทศโดยรักษาประชาธิปไตยไว้ แม้จะเป็นโจทย์ยาก (...)"

"(...) if it makes the country better than us, we have to accept that because the country is more important than the party (...). Whether or not a boycott would damage the [democratic] system, the important thing is reform [before elections?] while maintaining democracy, no matter how problematic (...)"

"ปชป.ชี้ขาด 21 ธ.ค.ส่งเลือกตั้ง 'มาร์ค'หนักใจส่ง-ไม่ส่งก็เจ็บ", Thai Rath Online, December 17, 2013 (translation by me)

Until the registration of MP candidates opens next week, Thailand's oldest existing opposition party has to decide whether it wants to be an enabler or an instigator: either the Democrat Party takes part in the February 2 elections, most likely lose against Pheu Thai (hopefully as graceful as possible), and maintain the shaky status quo or stage a boycott and completely lose any political legitimacy as a 'hilariously misnamed' husk of a party - and also comply with the PRDC's anti-democratic stance and protest leader Suthep's rabble-rousing and nightly delusions of grandeur, who has just announced yet another mass protest for Sunday.

Unlike the goddess Thorani, the Democrat Party did not manage to wash away the distractions in order to reform itself as a healthy democratic opposition. To adapt the motto in the party's logo - the Pali proverb "truth is indeed the undying word" ("สจฺจํ เว อมตา วาจา") - it will have to face the consequences of its actions - no matter how much it will hurt.

*Sidenote: Interestingly, the PDRC's English 'translation' doesn't fully reflect the original Thai name: "People's Committee for the Change Thailand's to Democracy with the King as Head of State" (Thai abbreviation: "กปปส.")

Opinion: What will happen next with Suthep and Thailand's 'Democrazy'?

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 10, 2013 The Thai political battle goes into the next round as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has dissolved parliament and called for new elections. Regardless, the ongoing street protests to drive her and brother Thaksin out of politics continue. With a tearful Yingluck insisting earlier today that she will not resign before the Feb. 2 polls, the two sides remain at an impasse. So, how can we make sense of what will happen next?

This is now the fifth time protest leader Suthep Thuagsuban has announced that a "People's Victory Day" will take place and that has yet to happen. Escalating anti-government protests over the past week triggered the dissolution of the House and the scheduling of elections for February 2, 2014. However, these two steps have been repeatedly rejected before and Suthep's group remain uncompromisingly stubborn.

Suthep's speech on Monday revealed little about his plans how to "reform democracy" and "return power to the people" with his essentially anti-democratic, appointed "people's council". Instead - especially in his post-announcement speech that took longer than the actual announcement itself - he went on the usual shrieking diatribe against Yingluck and Thaksin and also tabled the idea of asking government officials about their loyalty, leaving open what would happen to those that would not side with them. While this movement claims to be peaceful and unarmed in its actions, their words carry a lot of hate.

Now it comes down to the opposition Democrat Party, whose MPs all resigned on Sunday. Should they boycott the elections planned on February 2 next year, they could provoke the same political gridlock like they did in 2006 that eventually caused the military to stage a coup against Thaksin. Since the party seemingly has no apparent rifts with the protesters anymore and willingly joined them, it looks like the Democrat Party is "not so keen on the whole democracy thing" anymore and has given up on elections and the 11 million Thais that voted for them in the last elections.

Thailand's current power struggle is worthy of the label "democrazy" - ironically the same word that the current protesters have used against pro-Thaksin voters in the past, reflecting yet again their electoral powerlessness.

Later on Monday night, Suthep set an ultimatum for the now caretaker government of still-PM Yingluck to resign by 10pm on Tuesday (which she rejected in a tearful presser on Tuesday) and also told protesters to stay a couple of more days to see what happens. Again, he delays "victory day" and leaves us all questioning what will happen next. But one thing is for sure: he will try to seek more chaos in order to provoke a complete derailment of the current political system.

Thailand protests live-blogs: It's been quite some busy days…!

As you may have seen and read it at Siam Voices or on my Twitter account, Thailand has seen the biggest anti-government protests since 2010, as rallies led by former Democrat Party MP, former deputy prime minister and veteran political bruiser Suthep Thuagsuban have gradually escalated their initial anti-amnesty bill campaign into an all-out anti-democratic push to topple the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in order to "eradicate Thaksinism". Here are the live-blogs we have been writing over the days at Siam Voices: November 11, 2013: LIVE: Thailand’s Senate amnesty debate, and the Preah Vihear ruling

November 25, 2013: LIVE: Thailand anti-government protests paralyze Bangkok

December 1, 2013: LIVE: Thai anti-govt protesters make ‘final push’

December 2, 2013: LIVE: Fresh violence raises tensions in Bangkok

December 3, 2013: LIVE: Tensions ease in Bangkok

To keep up with the situation in Thailand that will surely change quickly over the next few days go to my Siam Voices blog at Asian Correspondent and follow us on Twitter @Saksith, @siamvoices and @ASCorrespondent.

Thai court quashes changes to Senate, spares Pheu Thai Party

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 20, 2013 Thailand's Constitutional Court has ruled that proposed constitutional amendments to allow a fully elected Senate are unlawful, but stopped short of punishing the ruling Pheu Thai Party and its coalition partners. The nine-judge court struck down the government's plans to change the Senate, Thailand's upper House, into a fully elected 200-member chamber - compared to the current 76 elected and 74 appointed members - among other new regularities.

In the verdict reading, which started two hours later than scheduled, the judges voted 5:4 the amendments to be in breach of Article 68 of the Constitution, stating that a fully elected senate would indeed "overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State". Furthermore, the judges took offense at planned changes that would allow direct relatives of MPs to run for Senate, saying that a "spouse-husband" rule of both chambers would "allow a domination of power". Another major reason for the rejection were technical irregularities in the parliamentary process of the drafts, from wrongly submitted documents to different bodies, to MPs caught voting for their absent colleagues with their voter ID cards. That decision was voted 6:3.

The Constitutional Court strongly voiced its opposition to a "dictatorship of the majority" - the ruling Pheu Thai Party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has a comfortable majority in parliament with its coalition partners - as it sees the system of checks-and-balances to be compromised by a "total control" of parliament by politicians. Nevertheless, the Court stopped short of dissolving the Pheu Thai Party and its coalition partners, stating that the actions did not constitute grounds for party dissolution (although the court was unclear as to why).

Initial reactions are divided along party lines. Appointed senator Rosana Tositrakul, one of the plaintiffs who brought the case to the court, was reportedly satisfied that the proposed amendments were brought down, but also wants to see the 312 MPs who voted in favor of the changes and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra "to be held accountable". On the other side, cabinet member and red shirt leader Natthawut Saikua defiantly declared at a red shirt rally at Bangkok's Rajamangala Stadium that "a new round between democratic forces and extra-constitutional forces has begun." From the government side, interior minister Charupong Ruangsuwan reinforced the party's refusal to accept the verdict (before it has even been delivered), questioning how an all-elected senate could be any worse than a partly appointed one. Prime minister Yingluck herself declined to comment as she walked past reporters with a smile.

While it was spared the worst case scenario, the ruling Pheu Thai Party and the government of Yingluck Shinawatra have suffered another defeat in a short period of time, partly thanks to the same overeager and hamfisted manner they rushed the amnesty bill earlier this month, which was struck down in the Senate after a massive backlash. The government has lost another big legislative playing card for now and may be down, but not entirely out.

Today's verdict also shows again the heavy politicization of the Constitutional Court, hardly hiding its contempt towards elected representatives and the rule of parliament, while the court itself is not without either bias or fault. Citing Article 68, the Court has set a precedent that potentially prohibits any elected government to make any changes to the 2007 Constitution, which was drafted and approved after the military coup of 2006, further prolonging the political polarization Thailand has been suffering since then.

Thai Constitutional Court to decide on govt's fate yet again

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 20, 2013 UPDATE (Nov 20, 14.30h): The Constitutional Court ruled that the charter amendments to be unlawful, but did not disband the ruling Pheu Thai Party and their coalition partners. The judges took offense at the many irregularities during the parliamentary process (such as MPs using their absent colleagues voter ID cards to vote on their behalf) and the changes to Article 115.5 of the Constitution (see below). Full story and analysis here.

Original article

The current political tensions in Thailand could be prolonged this morning (Wednesday) at 11am as the Constitutional Court yet again decides on the constitutionality of proposed amendments brought forward by the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PT). A rejection could also yet again threaten PT and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's grip on power - something that anti-government protesters are counting on.

Pheu Thai and the Yingluck government are still licking their wounds after a massive backlash earlier this month - including from their own supporter base - for pushing a wide-reaching amnesty bill through parliament, which was struck down in the Senate last week.

That decision has not appeased the opposition, as street-protests led by former deputy prime minister Suthep Thuagsuban of the Democrat Party are still ongoing despite sinking attendances and a failed call for a national strike. Nevertheless, anti-government sentiments - stemming from an emotional antagonism against former prime minister and Yingluck's brother Thaksin - are high and what was initially meant as a anti-amnesty bill protest has gradually shifted into a straight-up campaign to overthrow the government. Currently, they are collecting signatures to impeach 310 MPs who were in favor of the amnesty bill.

Another cause for 'hope' for the anti-government protesters is today's upcoming verdict from the Constitutional Court on the legality of proposed amendments to the 2007 constitution, in particular the makeup of the Senate. In the draft, the new Senate would be increased from 150 to 200 members, all elected into office instead formerly 76 elected and 74 appointed senators (Article 111 of the Constitution). Critics also accuse the government of amending or abolishing passages that prevent direct relatives of MPs, party members and those who served as MPs in the recent past (Articles 115.5, 115.6 and 115.7, respectively) to run for Senate. Furthermore, the one-term limit of six years (Article 117) would also be done away with.

The complaint was sent in by a group of Democrat MPs and like-minded appointed Senators in September. Their reasoning and demands:

[...] ใช้สิทธิตามรัฐธรรมนูญมาตรา 68 ยื่นคำร้องขอให้ศาลรัฐธรรมนูญวินิจฉัย สั่งระงับการแก้ไขรัฐธรรมนูญ [...] และให้ยุบ 6 พรรคร่วมรัฐบาลที่ ส.ส.ในสังกัดร่วมลงชื่อเห็นชอบกับการแก้ไข และสั่งเพิกถอนสิทธิเลือกตั้งหัวหน้าพรรคและกรรมการบริหารของ 6 พรรคร่วมรัฐบาลเป็นเวลา 5 ปี

Invoking Article 68 of the Constitution, [they] call on the Constitutional Court to rule and suspend the amendments [...] and dissolve the six-party government coalition whose MPs voted in favor of the amendments and bar their party leaders and executives from running in elections for 5 years.

ประเด็นที่กลุ่มผู้ยื่นคำร้อง [...] นั่นคือ เรื่องผลประโยชน์ขัดกัน คือ ส.ว.แก้ไขรัฐธรรมนูญให้ตัวเองลงสมัคร ส.ว.ครั้งหน้าได้ จากเดิมที่เป็น ส.ว.ติดต่อกันเกิน 1 วาระไม่ได้ รวมทั้งมีการแก้ไขให้ "ลูก เมีย สามี" ลงสมัคร ส.ว.ได้ โดยจะโยงให้เห็นว่าอาจส่งผลให้ระบบตรวจสอบถ่วงดุลมีปัญหา รวมทั้งกระบวนการพิจารณาแก้ไขร่างรัฐธรรมนูญที่ไม่ชอบด้วยระเบียบข้อบังคับการประชุม อย่างการกดบัตรแทนกันของสมาชิกรัฐสภา

The reasonings of the complainants [...] are that the Senators are changing the constitution for their own benefit, from running in the next election whereas currently they cannot be in office for more than one term consecutively to allowing children, wives and husbands [and parents of MPs] to run for Senate, also including potential problems with checks and balances and irregularities during the parliamentary debates on the constitutional amendments, such as MPs using voter ID cards of absent colleagues to vote for them.

"คำวินิจฉัย"ศาล รธน." ปัจจัยจบ"ม็อบนกหวีด"?", Matichon Online, November 15, 2013

โดยน.ส.รสนา [โตสิตระกูล] กล่าวว่า เห็นว่า [...] ขัดรัฐธรรมนูญ มาตรา 122 และมาตรา 3 วรรคสอง ที่กำหนดว่า การปฏิบัติหน้าที่ของรัฐสภาต้องเป็นไปตามหลักนิติธรรม [...] ดังนั้น จึงเห็นว่า การแก้ไขรัฐธรรมนูญดังกล่าว [...] เป็นไปเพื่อให้ทันกับ ส.ว. ที่จะหมดวาระ ในวันที่ 2 มี.ค.2557 ซึ่งจะสามารถลงเลือกตั้งใหม่ได้ทันที

[Appointed Senator] Miss Rosana Tositrakul says "In my opinion [...] [the amendments] violate Article 122 and Article 3.2 of the Constitution that say that the duties of the parliament have to follow the rule of law [...] thus I think these constitutional amendments [...] are for the Senators to run again, since their term ends on March 2, 2014."

"'รสนาง ยื่นศาลรธน. เบรกลางนติๆวระ3 แก้ที่มาส.ว.", Thai Rath Online, September 23, 2013

As with previous petitions, the complainants have cited Article 68, stating that anyone can file a petition to the Constitutional Court in case “a person or political party” tries to “to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State under this Constitution“, which they clearly see in the amendments. The problem here is that it is ambivalent whether or not the attorney general is required to submit petitions - the majority of the judges think the attorney general is not necessary here and accepted it directly. Another amendment aims to clarify that point.

It has to be mentioned that - not unlike Pheu Thai and the amnesty bill - the appointed Senators are attacking the proposed changes to their chamber with a certain amount of self-righteousness, was it them who also have partly circumvented the restrictions and played the system for their own benefit, as our writer Kaewmala points out:

Poll after poll shows the majority of Thais supporting a fully elected Senate. The 2007 Constitution prohibits spouses, parents and children of sitting MPs from running for the upper house. This means most Thais don’t see the dangers of husband-and-wife parliament as much as the guardians of Thai democracy do. (And one might also ask if appointed Senators are less politically incestuous than the elected ones).

In any case, in February 2011 as many as 67 of 74 appointed senators resigned one day before the end of their six-year term so that they would qualify for another term. One can say that they strictly followed the letter of the Constitution, which imposes a one-term limit. It is clear that these 67 Senators felt a strong sense of duty to serve (by appointment), although the people seem to want to choose the representatives themselves. Is it a coincidence that those making the biggest noise against a fully elected Senate in the just approved constitutional amendment are mostly appointed senators?

"Constitutional amendment and the guardians of Thai democracy – Part 2", by Kaewmala, Siam Voices/Asian Correspondent, October 20, 2013

Furthermore, the government and the red shirts, who were rallying Tuesday evening (and still soul-searching after the amnesty bill debacle), perceive the Constitutional Court to be politicized (also see here), as the preemptive refusal by PT lawmakers to accept the court's verdict clearly shows.

Nevertheless the nine judges will rule not only on the constitutionality of only a part of a greater catalogue of charter amendments, but also on the fate of Yingluck Shinawatra's government. As commented in Matichon, one of at least three likely scenarios can take place at 11am: 1) the amendments are constitutional, 2) the amendments are unconstitutional but the parties are not dissolved, instead the individual 312 MPs who voted in favor of the changes face impeachment, 3) the amendments violate Article 68 of the Constitution (see above), the ruling Pheu Thai Party and their 5 coalition parties face dissolution.

Today's decision by the Constitutional Court is less about the issue about the Senate's makeup, but yet another watershed moment that could defuse the political polarization a little bit or push the tensions beyond the brink.

Tongue-Thai’ed!: Democrats' Surin and Godwin's law, again!

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 8, 2013 This is part XXIII of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, amusing, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

With the anti-amnesty bill protests in full swing all week long in the capital Bangkok, the opposition Democrat Party have stepped up their game apparently also their rhetorics - but not necessarily to new heights.

Nearly all senior party members have come out to rile up the crowd led by former deputy prime minister Suthep Thuagsuban, a regular on this section. But today's “Tongue-Thai’ed!” comes from somebody else in the Democrat Party: Surin Pitsuwan is a seasoned politician with a lot of experience, especially in foreign affairs. No wonder, he was deputy foreign minister and just until recently secretary-general of ASEAN, as he came back from Jakarta to Bangkok back into the fold of his party earlier this year. Since then, he was mostly in the background but now also took to the stage of the rally at Thammasat University to show his opposition to the flawed broad amnesty bill.

Apart from saying the usual á la "Thais should stand up and reclaim their honor" and being more concrete along the lines of "This government is unacceptable for the ASEAN stage". However, there was another one that stood out while referring to an article by the Council of Foreign Relations that says the ruling Pheu Thai Party is "operating like an elected dictatorship". Here's what Noch Hautavanija (the assistant to the recently resigned party deputy Korn Chatikavanij) tweeted:

Translation: "Hitler also came [to power] through elections and it was a dictatorship" Mr. Surin

Here we go again! After Suthep and former foreign minister Kasit, we have yet another senior figure of the Democrat Party invoking Godwin's Law when talking about the government of Thaksin Shinawatra and its associated successors and unfortunately it seems to be one of the more level-headed figures in the party. Seriously, is it now a requirement in the party to draw a Hitler comparison whenever speaking about the political rivals?

For the last time, here's why the argument the Hitler-came-to-power-through-elections-so-democracy-is-bad is just wrong:

Hitler never had more than 37 percent of the popular vote in the honest elections that occurred before he became Chancellor. (…) Unfortunately, its otherwise sound constitution contained a few fatal flaws. The German leaders also had a weak devotion to democracy, and some were actively plotting to overthrow it. Hitler furthermore enjoyed an almost unbroken string of luck in coming to power. He benefited greatly from the Great Depression, the half-senility of the president, the incompetence of his opposition, and the appearance of an unnecessary back room deal just as the Nazis were starting to lose popular appeal and votes. (source)

Sounds familiar? You can criticize the current (and the past Thaksin governments) for being arrogant (especially with the current push on the blanket amnesty bill), or even politically overbearing - but to compare it to one of the darkest periods in German history and also being factually wrong at that is not only unworthy of the name the party is bearing, but also of the international standing Surin has.