Welcome to FORSEA’s regular column offering updates following Thailand’s 2019 elections. The much-anticipated Thai elections was held on March 24, the first nationwide polls since the coup of 2014 that overthrew the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. But with a month having passed since the polls, the result has still not been officially announced.
There is an outcry over the inefficiently on the part of the Election Commission of Thailand; it stands accused of intentionally distorting the votes in favour of the junta and its supported parties. In other words, the Thai elections were riven with fraud, irregularities and dirty tactics.
The background so far
In the period leading up to the landmark vote, the Thai generals were removing their military uniforms and switching to a new civilian look, suggesting a welcomed civilianization of Thai politics. But aside from the window dressing, the almost five-year rule under the military has done nothing but deepen the militarisation of the Thai political landscape. Today’s civilian look is a switch of camouflage, it is a new military uniform that cloaks the continued domination of power by the political elites in the hands of the Thai army. This observation has proved true in the aftermath of the elections through which the established power has refused to accept the defeat.
The Pheu Thai party, a proxy of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, also toppled in a coup in 2006, won the most parliamentary seats of 138. But the pro-junta Palang Pracharath has claimed that it has won the most popular votes. The power struggle between the two leading parties has created a situation of parliamentary interregnum. The prolonged interregnum could result in a dangerous social unrest.
Essentially, the elections have served to legitimise the militarisation of Thai politics. 51 million people are eligible to vote, of which 7 million of those are first time voters. There are some 77 political parties entering the electoral race, markedly divided into pro-junta and anti-junta camps. The conditions set out in the constitutions, however, clearly favour pro-junta parties, reiterating the likelihood of the return of an undemocratic climate after the elections.
The anti-democratic constitution
The 2017 constitution, written by the military-appointed committees, has been designed to prevent powerful political parties, like that of Thaksin, from forming the next government. In essence, the constitution allows the Thai military to appoint the 250-seat senate in its entirety to vote on the premiership appointment along with the 500-seat House of Representatives. In practice, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the governing body of the coup, can pick its own prime minister if their political allies win just a quarter of the House seats.
Currently, the Palang Pracharath party is attempting to build up a coalition for a new government in competition with the effort of the Pheu Thai party. But since the army and the monarchy are on the side of the Palang Pracharath, it is likely that it will be able go set up a government, possibly yet again led by Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Under this circumstance, Thailand’s path towards democracy will remain rocky. Order and peace might be guaranteed but only through suppression.
The other less possible outcome would witness the victory of the anti-junta parties. The Pheu Thai Party won big in the far-flung north and northeast regions. But the hurdles are incredible. The Pheu Thai would have to attain more than 376 seats to overcome senate votes should it be able to form its own government and nominate the premier.
Of course, the Pheu Thai could team up with other anti-junta parties to make up a democratic coalition. But even if this option is possible, the democratic coalition might still fail to secure enough seats in the House to prevent Prayuth from becoming prime minister. As David Streckfuss points out, in that case, the majority would strangely become the majority opposition against a minority government. Neither of these outcomes would lead Thailand out of its decade-long political deadlock.
The role of the monarchy
A key to determining the well-being of Thai politics in the post-election period is also the role of the monarchy. It will be the first elected government under the new reign of King Vajiralongkorn. Signs suggest an intricate relationship between the king and the junta. After all, the coup was supposedly staged to manage the royal succession, which, as the conservative power was well aware, could be manipulated by the Thaksin faction. This explains why, right at the beginning, the coup and the new constitution that follows have been driven by fear of Thaksin. The fear is most palpable at these final weeks before the polls.
Last month, Thaksin challenged the palace by nominating Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi, as prime minister for his sprinter party, Thai Raksa Chart. Ubolratana, a royal outcast, was stripped of all royal titles after marrying an American. The ties between Thaksin and Ubolratana have grown over time, so too has palace unease as these bonds grew.
Hours after the announcement of her candidacy, King Vajiralongkorn, Ubolratana’s younger brother, issued a damning royal statement crashing her political ambition and condemning Thaksin for politicising the monarchy. The royal statement set the tone leading to the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party as the Constitutional Court did the king’s bidding. In other words, the king continues to shape Thai politics according to his own interests.
For years, establishment forces have invested little in the electoral process. They prefer to employ unconstitutional instruments to achieve political power. Thaksin’s multiple electoral successes have further alienated them from participatory politics. The result saw two coups within 8 years, in 2006 and 2014.
The elections, hence, expose a myriad of illegitimate tactics to stage-manage the electoral process. Allies of the junta present themselves as representatives of democracy; even when in reality, they have striven to support the militarization of politics. The Thai polls promise no democratic revival. There is little reason for celebration.
April 4, 2019
- The Election Commission (EC) discounted votes from Thais who live in New Zealand. Because of the late arrival of the ballots, they were not took into account when counting votes. The EC regretted the passing over the votes, referring to the ballots as luck draws — not all draws are lucky.
- The junta has accused the leader of Future Forward party, Thanathorn Jungrungruangkit, of sedition, violating Article 116, which could land him in prison. Meanwhile, the party’s secretary general, a former university lecturer-turned-politician, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, has also been accused of being an anti-monarchist based on his lectures in the part which verged on being critical of the royal institution.
- Hashtag #SaveThanathorn rose to number one the most popular on Twitter. At the same time, people flooded to change.org for their petition to call for the army chief, General Apirat Kongsompong, to step down because of his continued interference in politics.
April 6, 2019
- At 10 am, Thailand’s time, Thanathorn Jungrungruangkit, the leader of the Future Forward Party, arrived at the Pathumwan Police Station, to face the charges against him on two counts. He was been summoned for alleged sedition because anti-coup protesters fled in his mother’s van after demonstrating outside the Pathumwan Police Station in 2015.
- Hundred of his supporters turned up at the police station to express their support for Thanathorn.
- Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary-general of the Future Forward Party has also been summoned for his March 7, 2019 speech regarding the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party. He will be charged with violating the Computer Crimes Act.
- Polls at change.org have been bustling in the past weeks. These polls were created for several purposes, mostly to remove certain personalities from their duty, from the members of the Thai Election Commission (for failing to organise free and fair elections), General Apirat Kongsompong (for interfering in politics), to Piyabutr (for representing a threat to the monarchy).
April 7, 2019
- Amnesty International has condemned the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) for pursuing charges against leader of the Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Jungrungruangkit, in a military court. The NCPO has claimed that the crimes committed by Thanathorn, offering help to anti-junta demonstrators, took place during which time the order of the NCPO was still valid. The order stipulated that charged civilians were to be trialled in military courts.
- The Election Commission (EC) of Thailand had filed a lawsuit against politics activists who criticised the EC for its involvements in the electoral frauds and irregularities. Some of these activists include Sirote Khlampaiboon, an academic-turned-journalist, and Nutta Mahatana, a well-known anti-junta figure.
- Two weeks after the general elections held on 24 March, the result has still not been announced, pointing to the possibility that the junta’s adopting delaying tactic to ensure its victory in the polls.
April 8, 2019
- The rift within the Democrat Party has deepened in regards to the position of the party in the post-elections period. Some factions have favoured the joining of the pro-junta Palang Pracharath Party, while the others, including former party’s leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejajiva, have expressed their intention not to joint it. This situation has further obscured the trajectory of Thai politics.
- The Bhumjaithai Party, led by Anuthin Charnvirakul, like the Democrat Party, has not made its decision clear if it will become a part of a coalition government led by Palang Pracharath Party or by Pheu Thai Party. However, Anuthin gave an interview to the media that he would join any government with a pro-monarchy platform.
- The inability on the part of the Election Commission (EC) of Thailand could have paved the way for the elections of 24 March to be nullified. Should that be the case, Thailand being back on democratic track would be further delayed, installing uncertainties to the Thai political landscape.
April 9, 2019
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand clarifies that foreign diplomats who appeared at the police station to observe the case of Thanathorn Jungrungruangkit, the leader of Future Forward Party, had been asked by Thanathorn to monitor the situation. Don Pramudwinai, Foreign Minister, claimed that they had broken protocol, that of not intervening in Thai domestic politics. Hence they will be called to be informed of their violation.
- The debate of who should become the next leader of the Democrat Party has become heated. Outgoing leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, will be leaving the post after failing to move the party forward by gaining more seats in the recent elections. Candidates for this post include Koen Chatikavanij, former Finance Minister, Apirak Kosayodhin, former Governor of Bangkok and Chuan Leekpai, fromer Prime Minister.
April 10, 2019
- While the result of the elections has not been announced, many in Thailand expect that it is likely that the pro-junta faction will be able to form the government. As part of supporting such effort, General Prem Tinsulanonda, former prime minister, former army chief and current president of the Privy Council, came out to tell the media that, it did not matter if the Prayuth Chan-ocha government was effective. What mattered was this government was clean and corruption-free. Earlier, Prayuth visited Prem to wish him a happy Thai new year which is due on 13 April 2019.
- A group of 121 academics signed a petition to call for the Election Commission (EC) of Thailand to withdraw its complaints against certain political activists who had criticised the EC for the failure to hold free and fair elections. This group of academics vowed to stand by the accused activists and the people in monitoring the works of the EC even though this could mean a complaint could be filed against them too.
April 11, 2019
- The Election Commission (EC) of Thailand has admitted that it has not yet concluded how to calculate the number of votes which are to be translated into the number of parliamentary seats. The delay has further deligitimised the election process overseen by the military government of General Prayuth Chan-ocha. This has led to a growing call for the members of the EC to be expelled.
- Former police officer, Bhakbhum Soonthornsorn, has closed all his social media accounts after threatening to kill two leaders from Future Forward Party, the leader Thanathorn Jungrungruangkit, and the secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul. The two politicians have been accused of being anti-monarchists and became the targets of royalists like Bhakbhum
- The Election Commission (EC) of Thailand has submitted a proposal in regards to ways to calculate the party lists to the Thai Constitutional Court. It is meant to be a way to break the deadlock after almost 3 weeks since the elections of 24 March without any announcement of results. However, the Thai public is increasingly losing trust in the EC believing that it has been politicised and never neutral.
- The EC has denied that it threatened critics of the EC with a lawsuit and has been willing to listen to the complaints and will fix the problems with the elections result soon. The marks the culmination of the public distrust in the EC and therefore the trust that the elections could bring Thailand back to a democratic track.
- It has been reported that Mingkwan Saengsuwan, leader of the New Economy party, has said that he would join the pro-junta Palang Pracharat-led coalition party, despite his earlier pledge to stay with the pro-democracy forces. If true, his switch of side could tip the balance of power and that would allow the Palang Pracharat party to form a government. Some members of the Palang Pracharat have expressed confidence that the party is now able to bring together like-minded parties to set up a new government with more than 251 parliamentary votes, the minimum number neededto form the next government.
- The Thai Foreign Ministry has confirmed that Thanathorn Jungrungruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, must be trialled in a military court, an act without prejudice. The Ministry emphasised that the crime committed by Thanathorn took place during which time civilians must be trialled in a military court. Thanathorn was accused of violated Article 116, known as sedition law, for providing assistance to anti-junta protesters to get away from the protest scene.
- Mingkwan Saengsuwan, leader of the New Economy party, issued a statement denying that his party would join the pro-junta Palang Pracharat-led coalition party. He denial came right after widespread criticism on the social media against Mingkwan who earlier pledged to stay with the pro-democracy forces. The drama with the New Economy party came out after another rumour about a possibility that there would be a “national government” possibly approved by the monarchy and the military.
- The rumour did not stop there. Talks on social media are ripe about the Thaksin-influenced Pheu Thai party joining the national government too, perhaps led by Ampon Kittiampon, a privy councilor. Ampon is known to be close to King Vajiralongkorn. And the rumour seems to suggest that the monarchy has continued to shape the course of Thai politics in the post election period.
- Almost a month has passed, the election results in Thailand have not been announced. The Election Commission (EC) recently ordered a recount and re-election in two provinces: Nakhon Prathom and Chumphon, although the deadline to announce the official results had been approaching.
- According to the EU, one constituency in Nakhon Prathom with over 240 polling stations would need a recount. The Nation reported that evidence showed the counting may not have been lawful and affected the candidates. Eighty sets of referees would take charge to count all the ballots again. Each of them would be responsible for the counting at around three polling stations.
- The order to recount the ballots stemmed from a petition by Future Forward candidate Savika Limpasuwanna running in Nakhon Prathom. She came second, only 147 votes behind the Democrat Party candidate. Sawang said that the agency had investigated and found that irregularities may have occurred. In Chumphon, Sawang said a by-election would be conducted in one polling district because of a ballot discrepancy.
- FORSEA has collaborated with CSI LA, a Facebook-based campaign group, to work on the report: “Thailand’s 2019 Elections: Fraud and Irregularities“. This will be published on FORSEA website, soon.