It is only a few days until the long awaited election. In the final weeks leading up to the vote, however, many incidents that make this election controversial have continued, particularly the response from the army toward politicians and the decision of the Constitutional Court to disband the Thai Raksa Chart Party.
The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights compiles here provides a final update prior to the election, focusing on actions by government officials and election bodies including the Election Commission (EC), as well as actions by unknown parties which have targeted politicians and political parties including restrictions on their fundamental freedoms. TLHR believes that attempts to harass and restrict the freedom of politicians or political parties are tantamount to restricting the freedom of people who want to participate in politics.
Read previous reports;
- Can it be free and fair as expected?: Monitoring harassments against politicians after the lifting of political ban ahead of the election
- Ordinary people are still treated as a “target” despite the forthcoming election
The ever-ominous presence of military: Its culmination on the verge of the election
- On 22 February 2019, Nakhon Machim, Pheu Thai Party’s MP candidate in Phitsanulok wrote a Facebook post urging military officers to stop intimidation and harassment. He claims to have been followed by different suspicious vehicles during his political campaign. For example, on 20 February 2019, a black Sedan with an unknown license plate was trailing him while campaigning in Nakhon Thai district, Phitsanulok and on 22 February, a Nissan car with license plate no. “KT 3323 Phetchabun” pulled over by the vehicles of his team during their political campaign. The person in the car did not get out, and when the driver realized Nakhon’s team was starting to take photos of the car, the driver sped away. From his investigation, the car belonged to a military Lieutenant affiliated to Eka Thotsarot Military Camp, the Third Army Region.
Later, on 28 February 2019, Col Noppadon Watcharakitbaworn, Deputy Chief of Staff of the 39th Military Circle has gone to meet the deputy superintendent in charge of investigation of the Maung Phitsanulok Police Station. The police recorded that upon investigation, on 22 February, the military Lieutenant was not present in the area and therefore it would be impossible for him to harass Mr. Nakhon as claimed. Nevertheless, Mr. Nakhon, in his interview maintains the case did happen and continues to urge the military to stop such harassment.
- On 27 February 2019, a Spokesperson of the Ministry of Defense explained in a press conference why it is still necessary to retain military conscription and urged political parties to stop politicizing the issue during their campaigns and refrain from making any unfounded claims. Considering that military officers are public officers who have to act in compliance with the policies adopted by the government which will be formed after the election, such press conferences show their contradictory role and can amount to an attempt to muzzle freedom of expression exercised by political parties.
- On 28 February 2019, the Provincial Election Commission has asked the Commoners’ Party’s MP candidate to edit his election campaign jingle to be broadcast using airtime assigned by the Loei public radio station. The candidate was asked to remove the term “military dictatorship” and “shackles” from the spot. Upon his refusal to do so, the Loei EC decided to ban the spot and prevented it from being broadcast via public radio. Instead, the candidate opted for having the spot played on the campaign vehicles. As a result, it has been reported that military officers in uniform and plainclothes have driven two motorcycles to follow the campaign vehicles of the Commoners’ Party.
- On 4 March 2019, three or four uniformed and plainclothes military officers stalked and took pictures of Pol Gen Sereepisuth, Leader of the Thai Liberal Party and his MP candidates while conducting political campaigns in Muang District, Prachinburi. They were monitored even during their lunch break. It has so annoyed Pol Gen Sereepisuth who felt he was being subject to harassment. Therefore, he walked up to the officers and told them, “Leave me alone.”
Military closely monitoring political campaign by the Thai Liberal Party in Prachinburi (Photo courtesy of Spring News)
The incident has drawn criticism from the military which retaliated by keeping Pol Gen Sereepisuth as a target of harassment. Lt Col Pakit Phonfak, the Commander of the Peace and Order Maintaining Company under the Peace and Order Maintaining Command in Prachinburi, who was named by Pol Gen Sereepisuth has reported the case against the former national police chief, accusing him of insulting a competent official while performing his duties. An NCPO spokesperson also came out to criticize Pol Gen Sereepisuth for insulting, impairing the honor, reputation and dignity of the military and maintain that the Royal Thai Army is determined to protect its dignity and reputation and protect all its troops.
Meanwhile, in a separate charge, the Commander-in-Chief, Gen Apirat Kongsompong, has authorized an officer to report the case against Pol Gen Sereepisuth accusing him of defamation. This case has stemmed from the policeman’s interview in which he made a critical remark about the insignia on the military uniform worn by Gen Apirat.
Subsequently, more than 700 high ranking military officers took an oath loudly declaring their intention to protect the reputation of the monarch and the reputation and dignity of the military. Then a special meeting of all military units directly reporting to the Royal Thai Army was called on 7 March 2019 during which Lt Col Pakit was awarded a certificate in recognition of his perseverance and tolerance. The oath ceremony was unconventional. Some academics have speculated that it implies that the Royal Thai Army would not back any government post the election which is not considered part of its clan.
Moreover, on the same day, the First Army Region Commander projected on a large LCD screen at the intersection by the Ministry of Education a picture of Pol Gen Sereepisuth giving an interview to Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS) in 2013, side by side with his quote “Without the previous coup, I would not have been appointed the National Police Commissioner.” This was displayed from morning until late at night in order to discredit the police general as a politician and to show off the dominant power of the army.
A large LCD screen at the entrance of the First Army Area at the intersection by the Ministry of Education (Picture courtesy of Wiwatha V2)
The military’s response attempts to legitimize acts of harassment against politicians as a part of the effort to facilitate and maintain public order. The treatment has been applied to politicians of all parties. However, the individuals being subject to surveillance may feel different. They may find such acts an infringement on their freedom of expression. It should not be forgotten that over four years under the military rule, such surveillance has led to several prosecutions against individuals. Such surveillance has, therefore, caused suspicion among those being targeted by the military including politicians and ordinary people.
- On 9 March 2019, military officers from Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) closely monitored the political campaign of the Commoners’ Party’s MP candidate in Kalasin.
- On 14 March 2019, the Royal Thai Airforce military police prevented the Future Forward Party (FFP)’s MP candidate in Bangkok, Nick Saengsirinawin, from campaigning inside Rittiyawannalai School despite his attempt to explain to the military that a permission had been obtained from the School’s Director. Still, the military officers insisted on not letting him campaign in the School claiming it is part of the military precinct and in order to campaign there, the MP candidate has to seek prior permission from an air force Captain in a local barrack. In response to this incident, the Royal Thai Air Force’s spokesperson explained that the Royal Thai Air Force has a policy to require political parties that want to campaign inside its premises to first seek and obtain its permission. Since Rittiyawannalai School is located within the area under the charge of the Royal Thai Air Force, even though the party has received permission from the School, it is still required to obtain permission from the Royal Thai Air Force as well to ensure equal treatment to all political parties.
- On 15 March 2019, Suchart Lainamngern, Pheu Thai Party’s MP candidate in Lopburicomplained to the media that five or six men in military fatigues raided his residence without a warrant. They claimed to have received instructions from their superior officers to verify if the vehicles used by the MP candidate belonged to the government or not. They have, however, found no such public vehicles in his possession. Mr. Suchart revealed on the same day the raid took place that he had gone to complain with the EC asking for an investigation of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, as prime ministerial candidate of the Palang Pracharat Party and Mr. Sontirat Sontijirawong, the Party’s Executive Secretary, per the speech made at a rally of the Palang Pracharat Party in Lopburi. This could be the reason that has prompted the house raid.
Opposing NCPO may yield prosecutions per the Computer Crime Act
- On 4 March 2019, Col Burin Thongpraphai, legal officer of the NCPO was authorized to report the case against individuals who were alleged to have shared news from one31news.com which reported that Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and other Ministers each drank coffee which cost 12,000 baht per cup at the expense of public money. As a result, the inquiry officer of the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) has summoned the Future Forward party deputy leader Lt-Gen Pongsakorn Rodchompoo and five other individuals who had shared the news to answer to charges concerning the dissemination and sharing of computer data knowing that it was false information, the act of which may affect national security or may panic the public, an offence per the Computer Crime Act’s Section 14 (5). In response to this, Lt-Gen Pongsakorn told the press that he had shared the news as he thought it had been published by a news outlet. But once he realized it was fake, he had it immediately removed, within three minutes. Nevertheless, Lt-Gen Pongsakorn maintained that such post would not have caused public panic or affected national security and noted that the criminal proceeding could simply be used as a tool to commit political harassment.
- On 8 March 2019, Col Burin Thongpraphai, legal officer of the NCPO reported the case with TCSD against web administrator of the Future Forward Party (FFP) or concerned individuals who were alleged to have violated the Computer Crime Act’s Section 14 for disseminating or passing on computer data knowing that it was false information and against the Penal Code’s Section 198 for insulting the Court or Judges. The case stems from posting a youtube video clip on the Future Forward Party (FFP) website. The video is pertaining to the Party’s reaction to the Constitutional Court’s decision to have the Thai Raksa Chart Party dissolved.
Apprehending politicians: The mission of the law enforcement
- On 27 February 2019, the police, with an arrest warrant issued by the Phuket Provincial Court 96/2559 dated 11 February 2016, has arrested Mr. Yotsawat Theeratwattanakul, a Future Forward Party (FFP) MP candidate in Trang on fraud charges. He was apprehended while running his political campaign in Palian District and was driven straight away for criminal processing in Phuket. The warrant had been issued since 2016, but the arrest has not been carried until now. According to the Future Forward Party (FFP)’s clarification, the offence allegedly took place between 2015-2016 during which time Mr. Yotsawat and his associates have borrowed from the plaintiff and his associates have failed to service the debt. Nevertheless, an out-of-court-settlement has been reached since 25 May 2016, and the plaintiff agreed to withdraw the case. But as soon as Mr. Yotsawat has become a FFP’s MP candidate in Trang, the police executed the existing warrant and held him in custody. It should be noted that this could be a political trick and in fact the EC has already reviewed the qualification of all candidates since the day the applications were filed. The EC should have already approved Mr. Yotsawat’s candidacy.
- On 4 March 2019, Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, Deputy Director of the Thailand Action Taskforce for Information Technology Crime Suppression announced criminal proceedings against six individuals who have shared news about the coffee drunk by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, which allegedly cost 12,000 baht per cup. The police stated that they had conducted an initial investigation and found six individuals involved with the sharing and dissemination of such fake news including Lt-Gen Pongsakorn, Deputy Leader of the Future Forward Party (FFP) and the inquiry officer has summoned all of them to answer to the charge. Initially, four have reported as summoned. The police will later summon for the second time Lt-Gen Pongsakorn and another individual. If they fail to turn up again, the police will apply for arrest warrants against them. Nevertheless, it was found the summonses had been issued on 4 March 2019, and the suspects were required to turn up to answer to the charge on 11 March 2019. Given such short period of time, it was not necessary to issue the second summonses. It should be noted that in an interview by Pol Lt Gen Surachate, he pointed to irregular practice by the police and how it could be an attempt to discredit him.
- On 6 March 2019, Ms. Arunee Chamnanya, a Pheu Thai Party MP candidate in Phayao, filed a complaint with the EC asking for an investigation into election fraud and revealed that in Phayao, apart from rampant election fraud, she herself has to face trumped up charges and as a result of which she decided to call off her candidacy.
- On 13 March 2019, Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, Deputy Director of the Center for the Prevention and Suppression of Fraud under the Royal Thai Police, has led a police operation to raid 24 places in the north of Thailand. One of the aims was to raid and seize the property of Mr. Wisuth Chainarun, a Pheu Thai Party’s MP candidate in Phayao, allegedly on “being complicit in a fraudulent scam.” It was announced during the press conference that in 2016, Mr. Wisuth and others have lured people to invest in oil shares. It has turned out that the investors have not received their earnings. Despite the case filed by the injured parties against Mr. Wisuth, the Court has acquitted him. Later, the injured parties have come up with new evidence and complained with the Center for the Prevention and Suppression of Fraud, which has led to the charging against Mr. Wisuth and his close associates as well as the seizure of his and associates’ assets worth 170 million baht.
The inconsistent Thai bureaucracy
- On 6 March 2019, the District Chief Officer of Tha Takiab district, Chachoengsao has refused to allow the Palang Pracharat Party to use the lawn in front of the district office in Tha Takiab, Chachoengsao for political campaign citing the instructions from the NCPO Executive Secretariat which prohibit the use of a venue belonging to local administration organization for political activities. But eventually, the District Chief Officer of Tha Takiab district has signed off a letter on 12 March to allow the party to use the venue citing the cabinet resolution on 29 January 2019 which encourages government agencies to facilitate the electoral process, but the Palang Pracharat Party has already signed a contract to rent a venue from a private entity. As a result, the Palang Pracharat Party has complained with the Ministry of Interior on 11 March asking for an inquiry on the District Chief Officer of Tha Takiab district alleging that his practice could be tantamount to an omission of duty per the democratic process and the Constitution. The Provincial Governor of Chachoengsao signed a letter appointing an inquiry committee on 14 March. It should be noted that despite the cabinet resolution on 29 January 2019, some political parties continue to face obstacles finding a venue for political campaigns, for example, the Pheu Thai Party which was denied a permission by a school director to use a school in Ubonratchathani for political campaigning.
Mysterious men who upended the climate of political campaign
- On 3 March 2019, around 21.30, shots were fired five times in front of the private residence of Ms. Praphatson Chuthong, a Puea Chat Party MP candidate in Bangkok, as an act of intimidation. Ms. Praphatson has reported the incident to the police in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.
- On 8 March 2019, a fire was set at a factory producing political campaign billboards and other materials belonging to Ms. Akleema Klangpetch, a Thai Liberal Party MP candidate in Srakaew causing damage to eucalyptus logs used for making the billboards and the building used for making such billboards. One day prior, damage was inflicted on billboards featuring the party’s policies just before their installation. It was found out later that the damaged billboards were tossed away at a spot about one kilometer from the factory. All the damage was inflicted on part of the billboards which featured name of Pol Gen Sereepisuth. The incident happened just after Pol Gen Sereepisuth had gone to the area to help solicit votes for his party members in Prachinburi during which time he strongly called out a military officer who closely monitored him. Apart from Sra Kaew, it was found that dozens of billboards of the Thai Liberal Party’s MP candidates have been cut by knives or vandalized with spray color, particularly the defacing of the picture of Pol Gen Sereepisuth Temeeyaves, Leader of the Thai Liberal Party while billboards of other political parties in the same neighborhoods have been left intact, including in area adjacent to the 11th Infantry Regiment, Bangkhen and the area around Thahan Road, Dusit district.
The Thai Liberal Party’s billboards around the 11th Infantry Regiment were vandalized, particularly the defacing of the picture of Gen Sereepisuth (Photo courtesy of Matichon)
- Reports of campaign billboard vandalism have been received throughout this election campaign and it has affected almost all parties. On 28 February 2019, the Deputy National Police Commissioner, Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, reported that more than 90 complaints have been received concerning the violation of electoral laws, most of which are concerned with the vandalizing of campaign billboards whereas very few perpetrators have been brought to justice.
- On 14 March 2019, Ms. Arunee Chamnanya, Pheu Thai Party’s MP candidate in Phayao spoke during the press conference that the party’s candidates have been subject to surveillance and intimidation. Men in black have stalked her and other candidates while campaigning in her constituency. After an investigation, it was found that the same vehicle used for committing surveillance, though its license plate has been changed on different occasions.
- On 15 March 2019, Ms. Benjawan Salamont, Future Forward Party (FFP)’s MP candidate in Sukhothai revealed how two campaign vehicles of the party have had their front tires deflated at night while being parked inside the houses of the campaign team members. It was found the deflation was caused by nails while the two vehicles were parked in two different places. The deflation cannot be a coincidence. According to Benjawan, prior to this, she had found bullets being placed at her home and her campaign billboards had vanished mysteriously.
It took three days to propose to the Court to dissolve TRCP while three months to conclude the investigation of the alleged PPRP’s fundraising dinner, no progress in other cases
- On 7 March 2019, the Constitutional Court unanimously ruled to dissolve the Thai Raksa Chart Party (TRCP) and revoke political rights of the party’s 13 executive members for ten years as a result of their nomination of a prime ministerial candidate deemed hostile to the democracy with a constitutional monarchy. The ruling has also technically disqualified the party’s 268 MP candidates, both for constituency-based and party list elections depriving them of the right to be elected as representatives of the people. The court’s ruling has also deprived people of the right to choose the policies and actions proposed by the Thai Raksa Chart Party, which has clearly identified itself with the pro-democracy faction and is against the proliferation of power by the NCPO.
It only took the EC three days to review the case before furnishing it to the Constitutional Court. It has also made people cry foul about a double standard since prior to this, on 21 December 2018, a complaint has been filed with the EC to investigate a fundraising dinner organized by the Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP), but it took the EC nearly three months before it disclosed in an interview that the investigation has been concluded and no offence which may induce party dissolution had been found. Meanwhile, other complaints filed for the dissolution of the Palang Pracharat Party, both before and after the complaint for the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party was filed, have seen no progress as far as the investigation by the EC is concerned. This is the case despite the complainants repeatedly urging the EC to promptly investigate the cases and apply the same standard used with the Thai Raksa Chart Party. Still there has been barely any progress in such cases including;
- On 23 January 2019, Pol Gen Sereepisuth Temeeyaves complained and asked the EC to investigate the alleged co-option of MP candidates from other political parties by the Palang Pracharat Party.
- On 15 February 2019, Mr. Winyat Chatmontree, Secretary General of the United Lawyers for Rights & Liberty, complained and asked the EC to investigate the alleged domination of the Palang Pracharat Party by outsiders. The use of public office for and against MP candidates, the use of public policies as a political gimmick, and being hostile to the democracy by proposing Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, NCPO Leader who has obtained his power from a coup and who is a government officer running as a prime ministerial candidate.
- On 18 February 2019 Pol Gen Sereepisuth proposed the dissolution of Palang Pracharat Party for nominating Gen Prayuthas a prime ministerial candidate since he has seized power from the previous government, the act of which is hostile to the democracy with a constitutional monarchy.
- On 18 February 2019 Mr. Ruangkrai leekitwattana, the Thai Raksa Chart Party list MP candidate proposed a dissolution of the Palang Pracharat Party for nominating Gen Prayuthas Prime Minister. As well as, the case of Mr.Uttama Savanayana become the party leader prior to being a member of the party as a result of allowing an outsider to influence the party.
- On 14 March 2019, Mr. Suchart Lainamngern, Pheu Thai Party’s MP candidate in Lopburi complained and asked for an investigation on a speech by the Palang Pracharat Party during its political campaign in Lopburi during which the candidates proposed or promised to offer benefit to the voters, and of a case concerning the consent of Gen Prayuth as a prime ministerial candidate to allow the Palang Pracharat Party to seek benefits from the State Welfare Card.
- Meanwhile, it seems the EC is so keen to investigate complaints against the anti-junta political parties which may have resulted in the dissolution of the parties, including:
- On 25 February 2019, Srisuwan Janya, Secretary-General of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution filed a complaint asking the EC to investigate Mr. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Leader of the Future Forward Party (FFP), and Mr. Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, the Party’s Executive Secretary concerning the distorted profile of Mr. Thanathorn published on the FFP’s website which might amount to a fraudulent act to lure voters to vote for him. Piyabutr was accused for the content of a speech he made at a rally in Sakon Nakhon, during which he appeared to suggest that certain government agencies and media were making a mockery of the Northeasterners and viewing them as ignorant people, the act of which could be construed as spreading misinformation. The EC ruled the first case on 13 March (taking them 17 days) and decided to dispose it as insufficient evidence could be corroborated to find Mr. Thanathorn guilty as alleged.
- On 8 March 2019, attorney Mr. Anas Chang-in complained with the Provincial EC in Loeiand asked the EC to request the Constitutional Court to disband the Pheu Thai Party. He alleged that Ms. Sudarat Keyuraphan, the party’s prime ministerial candidate, had lured and deceived the voters to vote for her party’s candidates. It stems from the speech she made at a political rally in Loei during which she suggested that if they vote for Pheu Thai Party, Mr. Sukkrai Chansawang, an incumbent member of the Provincial Council will become a party list MP even though Mr. Sukkrai has not been included in the party’s list of candidates. In just a few days after receiving the complaint, the EC has accepted to review the case and set up an inquiry committee to proceed with the case.
- In addition, the EC also has initiated an investigation against the Pheu Thai Partyeven though no one has filed the complaint. The case stemmed from that the registrar of political parties noting the video call made by Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to key members of the Pheu Thai Party during which he declared the Pheu Thai Party would win the election. In this case, the Pheu Thai Party is accused of allowing outsiders to dominate the party. The EC has already set up an inquiry committee to corroborate evidence in this case.
State organs and the NCPO along with independent organizations set up by virtue of the NCPO-drafted Constitution 2017 have been engaging in acts of harassment against politicians and political parties as discussed. This includes close surveillance while they conduct political campaigns, holding press conferences and showing power over other people, discrediting politicians, banning unauthorized political campaigns in areas under the charge of the military, judicial harassment, the arrests made based on warrants issued a long time ago, and discrimination regarding cases to review. All these have rendered the forthcoming and important election neither free nor fair, and unclear as to whether it can help to restore democracy.
Moreover, the behavior of the NCPO and NCPO-appointed agencies is tantamount to acting as a state within a state and shunning accountability. The NCPO has appointing its cronies to select the Senators who are eligible for vote the next Prime Minister while one of the prime ministerial candidates is the Head of the NCPO itself. Alongside this, the unanimous decision by the Office of the Ombudsman to dismiss the complaint against the Head of the NCPO, ruling that he is not a public official since he does not fall under the charge of a superior officer and is not subject to supervision by the state, reiterates how injustices persist after nearly five years of the NCPO being in power and during this election campaign.
How to monitor the election
- We WatchNetwork is recruiting election monitoring volunteers at https://wewatchthailand.org/register_volunteer
- FFFE(Free, Fair & Fruitful Election) reports events concerning the election by attaching a hashtag #จับตาการเลือกตั้ง62 #FFFE and a form for election monitoring can be downloaded from https://goo.gl/SVuukV
- Open Forum for Democracy Foundation(PNET) receives complaints about electoral fraud at Line@PNET NATIONAL CENTER (apply using the ID: pnet)