Australia: Thailand urged to stop footballer’s extradition to Bahrain

Friends and supporters of Australian-based refugee Hakeem al-Araibi are stepping up calls for his release from detention in Thailand, where he faces extradition to Bahrain, the country where he was born.

Al-Araibi, who once played football for Bahrain’s national team, appeared in a Bangkok court on Tuesday where the judge extended his detention by 60 days to give Bahrain time to make its case.

“Please stop them,” a handcuffed al-Araibi told journalists as he was escorted outside the courtroom in a video circulated on social media. “I am Australian, not Bahraini. I didn’t do anything,” the 25-year-old added.

A group of the footballer’s friends – mainly refugees, asylum seekers and students of Bahraini descent -have been holding a protest outside the Thai consulate in Melbourne, Australia’s second city, day and night for the past few days.

“I think Hakeem has been targeted because he’s a national figure, plus his brother is very active [politically], so they just target the whole family,” said Bassam*, one of al-Araibi’s friends.


Continue reading Al Jazeera: Thailand urged to stop footballer’s extradition to Bahrain


Thai parties wary despite lift of political ban by ruling military junta

Uncertainty still lingers over whether political parties can begin election campaigns, even though the regime has lifted its prohibition on political activities.

Despite this, political parties have opted to stay on the safe side by avoiding any election campaigning until Jan 2 when a royal decree calling for the Feb 24 election of MPs will be published in the Royal Gazette.

The Feb 24 poll date was officially confirmed at a meeting last Friday between the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and party representatives.

While Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Tuesday that political parties may now engage in all kinds of political activities, the Election Commission (EC) still had doubts.

EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong said he could not tell if political parties can engage in election campaigning and first has to study the regime’s latest order allowing parties to conduct political activities.

He said the lifting of the political ban has been well-timed to coincide with the promulgation of the law governing the election of MPs.

Mr Wissanu said that the law on the election of MPs stipulates that election campaigning is allowed when the royal decree on the election of MPs is issued, and that the EC will determine how campaigns are conducted.

Therefore, while waiting for the royal decree to come into force, parties can engage in all kinds of political activities and these activities are not considered election campaigning, Mr Wissanu said.

Now, parties are no longer required to obtain permission from the NCPO to hold meetings or appear on stage to address the public, he added.

“One can say the latest order lets political parties loose…. This is better than when the royal decree comes out because things [election campaigns] must be regulated by law,” Mr Wissanu said.

Democrat spokesman Thana Chiravinij welcomed the lifting of the ban, although he thought election campaigning would not be permitted until Jan 2 when the royal decree is issued.

In fact, actual election campaigns will take place after poll candidacy applications are submitted between Jan 14 to 18, he said.

Key Pheu Thai Party figure, Chalerm Ubumrung, said that the lifting of the political ban only permits political activities such as political gatherings, but election campaigns are still banned.

He believed politicians can go on stage to canvass for votes only after the enforcement of the royal decree on the election of MPs. Worachai Hema, a former Pheu Thai MP from Samut Prakan, said the lifting of the political ban still caused confusion as it was unclear if election campaigns were still banned.

“Is this a trap laid for us? What if we engage in activities seen to be election campaigns and they take action against us?” Mr Worachai said.


Continue reading Bangkok Post: Parties wary despite lift of political ban

Whiff of populism in Thai junta’s latest schemes

A tranche of seemingly populist policies has been sprouting forth from the military-led government, pointing to something much more than a bid to boost domestic demand amid a murky economic outlook.

Critics argue that by using fiscal policy to splash out cash and provide generous benefits to the masses, the government is engaged in a deliberate effort to garner popularity ahead of the general election scheduled to take place early next year.

Pork-barrel policymaking and populism have been recurring modes of operation adopted by Thai politicians, in this case military strongmen, to rev up support from the general populace.

Praised by many at the bottom of the social hierarchy and loathed by numerous opponents, the legacy of Thailand’s populist policies centres on Thaksin Shinawatra, whose government introduced schemes like 30-baht universal healthcare and Village Funds to provide relief to the rural poor.

“These policies only have a short-term stimulus effect and contribute diminutively to GDP growth,” said Somjai Phagaphasvivat, an academic at Thammasat University.

The rolled-out populist policies also fail to address structural problems surrounding the country’s competitiveness, social inequality and bridging the development gap between urban and rural areas, Mr Somjai said.

It’s always been a love-hate relationship with populist policies in Thailand, with supporters voicing strong support for these stimulus and subsidy measures and critics opposing them on grounds of fiscal discipline.

Still, the junta-led government continues to gravitate towards populist policies when it comes to gaining support from the public.

Continue reading Bangkok Post: Whiff of populism in latest schemes

Democracy activist Thirayuth criticises Thai military regime for ‘plot to cling onto power’

Social critic Thirayuth Boonmi yesterday took aim at the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), saying the regime intends to cling to power for a long time and that it is highly likely that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will return as the premier after the poll next year.

The regime’s desire to prolong its hold on power manifested itself after the draft charter written by a panel led by Borwornsak Uwanno, was tossed out and replaced with a new version formulated by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), chaired by Meechai Ruchupan, according to Mr Thirayuth.

Under the Meechai panel’s constitution, political parties are allowed to nominate prime minister candidates who are neither constituency nor list MPs, he said.

The academic went on to say that under the charter the 250 senators who were chosen by the NCPO would be empowered to pick the prime minister.

The regime is also enticing politicians into the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), which is expected to support Gen Prayut’s return as premier after the poll, without listening to any criticism.

“It is almost 100% guaranteed that Gen Prayut will become the next prime minister,” said Mr Thirayuth, a former lecturer at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, who is also a fervent critic of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr Thirayuth said that some groups want to use the government’s strength to weaken society so no one will intrude on their business dealings.

These groups believe that as long as the military ensures political stability, strengthens bureaucratic power and lets influential business groups wield unlimited power, the country will remain stable, and the economy can move forward, he said.

“In the future, Thai politics will be a democracy dominated by the military, civil servants, intellectual elites and major capitalists,” said Mr Thirayuth.


Continue reading: Thirayuth rips regime for ‘plot to cling onto power’

Thailand to hold much-delayed election on Feb. 24: military regime

Thailand will hold a much-delayed general election on Feb. 24, 2019, the Election Commission said on Tuesday, after the junta lifted a ban on political activity it imposed after taking power in a coup in 2014.

The junta imposed the strict ban on political activity citing the need for order after months of street protests against the democratically elected government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The election, which many hope will restore democracy in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy, will likely pit the populist political movement backed by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and supported by many in rural areas against the military and royalist establishment.

The Bangkok-based establishment seized power in successive coups in 2006 and 2014 and now has its own proxy political parties.

Continue reading: Reuters

Thailand’s pro-democracy Pheu Thai party confident despite electoral hurdles

Thailand’s biggest political party, hit by defections ahead of an election that will allow the kingdom to emerge from military rule, remains confident of its chances even as a new polling system threatens to confuse longtime supporters.

“This election has been designed for a return to democracy while keeping a dictatorial government. It’s like dictatorship under the veil of democracy,” said Dr Sudarat Keyuraphan, who leads the Pheu Thai Party’s election strategy committee.

The 57-year-old former agriculture minister sat out of politics for most of the past decade before being parachuted into what is arguably the party’s top position this year.

Shielded from Pheu Thai’s legal troubles by her exclusion from executive positions, she has been steering the mothership while several high-profile members moved to smaller, allied parties to maximise their chances of being elected under the new Constitution.

While Dr Sudarat doubts supporters will abandon Pheu Thai, she admits it is a tough job getting voters to understand what is at stake.

The ruling generals maintain a partial ban on political activity and explicitly outlaw electioneering, even while the country gears up for a poll tentatively set for Feb 24.

“Most of the people think the election system is the same as usual. But it’s not,” she said in an interview with The Straits Times last Friday (Dec 7).


Continue reading The Straits Times: Thailand’s Pheu Thai confident despite electoral hurdles, says key