Thai junta exercises control over election commission on new electoral map

Opponents of Thailand’s ruling junta have reacted angrily to a new electoral map unveiled by the Election Commission on on Thursday, with many criticizing the timing of its publication as the country prepares for next year’s general elections.

A much anticipated vote is provisionally scheduled for Feb. 24.

“It is a clear flag that this election will not be free and fair,” said Jaturon Chaisang, an influential member of the Thai Raksa Chart Party. “It is a stain of the Election Commission.”

Founded by the family of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, two former prime ministers, Thai Raksa Chart and its main ally Pheu Thai form the core of the opposition to the junta.

“The Election Commission does not care about people’s feelings,” said Jaturon. “One district was divided into four constituencies. How should people find who to represent them, when they have problems?”

While he did not specify the district he was referring to, it is likely to be in the hotly contested northern province of Sukhothai.

Sampan Thangbenjapol, a former member of parliament for Sukhothai from the Democrat Party, also criticized the new map. “It is just the start [of the election] and already there is this lack of transparency,” he wrote on his Facebook page. He called on supporters and the general public to stand up to the regime at the polls.

Thailand’s electoral boundaries had to be redrawn after the provisional constitution introduced by the junta reduced number of the Lower House constituencies from 375 to 350. The map was published in the Royal Thai Government Gazette.

The number of constituencies was reduced evenly throughout the country. Bangkok now has 30 seats, down from 33. The number in the northern province of Chang Mai, a Pheu Thai stronghold, was reduced from 10 to nine, while that in the mainly democrat-supporting Nakhon Si Thammarat, a province in the South, went from nine to eight.

The plan was originally due by mid-November, but Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha issued an order giving the Election Commission until Dec. 11, the day the lower house election bills come in to effect. The move sparked concerns over potential gerrymandering among the anti-junta parties and a nongovernmental electoral watchdog.

Prayuth, however, said the junta “did not do the constituency map,” and denied any involvement on Friday.

“When you get constituencies you want, it’s all good. When you do not get what you want, you complain,” he said. “What is happening is all normal.”

Some small parties like the Bhumjaithai Party felt the plan was acceptable. A Chart Thai Pattana representative voiced appreciation for the Election Commission having drawn up the new map ahead of the new deadline.

Complaints regarding the new boundaries can be filed with the Administrative Court.

The international community will be keeping a close eye on Thailand in the run-up to and during the election.

“What we’ve seen in Thailand over several years is the ability to withstand political shocks and navigate through them,” said Moody’s analyst Matthew Circosta. Moody’s Investors Service ranks the country at Baa1 level, its 8th-highest rating.

“The risk around the election would be if we see some backsliding to the implementation of reforms, which is important in addressing some of Thailand’s structural constraints such as competitiveness.”

The redrawing of the electoral map is one of many potential risks surrounding the vote.

There may be a move questioning its legitimacy, and any political vacuum caused by post-election negotiations could have repercussions for the Thai economy.

Source Nikkei Asian Review: Thai junta opponents criticize new electoral map

Australian refugee football player faces deportation to Bahrain after arrest in Thailand

A refugee football player who lives in Australia has been detained in Thailand and is facing deportation back to the country he fled from, where he fears violence and persecution.

Hakeem Al-Araibi told Guardian Australia he was arrested on an Interpol red notice for his conviction over an act of vandalism in Bahrain which he denies and says allegedly happened while he was playing in a televised football game.

Since 2015 Interpol has said it would not allow red notices against confirmed refugees and asylum seekers from the countries they fled from.

The 25-year-old has spent two days in detention at a Bangkok airport and told Guardian Australia he was scared and unable to eat, fearing that he would be sent back to Bahrain.

“When I arrived at immigration in Thailand they took me to detention and said you have a red notice from Bahrain,” he said from detention.

“I told them I am a refugee in Australia. I said [Bahrain] is not allowed to take me … I have been in Australia for four and a half years now.

“But they took me to detention. Still now I don’t know what’s happening.”

Continue reading The Guardian

German Chancellor Angela Merkel encourages Thai dictator to lead his country to democracy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is encouraging Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to lead his country toward democracy.

Merkel said Wednesday before a meeting with Prayuth in Berlin that “Thailand has had very difficult years on the domestic front and … I will encourage the prime minister to continue along the path of Thailand’s return to democratic order as soon as possible.”

Prayuth, who heads the Thai regime that seized power in a 2014 coup, told Merkel “we are advancing toward elections in February 2019 and I have every intention of making the elections a fair and transparent process.”

The Thai government has previously said it would return the country to electoral democracy at earlier dates, but has repeatedly found reasons to postpone the polls.

Source: The Washington Post

Junta No. 2 wants Thai dictator Prayuth in office for another term so he can ‘finish his work’

Junta No. 2 Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, best known internationally for his love of extravagant wrist watches, surprised no one yesterday by saying he wants his boss, military leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, to continue on in his post as prime minister for another term.

The question of Prayuth’s future was put before Prawit by reporters outside the Ministry of Defence as they once again sought to confirm the date of the general election, a question that prompted Prawit to “jokingly” offer to brawl with a female reporter just two weeks ago.

Seemingly in a better mood yesterday, Prawit confirmed that the election would be held on Feb. 24 by raising two fingers on one hand and four on the other, drawing laughter from reporters.

When asked to comment about Prayuth’s interest in politics, Prawit said he wants his boss to stay in office so he could “finish his work.”

“I want the the prime minister to stay so he could finish the work he’s doing, because we’re rushing everything. We’ve done so much in the past four years,” Prawit said.

Continue reading Coconuts Bangkok: Junta No. 2 wants PM Prayuth in office for another term so he can ‘finish his work’

Pro-democracy Pheu Thai party deploys pre-election big gun trio

Pheu Thai has chosen party bigwig Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, former deputy prime minister Chalerm Ubumrung, and Panthongtae Shinawatra, the son of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to spearhead its election campaign, according to a party source.

The trio were picked as many of the party’s key figures have defected to other camps, the source noted.

Mr Panthongtae’s move to apply to become a party member on Saturday was seen as a significant bid to embolden former MPs who have decided to stick with the party.

It is also a tacit way of making it clear that Thaksin has not left the party, the source noted.

Thaksin’s son will make appearances at the party’s roadshow stages but he is not expected to talk much.

“His presence alone will reassure people that Thaksin’s DNA remains within the party,” the source added.

Continue reading Bangkok Post: Pheu Thai deploys big gun trio

Panthongtae Shinawatra, son of ex-PM Thaksin, tipped to help lead Pheu Thai Party campaign

Panthongtae Shinawatra, who joined Pheu Thai on Sunday, will join senior members in leading the party’s political campaign, a party source said on Monday.

The source said Mr Panthongtae will join Khunying Suradat Keyurphan and Chalerm Yubamrung as lead campaigners for the party in the lead up to the general election, tentatively planned for Feb 24.

His presence would boost the morale of party members after seeing key figures defect to other parties, mainly Palang Pracharath, the source said.

Mr Panthongtae’s decision also sent a signal to supporters of Pheu Thai that former prime minister Thaksin was still behind the party, the source added.

Mr Pathongtae applied for Pheu Thai membership on Sunday and showed the receipt on his Facebook post. He wrote that he planned a roadshow to woo voters to “restore democracy to the people”.

Pheu Thai has seen key members, including the Three Allies led by Suriya Jungroongruangkit and Somsak Thepsuthin, jump ship to Palang Pracharath.

Palang Pracharath supports Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s return as prime minister after the poll, although it has not officially announced its position.

Pheu Thai opposes an outsider prime minister and has made clear its opposition to the military government.

“The final decision will rest on 40 million ballots on Feb 24,” Mr Panthongtae wrote.

Khunying Sudarat, who is in charge of mapping out political strategy for Pheu Thai, travelled to the northeastern region last week to seek support for the party.

The source said she was considering running in a constituency in Bangkok to guarantee a ticket into parliament. If she does, she will pick a constituency where support for the party is strongest, the source added.

Source: Bangkok Post

Tourists from China skip Thailand after Phuket boat disaster

A ferry disaster that killed dozens of Chinese tourists in Thailand earlier this year has sent visitor numbers plunging from the kingdom’s single largest market.

The Chinese make up about a quarter of Thailand’s 35 million annual visitors who are drawn by cheap beach vacations, renowned food and Bangkok nightlife.

But in July a ferry carrying mostly Chinese tourists back to the resort island of Phuket sank killing 47.

August recorded an immediate dip of 12 per cent and September brought 15 per cent fewer Chinese tourists than the same months last year.

October was the hardest hit, with the tourism ministry reporting Wednesday (Nov 21) a same-period decrease of about 20 per cent – or 160,000 people – from 2017.

About US$476 million was lost in spending over the three-month period, statistics showed.

Continue reading Channel NewsAsia