Campaign against pro-democracy faction goes into overdrive with lese majeste law once again being used as political weapon
Thailand is moving away from democracy after the election as the military and conservative elite twist laws, regulations, norms and traditions in a bid to eradicate opposition and extend their grip on power.
General Prayut Chan-o-cha, whose military coup ousted an elected civilian government in 2014, has utilised all means to continue his rule. The military-sponsored charter has achieved its main aim – to ease him and his pro-military faction back to top political office.
Prayut exploited an opaque process to handpick 250 senators, mostly from military backgrounds, who then voted to return him as the new premier. Nobody knows the identity of the Senate selection committee members, since the list of names was missing from the announcement in the Royal Gazette.
After the pro-junta Phalang Prachart Party that proposed Prayut as premier won fewer seats in the House of Representatives than the anti-junta camp led by the Pheu Thai and Future Forward parties, the military has joined with the conservative royalist elite to block the “democratic threat”.
But Prayut’s new government will inevitably be unstable due to its slim majority in the lower house. The Phalang Pracharat-led coalition is further weakened by the plethora of parties that agreed to join only if their short-term interests were met. The Bhumjaithai and Democrat parties are driving hard bargains in return for backing Prayut’s new government, but could pull out anytime if their “prices” are not met.
With such weak foundations, Prayut and the pro-military faction have mapped out a plan to weaken opposition in the lower house, their chief target being the new face of politics, Future Forward. The party strikes fear into Prayut and the conservative elite since nearly all its MPs are young and vigorous politicians who have a strong faith in democracy.
Future Forward is a threat because it represents both the new generation and the push to overthrow the political status quo. The party wants constitutional amendments that would liberate Thai politics from the control of a small conservative clique.
To block this move, the military, conservative elite and royalists – both real and fake – are now coordinating to attack Future Forward members. Their latest move came this week when authorities and royalists began bullying the party’s spokesperson, Pannika Wanich, who is also an MP. She was threatened with 15 years in jail under the draconian lese majeste law, after photos and Facebook posts from nearly a decade ago were unearthed over the weekend. For what were described as inappropriate gestures towards the monarchy and HM King Rama IX, the MP and her friends were bombarded with insults by angry netizens.
The whipped-up controversy escalated on Monday when Assistant National Police chief Pol Lt-General Piya Uta-yo said he had ordered the Technology Crime Suppression Division, the police legal department and the Special Branch Bureau to look into it. The taskforces will investigate whether or not Pannika and her friends had violated the computer crime law, the criminal law or the security law, he said.
Pannika is a leading figure in Future Forward, stepping firmly into the political spotlight at the recent opening of Parliament.
Prior to Pannika’s case, her youthful party had already been targeted by multiple lawsuits. Its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanookul have been the prime targets. For now, the party is battling on. But disbandment, and/or jail sentences for its leaders, are now a real threat. These would also threaten prospects for democratic freedoms in Thailand.