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Hannah Ellis-Petersen
Gender Female
Job The Guardian Staff Writer
  Politics Journalist
Desc South-east Asia correspondent for The Guardian


Media The Guardian

2019 03 21 Publish

Far from handing the country back to a civilian-led, democratic government, the military rulers, known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), are instead seeking to hold on to their power base through proxy political parties who want the military leader, Prayut Chan-ocha, to stay as prime minister

Yet even the political parties predicted to align with the junta have publicly turned against them. Last weekend, the leader of the Thai Democrat party, Abhisit Vejjajiva - a pivotal ally for the pro-regime faction - released a video bluntly stating that his party would not support the return of Prayut Chan-ocha as prime minister, though he did not rule out joining a pro-regime coalition

Even the leader of the non-partisan Bhumjaithai party, Anutin Charnvirakul, who may be a deciding factor in which faction forms a parliamentary majority, told the Guardian he did not want his party propping up Prayut Chan-ocha’s return to power

There are still swathes of support for the pro-democracy opposition parties, particularly Pheu Thai, the populist party which was formed under now-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and ever-growing momentum behind Future Forward, a progressive party running on a radical agenda of constitutional and military reform

The thai military has staged 12 coups since 1932 and on Wednesday a pro-junta politician said another would be on the cards if opponents of the junta win. ‘Do you really think you can just ‘pick up a pen and kill the dictatorship?’ asked Benya Nandakwang, who is running as an MP for the Action Coalition of Thailand Party, in a Facebook post. ‘Dream on … Personally, I think if the hell money democracy faction wins the election, eventually there will be another coup’

… Thai Raksa Chart, the newer pro-Thaksin, pro-democracy party, was forcibly disbanded this month for its failed attempt to nominate Princess Ubolratana as prime minister. Thanatorn Juangroongruangkit has been hit with multiple criminal charges and soldiers raided the assembly of a pro-democracy group and the homes of several opposition candidates this week

Among those targeted have been pro-democracy activist Nuttaa Mahattana who is currently facing four sedition charges. Her phone is monitored, her every move under surveillance and in what she described as ‘dirty tactic, even for them’ her hotel room was bugged with a camera and sordid footage released of her and her partner, who is a Pheu Thai politician; the footage was branded with the logos of their respective political parties and democracy movements in an attempt to discredit them both. Yet despite it all, Nuttaa remained hopeful that the election could bring change to Thailand

2019 03 24 Publish

Politics in Thailand has been highly polarised for over a decade, and this March 2019 election is no different

Another key player is the pro-monarchist Thai Democrat party. It has been a junta ally in the past - the Democrats helped usher in the 2014 coup - and many predict they are likely to join a coalition with Phalang Pracharat to create a majority big enough to form a government

… Pheu Thai, which has won every election this century, was formed by and is still heavily influenced by exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It is the leading pro-democracy party in Thailand and hugely popular. Even though Thaksin lives in exile in Hong Kong, he still commands huge loyalty and voters still consider a vote for Pheu Thai to be a vote for Thaksin

In 2016, it drew up a new constitution that gives them [Thai Royal Army] the power to appoint all 250 seats in the Senate, the upper house of government. The new constitution also purposefully prevents another landslide victory by Pheu Thai, and allows for a non-elected figure to be nominated prime minister, laying the ground for the current head of the junta Prayut Chan-ocha to return as prime minister

One of the biggest was the announcement in February by pro-Thaksin party Thai Raksa Chart that it was putting forward the king’s older sister, Princess Ubolratana, as their nominee for prime minister. Thailand’s constitution prevents members of the royal family holding political office but Ubolratana had given up her official titles in 1972. The announcement was greeted joyously in some political circles as a way to finally bridge Thailand’s polarised pro-democracy and pro-monarchy factions. Others, however, saw it as a blurring of the lines between politics and monarchy

Thailand is still under the authoritarian junta rules, including article 44 which gives them absolute power, as well as the draconian press censorship and computer crimes laws which prevent any criticism of the junta

Either way, the post-election government is likely to be fragile, struggle to pass any legislation and unlikely to last long. With government at a stalemate, Thailand could be looking at another election not far down the line, or, as has happened so many times before, a military coup to restore order

2019 03 27 Publish

Seven pro-democracy political parties in Thailand have united to form a coalition large enough to claim a parliamentary majority and declared their intention to form a government, ousting the military from power. The announcement came amid concerns about potential irregularities in Sunday’s vote and before a full preliminary vote count has been released. Official results are not due until May.

Pheu Thai leader Sudarat Keyuraphan said that between the seven parties who had united as part of a ‘democratic front’ - Pheu Thai, Future Forward Party, Thai Liberal Party, Phea Chart Party, Prachachat Party, Thai People Power and New Economic Party- had 255 seats between them, enough to secure a majority in 500-seat house of representatives and form a government

Sudarat Keyuraphan said the election process had been ‘questionable’, with ‘a lot of vote buying, intervention of state influence … the counting of the votes was abnormal’

In the absence of an official winner, both Pheu Thai and the pro-military party Phalang Pracharat, which was formed by the junta as a way to hold onto power through the ballot box, have claimed victory in the election. While Pheu Thai won the most parliamentary seats, Phalang Pracharat won the popular vote, which they claim gives them legitimacy to govern

2019 05 08 Publish

The official results, released late on Wednesday evening, confirmed what the preliminary results had shown: that Pheu Thai, the pro-democracy party aligned with the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, won the most seats, with 136. However, Pheu Thai cannot form a government because it fell well short of the 250 seats needed for a majority in the lower house

The junta’s proxy political party, Phalang Pracharat, which ran in the election as a way for the military to hold on to power through the ballot box, came second with 115 seats

There are multiple factors which have cast a shadow over the legitimacy of the election and the results. The unexplained delaying tactics by the election commission - which was appointed by the junta - in announcing the result have raised suspicions that it was buying time to find ways to skew the vote against the pro-democracy opposition, who had won the most seats, and advantage the military … The formula used gave seats to 27 parties overall, a record in Thai politics, and dropped the threshold from one seat per 71,000 votes to one seat per 30,000 votes. Giving party list seats to smaller parties, and taking them away from big parties such as Pheu Thai, benefits the pro-military coalition, which is more likely to get these small parties on its side

The election commission chief, Somchai Sawaengkan, denied that the [March 2019 Election] calculations had been manipulated. ‘We have done everything in accordance with the law,’ he said

A report by the NGO Forces of Renewal for Southeast Asia used crowdsourced and then verified information from Thai voters to document alleged ‘systemic fraud’ including hundreds, sometimes thousand, of instances of electoral commission malfunctions, miscounted ballots, military pressure on voters to vote for junta parties, vote buying and ballot box irregularities allowing for vote stuffing on election day

The report said the evidence ‘exposes the systemic fraud and other irregularities during the 2019 election, pointing to a coordinated and methodical effort to facilitate the victory of pro-junta political forces

Speaking on Wednesday, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit told a press conference that Future Forward would throw its weight behind any party ‘that does not support Prayut Chan-ocha as a prime minister in order for our democracy to move forward’