Thailand’s junta targets oppn leader

Thailand’s junta targets oppn leader
Representatives of the Pheu Thai and the Future Forward parties during a meeting after the election last month.
BANGKOK, Apr 4 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 4/4/2019 1:07:17 PM IST

Thailand’s military junta is targeting a popular new pro-democracy party, accusing its leader of causing disorder that could lead to rebellion even as the seat allotments from last week’s parliamentary elections are being calculated. According to New York Times, the billionaire leader of the Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, was ordered on Wednesday to submit to the police for questioning in the case, which initially opened four years ago. He is accused of helping protesters flee arrest at a demonstration and faces up to seven years in prison.

Mr. Thanathorn, who has built a large following partly through social media, posted the summons on Facebook and Twitter and wrote: “When the dark power won’t leave Future Forward alone.” 

“It’s clear now that the old-school political game won’t end after the election, but is only getting more intense, because they’re afraid of Future Forward,” he added. The party came in third in the balloting last week.

The summons came Wednesday, a day after Thailand’s Army chief, Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, warned that the military would not tolerate threats against the country’s constitutional monarchy, in which the king is deemed head of state. Some considered his comments to be directed at Future Forward.

“The army does the army’s duty, which is to protect, maintain, and defend the institutions of nation, religion, and monarchy,” the general told reporters. 

The interventions are the latest indications that the Thai junta is clinging to every advantage it can to gain an edge through the election. And the junta gave itself many of those advantages, as it put in place a new Constitution and electoral system after seizing power in a 2014 coup. 

Those changes gave the generals sweeping influence over Parliament itself, and over an Election Commission with great power to bar candidates and target lawmakers for ejection.

The first electoral test for that new system came last week when Thailand finally held its long-delayed parliamentary election. And though the results are not yet official, it is already clear that the regime’s system is doing what it was designed to do: splintering the pro-democracy opposition, and entrenching the junta’s authority.

“Thailand is headed to a military-guided, authoritarian system,” said Purawich Watanasukh, a research fellow at the independent King Prajadhipok’s Institute in Bangkok. According to the Election Commission’s preliminary results, the leading vote-getter was the military-backed party, Palang Pracharat, with about 24 percent.

But that is less than half the popular vote received by the next three parties, which all campaigned for a return to democracy. In total, they received 51 percent of the vote, according to the early count.

“Palang Pracharat ran on the idea of maintaining stability and continuity and the others ran on the basis of restoring democracy,” said Verapat Pariyawong, a visiting scholar at SOAS School of Law at the University of London. “The majority of Thai voters went for the idea that we need to restore democracy.”

In parliament’s lower house, the House of Representatives, the likely result will be a sharply divided body and a weak coalition government. The commission has until May 9 to announce the official results.

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