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Students say they’ll increase protests until PM stands down

Jack Burton

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Students say they’ll increase protests until PM stands down | Thaiger
PHOTO: Students lighting their mobile phones during a protest at Kasetsart University against the government last night - Wichan Charoenkiatpakul, Bangkok Post

About 700 students joined a rally last night in front of the auditorium at Bangkok’s Kasetsart University, vowing to escalate their protests until the government of Prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha steps down. University and secondary students have been rallying on or near their campuses since Monday to demand a rewrite of Thailand’s 2017 Constitution and transparent elections. Pro-democracy activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, who co-organised the three-hour demonstration, told reporters:

“We won’t stop here, though I can’t say yet whether our next move will be a mass rally or a street march.”

Leaders of the now-defunct Future Forward Party (FFP) didn’t attend the Kasetsart gathering as was earlier reported, although the party logo was seen on equipment used by the flash mob’s participants.

Parit, a student of Thammasat University, is himself a former FFP member. He joined ex-leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit in another, controversial flash mob late last year in central Bangkok, in response to the Election Commission’s decision to ask the Constitutional Court to disband the party.

Students have held many rallies since the court dissolved the FFP on February 21 for taking what it ruled an “illegal loan” from Thanathorn. But one rally leader who identified herself only as “Jinny,” said:

“We’re not gathering today to save any one party, only our future.”

Organisers of last night’s event say they have launched a webpage, “MobGunMai” (“Let’s Mob Together”), to give updates on their movements and compile video clips of similar rallies nationwide. The gathering at Kasetsart University was just one of several protests held across the nation this week, with more scheduled in the coming days. Police have warned demonstrators that they are free to exercise their right to assembly but cautions them against “touching the institution,” an apparent reference to the monarchy.

On Thursday, Srinakharinwirot University was jammed with students, most of them freshmen and sophomores, who gathered on its football field to hear speeches about the state of democracy in Thailand and the unfair treatment (they feel was) given to the Future Forward Party. “Tuanote,” a 20 year old sophomore, said he joined the activity because he wants to oust the Prayut government.

“We’re not just representing the six million voices silenced by the disbanding of the Future Forward Party, but also those who want this country to be a real democracy.”

On Friday, a group of students who rallied in Chanthaburi province were fined 5,000 baht each for breaking the public assembly law. And around 800 students of Rambhai Barni Rajabhat University and their supporters gathered in a field near their school after management refused to let them use the campus.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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New NGO law could target anti-governemnt activists

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New NGO law could target anti-governemnt activists | Thaiger
PHOTO: The Office of the Council of State drafted the controversial law.

A controversial new NGO law was drafted with critics arguing it targets activists and the Thai government saying it ensures transparency. The Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations was written by the Office of the Council of State in February and debated in the second half of March, but could be passed into law soon. Human rights groups claim the law has provisions that would allow the Thai government to harass civil society groups and activism leaders by qualifying them as non-government organisations, or NGOs. The new law would require NGOs to re-register following new guidelines the government claims will cut down on dubious organisations claiming money but not working for the public interest.

The problem arises because the protests that have plagued the Thai government for that last year often receives backing from foreign groups. A statement from 3 UN Special Rapporteurs worried that the broad language of the law could restrict non-profits working for human rights, with a vague definition of what qualifies as an NGO potentially including any group and enforcing strict NGO regulations on them. Section 1 of the draft states a sweeping goal for the bill.

“[…]to regulate the operation of not-for-profit organizations in the Kingdom to ensure propriety, morality, openness, transparency, and the genuine serving of public and national interest without any hidden and fraudulent agenda.”

This broadness could be used to classify anti-government groups as NGOs and then punish them with little legal recourse. Another section allows authorities to circumvent warrants and advance notice to enter organisations’ offices and copy their emails or other sensitive documents. Equally worrisome are the harsh penalties of up to 100,000 baht in fines and 5 years in jail for those who break the law.

The Union for Civil Liberty stressed that the heavy-handed punishments could dissuade organisations that benefit society by stifling non-profit organisations and prosecuting those that do not sufficiently meet the government’s demands. The Centre for the Protection of Children’s Rights Foundation noted that the NGO law had become much more extreme than the original drafted version. The Bangkok Post suspected the bill is intended to intimidate protest groups calling for democratic reform and rallying against the lese majeste laws.

“The bill will clip the wings of civic agencies that challenge unjust laws and law enforcement. The government must be open to scrutiny. If it practises good governance, there is no reason for concern and the new law should not be used in a dubious way.”

The law has not been enacted yet but is expected to go to parliament later this month after a cabinet review.

SOURCE: Global Voices

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Myanmar could descend into a civil war comparable to Syria- UN

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Myanmar could descend into a civil war comparable to Syria- UN | Thaiger
Stock photo of UN via Jurist.org

A top UN official is warning that Myanmar could follow that of Syria in terms of descending into a bloody civil war, unless the violence subsides. Michele Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights is calling on all countries with influence to apply concerted pressure on the ruling military junta to end its campaign of repression and the slaughtering of its people. Bachelet says neighbouring countries are especially being called upon.

She says the military has committed, what amounts to, crimes against humanity, and the human rights violations must be stopped. Ravina Shamdasani, who is Bachelet’s spokeswoman, says the high commissioner feels that a continuation of such crimes could lead to a civil war.

“The high commissioner states that there are clear echoes of Syria in 2011. There too, we saw peaceful protests met with unnecessary and clearly disproportionate force. The state’s brutal, persistent repression of its own people led to some individuals taking up arms, followed by a downward and rapidly expanding spiral of violence all across the country.”

Shamdasani said the country’s armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, attacked civilians last weekend with rocket-propelled grenades and mortar fire, killing at least 82 people. She said credible reports also indicate that people are fighting back by using makeshift or primitive weapons with clashes between the military and ethnic armed groups in Kayn, Shan, and Kachin states are picking up steam.

“As arrests continue, with at least 3,080 people currently detained, there are reports that 23 people have been sentenced to death following secret trials — including 4 protesters and 19 others who were accused of political and criminal offenses. The mass arrests have forced hundreds of people to go into hiding.”

She added that the country’s economic, education and health infrastructure are at the point of collapse, making the situation untenable. She said nations must cut off the supply of arms and finances to the military leadership that allow it to kill and seriously violate its people’s human rights.

Myanmar’s military took over in a coup on February 1, arresting the democratically-elected leader of National League for Democracy and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Since then, other top leaders have been arrested over what the junta says is fraudulent election results, without giving any evidence.

Suu Kyi has not been seen since her arrest, and is now facing even more charges that could see her barred from political office or worse. The junta military has been accused of killing innocent civilians and peaceful protesters since the coup began, censoring the media, and shutting down the internet.

The US, UK, and other nations have imposed sanctions against the military, but to no avail. Neighbouring countries, including Thailand, are expecting an influx of refugees to cross the border, but conflicting reports point towards Thailand turning away such asylum-seekers.

SOURCE: VOA News

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Independent candidates polling well in Bangkok governor race

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Independent candidates polling well in Bangkok governor race | Thaiger
PHOTO: Chadchard Sittipunt currently leads in Bangkok governor polls

Independent candidates are trending in polls for the Bangkok governor election later this year, with undecided voters leaning independent. Undecided voters have grown to nearly 1/3 of all voters up from just under 30% in March, possibly due to voters being tired of political polarisation. The exact date of the election has not been announced yet but independent candidates have jumped into the race before the major party candidates. Three have announced so far, former senator and rights activist Rossana Tositrakul, former national Police Chief Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda and former transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt. Though many are still undecided, Chadchart seems to be the early favourite pulling 25% support in a recent poll while Chakthip earned just 12%, a lead that seems to be widening.

Bangkok voters traditionally did not vote independent, but rather along party lines, though they are known to decide last minute basing their choice on immediate factors. Surveys show that voters tend to make their decisions less than 5 days before elections normally. In the last election for governor in 2013, Sukhumbhand Paribatra performed badly in polls and yet won in the last minute vote after accusations that his opponent had plans to nominate red-shirt leaders.

Political analysts were not shocked with Chadchart’s dominance in the polls, but are also unconvinced that he can maintain his lead when the major party candidates enter the Bangkok governor election cycle. They believe that candidates from Kao Klai Party or the Progressive Movement, both splinters from the Future Forward Party, would offer formidable opposition. The Future Forward Party sprung to the spotlight in 2019, gaining 6 million votes in the country, 800,000 of which were from Bangkok, making it the third-largest party. There is a rumour that Parit “Itim” Wacharasindhu, the co-founder of the Progressive Constitution Group, might run under one of these two parties. His pro-democracy leanings may pull a lot of voters away from Chadchart.

The poll in March showed that 66% of Bangkok voters favoured independent candidates now and are leaning away from major party affiliations. The results are thought to indicate Bangkok residents’ frustration in extremely polarized political parties. Elections began 4 months ago in provinces, aside from Bangkok and Pattaya, considered special administrative zones.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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