‘Lone Ranger,’ ‘Superman’ register for Thailand’s first election since 2014 coup

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Noppajun Woratitwuttikul, a representative of Palang Prachatipatai Party, arrives for registration with the election commission wearing a Lone Ranger costume in Bangkok. (AFP)
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Muslim candidates for members of parliament for Narathiwat province register before the election commission on Monday, February 4. (AFP)
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A supporter displays a placard of Action Coalition for Thailand party candidate Man Charoenwan, depicted as ‘Superman,’ during registration with the election commission in Bangkok. (AFP)
Updated 04 February 2019

‘Lone Ranger,’ ‘Superman’ register for Thailand’s first election since 2014 coup

  • Since the coup, the military has rewritten the constitution, clamped down on dissent and appointed allies across the bureaucracy
  • ‘On March 24, the Thai people must raise their voice to stop the military regime’

BANGKOK: Hundreds of aspiring politicians, including a masked costumed hero, registered on Monday for Thailand’s first election since the 2014 coup, promising a colorful cast of candidates stumping for political parties both old and new.
Since the coup, the military has rewritten the constitution, clamped down on dissent and appointed allies across the bureaucracy.
But recent days have seen echoes of Thailand’s formerly rambunctious politics, with outdoor political announcements, campaign posters and loudspeakers on vans touting political slogans as the country gears up for the much-anticipated election after more than four years of junta rule.
Monday’s registration was marked by a festive atmosphere, with supporters of dozens of groups waving neon banners and party flags as they entered a stadium in central Bangkok.
While familiar faces abound, such as leaders from political powerhouse Pheu Thai and the army-aligned Phalang Pracharat, there were also quirky entrants, including a member of an obscure new party Phalang Prachatipatai — or “Power of Democracy” — who dressed as American pop culture icon the “Lone Ranger.”
Another hopeful for the Action Coalition for Thailand party carried posters of himself dressed as Superman.
But the levity displayed by some belied an underlying resolve to restore a democratically elected government after former premier Yingluck Shinawatra was ousted by the military.
“We stand firm with our principle to stop the continuing power of the (military government),” said Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, head of upstart party Future Forward which advocates for the military to be divorced from politics.
“On March 24, the Thai people must raise their voice to stop the military regime.”
Pheu Thai, Thailand’s biggest political party, also wants a “free and fair (election) without any interference from the government,” said party stalwart Sudarat Keyuraphan.
In the last election, the party backed ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra, and it remains to be seen if it will be able to capitalize on previous electoral successes without the star power of Yingluck and her older brother Thaksin, who was himself pushed out in a military takeover in 2006.
Both live in self-exile to avoid what they say are politically motivated court charges.
But their names will still be on the ballot: Thaksin-aligned Pheu Chart Party currently has over a dozen registered candidates who legally changed their first names to mimic the siblings.
“Right now, there are 15 members who changed their names ... 10 men who changed to Thaksin and five women to Yingluck,” party spokeswoman Ketpreeya Kaewsanmuang said, adding the party was surprised to hear of the name changes.
“It’s their personal choice ... you can call it a gimmick as well.”
The move is likely to attract votes from hardcore Thaksin supporters in certain parts of the country, where the billionaire is still revered for the populist policies he enacted as premier, such as universal health care and debt relief for farmers.
Less than ten weeks from the election, it remains unclear if junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha will stand as a candidate for prime minister.
Even if the junta’s rivals are successful in the polls, any new civilian government is expected to be hamstrung by the military-scripted constitution.
Meanwhile, the pro-army Phalang Pracharat on Monday branded itself as “the best choice for Thais who want to move past conflicts,” said leader Uttama Savanayana, who recently resigned as industry minister.
Phalang Pracharat last week formally invited junta leader Prayut to stand as its candidate for prime minister.
The gruff general must formally submit his interest to the Election Commission by Friday.

Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

Updated 26 min ago

Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

  • Potential bombers ‘at large’ as death toll lowered to 253
  • Muslims asked to shun Friday prayer

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches suspended all public services over security fears on Thursday, as thousands of troops joined the hunt for suspects in deadly Easter bombings.

A senior priest said that all public services were being suspended and all churches closed “on the advice of security forces.”

Authorities revised the death toll down to 253, from the previous figure of 359, explaining that some of the badly mutilated bodies had been double-counted.

The father of two of the suspected bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said suspects remained at large and could have access to explosives. Some of the suspects “may go out for a suicide attack,” Wickremesinghe said.

Hundreds of Ahmadi refugees in western Sri Lanka have taken refuge in mosques and a police station after facing intimidation following the bombings. Scores of Ahmadis who settled in Negombo after fleeing persecution in their home countries have been thrown out of their accommodation by landlords.

Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday over security failures. He submitted a letter of resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena.

Britain’s Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka.

“The horrific attack is a demonstration of how tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that originated in this island nation several decades ago returned to haunt a shocked and broken government thanks to a complete collapse of counterterrorism capability or capacity,” Dr. Theodore Karasik, a security expert, writes in an opinion piece.

Hate preacher Zahran Hashim, head of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group that is being blamed for the attacks, developed a reputation as a preacher who “copied” Daesh propaganda videos to enhance his posts via the pro-Daesh Al-Ghuraba media channel, which used Facebook and YouTube as its primary platforms, Karasik says. 

Sri Lanka’s Islamic affairs minister, M. H. M. Haleem, asked all Muslims to avoid prayers on Friday for security reasons. He also said it would be a mark of respect for those who perished in the nation’s worst violence in years.

Politician and Western Province Gov. Azath Salley told Arab News that the blasts were orchestrated by a handful of extremists and that the island’s Muslim population could not be held responsible for their “deviant” actions.