‘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.


Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

Updated 1 min 52 sec ago

Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

PARIS: France’s Emmanuel Macron led a growing wave of international pressure on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest Friday, telling him Paris would block efforts to seal a major trade deal.
With global leaders gearing up for the G7 summit, which opens Saturday in the western French resort of Biarritz, Macron drew Bolsonaro’s ire by saying the wildfires would be high on the agenda and pledging that delegates would hammer out “concrete measures” to tackle them.
Bolsonaro had earlier blasted Macron for a “colonialist mentality,” prompting the French president hit back, accusing his Brazilian counterpart of lying in pledges to fight global warming.
“Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka (G20) summit” in June, a French presidential official said.
As a result, France would oppose a trade deal between the EU and South America’s Mercosur nations, effectively killing any chance of it being ratified, he said.
Moves to prioritize the Amazon wildfires on the G7 agenda won backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeting that the fires were “heartbreaking” and offering help to put them out.
But in a sign of EU disagreement, Germany said Macron’s proposal to block the Mercosur deal was “not the right response.”
“Failing to conclude the Mercosur agreement would not contribute to reducing the clearing of the rainforest in Brazil,” a German government spokesman told AFP.
So far this year, there have been 76,720 forest fires in Brazil — the highest number since 2013, official figures show, with more than half in the Amazon rainforest.
“The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire,” Macron tweeted late on Thursday, suggesting it be high on the summit agenda.
But Bolsonaro blasted the move to make it a G7 item without any participation by Brazil, saying it reflected a “colonialist mentality.”
The leaders of France, the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan already face a litany of issues in Biarritz, which is on a security lockdown for the summit.
Macron met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier Friday for last-minute talks trying to soothe tensions between Tehran and Washington.
A nuclear deal between Western powers and Iran all but collapsed after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew US support in May 2018, reimposing economic sanctions on Tehran.
“We’re at a critical moment,” Macron warned on Wednesday, acknowledging that Iran is “laying out a strategy” for exiting the 2015 deal.
“President Macron made some suggestions last week to President (Hassan) Rouhani and we believe they are moving in the right direction, although we are not definitely there yet,” Zarif told AFP in an interview.
He said he had a “good discussion” with the French leader, who would now hold talks with other European leaders to seek a way forward.
Macron’s diplomacy is a delicate task, with France seeking to roll back some of the US measures imposed as part of Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
French diplomats have raised the idea of US waivers on sanctions affecting Iranian oil exports to India and China, or a new credit line for Tehran that could help the struggling economy.
That prompted Trump to accuse Macron of sending Tehran “mixed signals” in his attempt to broker fresh talks between the longtime adversaries.
But Trump appears to be the outlier among America’s G7 partners on Iran, despite speculation that Johnson, who claims a close personal rapport with the US leader, might be more amenable to endorsing his stance.
On Friday, a British diplomatic source said the UK would continue to back the 2015 nuclear deal, which it helped broker, as the “best way” of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Iran is just one of a host of issues over which G7 members are at loggerheads, upending a formerly cosy club of rich nations.
Trump will arrive in the glitzy beachside resort on Saturday already riled by a new French law increasing taxes on US Internet giants such as Google and Facebook. He is also threatening tariffs on the European automobile sector.
Just before the summit, China fired the latest salvo in its trade war the US, announcing new tariffs on $75 billion of American imports.
But in a sign of the summit’s lowered ambitions, French officials have scrapped the idea of a joint declaration at the end, breaking a longstanding G7 tradition.