‘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
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‘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.


Acting Pentagon chief not decided yet on funding US-Mexico border wall

Updated 17 February 2019
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Acting Pentagon chief not decided yet on funding US-Mexico border wall

  • President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the US-Mexico border without congressional approval
  • Within hours, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners

ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT: Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Saturday he had not yet determined whether a border wall with Mexico was a military necessity or how much Pentagon money would be used.
President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the US-Mexico border without congressional approval.
A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Shanahan was likely to approve the $3.6 billion being redirected from the military construction budget.
By declaring a national emergency, Trump can use certain Department of Defense funding to build the wall.
According to the law, the defense secretary has to decide whether the wall is militarily necessary before money from the military construction budget can be used.
“We always anticipated that this would create a lot of attention and since moneys potentially could be redirected, you can imagine the concern this generates,” Shanahan told reporters traveling back with him from his trip to Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe.
“Very deliberately, we have not made any decisions, we have identified the steps we would take to make those decisions,” Shanahan said.
He added that military planners had done the initial analysis and he would start reviewing it on Sunday.
Officials have said that the administration had found nearly $7 billion to reallocate to the wall, including about $3.6 billion from the military construction budget and $2.5 billion from a Defense Department drug interdiction fund.
The US defense official said Shanahan would meet with the service secretaries in the coming days to pick which specific projects the money should come from.
Shanahan said that planners had identified the different sources of money that could be used, but he had not decided specifically what projects it would impact and ultimately it was his decision.
“I am not required to do anything,” he said.
Shanahan said he did not expect to take money away from projects like military housing.
Poor standards of military housing were highlighted by recent Reuters reporting, which described rampant mold and pest infestations, childhood lead poisoning, and service families often powerless to challenge private landlords in business with their military employers.
“Military housing, what’s been interesting- I’ve received a number of letters, I’ve had lots of feedback, do not jeopardize projects that are underway,” Shanahan said.
“As we step our way through the process, we’ll use good judgment,” Shanahan said.
The Republican president’s move, circumventing Congress, seeks to make good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge to build a border wall that Trump insists is necessary to curtail illegal immigration.
Within hours, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners.
“We are following the law, using the rules and we’re not bending the rules,” Shanahan said.