Thai junta files sedition complaint against new party leader

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit gives the traditional greeting, or wai, during an election rally in Bangkok. (AP)
Updated 03 April 2019
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Thai junta files sedition complaint against new party leader

  • Future Forward ran a strong third in elections last month that were also contested by a pro-military party
  • Future Forward’s leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, said he would report to police on Saturday to receive the summons against him

BANGKOK: Thailand’s ruling junta has filed a complaint accusing the leader of a popular new political party of sedition and aiding criminals, a move that its target described as politically motivated.
The party, Future Forward, ran a strong third in elections last month that were also contested by a pro-military party.
Future Forward’s leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, said he would report to police on Saturday to receive the summons against him. The potential penalty he would face is nine years in prison. The summons he received did not specify what actions were the cause for the complaint.
Thanathorn and his party already have several criminal complaints and protests to the Election Commission lodged against them.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday before a tour of a Bangkok neighborhood to thank voters, Thanathorn said the new legal action against him was expected and “nothing new.”
“We are prepared mentally. There’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “We believe in our innocence. We believe these cases are politically motivated.”
Preliminary results of the March 24 general election failed to give any single party a majority, making it unclear whether pro- or anti-junta parties would hold a majority in the House of Representatives. The Future Forward Party is a junior partner in an anti-junta coalition that claims have a majority of seats, but the final official voting results won’t be released until May 9.
Between now and then, there could be shifts in party alliances, and there is concern that the state Election Commission, widely regarded as sympathetic to the junta, could disqualify the already elected candidates of its opponents.
The army has several times publicly shown its disdain for the left-leaning political line that the Future Forward Party stands for. The country’s influential army chief on Tuesday issued a thinly veiled attack on the party, not mentioning it by name but implying that it has foreign-influenced ideas unsuitable for the “Thai-style democratic system,” which is a constitutional monarchy.
Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, the ruling junta’s secretary-general, said the army would do its duty, “which is to protect, maintain and defend the institutions of nation, religion, and monarchy.”
Respect for the monarchy is a sensitive and emotional issue in Thailand, and accusations of disrespect are sometimes used by opportunists to smear their political opponents. Thailand has a lese majeste law that makes criticism of the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Self-interest could also play a part in the junta’s actions against Thanathorn. He has said his party’s primary agenda is to stop Thailand’s military from intervening in politics, and also suggested its budget be slashed.
The military has governed Thailand since then-army commander Prayuth Chan-och staged a coup in 2014 against an elected government. Since then, Prayuth has been serving as junta leader and prime minister, and is the candidate of the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party, which according to preliminary results grabbed the biggest share of the popular vote in last month’s election.
According to a constitution implemented under the junta, it takes a joint vote of the elected House of Representatives and the appointed Senate to name a new prime minister, giving Prayuth a great advantage. However, his opponents could still control a majority in the lower house, making it difficult for him to pass laws or get a budget approved, and making any government he would head unstable because of the possibility it would face a vote of no confidence.


Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

Updated 36 min 11 sec ago
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Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

  • Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately
  • Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month

HONG KONG: Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations.

Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately. Others continued toward Central, a key business and retail district and the site of the 2014 Umbrella Movement sit-ins.

Large protests began last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the bill dead, but protesters are dissatisfied with her refusal to formally withdraw the bill. Some are also calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights in city.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, and was promised certain democratic freedoms under the framework of 'one country, two systems.' Fueled by anger at Lam and an enduring distrust of the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing, the demonstrations have ballooned into calls for electoral reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Walking in sweltering heat, protesters dressed in black kicked off Sunday’s march from a public park, carrying a large banner that read 'Independent Inquiry for Rule of Law.' 'Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!' the protesters chanted, forming a dense procession through Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district as they were joined by others who had been waiting in side streets.

“I think the government has never responded to our demands,” said Karen Yu, a 52-year-old Hong Kong resident who has attended four protests since last month. “No matter how much the government can do, at least it should come out and respond to us directly.”

Marchers ignored orders from police to finish off the procession on a road in Wan Chai, according to police and the Civil Human Rights Front, the march’s organizers. Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month.

Their main demands include universal suffrage — direct voting rights for all Hong Kong residents — as well as dropping charges against anti-extradition protesters, withdrawing the characterization of a clash between police and protesters as a 'riot' and dissolving the Legislative Council.                   

Protesters read the demands aloud in both English and Cantonese in videos released Saturday. “We did not want to embark on this path of resisting tyranny with our bare bodies,” they said, “but for too long, our government has lied and deceived, and refused to respond to the demands of the people.”

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some confrontations between police and protesters have turned violent. In Sha Tin district last Sunday, they beat each other with umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping center. Demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1 by moving past barricades and shattering windows.

Meanwhile, police officers have used pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets to quell the crowds.On Friday, Hong Kong police discovered a stash of a powerful homemade explosive and arrested a man in a raid on a commercial building.

Materials voicing opposition to the extradition bill were found at the site, local media said, but a police spokesman said no concrete link had been established and the investigation was continuing.