On November 2, the joint sitting of parliament considered three memoranda of understanding signed by the Thai-Cambodian Joint Border Commission (JBC), eventually resolving to set up a joint committee (comprising 23 MPs and seven senators) to study the memoranda. . This move met with criticism from the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) which led a rally of about 2,000 people outside parliament on the same day to oppose endorsement of the memoranda; PAD asserts that accepting the documents upon which the memoranda are based amounts to selling out Thailand and betraying the country?s territorial claims along the Thai-Cambodian border. Earlier on, members of the PAD filed a petition seeking the administrative court to suspend the border framework. The framework includes the 2000 memorandum of understanding, the 2001 joint communiqu?, the 2003 term of reference on border demarcation, the minutes of three meetings of the Joint Boundary Commission dated November 2008, February 2009 and April 2009.
Elections in Burma
On November 7, Burma held its first election in 20 years. Its outcome, widely criticized, comforted the military junta?s power. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), aligned with the military, won an estimated 80 per cent of the 1,159 contested seats in the three chambers of parliament. The next day, violent clashes erupted between the Burmese army and ethnic minorities which forced an estimated 20,000 Burmese to flee to Thailand. Thailand provided humanitarian assistance to the refugees. Armed forces commander-in-chief General Songkitti Jaggabatara said ?We have a clear policy to provide only humanitarian assistance for them in a short period, and would send them back as soon as the situation returns to normal,? he said. ?Thailand would not intervene in the domestic affairs of its neighbours and would not allow any armed groups to take shelter on its soil? (The Nation, 10/11/2010). The Thai military reportedly soon began sending these Burmese people back across the border with reassurances that fighting had ceased.
Release of Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi was released on November 13. About 10,000 supporters gathered outside her party?s headquarters in Yangon to listen to her first public speech in years.
Viktor Bout?s extradition case
On November 18, Viktor Bout, arrested in Thailand in March 2008 and detained on Thai soil ever since, was finally handed over to US authorities, after months of growing tensions between Russia and the US over the Russian?s extradition case.
On November 3, six MPs from five political parties lost their House seats when the Constitution Court found them guilty of unlawful shareholdings (in firms that hold state concession contracts). They are Somkiat Chanthawanich of the Democrat Party, Boonjong Wongtrairat of Bhumjaithai, Kuerkul Danchaivichit of Chart Thai Pattana, Preechapol Pongpanich of Puea Thai, and Maliwan Thanyasakulkij and MR Kittiwattana Pokmontree of Puea Pandin. Mr Boonjong Wongtrairat, Bhumjai Thai?s MP for Nakon Ratchasima, and Kuerkul Danchaivichit, Chart Thai Pattana?s MP for Ayutthaya, were both cabinet members. Although the law does not explicitly require them to step down as ministers in case they lose the parliamentary seat, the prime minister said in various occasions that cabinet members planning to stand for re-election should follow ?political norms? and resign so as to prevent conflict of interests between their portfolio and their election campaign. His argument relied on the precedent of Suthep Thaugsuban, who stepped down as vice prime minister to contest and win the election in Surat Thani and was then re-appointed vice-prime minister. This position was rumored to have upset some of the coalition parties, but eventually Boonjong and Kuerkul agreed to resign from cabinet.
The Election Commission has set Dec 12 for by-elections in five of the six constituencies where House seats have been declared vacant by the court. The total cost of the organization of elections is estimated at around 80 million baht.
On November 2, the cabinet approved two charter amendments from the list of six proposed changes as recommended by the government-appointed Sombat?s panel on constitution reform. They are:
- to amend section 190, which stipulates that parliamentary approval is needed before signing international treaties
- to change sections 93 to 98 about the mode of election of members of the lower house of parliament
Section 190 would be amended to allow some international treaties to be signed without parliamentary approval while sections 93 to 98 would change the composition of the lower house from 480 members (80 elected by proportional representation from 8 regional party-lists and 400 from multi-member constituencies by first-past-the-post vote) to 500 members (375 elected from single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post vote and 125 elected by proportional representation from a nationwide party-list).
The two charter amendments passed their first readings by a joint sitting of both houses on November 25. The draft amendments to Sections 93-98 passed by a vote of 330 in favor, 156 against, and 34 abstaining, while the amendment to Section 190 passed with 354 in favor, 19 opposed, and 17 abstaining (some Puea Thai MPs walked out on the vote).
The second reading is expected for the next parliamentary session starting in February.
Earlier in the day, parliament rejected draft amendments proposed by Weng Tojirakarn (in a vote of 222 in favor, 235 against, and 123 abstaining) and a draft proposed by Bhumjaithai and Chart Thai Pattana parties (with 148 in favor, 177 against, and 212 abstaining).
- to amend section 265 banning parliamentarians from concurrently serving in other political positions
The three other recommendations that were not endorsed by the cabinet and consequently not discussed in the parliament are:
- to amend section 237 about the dissolution of parties which commit election frauds
- to amend section 113 about the composition of the Senators Selection Committee
Democrat Party?s dissolution case
The most-discussed issue this month was the Democrat Party?s Constitution Court trial launched by the Election Commission for alleged misuse of funds granted by the EC during its campaigning for the April 2, 2005, general election. The case, filed by the Election Commission, was very critical one as it could lead to the dissolution of the party and a political ban on all members of the party?s executive board. At that time, the party executive board had 49 members. Banyat Bantadtan was party leader while Abhisit Vejjajiva was his deputy. - in March 2009, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) forwarded the case to the party registrar, Apichart Sukkhagganond
On November 29, both parties delivered their closing statements. Chuan Leekpai, the head of the Democrats' defence team, and Kittinant Thachpramuk, public prosecutor, represented the Democrat party and the Election Commission respectively. The verdict in the case was read out almost immediately afterward. The Constitution Court voted four against two to drop the case and thus avoid party dissolution and the Abhisit?s possible five-year ban from politics. Six of the nine Constitution Court judges took part on the vote, three of them having decided to withdraw from the trial due to the release of controversial video clips questioning their integrity. They include Wasant Soiwisoot, Chalermpol Ek-uru and Charoon Inthajarn. The six remaining judges were Chat Cholaworn, Jarun Pukditanakul, Nurak Mapraneet, Boonsong Kulaboobpa, Supote Khaimook and Udomsak Nitimontri. Judges who voted against dropping the case reportedly included the Constitution Court president Chat Cholaworn and Boonsong Kulbuppa.
The verdict is based on the fact that the legal proceedings were unlawful. Therefore the judges did not deliberate on the facts ? did the Democrat Party really misuse the fund or not- stating that the decision to forward the case to the Election Commission in the first place was not in accordance with the law.
The facts can be summarized as follows:
- two separate investigations into the case were launched, one by the Election Commission and the other by the DSI
Apichart, in his capacity as party registrar, decided to drop the case
- On December 17, 2009, he reported his decision as party registrar to the Election Commission. Members of the Election Commission voted on the case and decided to seek judicial review
- on April 12, 2010, the EC convened a meeting and took the unanimous decision to seek the disbandment of the party
- on April 26, 2010 the Election Commission filed a complaint with the Constitution Court
- The Constitution Court considered that Apichart, the EC chairman and political party registrar, had failed to submit the case to the court within 15 days of being notified that the grant might have been misused (December 17) and therefore the decision to seek judicial review was unlawful.
In the three southernmost provinces, at least nine people lost their lives throughout the month, including a police officer (01/11, Pattani), a village defence volunteer (Yala, 08/11), a local Islamic leader (25/11, Narathiwat), a janitor (30/11, Narathiwat), two local officials (25/11, Narathiwat) and other villagers (14/11, Yala and Narathiwat, 24/11, Narathiwat). In Songkhla, five policemen were injured in a bomb attack on November 30.
Foreign minister Kasit Piromya reaffirmed on November 1 Thailand?s commitment to solve the conflict in the South without the involvement of foreign organizations after rumours spread that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was trying to facilitate a dialogue with Thai authorities.
Investigation into the killings during the April-May riots
In the middle of the month, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) concluded its investigation into 18 of the 89 deaths occurred during the April-May riots. DSI chief Tharit Pengdit declared that the investigation had found that 12 people were killed by members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD ? commonly referred to as red-shirts) or their militia. They included Col Romklao Thuwatham, former deputy chief-of-staff of the 2nd Infantry Regiment, Sgt Anuphon Hommalee, Cpl Anuphong Muang-amphan, Pvt Phuriwat Praphan and Pvt Singha Onsong. The DSI?s investigation could not identify the gunmen responsible for the death of the six other people; the six cases in question are prominent and particularly sensitive ones, especially the death of Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto, and of three people found inside Wat Pathum Wanaram.
About 400 red-shirts gathered on November 19 in front of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) on Chaeng Wattana Road to commemorate the deaths occurred in the riots of April-May 2010. On May 20, they gathered in front of King Mongkut monument to commemorate the death of Maj-Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol, also known as Seh Daeng, killed by a sniper on May 13, 2009 near Lumpini Park.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Kanit Na Nakorn, submitted a petition to the cabinet on November 16 asking for the release of red-shirts currently held without charge under the emergency decree as a necessary measure for national reconciliation. The chairman of the Commission argued that this measure would be in line with the Thai constitution, section 39, about the presumption of innocence. The petition read that there were increasing doubts over the detention of red-shirts and that such prolonged practice could lead to undermine people?s trust in the justice system.
The Prime Minister has vowed to file bail applications for about 40 to 50 red-shirts detained under the emergency decree in connection with the April-May riots, reminding them that the good behaviour of those freed from remand would pave the way for the release of those still held in detention.
End of the parliamentary session
The current parliamentary session, which began on August 1, officially closed on November 29. As quoted in the Bangkok Post, ?over the session, MPs convened 30 meetings and participated in 10 joint meetings with members of the Senate. The Lower House deliberated on 103 draft laws in the first reading and 45 others were vetted by joint committees, the Speaker said. Nineteen draft laws were approved by Parliament during the current session. The House approved two constitutional amendment drafts and rejected two others deliberated on this week. A total of 717 queries were submitted by MPs during the period, and 623 of them were allowed by the meeting chairman to be directed at Cabinet members. Of all the interpellations, 379 have not been answered or explained by the relevant ministers. Joint sittings of the two Houses approved 24 international agreements, as required by Article 190 of the Constitution?
Next general elections
Speculation about upcoming elections grew this month. If the Prime Minister seems to be in favour of holding an election early next year after a house dissolution, commentators believe March-April is more likely, while some argue that September 2011 would be a good date or even December 2011, the end of the term.
- Inquiry panel into the deaths related to the 2003 war on drugs
At the end of the month, a new panel was appointed to lead an inquiry into the alleged 2,500 extrajudicial killings during the 2003 three-month ?war on drugs? under the Thaksin administration. A former panel headed by Kanit Na Nakorn, appointed in August 2007 under the Surayud Chulanont government, had concluded in November 2007 that out of 2,500 deaths related to the war on drugs, at least 1,400 had no links to drugs. However, the findings of the panel did not lead to any prosecution.
The new committee headed by former attorney-general Khampee Kaewcharoen is to resume the work of its predecessor. Khampee vowed to complete its work within three months.
On November 19, more than 2,000 aborted fetuses were discovered at Wat Phai Ngern Chotanaram, a Bangkok Buddhist temple. Thai police later arrested three people on charges of collecting or being an accomplice in collecting the dead fetuses from illegal abortion clinics. The event caught a lot of media attention and triggered debate and discussion about the need to amend the current legislation on abortion. As of now, the law allows abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, if it endangers the mother?s life or for girls aged below 15 who unintentionally became pregnant.
The deputy director of Mahidol University's Institute for Population and Social Research, Kritaya Archavanitkul, declared on November 23 that ?Thai society was cruel towards women with unwanted pregnancies. Most woman, lawyers, police and even doctors do not understand the provisions for abortion in the law, and this opened the way for underground abortion clinics to flourish. For every 100,000 women who have illegal abortions, about 300 die.? (Bangkok Post, 24/11/10)
Democrat MP Sathit Pitutecha declared he would begin drafting a more flexible abortion bill. Maytinee Bhongsvej, of the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women (APSW), said social workers and women's aid groups had been pushing for an abortion law for more than two decades. (Bangkok Post, 22/11/10). The Prime Minister however declared on various occasions that there was no need to amend the law.
On November 22, the Senate opposed the legal amendment easing the conditions for abortion. On November 23, Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanawisit declared that the government is speeding up the crackdown on illegal abortion clinics across the country.
- Representatives of the security and administrative sectors are excluded from the NBTC
On November 10, the Frequency Allocation Bill, establishing the National Telecommunications and Broadcasting Commission (NTBC), organization which will be responsible for setting the auction on 3G services, was approved by the lower house. The NBTC will have 11 members;
- NBTC members must be 35-70 years old;
- The Secretariat of the Senate is to handle the process of the selection of NBTC members and State telecommunications enterprises are to return the remainder of their concession revenue to the state in three years.
On November 16, the Senate passed the national radio frequency allocation bill by a vote of eighty-two against four.
The selection of members of the NBTC shall be completed within 180 days after the law has been published in the gazette.
Many provinces of the country continued to be flooded in the first week of the month, especially in the South, including big cities like Songkhla and Hat Yai, which experienced floods as high as 3 metres. 30 people reportedly died in the South between November 1 and 4. The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation reported that the death toll from heavy flooding nationwide since Oct 10 had risen to 140.
On 1 November, a 20-billion baht flood assistance programme was approved. The National Economic and Social Development Board estimated the cost of the natural disaster at about 32.8 billion baht. The government distributed 5,000 baths in cash to about 600,000 families. Rice farmers were entitled to compensation for the loss of their land, at the rate of 2,098 bath a rai.
A variety of flood assistance projects, emanating from a multitude of actors ranging from the palace down to individual people, gave every Thai people the occasion to participate in the relief effort and to express solidarity to those affected by the floods.
Asian games 2010
Thailand participated in the 2010 games held in China between 12- 27 November. 593 athletes competed in 39 sports. Thailand won a total of 11 gold medals in taekwondo, sepaktakraw, sailing, boxing and athletics, as well as 9 silver medals in sailing, taekwondo, boxing, shooting, badminton, weightlifting, equestrian and kabaddi, and 32 bronze medals in sailing, taekwondo, boxing, athletics, shooting, badminton, weightlifting, cue sports, dragon boat, cycling, karate, tennis, rowing, rugby, volleyball, tennis and wushu. In total, Thailand won 52 medals.