TRC's loss no win for pro-regime camp | Bangkok Post: opinion

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TRC's loss no win for pro-regime camp

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The hashtag "Dissolved to death yet I still won't vote for Uncle" topped Thailand's trending topics chart after the Constitutional Court dissolved the anti-regime Thai Raksa Chart (TRC) party last Thursday for its nomination of Princess Ubolratana as the party's prime ministerial candidate -- a verdict that was met with emotional reactions from TRC supporters.

Following the party's dissolution, a number of TRC supporters went on Twitter to say that although their party has been dissolved, they will not support the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) and its prime ministerial candidate, regime leader and incumbent Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha -- or as he is known among his followers, "Uncle Tu".

Paritta Wangkiat is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

In a country where court rulings are rarely criticised out of fear that such complaints may be construed as contempt of court, many have turned to Twitter hashtags and other social media channels to express their reaction to the TRC's dissolution.

The case against the TRC was initiated by the leader of the pro-regime People's Reform Party Paiboon Nititawan, who filed a complaint to the Election Commission (EC) last month.

Some see the move as a tactic to eliminate opponents of the pro-military camp before the general election.

Those who subscribe to this view question the transparency and fairness of the upcoming poll, as the lead up to the March 24 poll has been marred by lawsuits and complaints against the leaders of pro-democracy parties.

While the pro-democracy camp leaders struggle against the allegations made against them, the pro-military camp, on the other hand, has not faced any meaningful legal obstacle. The EC quickly dismissed a complaint against the People's Reform Party, and it has yet to make any tangible progress on reports made against the PPRP.

With the TRC dissolved, its supporters will likely give their votes for other pro-democracy parties. However, those votes cannot go to the Pheu Thai Party, even though the TRC is seen as its offshoot.

The reason is that both parties deliberately chose to avoid competing in the same constituencies -- a strategy that was aimed to garner as many votes as they can for both constituency and party-list seats under the new election system, which critics say puts big parties like Pheu Thai at a disadvantage.

As such, a likely beneficiary of the ex-TRC votes is the Future Forward Party (FFP), as it fielded candidates across almost all constituencies.

However, the future of the FFP, too, hangs in the balance. The more popular it gets, the more it is prone to political manoeuvering and attacks orchestrated by those who want to see the party out of the race.

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit appears at the Office of the Attorney-General late last month to report to prosecutors on a 'computer crime' charge against him for criticising the regime on Facebook. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

On Friday, an officer of the National Council for Peace and Order's (NCPO) Judge Advocate-General office lodged a complaint against the FFP at the Technology Crime Suppression Division, saying the administrators of the FFP website violated the Computer Crime Act and acted in contempt of court for publishing a video of the party's secretary-general, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, giving an opinion about the TRC dissolution verdict.

Under criminal laws, contempt of court can lead to a jail term of one to seven years and/or a maximum fine of 140,000 baht.

Even though the comments made by Mr Piyabutr -- a former law lecturer at Thammasat University -- were objective and academic in nature, the NCPO is still keen to twist it for political gains.

The charge against Mr Piyabutr followed a similar attack on three FFP party executives who were charged with computer crimes for criticising the NCPO on their Facebook live session last year.

Also on Friday, two lawyers petitioned the EC to dissolve the Pheu Thai and the FFP.

The lawyers said Pheu Thai gave out "false information" on one of its candidates, while the FFP constitutes a threat to the constitutional monarchy.

As such, one must be excused for thinking that the upcoming election is neither clean nor fair.

It seems the TRC's dissolution has set a new trend overnight, as those lawyers are expecting the Constitutional Court to rule on other politically-motivated cases.

While the judiciary had ruled on political cases in the past, it had never ruled on a party's dissolution so close to the general election before.

That said, this should come as no surprise as when law enforcement agencies have to deal with politically-linked issues, allegations of double standards and preferential treatment often surface.

One of the clearest example is PPRP's election campaign, which regularly features Gen Prayut's photograph.

His name is often mentioned during the party's campaign rallies, but no one seems willing to question whether such mentions constitute a violation of election laws, which prohibit government officials from using their position to help a party.

Clearly, Gen Prayut is a state official. But the EC argued that he could join the PPRP's campaigns as long as he doesn't abuse his position to benefit the party.

Is this even possible, considering that he chose to remain as premier and repeatedly refused to assume a caretaker role?

The series of dramatic political developments in the past week, coupled with the country's double standards in law enforcement, have made many people sick of politics and the upcoming poll.

Some people wonder whether this bleak political atmosphere is created on purpose, to discourage people from casting their vote, while others feel that their votes will be meaningless.

Fortunately, there are many people who still want to give the elections a chance.

The more pressure is exerted on pro-democracy parties, the stronger the desire of their supporters to make their voices count, and determination to cast their votes to ensure that their aspirations are heard, loud and clear.

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