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Referendum is over but dozens fighting charges

Posted by pakin On October - 10 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

AT LEAST 44 people charged under the Referendum Act are struggling to fight the cases, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

Defendant lawyers have also found that given what they describe as the ambiguity of the Act, it is even harder to prove that their clients’ actions were in line with democratic principles.

“Section 61 of the Act allows the authorities to broadly interpret the provision and they can consider anyone as having committed wrongdoing against the law,” lawyer Pawinee Chumsri of TLHR said.

Pro-democracy observers and legal experts said the Referendum Act created a climate of fear after it was promulgated in mid-April.

Legal experts from non-profit group Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) and former senators championing human rights believed the second paragraph of Section 61 of the Act was “ambiguous”, and it could lead to confusion and a climate of fear, under which people are afraid to express their views towards the draft. They petitioned the Ombudsman, which submitted their claim to the Constitutional Court. It asked the court to rule on whether the law violated the 2014 Interim Charter, which guarantees people’s right to expression.

Under the section, dissemination of “false”, “vulgar”, “provoking”, and “intimidating” messages relating to the referendum with the “intention” to incite unrest or influence voters to cast ballots either way was deemed a violation of the Act, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail, equivalent to a murder offence.

TLHR is working for 22 of the 44 defendants, while the other cases are being looked after by other groups of lawyers. The 22 are involved in five separate cases. These include the high-profile cases of the seven anti-coup student activists who distributed anti-draft pamphlets in Samut Prakan province, and the case of aPrachatai journalist arrested while working in Ratchaburi province, Pawinee said.

All of the defendants are on bail. Of the five cases, two have been forwarded to the Court of Justice by public prosecutors, the legal team revealed. “Most of them were arrested following the dissemination of pamphlets with information against the draft or for campaigning against the referendum,” Pawinee said.

The team of lawyers has learned that not all their clients’ charges relate to Section 61 of the Act. They have found that in some cases the defendants were arrested under Section 61 alone, while others were charged under Section 61 along with other offences relating to national security related laws such as the National Council for Peace and Order’s ban on political gatherings, the Computer Crime Act, and sedition in the Criminal Code.

Those charged under Section 61 will be tried in a civilian court, while those charged under “national security” laws face the further complication of being tried by a military tribunal, Pawinee explained.

Pawinee said the vagueness of the law made it difficult to fight the cases, and it was tougher for cases to be tried in a military court, where the trial process has been criticised for not being in line with international standards.

The lawyer said she and her lawyer colleagues would adhere to democratic principles to defend the cases because they believed the accused did not commit any offences. “They did not perpetrate [an offence], we know. They just expressed what they think about the charter draft.”

She said experts would testify that the defendants’ actions were legal and Section 61 was vague and did not qualify as a law due to its ambiguity.

Moreover, she added, the provision breached Section 7 of the Referendum Act which ensured people’s freedom of expression related to the referendum.

The lawyer team plans to ask the Attorney-General to withdraw the cases, arguing that the cases contributed nothing in terms of public benefit because the August 7 referendum is over and the Referendum Act only applied to that event.

Of all the cases handled by TLHR, Pawinee said, the accused would deny all the allegations and they would refuse to enter into a justice reconciliation process, an alternative to the punitive measure of a jail sentence.

Some observers view the legal fight as a gesture of disapproval over the referendum law. They observed that the law seemed to be set out to quell anti-charter campaigns, given that no pro-charter campaigners were charged.

THE Tourism and Sports Ministry and the China National Tourism Administration are moving to crack down on “zero-dollar tourism” and the use of Thai nominees to skirt foreign-ownership laws.

Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul and Zhang Xinhong, director of the CNTA’s Bangkok office, yesterday said they would team up to reduce zero-dollar scams and crack down on local nominees who help Chinese run businesses here illegally.

Under zero-dollar schemes, tour operators offer extra-low prices to Chinese tourists travelling to Thailand, but they find there are many hidden costs once they arrive.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered Tourist Police and other authorities to suppress zero-dollar tourism and the use of nominees in order to protect travellers and the economy. Besides the use of nominees to evade the Foreign Business Act, many businesses defraud tourists and evade taxes.

Kobkarn’s ministry claims that zero-dollar scams have damaged the Thai tourism industry for more than 20 years.

She said the number of Chinese arrivals to some areas of Thailand would drop slightly for a short period after the crackdown on unscrupulous tour operators.

“Authorities have been cracking down on illegal operators and also seized properties and licences in order to [prevent] bad behaviour,” she said.

She added, however, that the number of Chinese tourists was still growing. From September 1-11, their numbers increased by 33.7 per cent compared with the same period last year. From January 1 to September 11, the Chinese market grew by 19.3 per cent, while overall foreign arrivals were up by 12.1 per cent.

The Tourist Police recently seized assets of OA Transport over the company’s allegedly inappropriate operations. The company controlled more than 3,000 tourist buses in the country.

Thailand welcomed nearly 8 million Chinese last year who injected revenue of Bt370 billion into the economy. That number is expected to surpass 10 million this year.

Fate of Pheu Thai now hangs in the balance

Posted by pakin On September - 13 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

They may doubt the survey methods, but politicians should not ignore recent opinion polls showing public support in favour of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha retaining his role after the return of civilian rule.

Following the overwhelming endorsement of the military-backed constitution in last month’s referendum, the surveys present further evidence of widespread public support for the coup leader.

Politicians can no longer afford to wait and see if the Constitution Drafting Commission drafts an organic law to dissolve political parties. If they sit still now, it could be too late to win back people’s trust and stem the flow of popularity towards the junta chief.

Instead they urgently need to restructure their parties and reform themselves to meet public expectations. The message from the referendum and opinion polls should be especially alarming for the major parties. Pheu Thaiand the Democrats desperately need to revamp themselves.

As both parties appear to be up against just one strong competitor – General Prayut – their first question is who to choose as leader for the general election next year.

Democrat incumbent Abhisit Vejjajiva, who opposed the draft charter, says he is willing to continue in the role if his members back him. He could be re-elected for a fourth successive term at the end of next year, when his current tenure ends.

The Democrat Party’s election of executives would take place close to the date of the next election as scheduled by the junta’s road map.

Pheu Thai, meanwhile, might be compared to a headless chicken. Fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra is looking for a suitable person to replace acting leader Viroj Pao-in.

Pheu Thai’s status looks more shaky that that of the Democrats because its real bosses, Thaksin and his sister Yingluck, are seen as the main opponents by the junta.

In contrast, many Democrat politicians have maintained a close relationship with former party secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, who is currently chairman of the People’s Democratic Reform Foundation and also has close ties with the junta.

It’s unlikely that the junta will allow a party dominated by the Shinawatras to rise from the grave, after administrations led by two members of the family were overthrown by successive military coups.

Generally, politicians prefer to be members of a coalition party in government rather than be sitting on the opposition benches. Pheu Thai politicians are no exception. But the chances of them forming the next government may be zero.

Hence, political observers foresee disarray for Pheu Thai. Some members may seek to defect and join other parties to ensure a better political future. A former Pheu Thai government minister, who asked not to be named, recently told reporters that he was looking for a new party.

If the worst comes to the worst, the party could be torn apart, with only the most loyal Shinawatra followers opting to stay.

Thaksin, who has lived in exile overseas since 2008, now has a choice to make: compromise, or continue fighting the military-backed regime.

A leader willing to compromise and forge a relationship with the military regime could rescue his party, but that would also risk triggering a mass defection by Pheu Thai members opposed to the dictatorship, which could sink the party.

Former PM Thaksin has been feeling the heat from legal action taken against those close to him during his post-coup government’s tenure. His sister Yingluck is also fighting criminal charges related to her government’s rice-pledging scheme, with jail time beckoning if she is found guilty.

The organic law on political parties might not end up resetting the political landscape, but other developments could set Thaksin back to square one.

SCB mortgage denial drops

Posted by pakin On August - 29 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) bucked the industry trend after its rejection rate for mortgage applications fell to 17% in the first half, with the bank’s current customers accounting for most of its housing loan borrowers during the period.

The bank’s improved credit scoring system, which came into effect late last year, also helped to lower its mortgage denial rate from 20% over the same period last year, said first executive vice-president Pikun Srimahunt.

Most applications during the six months to June were from the bank’s customers who have deposit accounts and use other financial products and services at SCB, so it was quite familiar with their financial status, she said.

The bank is keeping its stringent loan approval criteria amid the uneven economic recovery.

Alongkot Boonmasuk, secretary-general of the Housing Finance Association, recently said half of mortgage applications were rejected during the first six months of the year, up marginally from the first half of 2015.

The high loan denial rate reflected the deteriorating debt-servicing ability and waning purchasing power.

SCB’s new mortgages amounted to 60 billion baht in the first half, down from 63 billion baht over the same period last year, but still in line with its new loan growth target of 110 billion. The country’s third-largest lender by assets extended 120 billion baht in new mortgages last year.

There were 82,900 condo units available in the market as of May 23, and 85% of them were sold. Several projects are in the development process.

Property developers are generally upbeat about the next six months, with the confidence index during the second quarter improving to 65.4 compared with 64.4 in the first three months.

Even though the bank targeted its new mortgages this year will be lower than last year’s, SCB aimed to raise its mortgages outstanding to 600 billion baht at the end of this year from 570 billion at the end of 2015. Its total housing loans amounted to 596 billion baht at the end of June.

Mrs Pikun said the bank had set a single-digit percentage annual housing loan growth over the past few years in line with the economic situation and shifted its focus to asset quality rather than loan growth.

The bank’s mortgage non-performing loans stood at around 1.8-1.9% at the end of the second quarter and it aimed to maintain the level throughout this year.

SCB shares closed Friday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand at 160.50 baht, up 3.50 baht, in trade worth 1.05 billion baht.