Thai coup leaders intervening to block Thaksin’s popularity at polls, rights group says

 International Herald Tribune

Published: December 12, 2007

BANGKOK, Thailand: Thailand’s coup leaders have restricted campaigning and abused laws to block ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s influence on voters ahead of Dec. 23 elections, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

Thaksin was deposed in a bloodless coup in September 2006 but his presence looms large over upcoming elections. He remains popular among rural voters, who benefited from his populist policies, despite widespread accusations of corruption and abuse of power.

“The military’s efforts to restrict the campaign activities of Thaksin’s allies should be of concern to all of Thailand’s political parties,” the New York-based rights group said in a statement.

Many key institutions, including the Election Commission, have become “tools of military rule” to remove Thaksin’s influence, the statement said.

It said the “most blatant attempt” by the military to block Thaksin’s popularity is a classified memo from the military council dated Sept. 14 that details various strategies for discrediting the People’s Power Party, the reincarnation of Thaksin’s ruling Thai Rak Thai party. TRT was dissolved after the coup.

The Election Commission ruled Wednesday that the memo, which was leaked to the media, did not violate any laws because none of the actions it outlined were taken.

The commission is also investigating the distribution of videos that feature Thaksin urging voters to support the People’s Power Party. It will rule whether Thaksin violated a five-year ban on political activity by campaigning for his allies. If the videos are found to be illegal, PPP could be dissolved.

Human Rights Watch also noted martial law imposed after the coup remains in place in 31 of the country’s 76 provinces, mostly in Thaksin strongholds in the north and northeast.

“Thai authorities used martial law to justify the repression of Thaksin’s political allies and others opposed to the coup,” the statement said. Under martial law, the military can ban political gatherings, censor the media and detain people without charge.

A spokesman for the Council of National Security, the body that comprises the coup leaders, denied that the military had any involvement in the run-up to elections.

“We are trying to be a neutral party,” said the spokesman, Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, adding the “military has no intention to obstruct any political party from campaigning.”

He also said “martial law has nothing to do with politics” and does not interfere with voters’ ability to cast ballots.

Human Rights Watch criticized parties across the political spectrum for failing to make human rights part of their platforms, notably the situation in southern Thailand where a Muslim insurgency has killed more than 2,600 people since 2004.

“It’s not a matter of human rights taking a back seat in the Thai elections, they are simply not even present,” the statement said.

Thai coup leaders intervening to block Thaksin’s popularity at polls, rights group says – International Herald Tribune

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