court

FILE PHOTO: The Supreme Court stands before decisions are released for the term in Washington
FILE PHOTO: The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S., May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

March 19, 2019

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Supreme Court on Tuesday endorsed U.S. government authority to detain immigrants awaiting deportation anytime – potentially even years – after they have completed prison terms for criminal convictions, handing President Donald Trump a victory as he pursues hardline immigration policies.

The court ruled 5-4, with its conservative justices in the majority and its liberal justices dissenting, that federal authorities could pick up such immigrants and place them into indefinite detention at any time, not just immediately after they finish their prison sentences.

The ruling, authored by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, leaves open the possibility of individual immigrants challenging the federal law involved in the case on constitutional grounds if they are detained long after they have completed their sentences.

In dissent, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer questioned whether the U.S. Congress when it wrote the law “meant to allow the government to apprehend persons years after their release from prison and hold them indefinitely without a bail hearing.”

The Trump administration had appealed a lower court ruling in the case that favored immigrants, a decision it said would undermine the government’s ability to deport immigrants who have committed crimes. Trump has backed limits on legal and illegal immigrants since taking office in January 2017.

The plaintiffs included two legal U.S. residents involved in separate lawsuits filed in 2013, a Cambodian immigrant named Mony Preap convicted of marijuana possession and a Palestinian immigrant named Bassam Yusuf Khoury convicted of attempting to manufacture a controlled substance.

Under federal immigration law, immigrants convicted of certain offenses are subject to mandatory detention during their deportation process. They can be held indefinitely without a bond hearing after completing their sentences.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Source: OANN

Oyub Titiev, the head of human rights group Memorial in Chechnya, attends his verdict hearing at a court in the town of Shali, in Chechnya
Oyub Titiev, the head of human rights group Memorial in Chechnya, attends his verdict hearing at a court in the town of Shali, in Chechnya, Russia, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Said Tsarnayev

March 19, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned the sentence handed out to a prominent human rights activist by a court in Chechnya, calling it “an awful example of Russia suppressing vital work of human rights defenders”.

Oyub Titiev, who runs the office of the Memorial Human Rights Center in the southern Russian region, was sentenced to four years in a penal settlement on Monday after he was found guilty of possessing illegal drugs. His supporters say he was framed, with the drugs planted in his car.

Hunt wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: “Fabricated charges & absurd sentence imposed on Oyub Titiev are intended to silence his work in holding Russian govt to account for human rights abuses in Chechnya – they must #FreeTitiev.”

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)

Source: OANN

Honduran migrant Ariel, 19, who is waiting for his court hearing for asylum seekers returned to Mexico to wait out their legal proceedings under a new policy change by the U.S. government, is pictured after an interview with Reuters in Tijuana
Honduran migrant Ariel, 19, who is waiting for his court hearing for asylum seekers returned to Mexico to wait out their legal proceedings under a new policy change by the U.S. government, is pictured after an interview with Reuters in Tijuana, Mexico March 18, 2019. Picture taken March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

March 19, 2019

By Lizbeth Diaz and Mica Rosenberg

TIJUANA/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A group of asylum seekers sent back to Mexico was set to cross the border on Tuesday for their first hearings in U.S. immigration court in an early test of a controversial new policy from the Trump administration.

The U.S. program, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), turns people seeking protection in the United States around to wait out their U.S. court proceedings in Mexican border towns. Some 240 people – including families – have been returned since late January, according to U.S. officials.

Court officials in San Diego referred questions about the number of hearings being held on Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond to a request for comment. But attorneys representing a handful of clients were preparing to appear in court.

Migrants like 19-year-old Ariel, who said he left Honduras because of gang death threats against himself and his family, were preparing to line up at the San Ysidro port of entry first thing Tuesday morning.

Ariel, who asked to use only his middle name because of fears of reprisals in his home country, was among the first group of asylum-seeking migrants sent back to Mexico on Jan. 30 and given a notice to appear in U.S. court in San Diego.

“God willing everything will move ahead and I will be able to prove that if I am sent back to Honduras, I’ll be killed,” Ariel said.

While awaiting his U.S. hearing, Ariel said he was unable to get a legal work permit in Mexico but found a job as a restaurant busboy in Tijuana, which does not pay him enough to move out of a shelter.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other advocacy groups are suing in federal court to halt the MPP program, which is part of a series of measures the administration of President Donald Trump has taken to try to curb the flow of mostly Central American migrants trying to enter the United States.

The Trump administration says most asylum claims, especially for Central Americans, are ultimately rejected, but because of crushing immigration court backlogs people are often released pending resolution of their cases and live in the United States for years. The government has said the new program is aimed at ending “the exploitation of our generous immigration laws.”

Critics of the program say it violates U.S. law and international norms since migrants are sent back to often dangerous towns in Mexico in precarious living situations where it is difficult to get notice about changes to U.S. court dates and to find legal help.

Immigration advocates are closely watching how the proceedings will be carried out this week, especially after scheduling glitches created confusion around three hearings last week, according to a report in the San Diego Union Tribune.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which runs U.S. immigration courts under the Department of Justice, said only that it uses its regular court scheduling system for the MPP hearings and did not respond to a question about the reported scheduling problems.

Gregory Chen, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said there are real concerns about the difficulties of carrying out this major shift in U.S. immigration policy.

“The government did not have its shoes tied when they introduced this program,” he said.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)

Source: OANN

David Hookstead | Reporter

Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry behaved like a child Monday night in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

Curry behaved like a spoiled brat when he was called for a foul at the end of the third quarter. He ran around the court, yelled at the refs and resembled a kid on prom night who has been told to drink a little less and doesn’t take it well.

It was not at all what you’d expect to see out of a generally composed NBA star. Watch his pathetic antics below.

Imagine being a full-grown man, and behaving like that in front of the whole country. Hell, you shouldn’t behave like that if you’re in private.

You damn sure shouldn’t do it in front of TV cameras. It’s not like that was a bad call, either. It might not have been great, but it’s fair to say there was some contact there. (RELATED: Warriors Star Steph Curry Suffers Humiliating Fall During Dunk Attempt)

Why that reaction was necessary, we might never know.

Curry should take a long look in the mirror, and ask himself if that behavior is the standard we expect out of some of the best athletes in the world.

He’s out there acting like he just got accused of murder. Give it a rest. It’s one foul call in one game, and it was probably the right call.

Source: The Daily Caller

Derek Hunter | Contributor

On the show today we get into the latest left-wing attempt to grab guns under the guise of what happened in New Zealand and Sen. Elizabeth Warren is desperately pandering on reparations for slavery, only she’s unwilling to say what she’s willing to do about it.

Listen to the show:

Liberals never let a good tragedy go to waste. If someone is harmed, and there is a way to advance one of their agenda items because of it, liberals will be there to exploit it. The opposite holds too, just look at the murder of Americans by illegal aliens. Those deaths might as well not exist, they aren’t going to care enough to do anything to secure the border because they don’t want it secured. But a mass shooting on the other side of the planet with dozens murdered, that’s fertile ground to push again for gun control in the United States.

Emotions run high after tragedies, and, as previously mentioned, liberals are right there to exploit them to their advantage. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is leading the way in exploiting the Christchurch terror attack, trying to bolster her presidential bid on the concept of gun control. At a campaign stop Monday, she went on a tirade against the Second Amendment and got nearly everything she said exactly wrong. It’s like she doesn’t understand the laws that already exist, and we have the audio.

CNN’s Brooke Baldwin, who is supposed to be a straight journalist, gave a moral sermon on her show Monday on the importance of passing gun control legislation in the country. Her colleague Erin Burnett, another alleged straight journalist, allowed a CNN analyst to blame President Donald Trump for the attack a half a world away and call him ‘Hitler,’ using Nazi tactics. We have all the audio insanity.

Elizabeth Warren, on a CNN town hall, reiterated her support of reparations for slavery, but refused to say what that means. Pandering on race, Warren avoided offering any specifics, even when given multiple opportunities to do so. There’s a reason for that, and we get into it.

Cory Booker, another 2020 Democratic hopeful, is getting on board with the latest liberal power grab — changing the Supreme Court to institute the liberal and protect the liberal agenda. The party famous for its members chanting “this is what democracy looks like” are advocating things that look decidedly undemocratic.

Please help spread the word about The Daily Daily Caller Podcast. Please take a minute to rate and review on iTunes, share on social media and be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode:

The Daily Daily Caller Podcast is a daily look and mocking of the news from a conservative perspective. Hosted by Derek Hunter, it is available in audio form Monday-Thursday and will have a video option on Fridays.

Derek Hunter is a columnist and contributing editor for The Daily Caller and author of “Outrage, INC: How the Liberal Mob Ruined Science, Journalism, and Hollywood” from HarperCollins, available nowPick Up a copy, or several copies, here. Send compliments and complaints to derek@dailycaller.com or follow him on Twitter at @derekahunter.

Source: The Daily Caller

FILE PHOTO: Special Counsel Mueller departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller (R) departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

March 19, 2019

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller, examining potential conspiracy between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, is leading the latest in a series of U.S. investigations conducted by prosecutors outside usual Justice Department channels in recent decades.

The release of the findings by previous investigators analogous to Mueller has been handled differently over the years, sometimes with voluminous reports and other times with no reports or with key elements kept under wraps for months and even years.

Mueller is preparing to submit a report to U.S. Attorney General William Barr on his findings, including Russia’s role in the election and whether Trump unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction. Russia has denied election interference.

Barr already is coming under pressure from lawmakers to make the entire document public quickly, though he has wide latitude in what to release.

Here is an explanation of some past high-profile U.S. investigations and how their findings were made public.

WATERGATE SCANDAL

The Justice Department named a special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate scandal that eventually forced Republican Richard Nixon in 1974 to become the only U.S. president to resign from office. At the time, no specific regulations or laws governed special prosecutors.

Attorney General Elliot Richardson, as a condition of his Senate confirmation, appointed Archibald Cox as a special prosecutor to examine the 1972 break-in by Republican operatives at Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington.

Cox found himself at odds with Nixon over subpoenas to obtain taped White House conversations. Nixon ultimately ordered the firing of Cox, and several top Justice Department officials resigned in protest including Richardson, in an event dubbed the Saturday Night Massacre.

Leon Jaworski, subsequently named as the new Watergate special prosecutor, prepared a report with his findings, known as the “road map,” to assist Congress with possible impeachment proceedings to remove Nixon from office.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee used it as a basis for hearings and passed articles of impeachment, though Nixon quit before the full House could act. The “road map” remained under seal by a federal court for 55 years until it was released by federal archivists in 2018.

IRAN-CONTRA AFFAIR

The job of independent counsel, with broader powers, was created by Congress after the Watergate scandal. In 1986, Lawrence Walsh was named as independent counsel to investigate the Iran-Contra affair involving illegal arms sales to Iran under Republican President Ronald Reagan, with the proceeds diverted to fund rebels in Nicaragua called Contras.

The probe lasted nearly seven years and led to criminal charges against 14 people. The convictions of some prominent officials – Oliver North and John Poindexter – were overturned on appeal. In 1992, Republican President George H.W. Bush pardoned others.

Walsh submitted his final report to a federal court in 1993, which had the power to release it publicly but was not required to do so. Its release was delayed after people named in the report sued to keep it suppressed. A federal appeals court ruled in 1994 that it should be released in the public interest. Walsh then unveiled it at a news conference.

WHITEWATER AND LEWINSKY SCANDALS

Attorney General Janet Reno in 1994 appointed Robert Fiske as a independent counsel to investigate allegations of impropriety by Democratic President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton regarding real estate investments in the Whitewater Development Corporation. Fiske’s probe was expanded to include reviewing the death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster, which police had ruled a suicide.

Fiske, who was not subject to the independent counsel law because it had temporarily lapsed, publicly released a 200-page interim report in 1994 clearing White House officials of wrongdoing in the Whitewater affair and confirming that Foster’s death was a suicide unrelated to Whitewater.

On that same day, Clinton signed a law reauthorizing the independent counsel statute, which paved the way for a federal court to replace Fiske as independent counsel with Kenneth Starr. Starr turned in a report on Foster’s death to federal courts in 1997, also finding no foul play. It remained under seal for three months before being released.

Starr’s probe expanded into other areas, including a sexual affair between Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky and alleged improprieties in the White House travel office. His expansive 445-page report, containing explicit details on Clinton’s sexual affair, was sent to Congress in 1998. Two days later, lawmakers voted to release it publicly. Its findings triggered an unsuccessful Republican effort to remove Clinton from office through the impeachment process.

Congress let the independent counsel law expire, with some lawmakers believing Starr went too far. The Justice Department in 1999 wrote regulations creating the new job of special counsel, with more limited powers.

FEDERAL RAID AT WACO

Reno in 1999 appointed John Danforth as special counsel to investigate the 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco, Texas. The FBI used tear gas and a fire broke out, killing more than 70 people including cult leader David Koresh.

Danforth was the first person appointed under the 1999 regulations, the rules that now apply to Mueller. Under those rules, a special counsel must submit a confidential report to the attorney general, who then has discretion to publicly release some or all of it. The attorney general must weigh the public interest. But he also must consider thorny issues such as secrecy of grand jury testimony, protecting classified information, communications with the White House possibly subject to the principle of executive privilege shielding certain information from disclosure, and safeguarding confidential reasons for why some individuals were not charged.

Reno specifically instructed Danforth to prepare two versions of his report, a confidential one and another for public release. Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, gave no such instruction to Mueller when he appointed him in May 2017.

In 2000, Danforth held a news conference to publicly release his report, exonerating federal agents and Justice Department officials of any wrongdoing.

OUTING OF CIA AGENT PLAME

In 2003, James Comey, then the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, appointed Patrick Fitzgerald as special counsel to investigate how CIA operative Valerie Plame’s cover was blown through media leaks. Fitzgerald was not appointed under the 1999 regulations and was not bound by them.

Fitzgerald held a 2005 news conference to announce that a grand jury had returned a five-count indictment against Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements. Fitzgerald never published a final report on his findings.

A jury convicted Libby. Republican President George H.W. Bush commuted his sentence in 2007. Trump gave Libby a full pardon in 2018.

(This story has been refiled to insert dropped word in lead paragraph.)

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)

Source: OANN

A journalist uses his mobile phone to take a picture of the 5G logo prior to the auction of spectrum for 5G services at the Bundesnetzagentur head quarters in Mainz
A journalist uses his mobile phone to take a picture of the 5G logo prior to the auction of spectrum for 5G services at the Bundesnetzagentur head quarters in Mainz, Germany, March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

March 19, 2019

MAINZ, Germany (Reuters) – Germany launched its 5G mobile spectrum auction on Tuesday, finally going ahead after a court threw out legal challenges and regulators resisted U.S. pressure to ban Chinese network vendors from building out next-generation networks.

Four firms are vying for 41 blocks of spectrum in the 2 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands that are suited to running ‘connected’ factories – a priority for Europe’s largest economy as it seeks to remain competitive in the digital age.

“It is important for us that we have a focus on industry, and on better coverage,” Jochen Homann, head of the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) said ahead of the auction.

Germany’s three network operators – Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica Deutschland – have been admitted into the auction.

Also participating is 1&1 Drillisch, a virtual mobile operator controlled by United Internet that wants to run a fourth network.

Bid teams surrendered their smartphones on entering the former army barracks in the southwestern city of Mainz where the auction is being held. They are bidding via a secure network from separate rooms and can only discuss strategy with their head offices via fax.

All 41 blocks will be auctioned simultaneously, with results posted online after each round. The government hopes to raise billions from the auction – a 4G auction in 2015 collected 5.1 billion euros ($5.8 billion) – which is likely to go on for weeks.

After months of uncertainty, the auction went ahead after a court last week threw out lawsuits from the operators, who had complained that a requirement to provide high-speed coverage to 98 percent of households by 2022 was too onerous.

Regulators also clarified ground rules applying to network equipment vendors following U.S. pressure on its allies to ban China’s Huawei Technologies on national security grounds.

Germany opted instead to impose tighter compliance requirements on all vendors, creating a level playing field and allaying the concerns of the operators – all of which already use Huawei equipment – that they would have to replace parts of their networks at great expense.

“The same rules apply, whether you are from Sweden or China,” Homann told reporters.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Source: OANN

An employee of Germany's Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur) uses his mobile phone in front of a screen set up for the auction of spectrum for 5G services at the Bundesnetzagentur headquarters in Mainz
An employee of Germany’s Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur) uses his mobile phone in front of a screen set up for the auction of spectrum for 5G services at the Bundesnetzagentur headquarters in Mainz, Germany, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

March 19, 2019

By Douglas Busvine

MAINZ, Germany (Reuters) – Germany begins an auction of spectrum for next-generation 5G mobile networks on Tuesday, the outcome of which will play a decisive role in determining whether Europe’s largest economy remains competitive in the digital age.

It nearly didn’t happen: a raft of lawsuits brought by network operators was thrown out by a court only last week. The buildup has also been overshadowed by U.S. pressure on its allies to bar Chinese vendors from participating in building 5G networks due to national security fears.

In the end, regulators preferred to draft tougher rules for all vendors rather than meet the U.S. demand to banish China’s Huawei Technologies, the global network market leader.

Here’s an overview of how the auction will work:

WHAT IS BEING AUCTIONED?

Germany’s Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) is auctioning off 41 blocks of spectrum in the 2 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands.

These frequencies have relatively short range and high data-carrying capacity, suiting them to use in running ‘connected’ factories – an industrial policy priority.

Urban areas should get 5G coverage early, with another application likely to be super-fast domestic wireless broadband.

WHO’S TAKING PART?

Germany’s three network operators – Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica Deutschland – have been admitted into the auction.

Also participating is 1&1 Drillisch, a virtual mobile operator controlled by United Internet that wants to run a fourth network.

The Big Three filed lawsuits to delay the auction, arguing that its requirement to provide high-speed coverage to 98 percent of households by 2022 was too onerous. They also criticized rules for network sharing, arguing they would make life too easy for new market entrants.

The Cologne Administrative Court threw out those lawsuits on Friday. Outstanding litigation may yet lead to the results of the auction being reviewed, although BNetzA says it is on firm legal ground.

HOW MUCH MONEY WILL THE AUCTION RAISE?

BNetzA has declined to forecast proceeds but the federal government hopes to raise several billion euros – money it will reinvest in upgrading Germany’s broadband networks.

The last auction in 2015, for 4G frequencies, raised 5.1 billion euros ($5.8 billion). Back in 2000, a 3G auction raised more than 50 billion euros – a ruinous sum that forced some players out of the market and others to merge.

HOW WILL IT WORK?

The auction is being held in old army barracks in the south-western city of Mainz. Bid teams will have to surrender their phones when they enter. They will submit offers from separate rooms via a secure network, and can only seek guidance via fax from their head offices.

All 41 blocks will be auctioned simultaneously and results will be published online https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/DE/Sachgebiete/Telekommunikation/Unternehmen_Institutionen/Frequenzen/OeffentlicheNetze/Mobilfunknetze/mobilfunknetze-node.html after each round. Minimum bids range between 1.7 million and 5 million euros and total 104.6 million euros. The process ends when no fresh bids are entered.

Based on past experience, the auction could run for weeks – a previous one in 2010 lasted six weeks.

WHAT ABOUT U.S. CALLS TO SHUT OUT CHINESE VENDORS?

Germany resisted calls from the United States to shut Chinese network vendors out of its 5G buildout due to national security concerns.

Instead of banning Huawei outright, regulators have tightened rules on all network vendors. These won’t bid in the auction but will be key partners in upgrading network infrastructure.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER EUROPEAN AUCTIONS?

Several countries – among them Ireland, Finland, Italy, Switzerland and Austria – have already auctioned 5G spectrum. Most have been low-key affairs, with only modest sums raised because the sales were designed to leave operators with money left over to invest in network upgrades.

The exception was Italy, where frenzied bidding last year raised 6.5 billion euros for the cash-strapped government but left operators financially stretched.

Countries like France have yet to hold 5G auctions, leaving Europe as a whole lagging early adopters like the United States, Japan and Korea.

($1 = 0.8818 euros)

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Source: OANN

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte arrives to greet the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at Colonel Jesus Villamor Air Base in Manila
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte arrives to greet the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at Colonel Jesus Villamor Air Base in Manila, Philippines, Thursday, February 28, 2019. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

March 19, 2019

AMSTERDAM/MANILA (Reuters) – The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said on Monday her examination into possible crimes against humanity committed in the Philippines would go on, despite its withdrawal from the court.

The Philippines’ withdrawal from the Hague court was formalized on Sunday.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement the ICC continued to have jurisdiction over possible crimes committed during the period the country was a member.

Bensouda has been examining whether thousands of extrajudicial killings allegedly committed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drugs are sufficient to warrant a formal investigation.

Duterte’s spokesman said the ICC had no basis to continue its preliminary examination and the government would not cooperate with it.

“They cannot enter here if that is their purpose, to investigate. You are already intruding into our sovereignty,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told a regular news conference on Tuesday.

More than 5,000 suspected drug dealers have been killed in police anti-narcotics operations since Duterte took office in June 2016.

Rights groups and critics say some of the killings were summary executions. Police deny such allegations, saying they had to use deadly force because the suspects were armed and resisted arrest.

The Philippines unilaterally withdrew from the ICC in March 2018 over what Duterte called “outrageous” attacks and violations of due process by it.

“We have already pointed out that in this country we have a judicial system that is robust and functional and very effective,” Panelo said.

The ICC procedure was “political persecution” of Duterte, he said.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling in Amsterdam and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Robert Birsel)

Source: OANN

Democrat Party leader and former Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva poses with a supporter during his campaign rally in Bangkok
Democrat Party leader and former Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva poses with a supporter during his campaign rally in Bangkok, Thailand January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

March 19, 2019

By Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s oldest political party is heading into an election on Sunday with leader Abhisit Vejjajiva facing tough choices in the first polls since the military seized power in a 2014 coup.

Will Abhisit’s pro-business, pro-establishment Democrat Party join with a new pro-military party in a coalition after the vote, likely extending the army’s dominance of power?

Or will the Democrats band together with a “pro-democracy front” to keep the army out of government – but at the price of working with its bitter foe for 15 years: parties loyal to ousted populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Or is there a third option, as Abhisit argues? One scenario could return Oxford-educated Abhisit to the prime minister’s office, which he held from 2008 to 2011 after a court dissolved a pro-Thaksin government.

“We will be the alternative in leading Thailand out of the last decade of troubles,” Abhisit, 54, told Reuters in an interview.

Prominent Democrats have been at the center of Thailand’s turbulent politics since 2005, with some party members leading anti-Thaksin “Yellow Shirt” protests against corruption that led to two military coups in a decade.

Sunday’s election has been billed by the military government as returning Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy to civilian, democratic rule. But critics say a new constitution, overseen by the generals, enshrines military influence over politics.

Doubts the army will truly give up power were heightened last month when a new pro-military party nominated junta chief and prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup, as its prime ministerial candidate.

Abhisit this month said in a campaign video he would not support Prayuth’s staying on as prime minister, which he said would “breed conflict and is against the Democrat party’s principle that the people have the power”.

At the same time, Abhisit made clear he would be loath to work with the main pro-Thaksin party, Pheu Thai. The Democrats have long decried the Thaksin movement as corrupt and a threat to independent democratic institutions.

“I don’t want dictatorship and I don’t want corrupt people,” Abhisit said. “Corrupt politicians provided the pretexts for the military to stage all the coups in the last 20 years.”

COMPROMISE PM?

Thaksin lives in self-exile to avoid a 2008 graft conviction he said was politically motivated but he retains widespread support, especially in the north and northeast.

The Democrats have traditionally drawn support from the Bangkok middle class and the south.

Abhisit’s hopes for a third way could come to nothing in an election increasingly defined by the face-off between pro-military parties, which have Prayuth as their candidate for prime minister and electoral rules that give them an advantage, and an anti-military bloc with Thaksin’s loyalists at its core.

While Abhisit has rejected Prayuth as prime minister, he has not ruled out a coalition with Palang Pracharat, the party that has nominated the junta leader.

Such a deal might see a “compromise” premier, perhaps Abhisit himself or another outside candidate.

The target for political parties is 376 seats in parliament – 50 percent plus one of the combined 250-seat upper house Senate and the 500-seat lower House of Representatives.

But with the junta appointing all 250 members of the Senate, no single party is likely to secure the 376 magic number on its own.

Given that the pro-military Palang Pracharat can count on the support of the Senate, it needs to win only 126 lower house seats to form a government.

By contrast, the parties opposed to a military role in government must win 376 seats in the lower house, three-quarters of the seats, to block the military from retaining control.

Still, most polls indicate Palang Pracharat won’t win enough seats on its own meaning it would need coalition partners, with the Democrats a likely choice.

‘NOT BLACK AND WHITE’

The Democrats have come second to pro-Thaksin parties in every election since 2001, including the last one in 2011, when they got 35 percent of the vote to Pheu Thai’s 48 percent.

Opinion polls tend to show the Democrats coming second or third. The party will be competing for the anti-Thaksin vote with other parties, including Palang Pracharat.

The Democrat Party was founded in 1947 as a conservative, royalist movement, and has portrayed itself as a champion of civilian rule in a country that has seen 13 successful coups, even if at times it worked with military governments.

In 1992, the Democrats sided with anti-army demonstrators in an uprising that led to a bloody crackdown. The party won an election later that year but it was blamed for mishandling the wrenching fall-out of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which paved the way for the rise of telecoms tycoon Thaksin.

Amid polarisation in the 2000s, the Democrats benefited from the military’s opposition to Thaksin, and at times called for military intervention to oust pro-Thaksin governments.

Abhisit has rejected efforts by Thaksin’s loyalists to portray the election as a two-way fight between democracy and military-dominated rule.

“This election is not black and white, the country has more choices,” he told Reuters.

Anti-junta parties, however, argue there is no neutrality or third way in the election.

“Abhisit says he will not join with Pheu Thai, but does that mean he will join with Palang Pracharat?” asked Sudarat Keyuraphan, Pheu Thai’s top prime ministerial candidate.

“There are only two sides,” she said. “So he must choose.”

(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Source: OANN


Current track

Title

Artist