Chuan on Senate: Don’t overthrow it; improve it
Tuesday, December 31, 2019: House Speaker Chuan Leekpai has not been popular among opponents of the military and his latest comment on the Senate will most likely do him no good in that aspect.
Chuan said he understood why many people don’t like the Senate, not least because it is not elected by the people, but he insisted that the chamber has its benefits.
In effect, Chuan said the Senate can be improved, but it should not be totally eradicated.
“Talking about roles of the Senate, I know several people don’t agree with its existence,” Chuan said, touching on the issue of charter amendment. “But if everyone sits back and really discusses what a good democracy should be like, we will see that there are benefits provided by the Senate, like the checking and screening of members of (constitutional) organisations. As for roles that people don’t agree on, there should be discussions on their scopes. Just don’t overthrow it straight away.”
Monday, December 30, 2019: If things go as planned, the opposition should be able to submit a no-confidence motion in the middle of January and a debate should take place at the end of the month.
But don’t use all your money to bet on that. The opposition’s chief whip, Pheu Thai MP Suthin Klangsang, has publicly left an option open for the debate to take place in early February. One factor is a Chinese festivity period.
To recap, the opposition first planned to submit a censure motion in early December so a debate could happen at the end of the month. Then there were worries that year-end debate would not be impactful because the people would be too busy partying or shopping. Those worries were made public, but ones could not help suspecting that the opposition was not quite ready at the time.
Then, the opposition said a motion would be readied around January 5 or so, meaning it could be submitted around then, and a debate could take place in the middle of the first month of 2020.
Now, Suthin said today that the middle of January should be the period when the opposition parties finalise the censure motion. This means a debate can take place at the end of the month.
From what he said, the opposition bloc had not even decided whether to put Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan on the list of censure targets. A meeting will take place this week to discuss the matter, among others.
Sunday, December 29, 2019: The latest results of NIDA Poll must have greatly encouraged embattled Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, finding him and his party the most popular regarding the question of who should run the country.
Of 2,511 people surveyed over the past few days, 31.4 % think he should be the prime minister. Coming second is Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who received a 23.7% support. Remarkably, however, 17.3%, the third biggest group, said “Nobody” is suitable for the prime ministerial post. Pheu Thai’s Sudarat Keyuraphan came fourth, getting a 11.9 backing.
Future Forward is the most popular party (30.2%), Pheu Thai second at 19.9% and Palang Pracharat third at 16.6%.
Saturday, December 28, 2019: Mirroring what their Government House counterparts have done, Parliament-based journalists have come up with traditional year-end “nicknames” that the Prayut coalition must be less happy about than the opposition.
The House of Representatives is called a “Cobra breeding ground” whereas House Speaker Chuan Leekpai, formerly known as a “Honey-coated Razor”, is now described as a “Rusty Razor”. Palang Pracharat MP Pareena Kraikupt is a “Fallen Star” while Future Forward’s Piyabutr Sangkanokkul is a “Rising Star”.
The Senate is virtually called a rubber stamp while the opposition leader, Pheu Thai’s Sompong Amornwiwat, is mocked as “Kanomjeen Rai Namya”, which roughly means a toothless tiger.
Friday, December 27, 2019: At a meeting of Democrat executives today, participants expressed satisfaction with how the party’s main policy _ a formula of “income guarantee” for poor farmers _ has been implemented under the Prayut coalition.
The Democrats take their “income guarantee” policy very seriously, and the executives’ consensus that the agenda has gone well under the Prayut government is politically significant, particularly in the context of “fragile” coalition unity.
The party has been defending its income-pledging programme for poor farmers, who produce corn, rubber, rice, palm and cassava, as being different from guaranteeing prices of crops, a measure that the rival Pheu Thai Party seemed to like. The Democrats said their measure depends a lot less on fluctuation of world market prices.
At today’s meeting, chaired by Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Jurin Laksanavisit, who is also commerce minister, the party concluded that the income-pledging policy has become very tangible in just a few months after the government was formed.
Thursday, December 26, 2019: “Things have not been quite stabilised” would probably make headlines because the rest of what Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told military top brass who gave him best New Year wishes was a standard senior-to-junior comment.
Prayut received the New Year wishes before chairing a Defence Council meeting in his capacity as defence minister. He said he regarded his military comrades as his family, but stressed that his family “has been extended now”.
He emphasised the virtues of sacrifices and performing ones’ duties honestly. “Everyone has to be on alert because things have not been quite stabilised,” he said. While that sounded political, he followed it up by extensively asking the Armed Forces to focus on helping prevent New Year crimes and support the government’s road safety campaign.
Wednesday, December 25, 2019: The Constitutional Court has accepted an Election Commission petition calling for dissolution of the Future Forward Party in Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s loan controversy, and scheduled January 21 to rule on another potentially explosive case involving the party.
The January 21 ruling involve charges that Future Forward sought to undermine Thailand’s political system of constitutional monarchy. The court said, rather intriguingly, that evidence was sufficient and there is no need for a trial.
The January 21 ruling should come before the verdict on the loan case, in which Future Forward was charged with breaking rules governing financial affairs of political parties by borrowing Bt191 million from party leader Thanathorn. The EC petition, which has been accepted by the Constitutional Court, calls for a party dissolution.
Tuesday, December 24, 2019: Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s possibly last hope of overturning a Constitutional Court ruling on his media share ownership case is in tatters after his complaint that the Election Commission had treated him unfairly has been rejected by the Criminal Court.
The complaint against seven Election Commission members followed the Constitutional Court’s ruling, based on EC recommendations, that he still held shares in V-Luck Media Company while registering as a party-list election candidate. The Constitutional Court found the election registration unconstitutional and disqualified him as an MP.
In the complaint, Thanathorn basically said the EC rushed its probe and was unfair against him throughout the investigative process. If the Criminal Court had acted in favour of the complaint, it would have extremely complicated the Constitutional Court ruling against Thanathorn.
Monday, December, 23, 2019: It’s difficult to make easy translation of many traditional year-end “nicknames” given by Government House reporters to key Cabinet members, but to cut a long story short, the journalists were in a mood to taunt, not praise, the entire coalition.
They targeted Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in particular. His “nickname” is “I-nao mao mud”. The direct translation and understanding would require considerable knowledge of Thai and Javanese history, cultures, literatures and key ancient or fictional characters. The key point the Government House reporters want to make is that Prayut is a hypocrite, and a dazed one.
In explaining his nickname, the reporters said Prayut has resorted to many things he had criticized previously, like populism and nepotism. The nickname for his government is “Xiang Gong”, reflecting the reporters’ feeling that the Cabinet brought together old-faced or old-fashioned politicians who did not give anything new to the system.
Sunday, December 22, 2019: Professional and amateurish makers of political fake news can lie about Prayut Chan-o-cha or Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit all they like, but a recent survey shows misinformation hits home better when it involves things closer to the people.
A recent Suan Dusit poll, in which 1,082 Thais were questioned, said 64,3 % were aware of the “new taxes for tampons” issue, whereas only 29.2 % admitted to seeing or hearing claims presented as news about the Future Forward Party being “definitely dissolved.”
Here’s how the respondents were exposed to fake news: Tampon taxes 64.3%; Future Forward dissolution 29.2%; higher land and construction taxes 24.3%; anti-government protests taking place 17.7%; and Cabinet reshuffle/House dissolution 14.7%.
Asked how fake news should be dealt with, 56% said news consumers have to help themselves by being thorough and thoughtful, whereas 42% preferred a new agency to specifically combat the “liars”.
Saturday, December 21, 2019: The answer was supposed to be a no-brainer. “Who do you like the most in the Future Forward Party?” respondents to the most recent survey by Super Poll were asked.
Not so fast. Out of 1,010 people surveyed, 36.8 per cent named party secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul while party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, immensely popular previously, joined spokeswoman Pannika Wanich and MP Pitha Limcharoenrat in second place (29.8 per cent). In short, Piyabutr is the most popular figure in the newly-born party.
Good news for Future Forward is that respondents who replied that they liked nobody in the party constituted 33.4 per cent of the respondents. The rest of the respondents like one person or another within Future Forward.
Friday, December 20, 2019: Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan is viewed as “the most influential figure” in the Palang Pracharat Party, easily “bigger” than party leader Uttama Savanayana, according to SuperPoll.
The most worrying parts about the poll’s latest findings, however, are the public perception that Palang Pracharat is a party fraught with infighting, and voters’ tendency to switch to other parties in the future if they are disappointed with its performance.
The poll surveyed 1,125 people lately. Some 43 per cent of respondents believe Prawit is “the most influential” in the party, compared with 26.7 per cent who think Uttama is the real big boss. This category of the poll, however, is called “most influential figures with positive impact”.
A truly negative poll finding is that a whopping 62.7 per cent think Palang Pracharat is a party destabilized by infighting, conflicts and unhealthy competition.
Asked what they will do if let down by Palang Pracharat, only 15.8 per cent say they will stick with the party. Almost 31 per cent will vote for another party in the new election, whereas 53.4 per cent vow to become a “silent power” hoping to impact political directions one way or another.
Thursday, December 19, 2019: On the one hand, gay men kissing is a show of defiance, underlining an on-going fight for equality of the LGBT advocacy movement. On the other hand, as the chairwoman of the House Committee on the Affairs of Children, Youth, Women, the Elderly, the Handicapped, Ethnic Minority Groups and Trans genders has bitterly admitted, there are times and places for things.
The kissing took place at a media conference at Parliament in which key LGBT proposals were submitted. Pictures went viral, followed by heated debate and an apology by Mukda Pongsombat, a Pheu Thai MP who chaired the House committee.
Mukda said today that the December 18 kissing incident gave her a sleepless night. She said she wouldn’t mind “symbolic acts” but there are limits to what right advocates could do inside places like Parliament.
Several LGBT advocates did not agree with the kissing either, saying questions over appropriateness can weaken the fight for LGBT right.
(Men kissing is common at gay right demonstrations, an example of which is seen in the photo)
Wednesday, December 18, 2019: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngarm, and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai are key targets of the opposition’s censure offensive, according to one of the bloc’s key leaders.
Chalerm Yoobamrung, a chief strategist of the Pheu Thai Party, said a censure motion would be submitted to Parliament between January 6-10, an astrologically ominous period of the Prayut coalition.
According to Chalerm, five main reasons for the censure include corruption, suppression of people whose ideologies the government does not like, bad economy, worsening drug problems as underlined by cheaper, more prevalent amphetamine and blind eye on wrongdoings of those on the same side.
Tuesday, December 17, 2019: According to Chuwit Kamolvisit, everyone pledging to “change politics” ends up being changed by politics.
It was an indirect warning to the leaders of the Future Forward Party who want to change so many things in the Thai political system.
“I have been around,” said the political maverick, who has gone through political and legal extremes including jail time. “I have seen many political heroes but none of them managed to effect changes they had pledged to bring about. All of them end up allowing politics to change themselves.”
He said he understood the Future Forward Party, its leaders and its supporters.
“I have nothing against (Future Forward leader) Thanathorn (Juangroongruangkit). I’m just speaking from experiences of someone who has seen quite a lot. My experiences tell me not to admire anyone wholeheartedly no matter how strong his or her ideology seems to be.”
Monday, December 16, 2019: Veteran politician Warong Detchgitvigrom has called for the word “blood” to be taken out of political rhetoric, saying it fuelled hatred among people with different ideologies and could encourage many to take drastic steps toward violence.
The key member of the Action Coalition for Thailand Party, who has just defected from the Democrat Party, said in a Facebook post that much of political violence featured protest leaders’ belligerent speeches that include words like “blood”.
“Peace and non-aggression are what we should aim for, politically,” he wrote. “Our country has been hurt for so long.”
It was against a backdrop of increasing political tension. Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has vowed to lead more street protests, former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has complained online about “injustice” in Thailand, and the opposition’s campaign for a charter change looks set to be intensified. All “grievances” could converge, paving the way for stronger political rhetoric.
Sunday, December 15, 2019: A former student activist and friend of Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has warned him that he could become Thaksin Shinawatra’s “pawn” after leading a political protest on Saturday and promising of more street action next month.
Pichit Chaimongkol, who joined hands with Thanathorn during their days of student activism, said in a Facebook post that he had seen too many false alarms to be optimistic about Saturday’s Skywalk gathering.
“I have joined bigger protests which did not end in victory,” Pichit wrote. He explained that political protests must be based on true grievances of the people who participated, not problems of protest leaders.
The only one who will benefit from Thanathorn’s action is Thaksin, Pichit wrote, because now the ex-prime minister did not have to spearhead or organize anti-government activities, but will stand to reap gains if protests snowball into an uprising.
Using a chess analogy, Pichit warned Thanathorn that if he was not careful, he could turn from a “King” into a “Pawn”. Thaksin “could be sitting on the fence looking to snatch all gains while an ally takes all the risks of taking people onto streets,” Pichit wrote.
Thanathorn’s belligerent approach has drawn mixed reactions, with Super Poll saying a vast majority of respondents are concerned about a possible return to political violence.
Saturday, December 14, 2019: Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit made it clear that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha could expect a prolonged street protest in the form of “flash mobs”. The opposition man insisted today’s gathering at the Skywalk was just “testing of the waters” and the next round of protest would take place next month.
Today’s protest drew a sizeable crowd, but its composition was intriguing. Seen in the protest were some red-wearing participants with Thaksin Shinawatra photos held aloft. The Future Forward Party’s characteristic colour is orange, which was not totally prevalent at the protest.
Comments on Thanathorn’s strategy in the wake of an Election Commission ruling against his loans to his own party varied. Supporters said “disrespect” for people’s election choices deserved demonstrations of dissent and defiance on the streets. Critics who include some people who seemingly shared his political ideology questioned the timing and Thanathorn’s real motivation. They said it was not right to stage a political rally when the “trouble” did not concern the public directly.
Thanathorn said protesters did not come to protect him. He insisted that they were voicing grievances against suppression of their rights. “Today is not the end,” he said after telling supporters to go home at sundown. “Next time it will be bigger.”
Friday, December 13, 2019: The irony of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s call for a Skywalk gathering is that it possibly signals a return to extremely confrontational politics, something that gave his nemesis, Prayut Chan-o-cha, a pretext to launch the 2014 coup in the first place.
Upset by the Election Commission’s decision to ask the Constitution Court to dissolve his Future Forward Party for borrowing Bt191 million from him, Thanathorn today utilized online channels for what could become a major street protest. He asked his followers to hear his speeches on Skywalk on Saturday, December 14.
Reactions varied. Some said they would go; others chided him for using “democratic means” to “shield” personal mistakes. There are those who squirm at a prospect of political violence as well.
In his “invitation” statement, Thanathorn said he had had it and those feeling the same should join him at the Skywalk. Whether the gathering could snowball into a big, prolonged protest remains to be seen. According to Thai political history over the past two decades, prolonged street protests never ended well. Two coups happened, and many people died because of attacks on protest sites or state use of heavy-handed suppression methods.
Thursday, December 12, 2019: The Future Forward Party reasoned that it needed to borrow Bt191 million from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, to compete in the March general election because financial restrictions resulting from the 2014 coup constrained its balance sheet.
The argument is delivered by Thanathorn and Future Forward secretary-general Piyabutr Sangkanokkul. It was ignored by the Election Commission, which ruled the other day that such borrowing is not allowed. The EC did not give any explanation for asking the Constitution Court to dissolve Future Forward, only saying the loan was illegal and suspicious. This prompted the newly-born political party to cry foul. Piyabutr in particular has chastised the EC.
Now, critics of the party said it should have known better. They gave two main reasons, one of which is widely known: Creditors would have great influences over the borrowing party, which is supposed to be totally independent.
The other reason has not been mentioned much, but it seems a strong one. Imagine someone with good credits _ hence able to borrow a lot of money. He or she harbours ill intentions politically, but thanks to the good credits, has access to massive loans that could be used to lure election candidates, spend generously on advertisements and win a lot of parliamentary seats. This would be unfair to poorer groups with poorer credits and this is why the laws governing political parties are more specific and a lot stricter than normal business laws, the critics say.
As for the question of “penalties”, analysts believe it depends on what the Constitution Court thinks. The court can regard the Future Forward executive board as innocent; or ignorant having committed an honest mistake; or borrowing from Thanathorn knowing full well the practice is not allowed and hoping to get away with it using doctored transactions. The best case is acquittal, and the worst case is party dissolution.
Wednesday, December 11, 2019: The Election Commission’s today decision is as serious as it can get as far as Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and his political party are concerned. Although the party and its executives remain technically intact, their fates are hanging in the balance.
The EC’s decision to ask the Constitution Court to consider dissolving Future Forward was based on the election panel’s intriguing insistence that the contentious loans’ origin was “suspicious”. A new showdown, therefore, appears in order as Thanathorn has been adamant that his money was clean and the loans were made in two honest, transparent contracts.
With the matter moving to the Constitution Court, Future Forward executives face punitive electoral bans and the party might be dissolved and have to go down the same path as Thaksin Shinawatra’s political camp. This means loyal members of Future Forward, who will not be affected by bans if they are imposed on executives, would have to register a “new” party.
Tuesday, December 10, 2019: Another political suspense yet reaches a climax on Wednesday, December 11, with the Election Commission set to rule on whether the Future Forward can legally and constitutionally borrow from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
The party borrowed over Bt190 million from Thanathorn shortly after it was born about a couple of years ago, citing financial hardships, largely as a result of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s coup, that hit political fund-raising activities. The EC will decide on the simple question of whether the loan, made in two contracts, was allowed.
Some paybacks have been made by the party, and the money involved in the paybacks is believed to be a major factor in the EC’s final decision. It is understood that the EC wanted to establish exactly what money earned from what activity was used in the paybacks. It is also believed that this inquiry was the crux of a major showdown between the EC and Future Forward, which described the former’s deadline for detailed financial documents as unrealistic.
The case involves these main questions: 1. Can Future Forward borrow such a big amount of money from Thanathorn? 2. How can the party pay back the loans and what money has been used to date for the paybacks that have amounted to at least Bt26 million?
The EC’s possible ruling that the party cannot borrow from Thanathorn is one thing; the panel questioning money flows leading to the paybacks is another, which could lead to more serious consequences.
Monday, December 9, 2019: “We are talking about government here, not a child play” was Public Health Minister and Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul’s response to buzzing speculation, mentioned by reporters, that an opposition party could be invited to join the Prayut coalition.
On a separate occasion, “We are still with you” was a New Economics Party executive’s reply to a similar inquiry, this time posted by fellow opposition chiefs. However, it was not New Economics leader Manoon Siwapiromrat, who was not present at the meeting.
Anutin was not outspoken against New Economics, and he did state the obvious that reshaping the Cabinet is a very tough thing to do, but one gets a feeling he was not happy about the possibility of the Prayut coalition getting a new member. And if he does feel unhappy, chances are he is not the only Cabinet partner feeling so.
“There have been so signs whatsoever from the top people in the government,” Anutin said. “Everything you have asked has come news reports.”
Sunday, December 8, 2019: The Dhammakaya sect is making it big in Myanmar, having co-organized a major merit-making event involving 30,000 monks, it has been reported.
Fugitive former Dhammakaya abbot Dhammachayo has also been honoured with a special ecclesiastic status in the neighbouring country, according to the Manager online. The special rank was given some time ago, it was said. However, the merit making took place on December 8 and was the latest in a series of big events that Dhammakaya helped organise in Myanmar over the past few years.
In between, a Dhammakaya plan to hold a major religious event in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon, where a large number of labourers from Myanmar work, was cancelled to avoid criticism that the poor migrant workers could be taken advantage of.
Criticism against Dhammakaya’s stand on “donations” has been compounded by divisive Thai politics, making the controversy involving the sect one of the most potentially explosive in Thailand.
Saturday, December 7, 2019: According to observers, the small opposition party, New Economics, is giving the strongest possible hint that it wants to join the Prayut coalition.
“People have been asking us about it, but the senior ones in the government have not contacted us at all,” said New Economics leader Manoon Siwapiromrat. He suggested that things haven’t gone very far on the widely-speculated partnership with the government, but his party is ready for serious talks.
“If our ideologies match, we can work together. I have been talking with opposition and government people all the time. I’m still waiting,” he said. Manoon added that formal invitation had not taken place yet, so it was way too soon to discuss the most important issue _ the Cabinet quota.
The political observers in the media view his statement as the “most seductive” as Thai politicians can get.
(Photo is from the party’s Facebook account, showing a past activity of New Economics members. Manoon is at the front row, second from right.)
Friday, December 6, 2019: The prime minister is in a mood to talk today, and he addresses, admittedly vaguely, the long-standing issue of whether one party from the opposition bloc would come under his wings.
Asked about the possibility of the New Economics Party joining his coalition government, which has been facing quorum challenges in Parliament lately, Prayut said: “If they want to come, they will. This is a matter of political parties and politicians to pursue.”
Asked how he would shake up his Cabinet if that happened, the prime minister said: “If they do come, we will see. The last I heard is every party has its (Cabinet) quota. If they do come, we will see to it what happened next. The number of Cabinet seats is not unlimited. There certainly must be talks on where (the newcomers) will stay and what happens to the current holders (of Cabinet posts). Parties will need to negotiate.”
Asked who would be responsible for the negotiations, he said: “Core members of the parties.”
On the “stability” of the existing government, Prayut said: “The teamwork is better now. When the government was first set up, many things were done hurriedly. Now, I’m not worried at all. There is no need to dissolve Parliament. All I did was ask how and why they did it (dissolving the House of Representatives) in the past.
He did call on coalition parties to worry less about who got the credits. “In this job only one credit matters, and that is the government’s credit.”
Asked if he “understands politicians better now”, Prayut said, half-jokingly: “Yes, and no. Everyone is human and me too. I guess their emotions change, just like mine. So, don’t go crazy on your headlines, damn it!!”
Thursday, December 5, 2019: The Election Commission is scheduled to announce a decision on the Future Forward Party’s borrowing from its leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit next Wednesday. The ruling will go a long way towards determining the immediate future of the newly born and highly popular political party.
That the party has borrowed over Bt190 million from Thanathorn is a fact, admitted by the man himself. The case revolves around whether the loan should be categorized in the same way as normal business transactions _ hence acceptable _ or whether it is against rules governing financial affairs of political parties that bar any single person or entity to assert financial controls over them. If the EC rules against the loan, punishment or proposed punishment could be harsh.
The EC will announce its decision next Wednesday, after its investigating panel had shut the door on defence evidence from December 2 onwards. The investigating committee, saying it had given Future Forward enough time, until December 2, but the party did not present any fresh piece of evidence or witnesses, will be considering existing information over the next few days and its recommendations will form the basis of the EC stand.
Wednesday, December 4, 2019: It remains a mystery just why a few mainstream media outlets quoted Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as saying that he might be forced to dissolve the House of Representatives if the lack of quorum becomes a trend and keeps disrupting House meetings.
“You said it yourselves,” Prayut told reporters today. “I have never said it.”
The government’s ultra-slim majority in the House of Representatives has led to cancellations of House meetings, as the opposition naturally kept its eyes on government MPs’ absences and took advantage of them. The government wanted to flex muscles against the opposition’s motion calling for a parliamentary study on the impact of Prayut’s post-coup summary powers, but lack of quorum has prevented the ruling coalition from doing so.
Prayut had been quoted as saying “testily” earlier today that he would be left with no choice but to reshuffle the Cabinet or even dissolve the House if the lack of quorum continued to disrupt Parliament.
Whether he did make such a threat to coalition partners was not immediately known, but what was clear today was that he was not in a good mood. He only denied that he threatened a House dissolution and waved away reporters saying “No political comments today.”
Tuesday, December 3, 2019: The de facto leader of the Pheu Thai Party has taken to Twitter to thank Pheu Thai MPs and their senior leaders for going to Dubai to wish him a happy New Year. This follows rumours that Pheu Thai is now badly split and he is receiving complaints from both sides.
Thaksin’s Twitter activities have been extremely rare, and the simplicity of his latest tweet raised a few questions. “Thank you for coming to visit me and my sister,” he tweeted. “It warmed and delighted our hearts. Hope to see you again.”
Sudarat was named in the tweet, and so was party leader Sompong Amornwiwat. They and the other Pheu Thai politicians came to wish him a Happy New Year, he said. Not a word on any problem.
In the past, Thaksin communicated with party members through phone-ins, while Twitter was primarily for political publicity. News reports over the past few months claimed Thaksin was distancing himself from divisive politics. Whether or not the latest tweet was intended to confirm that, it was against a backdrop of his son’s acquittal in a highly-politicized case.
Monday, December 2, 2019: Disgruntled politicians of the biggest opposition party have been visiting Dubai in big droves, it has been reported. The reason for the visits, which took place over the past few days, was to voice grievances against Sudarat Keyuraphan.
The woman herself is reported to either have met Thaksin Shinawatra or be planning to meet him. She was said to have offended many Pheu Thai MPs by “meddling” with various affairs, like showing up unannounced to present herself as the chair of meetings or unilaterally changing names that had been agreed upon for meaningful political positions.
More than 60 Pheu Thai MPs have flown to Dubai to meet Thaksin in three groups, reports say. They did not go at the same time in one huge group because they did not want to create a big negativity for the party, it was said.
Sudarat, one of the party’s top strategists and key persons, has defended herself or would be defending herself with Thaksin, too, according to the reports. Some of her schedules for this week have reportedly been cancelled.
Another problem she has with Pheu Thai MPs involves her stand regarding the Bangkok gubernatorial election. She has insisted that Pheu Thai should field its own candidate after Chadchart Sittipunt virtually decided to run as an independent. Thaksin, agreeing with many Pheu Thai MPs, reportedly thought Pheu Thai fielding another candidate would complicate the situation.
Regarding the Bangkok gubernatorial election, Pheu Thai has a big decision to make.
Sunday, December 1, 2019: The land controversy involving Palang Pracharat MP Parina Kraikup has prompted calls for an urgent law to force unqualified owners of state land intended for poor farmers to immediately return the ill-gotten property and report to the authorities.
“If our MPs are sincere toward helping poor people, they must initiate and pass such a law right away,” said a leading academic in his Facebook post.
His call follows “unusual” responses in the House of Representatives to the Parina controversy, which involves suspected encroachment into state land. It has been noted that many MPs, who should have been outspoken against her, have been keeping their mouths shut, fuelling speculation that doubtful or illegal land ownership is rampant among politicians.
Damrong Pidech, former director general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, had said that a law forcing the rich to promptly return Sor Por Kor land to the state would add hundreds of thousands of rais to the land earmarked for the poor.
Saturday, November 30, 2019: Super Poll may have been taunted by critics of the Prayut government, but its head has insisted that improvement in the administration’s image was real, thanks largely to the “Chim Shop Chai” programme in which state money was given to “early bird” online registerers to spend at selected shops and destinations.
Poll director Noppol Kannika said that “the most interesting finding of late” is the significant increase in the number of provincial respondents who have turned around to support the government. This has resulted in an overall improvement in the government rating, with national support for the administration jumping from 10 % in July to 25.6 % this month.
A total of 34.4% of respondents did not like the Prayut government in July but that has come down to 25.4 % this month.
The so-called “silent majority” _ neutrals or those not making their political leanings publicly known _ remains the biggest section in Super Poll survey. They accounted for 56.1% of respondents in July and 49% this month.
The latest Super Poll surveyed 1,098 Thais. Similar numbers were sampled in previous surveys.
Super Poll is not popular among opponents of the government, who accuse it of being politically biased.
Friday, November 29, 2019: Seri Wongmontha, a well-known academic, social critic and political activist, has described the present House of Representatives as being filled with members with very low qualities.
According to Seri, himself being part of the street campaign against the Yingluck government and often accused of being biased against one side in the political divide, said the existing House is crawling with the followings:
- MPs with poor or zero knowledge of legal affairs.
- Unqualified MPs who knowingly sneaked under the scrutinizing radar to represent the people.
- MPs with bad backgrounds outright.
- MPs with questionable, albeit not totally illegal, backgrounds.
- MPs who got elected on a hate-Thailand platform.
- MPs who are one or some of the above who benefitted from being in party lists.
- MPs who simply fooled voters into thinking they were good.
- MPs who got elected through populist promises.
- MPs who successfully relied on the old-school patronage practices such as sponsoring weddings or funerals.
- MPs hellbent on upending certain crucial structures.
These 10 points made the present House of Representatives one of the worst in history, Seri said. He said he was making a general observation and apologized to good MPs who may have feel offended.
Thursday, November 28, 2019: Another parliamentary embarrassment for the government today has fuelled rumours that the core coalition party, Palang Pracharat, has decided to “adopt” some Pheu Thai MPs with the consent of Thaksin Shinawatra.
According to the apparently outrageous rumours, some 20 Pheu Thai MPs, mostly representing northeastern provinces, have been approached by government lobbyists and agreed to help the coalition in key votes, particularly when there are threats of mutiny within the ruling camp. They will remain with Pheu Thai, but their potential and occasional siding with the government will be accepted, say the rumours, reported by some mainstream media outlets.
In other words, the approached MPs will be the opposition most of the time and “cobras” _ term used to describe rebellious politicians _ some of the time. Their “stepfather” will be Palang Pracharat.
The weirdest part of the rumours, perhaps, is that Thaksin, the de facto patriarch of Pheu Thai, seemed to agree _ or resigned _ to the proclaimed arrangement. He was quoted in news reports as saying: “Now that they want them, I hope they take good care of them.”
Wednesday, November 27, 2019: A mini turmoil involving sarcastic acts and statements heightened tension within the anti-graft House committee today, with government and opposition members of the panel squaring off over seating “privileges” of non-members.
Committee chairman Seripisut Temiyavet, leader of the Thai Liberal Party who represents the opposition, brought in two “advisers” who are not MPs and made them sit next to him. This upset the government side, who insisted that Seripisut was “dishornouring” fellow MPs.
Sarcastic exchanges culminated in Palang Pracharat MP Pareena Kraikupt moving her chair and settling close to Seripisut. She said while doing so: “If outsiders could sit anywhere, I can do the same.”
Seripisut was witty to quip: “It’s fine for me to sit next to a pretty woman. Just don’t get carried away and go ahead and hug me.”
That should have eased the tension, but Seripisut was somewhat responsible for keeping it alive by chiding Pareena while she was texting. “No use of any communication device is allowed at House committee meetings, as it can disturb others,” he said.
Other government MPs cried foul. One said: “She was texting quietly. And you (Seripisut) weren’t even looking at her hands. Your eyes were somewhere else.”
The committee voted against a proposal, initiated before today’s incident, calling for Seripisut’s removal as the chairman. His critics had said he was too obsessed with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s oath recital controversy to concentrate on real corruption issues.
Tuesday, November 26, 2019: The opposition says it wants the Thai public to listen and watch the censure debate attentively, not just shrug at it while partying or going out shopping during the festive season.
Which is why the issue of when the debate exactly takes place matters a lot, the bloc insists. Simply put, the opposition does not want the most important parliamentary event to unfold near Christmas and New Year.
The bloc plans to submit its censure motion before the end of this month, and demand that the debate be held within the first two weeks of December.
“If the opposition submits the motion on November 27 or December 2, the debate can take place during the middle of December,” said Suthin Klangsaeng, the chief opposition whip. “Unless, of course, the government wants to take advantage. We would like to plead for government understanding. During the festive days, people are naturally not interested much in political affairs.”
But first of all, the opposition parties need to agree among themselves regarding a crucial question: Should they grill the whole government or individual ministers? So far, a final agreement has not been made.
Monday, November 25, 2019: From simple “Congratulations” to heavily-politicized comments, today’s acquittal of Panthongtae Shinwatra, which means different things to different people, has triggered responses ranging from subtle to downright prejudiced.
An activist, Natta Mahattana, whose campaigns toe the Pheu Thai Party’s lines, did not react to the acquittal as much as the fact that Panthongtae was indicted in the first place.
“We are living in a system that seeks to punish rich people,” she said. She did not name names, but she must be referring to certain wealthy politicians subjected to court action.
“The thing is, Panthongtae should not have been prosecuted in the beginning,” she said.
On the extreme opposite, a former election candidate of the Palang Pracharat Party, Thanwa Krairiksh, said a lot of people hoping to use a “guilty” verdict against Panthongtae to lambast the Thai justice system must be disappointed.
“I hope today’s ruling makes many people rethink what they have been told and see whether what they think they know is just something cooked up to fool them,” he wrote on his Facebook.
Pheu Thai leading member Wattana Muangsuk posted a simple “Congratulations” for Thaksin Shinawatra’s son.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam dismissed “reconciliation” in the aftermath of the acquittal as irrelevant to today’s verdict.
“The court rules on evidence, not on whether if it rules one way it will be good (for politics),” he said. He added that people had been using politics to speculate on what would happen to Panthongtae and there was nothing the judges could do about it.
Sunday, November 24, 2019: Another high-profile and politically-charged case climaxes on Monday, November 25. On the centre stage facing a Criminal Court ruling is Thaksin Shinawatra’s son, Panthongtae, who is charged in connection with the loan scandal involving the Krungthai Bank and the Krisda Mahanakorn property developer.
Even Panthongtae’s legal team said it was not sure if he would go to the court to hear the ruling, subjected to appeal, by himself.
The case fully “politicized” Panthongtae, who on his younger days was known as one of Thailand’s richest boys and his political problems were blamed on his father. He became politically outspoken over the past few years but has been largely absent from public views since the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) recommended his indictment in connection with the Krisda Mahanakorn loan controversy. The purported case against him involved alleged payment between loan recipients — or people associated with Krisda Mahanakorn – and the young Shinawatra after the Krungthai Bank granted them a massive loan, which was allegedly misused. The loan was approved while Thaksin was prime minister.
Saturday, November 23, 2019: Thailand has not seen too many defectors joining another camp in the same bloc, so Warong Dejkitvigrom becoming a member of the Action Coalition for Thailand Party must have raised a few eyebrows. Warong, who rattled the Pheu Thai government with investigation into the controversial rice pledging programme, only explained that his change of party allegiance would allow him to fight what he called a “Hate Thailand” campaign better.
The ACT Party, a coalition member, is said to be the parliamentary reincarnation of the street movement, led by ex-Democrat Suthep Thaugsuban, against the Pheu Thai administration before the government was ousted in Prayut Chan-o-cha’s coup. Suthep and ACT leader Chatumongol Sonakul welcomed Warong into the party at a ceremony today.
Warong, who had failed in his efforts to take the Democrat Party’s helm, did not deliver a parting shot against Thailand’s oldest party, saying it had done a good job. But he said his work at his old party did not suit him and that he wanted to go all out in his fight against what he described as systematic attempts to paint Thai nationalism in a bad light.
Friday, November 22, 2019: A well-known political activist who has been campaigning against the Future Forward Party is following up on Wednesday’s Constitution Court ruling removing Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit as an MP by asking the Election Commission to take further action straight away.
Srisuwan Janya, who leads a movement calling itself protector of the Constitution, said the EC should not only charge Thanathorn with “knowingly” registering his election candidacy despite still holding shares in a media firm, but also investigate 10 witnesses who testified in favour of claims that he had transferred the stocks to his mother.
Backing the share transfer claims in court could have been an act of perjury, Srisuwan alleged.
The activist also submitted a letter to the Constitution Court today, asking it to look into Thanathorn’s post-verdict comments, which some view as showing how the politician negatively viewed the ruling.
Thursday, November 21, 2019: Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has insisted that the Constitution Court only “disqualified” Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit as an MP who won the March election, meaning the Future Forward Party leader could still compete in another election.
Wissanu implied, however, that Wednesday’s Constitution Court ruling could pave the way for further legal and constitutional action, and Thanathorn’s apparent right to run in another election would be gone if he faces a political ban in the future.
“As far as I can say, the Constitution Court does not ban Thanathorn,” Wissanu said. “As to what happens next (in terms of possible action against him), I don’t know and I cannot say.”
A resignation of an MP that allows Thanathorn to run in a by-election can be a shortcut. But things will need to be done or arranged in the most proper way this time. And timing is also crucial, as Thanathorn may face further legal and constitutional scrutiny, likely to be brought about by the Election Commission, among others.
Wednesday, November 20, 2019: The Constitution Court didn’t say it was a simple oversight. In finding Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit guilty of still holding shares in a media-related company while registering for the March election, the judges even doubted the proclaimed transfer of shares to his mother had really taken place on January 8.
The court’s scepticism can be seen in a part of the verdict that said even if Thanathorn was in Bangkok on January 8, it did not guarantee he transferred the V-Luck Media shares to his mother that day.
This means the Election Commission could make good of its threat the other day to charge him with “intentionally” registering his election candidacy despite not being totally qualified. Such a charge begs another question, which can turn the case into a criminal one: Was the share transfer fabricated?
Tuesday, November 19, 2019: Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s legal trouble might not end with Wednesday’s Constitution Court ruling on his share controversy. The Election Commission has vowed to pursue at least two things _ his big loans to his own political party and, in case of a guilty verdict, the question whether he knowingly registered his election candidacy against the law.
The loan controversy involves the questions whether a political party’s borrowing is the same as business borrowing, and whether money lent to political parties allows the creditors to exert influences over what is supposed to be an independent operation.
The loan scrutiny could take longer than the share issue. If the court rules that Thanathorn registered his election candidacy while holding shares in a media business, the EC will immediately move to the next step of charging him with doing so “knowingly.” The significance of that is this: Simple oversight is punishable by disqualification as a candidate or as an MP, whereas knowingly violating election rules can lead to a long political ban of up to 20 years and a jail term between one to 10 years.
Monday, November 18, 2019: The Election Commission has been sued by the Future Forward Party for the suspension of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s MP duties and damage on his reputation regarding the media share controversy.
If the Criminal Court, which should make a decision on whether to accept the complaint on December 2, rules in favour of Future Forward, it could make a paradox out of this week’s ruling by the Constitution Court on the share case, specifically if the Constitution Court’s verdict is not in his favour.
According to Future Forward, it will sue the EC for malfeasance leading to two things _ the suspension of Thanathorn’s parliamentary duties and his damaged reputation in the wake of charges that he had illegally registered to run in the March election.
Sunday, November 17, 2019: The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand will this week consider and possibly finalize a fee reduction plan, which the government says would be implemented in time for the New Year. So, politically speaking, the Thai public are braced for a sharp contrast in the next few days between what go on on the government side and the opposition bloc.
An opposition leader faces a crucial Constitution Court ruling while the MRTA board meets to discuss fee reduction. The developments are coming against a backdrop of Thais stating in opinion polls that economic problems are what concern them the most.
There are two possibilities for fee reduction, a complicated issue considering different scales of private-sector involvement in different routes. The first is across-the-board reduction and the second is cheaper pay for “off-peak” (non-rush hour) tickets. The government said today that the final decision can be implemented in time as a “New Year gift” to Thai people.
Saturday, November 16, 2019: Most other ministers would be lauded for this kind of non-partisan move. In accusing unnamed Democrats and Bhumjaithai members of land grabbing, Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao, however, may have just increased his status as an odd man out, and not in a nice way, in the eyes of coalition allies.
Following a land controversy involving Palang Pracharat MP Parina Kraikup, Thammanat has been paying serious attention to land under the government’s land reform programme which was initiated for poor farmers. He said his inspection and study uncovered illegal ownership by some Democrats and Bhumjaithai members. He did not name them, but vowed to take back the sor por kor land and redistribute it to the poor.
“I want to solve these problems when I’m still here,” said the Palang Pracharat man. “A lot of poor farmers are still in need of land to earn their living.”
The opposition must be smiling. Not only has Thammanat been its target, he has also led it to other targets.
Friday, November 15, 2019: In another controversial move, the Future Forward leader has proclaimed his “innocence” less than a week before the Constitution Court is scheduled to rule on his ownership and transfer of shares of a company registered to do, among others, media business.
Thanathorn virtually held a press conference to declare that the V-Luck Media Company was closing itself down long before the election, and had not been engaged in politically sensitive coverage or content at all. Highlighting V-Luck Media business activities has been his Plan B, politically and legally. His main defence argument is that he transferred all his V-Luck Media shares to his mother before he registered as an election candidate.
Today’s activities by Thanathorn at his party’s headquarters were reported widely in the mainstream media, with critics questioning the tactic as probably inappropriate. The Constitution Court is scheduled next week on whether he owned media shares while being an election candidate, which could render his candidacy invalid and invoke a political ban.
Thursday, November 14, 2019: Take it from a man who is no stranger to what should and should not be said in the courtroom. Chuwit Kamolvisit has been there before and he is telling Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit: “Trust me when I say your “I can’t remember” response is not a good idea.”
According to the controversial political veteran, who has spent time in jail himself, Thanathorn should not have virtually dismissed crucial court questions regarding his V-Luck Media shares with a mere “I can’t remember” reply.
First, Chuwit said, such a response was weak compared with specific and apparently solid information provided by Thanathorn’s accusers. Second, the response, uttered as part of Thanathorn’s legal strategy, strongly implied that he was too rich to remember financial details that would seem mammoth to people poorer than him. Chuwit said the strategy was highly risky.
“The court has one standard in determining guilt, and being too rich or too poor shouldn’t be used to defend oneself,” said Chuwit, quoted by Thairath ahead of next week’s much-anticipated Constitution Court ruling on Thanathorn.
Wednesday, November 13, 2019: If Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is worried, he is hiding it well. He has been confronted by reporters asking about reports that the small parties commanding a combined 8 votes in the coalition government were ganging up to raise their power ahead of a censure debate, but the prime minister looked totally at ease about it.
“I have done my best, so I’m cool whatever happens next,” the prime minister said of the no-confidence debate which is expected to happen in early December.
“It’s democracy,” said Prayut, a former coup leader who is still accused of harbouring undemocratic ideas. However, he played down the possibility of the small coalition partners voting with the opposition at the censure. “As far as I see, there is no indication (of a rebellion). People are still talking (amicably) and I can’t help what the social media say.”
Prayut did say, though, that if the government was to collapse because of politicians exercising bargaining power, there will be disruptions of national progress.
Speculation of a rebellion has risen reasonably, following a remark by a former government ally-turned-opposition, Thai Civilized leader Mongkolkit Suksintaranont, that the small coalition partners will look at the opposition’s information before making any decision. Mongkolkit was attending a birthday party of one of the leaders of the small parties.
Tuesday, November 12, 2019: In a few days, the Future Forward Party’s latest message of defiance will intensify. But who will be hurt more _ its enemies or its friends?
Some analysts say the party’s “Yoo Mai Pen” campaign, which will underline the new political camp’s “uncompromising” political stand, will unavoidably embarrass its opposition allies, particularly Pheu Thai, who “have not gone all the way ideologically.” The analysts say the party’s far-more belligerent stand regarding Thailand’s political culture will have significant impact on the ideological base of Pheu Thai, which until recently was regarded as the flag bearer for political changes.
Simply put, the “Yoo Mai Pen” (Not knowing how to live) campaign will both challenge the establishment and seek to get a bigger share of the ideological fanbase. The unspoken message is that Pheu Thai “knows how to live” (Yoo Pen).
Monday, November 11, 2019: Amid tension between the two main coalition partners _ the Palang Pracharat and Democrat parties _ over who should head the ad hoc House committee to be charged with studying ways to change the charter, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan has apparently given a positive response to a suggestion that the position goes to an “outsider”.
Whether Prawit was giving a green light to ex-Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has declared himself “unemployed”, or whether he was proposing a way out of the Palang Pracharat-Democrat impasse remains to be seen.
Abhisit, who quitted parliamentary work following his party’s poll humiliation in March, is backed by the Democrat Party for the ad hoc panel’s chairmanship whereas some members of Palang Pracharat also insist the biggest coalition partner should compete for the post, leading to tension between the two camps. However, Prawit, a highly-respected figure within Palang Pracharat, said today that any respected figure can lead the committee.
“The chairperson doesn’t need to be well-known or have a big clout,” Prawit said. “Any good person, whether it’s an insider or outsider, can lead the committee.”
Sunday, November 10, 2019: A NIDA poll has shown that a clear majority of respondents want the Prayut Cabinet to be collectively grilled in this parliamentary term, albeit before the year’s end.
The same poll, questioning 1,271 Thais last week, also shows that the public wouldn’t mind ministers being censured individually.
Asked if they would like the entire Cabinet to be censured, 51.6% said they agree, while 20.2% said they “rather agree.”
What about ministers being grilled separately then? Again, 49.4% said they agree, while 25.2% said they “rather agree.”
While it’s debatable whether the public want the opposition to censure the entire Cabinet or selected ministers, it seems to be beyond any doubt that the people want a no-confidence debate within this year.
Saturday, November 9, 2019: The initial differences between the two major coalition partners over how the present charter should be changed seem to be huge. And it begins with the man the Democrat Party wants to head the House ad hoc committee to study possible amendments.
The Palang Pracharat Party apparently does not like Abhisit Vejjajiva as the panel’s leader. Although Palang Pracharat has played down the possibility of one of its own men, Suchart Tancharoen, heading the committee, the party still has not got over the fact that Abhisit was an outspoken critic of the Constitution.
“Palang Pracharat naturally will want a Palang Pracharat member to chair the committee,” said Puttipong Punnakanta, minister for digital economy and society and a Pheu Thai executive. Although he admitted that it does not have to be Suchart. Puttipong stressed something that looked like Palang Pracharat’s stand on charter amendment.
“Don’t forget that this charter has been enacted through a public referendum,” he said. “The opinions of the people who approved this Constitution have to be respected.” His comment also came amid reports that the Democrats want Palang Pracharat to step aside in Abhisit’s favour when it comes to the election of the House committee chairperson.
Friday, November 8, 2019: Rumblings of dissatisfaction have been heard from the Democrat Party after the Palang Pracharat Party showed an intention to back Suchart Tancharoen against Abhisit Vejjajiva for chairmanship of the House ad hoc committee to be charged with studying constitutional amendment proposals.
Palang Pracharat should leave Abhisit alone “for the sake of the coalition’s unity”, said Democrat MP Thepthai Senpong (Nakhon Si Thammarat). Thepthai suggested that many Democrats shared his opinion that Abhisit should be the government’s sole nominee for the chairmanship.
An informed Palang Pracharat source had said that the party’s core members favour a Palang Pracharat MP as head of the House panel.
Abhisit, an outspoken critic of certain aspects of the present charter, is certain to represent the Democrat party to vie for the panel chairmanship, and he reportedly is accepted by many opposition MPs. Suchart, on the other hand, will most likely be balked at by the opposition.
The issue of chairmanship of the ad hoc House panel will test the solidarity of the government alliance, just as the next Bangkok gubernatorial election will test the unity of the opposition bloc.
Thursday, November 7, 2019: Political cliche demands that the Thai opposition immediately cry foul over Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s decision not to allow Cambodia’s self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to pass through Thailand on his way home. But the Thai political reality is too complicated for that to happen.
For starters, the “oppressive” or “dictatorial” Cambodian regime led by Hun Sen has been more than kind to Thai opposition activists fleeing legal action here. Thailand’s biggest opposition party, Pheu Thai, benefitted from “generosity” in the neighbouring country, and while the other main Thai opposition camp, Future Forward, has nothing to do with Thai fugitives seeking refuge across the border, it will be very awkward for Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul to attack Prayut and decry Hun Sen in the process.
The Cambodian leader, meanwhile, will owe Prayut one. The Thai prime minister, in citing Asean principles to rebuke Sam Rainsy, whether it is right or not, has killed many birds with one stone. The Thai opposition will have to silently grit its teeth. The Thai government seems to have nipped a diplomatic headache in the bud. Some Asean leaders will look at him and say “wow”, while the others will have to look at themselves in the mirror.
Wednesday, November 6, 2019: Insisting that Asean nations do not interfere in one another’s political affairs, the Thai prime minister has virtually asked Cambodia’s leading opposition figure in self exile, Sam Rainsy, not to pass through Thailand in his potentially explosive bid to return to his country.
“We as an Asean member can’t allow our land to be any part of anti-government activities (against neighbouring governments,” Prayut said.
The Cambodian charismatic opposition leader has said he will return to the country in the next few days to face arrest after a mass crackdown at home on opposition activists. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has accused some in the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) of plotting a coup and warned of arrest and legal action if they try to re-enter the country.
Asked if he would inform Sam Rainsy that he would not be allowed to return through Thailand, Prayut said it was not necessary. “Governments talk to governments. He is not in the government, so who can we talk to?”
The issue threatens to be a major political controversy here, not least because the Thai government has problems with opposition activists itself.
Tuesday, November 5, 2019: After getting the United States to promise to look into its GSP problems with Thailand, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha enjoyed a cordial get-together with a high-level Chinese delegation during which he gave the visitors a sweet message.
“Sometimes tiny ants can help a lion,” Prayut told the delegation led by Li Keqiang, premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. The meeting at Government House, attended by many senior Thai officials, also featured a Chinese pledge to help Thailand on key infrastructure projects, cooperate with the Kingdom on science and innovations, and improve bilateral communications and sharing of certain information.
The meeting, according to media reports, was warm and friendly. But then again, the Chinese are always like that diplomatically.
The Chinese visit took place against a backdrop of Thailand hosting the Asean summit meeting during which the government was assured by the US representatives that the recently-announced plan to reduce the trade privileges granted the Kingdom under the Generalized System of Preferences would be looked into.
Moreover, the high-level meeting with the Chinese has come at a period of great trade tension between America and China, aside from political conflicts in general. Additionally, the Thai political divide has split Thais into pro-US and pro-China camps.
Apart from Prayut’s “ant” message, the hosts and the visitors also talked about being “on the same boat”, in other words having the same problems and sharing the same goals. The Chinese head of delegates stressed “brotherhood” and respect for Thailand’s key role in this region. He said China would always strive for improvement in bilateral relations.
Monday, November 4, 2019: On the surface, it looks like the newly-formed party is questioning itself. Truth is, the Future Forward Party will be sending a new message of defiance, conspicuously ahead of a court verdict that would determine its course.
The message is “Yoo Mai Pen”, which has been tweeted by party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit in big letters and against all-black backdrop. The direct translation is “Not Knowing How to Live” but he certainly wants to convey something a lot more than that. Possibly, the real meaning of the “Yoo Mai Pen” tweet is that the party does not “conform” so its presence is consequently in jeopardy.
“Yoo Pen” (know how to live) is used to describe orthodox action that is taken in order to survive, be loved, or get ahead in career, like laughing at your boss’ jokes. When you criticise your boss face-to-face, you “Yoo Mai Pen”.
From Thanathorn’s tweet, it appears that the party would clarify the message in a few days. It could be in time for a Constitution Court verdict on his media share controversy on November 20.
Sunday, November 3, 2019: Much has been said about the “rust” comment by the leader of the Future Forward Party. Some insisted he was taking a swipe at whoever is leaving the party or anyone not toeing the party’s lines. Others gave weight to allegations that some Future Forward politicians were being secretly “bought” or “bribed”.
Another theory has it that he was in fact referring to old-time politicians, who may not really share his political ideology, but who have joined the party to take advantage of the “Thanathorn fever”. These politicians may not have received any secret payment or prepared to leave the party any time soon, but they are the “standard” type that Thanathorn thinks should not come to dominate the party or grow within his camp, according to the theory.
This may explain the continued defections of rural politicians from Future Forward. The defectors have been disgruntled because they have been “bypassed” in favour of those handpicked by Thanathorn and top executives who share his ideology.
Saturday, November 2, 2019: With the clock ticking on Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, his Future Forward Party will always face turmoil in between. The latest bad news, albeit a warning, was delivered by a detractor who claimed that several more people could be preparing to leave the party.
“Future Forward should not be content with what it is having,” said Vorapoj Bunjantuek, a failed Future Forward candidate in the March election. “It should be worried about what it will have.”
By that, he means many of the present members, who number in the tens of thousands, may not extend their annual membership. Vorapoj also claimed that a sizeable number of defectors will officially emerge as early as in the next few days.
“They are doing the headcount at the moment, and the list shall be made public next week,” he said today.
Thanathorn had taken a dig at detractors, saying his new party must shake off rust in order to become perfect steel. Vorapoj, however, insisted that all defectors did not sell their ideological souls, but genuinely felt that Future Forward was not the party they thought it would be, particular when it came to how the management treated opposing opinions.
“We are not selling ourselves and we are not burning our house. We are just walking away from it, carrying with us the same ideological stance,” Vorapoj said.
Friday, November 1, 2019: Deputy Pheu Thai leader Ladawan Wongsriwong has asked Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to convince the United States on “how Thai people feel” about the American use of GSP privileges to pressure Thailand.
In a statement in which there is no sign of divisive Thai politics coming into play, Ladawan urged the prime minister to make America understand the labour situation in Thailand, particularly the welfare and rights of foreign workers.
She said if the Thai government was downplaying the GSP privileges on grounds that Thailand’s continued development meant the country did not need them as much as before, the government was wrong.
“The right thing to do is for the prime minister to explain to America the situation of foreign workers, telling the United States how their lives have improved and how their welfares really are,” Ladawan said. “The prime minister should make the best use of the Asean summit and show the United States, which has sent representatives to attend the meeting, what the 70 million Thai people want.”
Thursday, October 31, 2019: Having studied tax documents, land deeds and other conventional properties in asset reports of politicians, the National Anti-Corruption Commission will now have to determine if the incredible prices of Thai Civilized leader Mongkolkit Suksintharanont’s amulets are as he has stated.
He declared in his asset report that he had more than Bt140 million worth of much-sought-after amulets.
In Thailand, there are no official prices of amulets, whose values are set by how rare they are, how they were made, and mutual agreements between sellers and buyers. One can claim to have a Bt10 million amulet but sell the object at a much higher or lower price.
An NACC letter has been sent to Mongkolkit asking him to meet the panel on November 7. He was told to bring the amulets too.
Wednesday, October 30, 2019: The spokeswoman of the Future Forward Party may be currently on par with her boss when it comes to financial controversies. Her Bt1 million donation to the newly-founded political camp took place against a backdrop of her tax filings that declared an annual income of merely Bt840,000.
The discrepancy was glaring, legal experts say. One of them said the figures put her at legal risks. She could be accused of either wrongly reporting her wealth to the National Counter Corruption Commission or giving false information to the tax authorities.
In her tax report for 2018, there was no mentioning of the Bt1 million donation to the Future Forward Party. She overpaid her taxes by Bt6,752, which has been returned to her.
Having responded to reporters’ inquiries a few days ago, she said the Bt1 million donation was from her “personal” wealth, not routine incomes.
Tuesday, October 29, 2019: Is famous film director Yuhtlert Sippapak really sorry for criticising the Constitution Court with harsh, impolite words? His tweeted apology to the court has been scrutinised on the social media, with sceptics asking why he had to use a newly-opened Twitter account to do so.
In other words, the sceptics asked why the director had not used the same account as the one he used to lambast the court. After all, apologising to avoid legal retribution requires the use of the very same channel through which offences have been made.
However, the tweeted apology was totally remorseful and clear-cut, offering to do whatever he could to fix the damage he might have caused. Some mainstream media reports have virtually mocked his “U-turn” in attitude.
Yuhlert has been extremely sympathetic toward one side in the political divide, but his social media criticism of the other side has been considered to be too rude, not least because he is a public figure and has produced some really romantic films.
Monday, October 28, 2019: Will it be “Thailand is a scapegoat”? Or will it be “Had it not been for Prayut…”? It can go either way, regarding the United States’ GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) move against the kingdom.
It’s too early to define the political reactions of both sides of the national divide. The government said the removal of GSP privileges for Thailand had nothing to do with the agricultural chemical ban here, but has not said anything more. The opposition is generally quiet. Odd noises have been raised against Donald Trump by such characters as rock star Add Carabao and Democrat Alongkorn Palabutr.
Washington cited labour problems, and the leader of a main opposition party, Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has overseen a business empire that is no stranger to termination of work. That might explain the somewhat wait-and-see attitude of many in the opposition bloc.
The Thai history, though, does not favour a united response to the US when GSP is concerned.
In another significant development, some 120 failed election candidates and ordinary members of the Future Forward Party have quitted the new political camp, alleging “flip-flopping” by leaders. This came a few days after Thanathorn controversially said his newly-formed party needed to shed some rust in order to be “perfect steel”.
Sunday, October 27, 2019: “It’s over, boss” was a statement that has become politically immortalised, as it was uttered by Newin Chidchob when he defected from Thaksin Shinawatra over a decade ago. Chiang Rai United fans, celebrating their team’s highly unlikely win of the Thai Premier League title on Saturday evening, made sure the Buriram United owner remembers what he said at that time.
Buriram United and Chiang Rai United were in a dead heat on the final day of the Thai Premier League, with the former playing away to Chiang Mai United and the latter visiting Suphanburi FC. To cut a long story short, Chiang Mai United, already relegated before Saturday, nicked a late, late equaliser against Buri Ram United to deny Newin’s team the trophy. A Buri Ram United win had been widely expected, some kind of an easy icing on the cake.
That Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are provinces that strongly support Thaksin unavoidably links the football drama to Thai politics. Chiang Mai United fans celebrated the equaliser as if their demoted team were winning the championship, whereas Chiang Rai United fans taunted Newin with a big banner saying “It’s over, boss.”
The political narrative goes like this: One Thaksin-related team deals anti-Thaksin Newin a heavy football blow and hands the Premier League title to another Thaksin-related team.
When Thaksin was rumoured recently to be pondering purchase of Crystal Palace, an English Premier League team, the name of a Chiang Rai United top executive was mentioned as a possible “supervisor” of the western club. The rumours died down following denials from England.
(Photo is from Chiang Rai United’s Facebook)
Saturday, October 26, 2019: Asset declaration that political parties, elected politicians and political office-holders are required to do has many benefits, and one of them is that a lot can be read from the list of “donors”.
Here are some of the big donors along with the amounts of cash they have given to key political parties from January last year to March this year:
- Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has donated Bt10 million to his Future Forward Party. His wife Rawipan has donated Bt7.2 million to the same political camp, which has also received Bt5 million from her mother.
- The Silapa-archa family has donated Bt26 million to the Chartthaipattana Party.
- The Sophonpanich family has donated Bt35 million to the Democrat Party.
- The Chidchob and Charnvirakul families have donated a combined Bt11 million to the Bhumjaithai Party.
- Seripisut Temiyavet, leader of the Seri Ruam Thai Party, has donated Bt10 million to his party.
A current controversy, though, involves a donor with a lesser business profile. Future Forward spokeswoman and MP Pannika Wanich has submitted an asset report to the authorities stating she had less than Bt100,000 in the bank, but Future Forward’s list of donors includes her name along with a Bt1 million donation.
She has told inquiring reporters the Bt1 million was from her personal possession, an explanation that is anything but clear. A political activist has called for an Election Commission investigation, saying her donation was way too much considering her financial status.
Friday, October 25, 2019: It was proclaimed that ex-Pheu Thai MP Sunai Jullapongsathorn was captured on camera while awaiting donations at a charity event in America. It was proclaimed that he was among several hardcore red-shirted people in serious financial trouble in their current exiles overseas.
Sunai’s photo was posted by another red-shirted extremist in exile, Jaran Ditta-apichai, who stated that Sunai was waiting for his turn for charitable giveaways. However, Jaran has posted another photo of him (Jaran) at a Dimsam restaurant where he and apparently Sunai enjoyed a wonderful meal together.
The Sunai photo attracted much attention because it was published shortly after reports that another red shirted activist in exile, Jom Petchpradub, was giving up his role as an underground broadcaster attacking the “elites” in Thailand. Jom, a part-time taxi driver previously, will now drive taxi for a living.
The red-shirted movement has been seen to be in big trouble lately, both domestically and overseas. Those in Thailand have been hit hard by legal rulings.
Thursday, October 24, 2019: Although it should be time to regroup and conduct a silent soul-searching, the Future Forward leader has chosen to bulldoze his way through the Nakhon Pathom poll defeat with a highly questionable remark.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has described votes for his party’s candidate as “good” voices, and stopped just short of criticising votes that went other ways, including to the winner, Padermchai Sasomsap. Considering Thanathorn’s portrayal of himself as a vehement advocate of democracy, the remark has raised many eye-brows.
“I’m fully confident that the 28,000 votes for us in Nakhon Pathom are real steel,” he said. “This steel will get better and better with our journey and experiences. We have fallen in order to get up, so there is nothing we should worry about.”
He added: “To fight dictatorship, we need the best sword made of rust-free steel.”
The comment has come hot on the heel of Future Forward’s unexpected move to ostracise an MP who voted against the party’s instructions and subject her to an internal investigation. The move also raised questions about whether the party does uphold the concept of individual rights.
Thanathorn today also indicated that he was not afraid to lose MPs to “the other side”. He compared potential defection from his party to good steel shedding its remaining rust, whose presence would not make the steel perfect.
He said “the other side” could “buy anyone but not me and (party secretary-general) Piyabutr (Saengkanokkul).”
Wednesday, October 23, 2019: The official outcome of the Nakhon Pathum by-election will be announced about a few days from now, but unofficial results are providing some surprises which the Future Forward Party may not like.
Future Forward candidate Pairattachote Jankachorn is apparently not leading in the unofficial results. Coming second, he seems to be trailing Chartthaipattana runner Padermchai Sasomsap by several thousand votes. Democrat Surachai Anuttato is unofficially coming third.
The gap between the leader and the first runner-up is unofficially wide enough for Padermchai to look triumphant when addressing his supporters.
Pairattachote is fighting to fill the MP seat left vacant by his wife Jumpita, who had to resign from Parliament due to health problems. She won more than 34,000 votes in the March 24 election, thanks in no small part to a political “fever” generated by Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
From the unofficial results, Pairattachote was not being helped by any “fever”. Just over 90,000 of Constitutency 5’s 143,497 voters cast their ballots today, contributing to a turn-out of roughly 63.3 %.
The unofficial results apparently covered about 90 % of the turn-out.
Tuesday, October 22, 2019: Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the Future Forward Party has dubbed Nakhon Pathom as “the first domino to fall” for the Prayut regime. However, the by-election taking place in the province’s Constitution 5 on Wednesday, October 23, is anything but.
The key explanation to that is the MP seat left vacant in the constituency belonged to Future Forward. This means Future Forward needs to win the by-election to get it back, or the seat will be grabbed by the government and add to its admittedly fragile majority in the House of Representatives.
In other words, the government has something to gain while Future Forward has something to lose in the by-election.
In the March general election, the Future Forward candidate was helped by a Thanathorn fever, so much so that she reportedly did not have to campaign fully in the last few days. She won, but later had to resign as an MP due to health problems.
Whether it will be the same all-Future Forward this time will be seen within hours from now. Another Future Forward victory will tell a lot about the party’s rating in the face of several constitutional and legal troubles.
Some analysts have pointed out at how this by-election is different from the March 24 one. First and foremost, Palang Pracharat does not compete, so it’s interesting how approximately 18,000 voters who supported the party last time will do. Secondly, the voter turn-out is expected to be low this time, and who will benefit from that remains unknown. Thirdly, without advanced and overseas elections, some may get and some may lose advantages.
Fourthly, the Prayut government has been working for quite some time now, so the pro- or anti- incumbent sentiment may factor in this by-election.
Monday, October 21, 2019: Oil can’t mix with water, or so they say. But Army chief Apirat Kongsompong would argue that he tried. His meeting today with the House committee on state security concerning border affairs and national reform was, in his own words, “positive and should bring about good things.”
Much had been said about whether Apirat would attend a meeting of a House committee chaired by a Future Forward high-profile man. There he was, coming up against Pongsakorn Rodchompoo, who was equally cordial. “We exchanged useful opinions,” Pongsakorn, deputy Future Forward leader who leads the House committee, said. “What we have shared will be considered and acted upon by both sides.”
The summoning of Apirat followed his remark that the opposition considered too nationalistic and unfair toward politicians with unorthodox opinions.
“People are different when they meet face to face,” Apirat said. “When they are on TV performing their duties, they can be very emotional and belligerent.”
Problem for Thailand is such face-to-face meeting is rare, and people appear on TV or speak to the media one-sidedly all the time.
Sunday, October 20, 2019: According to analyses in the mainstream media, the worst-case scenario for Future Forward _ a party dissolution _ could divide its MPs primarily into three groups.
The first is the biggest. They will stick with the current leadership. Whatever the leaders do, they will join them.
The second does not like Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and other outspoken executives that much, feeling that their “uncompromising” belligerence has put the party in jeopardy. They might form a new party of their own or join another opposition party.
The third plans to follow another Future Forward star, Pitha Limcharoenrat, whatever he may decide to do. There have been rumours he may distant himself from the current executives and form a new party.
The second and third groups, it has to be said, are small and cracks can be patched up. There are those who think the opposite, though, saying no small crack shall ever be underestimated.
A lot will depend on the results of the Nakhon Pathom by-election this week, specifically how well the party does. In the March election, it was said that the “Future Forward fever” was so good its candidate virtually did not need to campaign and still won comfortably.
Saturday, October 19, 2019: His demeanour may not have any bearing on the outcome of the Constitution Court trial related to his media share ownership scandal, but Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s overall action in the courtroom on Friday has raised quite a few eyebrows.
He looked testy and aggressive, according to those who observed it and as his own words showed.
Here are a few examples: At one point, he responded to a question by saying “How many times do I need to say that I can’t remember?”
On another occasion, he said he could not remember everything because “the court (your honour) doesn’t travel as often as I do”.
When asked why he cashed the check of his mother months after the proclaimed share transfer to her, he said: “I never know and I never ask. Maybe it’s because my family doesn’t need money. Sometimes we forgot our checks in pockets and they were returned from the laundry.”
He also attacked the Election Commission, vowing to sue the panel, an unprecedented threat in a courtroom. “They wanted me and my mother to testify in the morning but the summoning letter came in the afternoon. I didn’t have a time machine to cope with that,” he said.
The EC investigation process was not right, “So maybe it’s better for the court to discard this case,” he said.
He also made a jaw-dropping comment about Thaksin Shinawatra, saying something along the lines of “I did not come to play politics to protect business interests and surround myself with people who served me.” The statement included Thaksin’s name.
Thanathorn has apologised for the Thaksin remark, but was unclear on his apology, saying he only meant to stress that he wanted to set a new political standard.
Friday, October 18, 2019: The Future Forward Party’s leader has detailed events on January 8 this year that amplified suspicion concerning his ownership of shares in the V-Luck Media Company.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit told the Constitution Court he was in Buri Ram on January 8 and rode a van back to Bangkok on the same day to transfer the company’s shares to his mother. The proclaimed transfer was constitutionally essential, without which his election candidacy would be annulled.
Proof of Thanathorn being in Buri Ram on January 8 and the “share transfer” that he insisted took place on the same day was a highlight of his trial.
Thanathorn said he did not take a plane because travelling by road would take almost an equal amount of time, and that the privacy in the van would make him sleep better. The van was stopped twice for speeding on the way back, and there was evidence to support that, he said.
He said he was alone with the van driver, so there was no other witness. According to Thanathorn, he left Buri Ram at around 11 am as he had an appointment with lawyers in Bangkok at around 5 pm.
“I slept all the time while on the road and did not call anybody,” he told the court, adding that he might have made calls while in Buri Ram but could not remember who he contacted.
Thanathorn gave the court his phone number. Earlier, he had told the media he was willing to have his mobile phone records checked to settle the questions regarding his whereabouts on the “share transfer” day.
Thursday, October 17, 2019: Apart from attention on the budget debate, political circles buzzed with rumours that Thaksin Shinawatra did not want to see a clash of opposition partners in the Bangkok gubernatorial election.
Thaksin’s opinions were reportedly expressed during a recent meeting in Dubai with Pheu Thai chief strategist Sudarat Keyuraphan, who reports claimed failed to sway him despite her tears.
According to reports, Thaksin said if Pheu Thai fields its own candidate, assuming Chadchart Sittipunt runs as an independent, it would increase the government’s chances of winning the gubernatorial election. In other words, Thaksin does not want a scenario in which a Pheu Thai candidate competes against the Future Forward Party, Chadchart and a Democrat candidate. It is very likely in this scenario that the Democrat candidate will be the only one representing the government side. He or she would be up against three runners from the opposition bloc, who could take votes off one another.
Sudarat was reportedly in the minority in her party who want a Pheu Thai representation in the Bangkok race. Top Pheu Thai executives apparently wanted to stay away and support Chadchart on the side at the most.
Wednesday, October 16, 2019: National divide is spreading and can turn violent, according to former activist Thirayuth Boonmee, now a well-known academic specialising on political affairs.
He blamed what he called nationalism overdose by the government, widespread corruption and inflamed rhetoric by both sides of the divide.
Thailand has fallen into a trap where one side’s “reform” is the other side’s “conspiracy”. Thailand can never find a true “way out” for the people unless those at the top of the conflict take a step back, he said, calling on the government to take the initiative.
According to Thirayuth, both Pheu Thai and Future Forward have just tried to make a trigger out of certain issues but have never proposed real solutions for the people, whereas the government and the military only lean on “national security” and nothing else.
“Thai politics has come to encourage distortions, fake news, rhetoric and legal campaigns against opponents. The United States has been supporting one side and China the other. All these can lead to something worse,” he said.
Tuesday, October 15, 2019: Bhumjaithai leader and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has suggested that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha may have to do something if a national committee decides not to ban three pesticides whose harmful effects on humans have become a big issue.
“Maybe the prime minister will need to step to the fore if the committee makes another decision,” said Anutin.
Bhumjaithai ministers may have to quit their jobs if the National Hazardous Substances Committee did not ban the three pesticides that have been used for farming despite their high toxicity, Anutin Charnvirakul had said. Also the public health minister, Anutin said it was impossible for him to stay on if his opinions on health issues meant nothing.
Today’s statement certainly put pressure on Prayut, whose government controls only a slim majority in the House of Representatives and cannot manage to upset any coalition partner.
“There is nothing else to talk about. We (the party) have been clear that we don’t want the pesticides,” he said.
Monday, October 14, 2019: Former Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva may have laid himself open to political attacks after suggesting that advocates of charter changes should avoid divisive issues.
Speaking in Nakhon Pathom, where a Democrat candidate is running for a by-election later this month, Abhisit implied that only unified efforts could bring about constitutional changes.
“All parties should work together. I believe that there are problems in this Constitution that everyone agrees on. Therefore, a clear target (that everyone shares) should be the priority. Divisive points should be avoided,” he said.
As proposed changes are naturally divisive, or they would have been in the existing Constitution in the first place, Abhisit could most likely be attacked by political opponents for saying something impossible. Additionally, he was among the most outspoken critics of the military regime, under which the present charter was created.
Abhisit today also ruled out running in the Bangkok gubernatorial election.
Sunday, October 13, 2019: The numbers of people uninterested or very interested in the budget debate are not that different, according to the latest Dusit Poll, in which over 1,000 Thais were surveyed.
Of all the people questioned, 21.6% are “very interested”, compared with 16.5% who couldn’t care less. About 35% are “fairly interested”, whereas 26.7% are “not very interested.”
In other words, if you ask four Thais, one will be glued to the debate; another one will keep one eye on the debate; another one will pay some attention if news hit him or her; and another one will not bother.
About 70% of those surveyed think the budget bill will pass. The rest do not think so. About 41% think this year’s Bt3.3 trillion planned spending is reasonable, while nearly 60% are deeply concerned about state debts and corruption.
Saturday, October 12, 2019: The Matichon newspaper has conducted a curious poll on the Bangkok gubernatorial election and virtually predicted a setback for the Pheu Thai Party if Chadchart Sittipunt does run as an independent in the key political race.
Speculation that Pheu Thai’s Chadchart will run as an independent has become stronger each passing day, and Matichon’s poll will make it even more so. The newspaper has always closely covered Pheu Thai, so the fact that the paper has conducted such a poll is very intriguing.
Readers of Matichon online and followers of Matichon twitter were asked the same question: Do you think Pheu Thai’s Bangkok team can beat Chadchart?
Of Matichon online readers who voted, 63 per cent think it will be tough for Pheu Thai to beat Chadchart if he does decide to run as an independent. Of Twitter voters, 76 per cent think the same.
Another key political development is an intensifying war of words between the government plus its supporters and the Future Forward Party plus its supporters over Hong Kong protests and Thai Army chief Apirat Kongsompong’s statement on “indivisible Thailand”. It has become alarmingly obvious that the divisive Thai politics, Hong Kong and Thailand’s insurgency-plagued deep South are getting too intertwined.
Friday, October 11, 2019: Just when the Chinese Embassy virtually reprimanded Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit for potentially meddling with Hong Kong’s political affairs, his party’s spokeswoman has another controversial Facebook post dug up.
Pannika Wanich, in her Facebook, quoted Hong Kong leading activist Joshua Wong as saying that the Parliament in his country represented the elite, not ordinary people. The problem is with her hashtag, not what he said.
The hashtag proclaims: Hong Kong and Thailand are more similar than we think.
Thursday, October 10, 2019: The Supreme Court has reaffirmed its guilty verdict against former foreign minister Tovichakchaikul, but put him on a two-year probation regarding the two-year jail sentence, bringing to a close the man’s role in Thaksin Shinawatra’s passport controversy.
The court’s section for political office holders confirmed its initial guilty ruling, rejecting Surapong’s appeal in the process. But the court granted him the probation citing his various health problems that confined him to an oxygen mask and wheelchair. He is suffering from lymphoma, high cholesterol, diabetes and bad heart conditions.
Wednesday, October 9, 2019: A final verdict looms for former foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, whose appeal against a guilty ruling in connection with Thaksin Shinawatra’s passport controversy will be decided once and for all.
In June, 2018, the Supreme Court’s section handling cases against political office holders found Surapong guilty of malfeasance in facilitating Thaksin’s oversea stays and travels. The court is scheduled to rule on his appeal on Thursday, October 10. He faces a maximum two years in jail if the guilty verdict stands.
In its guilty ruling, the court said Surapong had undeniably helped a legal convict and disgraced Thailand’s justice system in the process.
Tuesday, October 8, 2019: Increased politicisation of a judge’s suicide attempt in Yala and a vociferous controversy stemming from a charter reform forum in Pattani has all but confirmed that Thailand’s divisive politics will revolve around southern issues at least over the next few days.
The first has triggered debate divided along ideological lines, with the parliamentary opposition, facing a few legal decisions itself, trying to portray a twisted and unreliable justice system. The other side, of course, is crying foul over what it claims to be a conspiracy to discredit Thai courts.
The attempted suicide issue is snowballing, with a key opposition figure, Future Forward’s secretary-general Piyabutr Sangkanokkul putting himself on the line by claiming to have received some tell-tale information from the judge’s side and the defense of the suspects he (the judge) acquitted. Information from a judge prior to a ruling is controversial in itself and, while it can damage a few people, can raise serious ethical questions.
The second case involved what was controversially said at a public panel, which the government side says constituted a malicious attempt to change Thailand’s political culture. The opposition said efforts to discredit academics’ opinions were simply dictatorial. House Speaker Chuan Leekpai apparently joined the fray the other day with what could be regarded as a partisan comment.
Monday, October 7, 2019: In what could be one of the most explosive statements regarding constitutional reform, House Speaker Chuan Leekpai has urged extreme caution from all sides pushing for amendment, blaming what he deems a structural mistake during the Thaksin government for the on-going insurgency crisis in Thailand’s deep-South.
Chuan basically said any proposed charter change must be carefully thought out, so a big problem like the southern crisis would not occur. He insisted that a major structural change advocated by the government in 2001 was one of the triggers of the on-going southern insurgency that has killed thousands.
What happened before the southern flare-up was subjected to much debate, particularly the significant changes in high-level management of security situations in the region. Many have blamed the shift of power from local military leaders to far-away politicians who were less familiar with sensitive matters in the area.
That Chuan, the head of Thailand’s legislative branch, spoke about the opposition’s on-going push for charter amendment and the southern crisis at the same time is a remarkable political development. It also coincided with a fresh controversy regarding an opposition-organised public forum in the deep South during which participants, one of them contentiously, called for a series of major constitutional changes.
“When security matters are concerned, everyone involved should think carefully and ensure that changes will certainly lead to something better,” Chuan said at the King Prajadhipok’s Institute. “We don’t want a mistake like what happened in 2001”.
Sunday, October 6, 2019: A Dusit Poll shows Thais were not happy with “runaway” prices in the market, with respondents to a recent survey thinking that the biggest problem they have faced since Prayut Chan-o-cha returned to power after the March election was they have to dig deeper into their pockets.
The poll surveyed 1,223 Thais between October 1-5. Nearly 68 % said that the “Prayut 2 government” has not been able to bring the prices of goods and services down. This was in response to a question of “What has been worse since the Prayut 2 government was installed?”
However, the respondents were satisfied with economic stimulus measures, particularly the “Chim Shop Chai” programme, in which registered Thais are given Bt1,000 each to spend at shops taking part in the project. About 49% like the government’s economic stimulus efforts.
Simply put for the government: Thais like the fact that the government is trying to stir up the economy, but they don’t want prices to go up while the government is doing so.
Saturday, October 5, 2019: The Future Forward Party leader’s constitutional trouble seems to have gotten deeper with a revelation that his asset report to the National Anti-Corruption Commission did not mention any income from his proclaimed share transfer to his mother.
His asset report was supposed to declare an income from the transfer but it omitted it entirely, according to the Isranews outlet. Seemingly minor oversights in asset reports by politicians to the NACC have been harshly penalised in the past, not to mention conspicuous discrepancies. Among high-profile figures banned temporarily from politics was late Democrat power broker Sanan Kachornprasart who was found guilty of declaring a “fake” debt that appeared trivial considering his wealth.
Thanathorn insisted that he transferred V-Luck Media shares to his mother in order to be eligible for election candidacy. The “transfer” was essential because, without it, he would be deemed as violating the Constitution, which prohibits media shareholding by election runners.
Whether Thanathorn’s share transfer did take place has been subjected to widespread and bitter political debate, with documents shown, refuted and questioned. His own asset report would likely inflame that.
Friday, October 4, 2019: There are two main reasons to believe that things between Thailand’s red-shirted movement and the Cambodian government are not what they used to be, according to an analysis in a mainstream news outlet. The first is the fine relationship between Hun Sen and Prayut Chan-o-cha, and the second is that the former is facing the type of political rebellion that could make him understand his Thai counterparts better.
Sam Rainsy has become Hun Sen’s top political rival, trying to undermine the latter’s political leadership from overseas. The main opposition figure’s “homecoming plan” is seen as a big threat, which many think could lead to an uprising. That the alleged plot might need help from Cambodian labour in Thailand adds to Hun Sen’s need to strengthen the already good ties between him and Prayut, it was reported. That explained red shirted leaders being flushed out of safe places in the neighbouring country. Some have ended up in the Thai custody or are facing jail sentences here.
The article by Komchadluek did not link the Cambodian situation to Thaksin Shinawatra getting “tired” and apparently dismayed lately.
Thursday, October 3, 2019: Interest in the government’s latest stimulus package _ or what critics may call blatant populism _ has been staggering, with people scrambling to register for the programme online.
Millions have registered for the Bt1,000 give-away from the government, which the opposition says is using a cheap trick to gain popularity.
Not that the government cares, though. The programme is taking the public minds off the opposition’s charter amendment push and has so far contained damage regarding Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao. It is called Chim-Shop-Chai (Taste-Shop-Spend) in Thai and offers those who registered Bt1,000 to be spent within a period after receiving SMS confirmation.
Interest has been so massive that the initial registration period was not enough. The government hopes to register around ten million Thais so as to push economic growth to 3.6% this year.
After registration, a confirmation text message should arrive within three days. The government-sponsored spending must take place within a deadline and at shops registered to join the project.
Wednesday, October 2, 2019: An opposition MP has vowed to support a government candidate in the Nakhon Pathom by-election, adding more complications to what no longer looks like a straightforward battle between the powers-that-be and those seeking to topple them.
The first sign of complexities had come a few days ago when the Chartthaipattana Party declared it would join the fray. The government party would field Padermchai Sasomsap, making it a three-horse race. The other two runners are the Democrat Party’s Surachai Anuttato (government) and Future Forward’s Pairattachote Jankachorn (opposition).
Now, Pheu Thai MP Wan Yoobamrung has vowed to support Padermchai, in complete disregard of the fact that he (Wan) is an opposition lawmaker. Wan’s Facebook post in support of Padermchai ended with an eye-catching hashtag “Together in different parties”.
To sum it up, two government candidates will compete against each other as well as an opposition runner, but an opposition MP will back one of the government competitor to the hilt.
Tuesday, October 1, 2019: Public prosecutors have decided against taking Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit to court for his Facebook live that criticised the “sucking power” of Palang Pracharat and mocked frequent TV and radio broadcasts featuring Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s talks.
The issue is one of many potentially dangerous legal problems he has been facing, and probably the least threatening one. More immediate trouble is still to come, starting with the his media share controversy which should come to a conclusion very soon. A related problem has to do with the question whether his “transfer” of the shares in question to his mother was fake or genuine, which could turn a simple constitutional matter into a serious criminal case. Other possibly explosive affairs include Bt191 million loans to his own party and what opponents describe as illegal political aims of his party.
The Facebook live virtually demanded that Prayut take his programmes off the air to “return happiness” to the people. At that time, Prayut was being considered as the prime ministerial candidate of Palang Pracharat, which was luring many previously anti-military politicians to its side.
Thanathorn’s Facebook action was deemed by rivals as violations of the computer laws because it allegedly disseminated false information to the public through the technology.
Monday, September 30, 2019: It will not be an absolute battle between the opposition and the government in Nakhon Pathom’s Constituency 5 on October 23. The Chartthaipattana Party has declared that its loyalty to the government bloc is secondary when the by-election is concerned.
“We will fight to the death and we are well prepared this time, no matter what happened previously,” Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said. The statement will dishearten the Democrats, who must have been encouraged earlier by the Palang Pracharat Party’s decision to stay on the side.
Chartthaipattana will field Padermchai Sasomsap for the by-election. The candidate will fight it out with Democrat Surachai Anuttato and Future Forward’s Pairattachote Jankachorn. A Surachai-Pairattachote showdown would be a proxy political war between the government and the opposition, but Chartthaipattana’s stand is changing the complexion of the by-election.
Chartthaipattana came fourth in the constituency on March 24, but Varawut, the party’s chief strategist, defiantly insisted that the loss was a blip and his party would go and win it this time.
Sunday, September 29, 2019: It has been dubbed as potentially “the first domino to fall”. That description by Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has added a lot more significance to the by-election in Nakhon Pathom, the first major political battleground since the March 24 poll.
The by-election is necessary after a Future Forward MP representing the province, Joompita Jankachorn, resigned from Parliament due to health reasons. Her husband, Pairattachote Jankachorn, is running under the party’s banner in the Oct 23 by-election.
On the government side, the Democrat Party is fielding Surachai Anuttato, a local politician. It is taking heart from Palang Pracharat’s “goodwill gesture” as the main ruling party has decided against competing.
So, here are simple stats from the March election: Future Forward’s Joompita received 34,164 votes. The Democrat and Palang Pracharat parties lost, but they got a combined 37,711 votes.
However, Thanathorn, campaigning for Pairattachate, said a lot has changed since March 24, suggesting his party expected to win comfortably and the Prayut government would be judged in this and other by-elections. Results, the Future Forward leader insisted, could wipe out the government’s slim majority in the House of Representatives.
“Nakhon Pathom will be the first domino to fall,” Thanathorn said.
Saturday, September 28, 2019: As it turns out, the most discussed, the most shared, the most analysed, and the most speculated topic in the Thai political realm over the past two days is not about Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s big assets and how he used them, or about his party’s hiring of a curious firm in the United States. In fact, what is selling like hotcakes politically has just a little to do with politics.
Thaksin Shinawatra’s son, Panthongtae, was leaving a courtroom the other day having completed his trial in connection with the Krungthai Bank loan scandal. The case has been heavily politicised for obvious reasons, but its conclusion gave way almost completely to how he looked, talked, and used his facial expressions on the courthouse doorsteps.
Clips of that interview spread like wildfire online. He did look thin and unhealthy and his demeanour appeared a little strange. But debate in the mainstream media and among social media people has been divided along ideological lines. His opponents said he looked extremely unusual in a bad way, but his supporters and siblings insisted he was thin because of exercise and his accent and facial movement appeared abnormal simply because he was very excited by the case in which he faces tough penalties if found guilty.
Friday, September 27, 2019: To close out what looks like a bad fortnight for the opposition, the Future Forward Party has been forced to deny that its newly-revealed contract with a US advocacy firm was an attempt to discredit the Thai government.
The party’s contract with APCO Worldwide LLC has become one of the hottest news and social media items. The publicity regarding the contract also coincided with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit to the United States during which there were curious protests against him.
Future Forward’s Facebook statement on the subject can be summed up as followed:
- The agreement with the advocacy firm has not been “leaked”. It became publicised naturally, under a business transparency system in America.
- The agreement was only intended to facilitate Future Forward’s normal oversea activities in terms of itineraries and document translation, among others.
- The party’s overseas activities are never intended to damage the reputation of Thailand. They are only meant to internationally publicise the party’s work, report local situations truthfully, and gain more knowledge on foreign systems and cultures.
This is in response to charges, going viral online over the past two days, that the party is hiring foreign lobbyists to discredit the Thai government.
The following is from Wikipedia: “APCO Worldwide is an independent global public affairs and strategic communications consultancy. With more than 600 employees in 35 worldwide locations, it is also the second largest independently owned PR firm in the United States. Headquartered in Washington, APCO was founded in 1984 by Margery Kraus, who is now the firm’s Executive Chairman.”
Thursday, September 26, 2019: Thaksin Shinawatra’s son will be judged by the Criminal Court in connection with the Krungthai Bank scandal on November 25, it was announced today. “I will be there,” declared Panthongtae Shinawatra defiantly after the court concluded a trial in which he was accused of accepting a cheque worth Bt10 million from bank borrowers.
The court set November 25 as the ruling date, having heard testimonies regarding bribery and money laundering charges related to the Krisda Mahanakorn loan controversy, which has landed some top bankers including Viroj Nualkair in jail.
Panthongtae’s case involved alleged payment between loan recipients _ or people associated with the Krisda Mahanakorn property developer _ and the young Shinawatra after the Krungthai Bank granted them a massive loan, which was allegedly misused. The loan was approved while Thaksin was prime minister.
Panthongtae was very young when it happened, just like when his name featured in the takeover by Singapore’s Temasek of his father’s telecom empire. The Temasek deal triggered mass protests leading up to a coup against Thaksin and kicking start the on-going political devide.
Wednesday, September 25, 2019: How should Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s loans to his own party be classified or defined? If they were considered to be different from normal business borrowings, Future Forward could be in big trouble.
Legal and constitutional expert Seri Suwannapanon, whose political neutrality could be questioned due to his associations with one side of the political divide, has written a “personal opinion” in his Facebook stating that loans to political parties shall never be classified like normal business loans are, albeit liabilities.
Whereas loans are not classified as income in business reports, the same could not be said if someone let political parties to borrow his or her money, he said.
Borrowing contracts could be irrelevant, as they could state anything and the borrower and the creditor could have secret arrangements, according to Seri. Simply put, both contractual parties could let the borrower default hence allowing the creditor’s influence to grow over the political party.
This is why the Constitution is strict about how political parties obtain their income, as money received can affect the parties’ work, policy and other activities, said Seri, who has held key “reform” positions for one side of the political divide.
“If loans to political parties are not considered as income, an unlimited supply of money can enter a party under the disguise of loans, and loan givers can demand what they want politically,” he said.
Unlimited “loans” can cause serious advantages and disadvantages in politics, making reform extremely difficult, Seri insisted.
Tuesday, September 24, 2019: Pheu Thai MP Nawat Tohcharoensook, representing Khon Kaen’s Constituency 7, has been sentenced to death by the Criminal Court for murder.
The provincial court’s sentence, which is subjected to appeal to higher courts, is in connection with the murder of Suchart Kotethum, former head of the Khon Kaen Provincial Administrative Organisation, in May six years ago. Nawat was implicated as the mastermind by people involved in the killing. The court said the death sentence was based on strong evidence that included the confessions as well as recorded telephone contacts among those involved.
Monday, September 23, 2019: Economic problems are ranked the biggest worry by respondents to the most recent NIDA poll, who don’t treat constitutional amendment as an urgent issue.
A survey of 1,266 people last week showed that 44.9 per cent of the respondents want the government to tackle economic woes, whereas just about 1.9% want charter amendment. About 1.5% want the government to come up with measures to deal with perils of underground debts, one of the smallest worries of the poll respondents.
Other “top priorities”, according to the poll, include natural disasters and drug problems. More than 13% want the government to concentrate on relief efforts when natural disasters strike, while over 4% demand an increased war on drugs.
Sunday, September 22, 2019: The picture of an advertisement board in New York proclaiming “Don’t let democracy die in Thailand” has sparked a controversy here as to how and when it was taken. Pro-government people insisted that ex-MP Sunai Jullapongsathorn of the Pheu Thai Party and a former Pheu Thai election candidate have contradicted each other about the photo.
Sunai allegedly said he sent someone to take the photo to prove that what he had got online earlier was not a fake. Former Pheu Thai candidate Treerat Sirichantaropas posted on Facebook that an aunt in America sent him the very same photo shown by Sunai. In short, the pro-government camp said, one, if not both, of them must be lying, considering timing and everything.
A UN General Assembly is taking place in New York. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will be joining it.
Saturday, September 21, 2019: There are two obvious problems in Pheu Thai’s Chadchart Sittipunt’s bid to become the new Bangkok governor. Firstly, Future Forward, not his party, won the most votes in the capital in the March general election. Secondly, politicising his “linkage” to Thaksin Shinawatra could torpedo his reasonably immense popularity, like former Pheu Thai’s Bangkok gubernatorial candidate Pongsapat Pongcharoen suffered a few years ago.
The two problems can combine to leave him flat on the floor. It will be hard enough to compete against Future Forward without having to deal with all the Thaksin elements.
Speculation has been rife, then, that Chadchart might compete as an independent, to avoid the same Thaksin factor that derailed Pongsapat’s highly promising campaign. Talks about Chadchart running as an independent have grown from whispers to open and sometimes loud discussions.
A very highly unlikely, if not downright impossible, scenario _ in which he switches allegiance completely to the government side and carries its flag _ has also been mentioned. While Palang Pracharat might entertain the idea, the Democrats will certainly balk at it.
So far, former Bangkok senator Rosana Tositrakul, very popular herself, has confirmed her decision to run. Key parties, meanwhile, are playing wait and see.
Friday, September 20, 2019: His Bt5.6 billion wealth is not unexpected, but not many people knew that the Future Forward leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, charged his own party a 7.5% interest rate for a Bt161 million loan.
Those are details of asset declarations by MPs who submitted their reports on the deadline day. Key Future Forward figures sent in their reports on the same day as Thanathorn, including party secretary-general Piyabutr Sangkannokkul, whose wealth is Bt7.6 million, party spokeswoman Pannika Wanich (Bt2.6 million), and rising parliamentary star of Future Forward, Pita Limjaroenrat, who is reported to have Bt114 million.
Thanathorn lent money to the Future Forward Party on two occasions. The first, given under a contract signed on January 2 this year, was the Bt161 loan with the annual 7.5% interest rate. The second loan contract was signed on April 11 this year. The amount was Bt30 million with a 2% annual interest rate.
The loans could pose constitutional questions concerning political parties’ finances and a fresh round of political controversy is possible.
Palang Pracharat MP Pareena Kraikup, a rising star on the government side, is reported to have Bt139.9 million, according to the publicised assets reports.
Thursday, September 19, 2019: Without a major incident, the parliamentary debate on his incomplete oath recital has ended, so Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha could be himself again while addressing a side issue. He was spotted with some kind of a file labelled “Movement of destroyers of the nation” during the debate and later was asked about it.
“What do you want to know?” he asked reporters back. “Do you want to know if your name is on the list?”
The reporters tried one more time, asking questions about the “confidential” nature the file.
His reply ended the conversation. “If it’s confidential, should I tell you anything about it?” he said.
Wednesday, September 18, 2019: The parliamentary debate on “incomplete” oath-taking must have felt a lot better for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha now that the Constitution Court has ruled that he was qualified to be head of the government despite his post-coup status.
The opposition insisted that he was serving as a government official holding a bureaucratic position when he led Thailand in the wake of his coup, a status that would have made his appointment as prime minister after the March election unconstitutional.
The court said Prayut’s post-coup job was an interim one, taken to restore and ensure peace and order, so he shall not be considered as acting as a normal government official. In effect, another legal weight has been lifted off Prayut, after the same court recently had decided against accepting complaints related to the controversial oath-taking.
Tuesday, September 17, 2019: A shocking report has been nipped in the bud. Democrat Korn Chatikavanij and Pheu Thai’s Chadchart Sittipunt were swift to deny a report on a mainstream news website that they were planning to defect from their respective camps in order to co-found a new political party.
The denials came from both men’s twitter messages only hours after the business-oriented news website reported that the rival Democrat and Pheu Thai parties and the Thai public were about to see an incredible Korn-Chadchart union, which reportedly will be joined by a few other Democrats. Need for “new politics” and the Bangkok gubernatorial election were cited as key reasons.
Both politicians’ twitter messages simply stated that the report was not true.
Monday, September 16, 2019: Following a backlash, Future Forward spokeswoman Pannika Wanich has said she did not mean to demean every article in the current Constitution when she criticised the charter the other day.
What she really meant was, she said today at a press conference, the existing Constitution had not been created in a proper, democratic process.
“I did not mean to attack every detail of this charter,” she said. “I just meant to say that the process was unjust, which is why we need to correct it.” Pannika pointed out, as an example, that some activists disagreeing with content of the draft of this charter were arrested during campaigns leading to its referendum a few years ago.
Her initial comment that “every article of this charter sucks” has drawn a lot of criticism, both from her party’s opponents and the public.
Sunday, September 15, 2019: It will be a media carnival at the TP&T Tower on Monday (September 16) where embattled Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao and his lawyers are to face the local and foreign media on issues besetting him _ his legal records in Australia and his foreign educational degree deemed not genuine by accusers.
The media meeting on the tower’s 25th floor in the afternoon has apparently been planned abruptly, with newsrooms getting invitation letters over the weekend.
Saturday, September 14, 2019: The Supreme Court’s harsh sentences a few days ago on red shirted leaders found guilty for the collapse of the 2009 Asean summit in Pattaya has prompted widespread online sharing of a Facebook article by media academic Somkiat Onwimon, Thai Post reported. In the article, Somkiat blamed the abrupt end of the summit, cancelled because of genuine safety fears, squarely on Thaksin Shinawatra.
In the article, Somkiat said singer Arisman Pongruangrong, who led the red shirt protesters on the fateful days, had agreed to retreat from the Pattaya summit hotel peacefully and seemed to be honouring the agreement until a live-broadcast phone-in by Thaksin changed everything.
After Thaksin declared “I can’t lose” and said protesters “have to come back with something” Arisman resumed belligerence and, along with other red-shirted leaders, were apparently responsible for the Pattaya protest turning fiery, said Somkiat, who was at the summit. The regional meeting was cancelled because of concerns for participants’ safety.
Somkiat’s anti-Thaksin stand is no secret, and the media man has been a subject of controversies himself.
Friday, September 13, 2019: As most political eyes were focused on Thammanat Prompao’s controversy and what would happen in Parliament and Cosntitution Court regarding the prime minister’s incomplete oath recital, another major development may not have received the attention it deserved.
The Supreme Court this week upheld the four-year prison terms imposed on 12 former core members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) for their role in leading red-shirt protesters in breaking up the ASEAN Summit at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort in Pattaya on April 11th, 2009. Former popular singer Arisman Pongruangrong is among the convicts.
This very court decision, analysts say, put virtually the final nail in the coffin of a movement responsible for the bloodiest uprising in modern Thai history.
The decision, which followed a few other punitive acts against movement leaders, means that most red shirt leaders were either behind bars or ordered to pay hefty damages, which were too high for them to focus on anything else.
Red shirts’ opponents have been on the receiving end of the justice system as well, with quite a few court rulings going against them. The latest verdict against the red shirts is also jeopardising the parliamentary status of a government MP, making the ruling coalition’s wafer-thin majority in the House of Representatives more fragile.
Thursday, September 12, 2019: Experiencing freedom after a few years in prison, media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul has been in no mood to offend anybody. Talking at length to the media for the first time today, he only took a little dig at friend-turned-foe Thaksin Shinawatra and compared military intervention in politics with your daughter having an unwanted pregnancy.
“I did not run away because I wanted everyone I love to hold their heads high,” Sondhi said. “Where is Thaksin? Where is Yingluck? I just want to tell them it is not as scary as they must have thought.”
Sondhi added he just hoped Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha would do well for Thailand.
“Military coups don’t please me, but let me say this: It’s like your daughter has an unwanted pregnancy. Would you stretch her up and whip her? No. You just move on and do your best to make sure the child grows up to be a good person,” he said.
Wednesday, September 11, 2019: It will take patient reading and great understanding of the language of the law to understand the Constitution Court’s explanation on why the judges would not touch the oath-taking issue which involves Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Non-legal experts should just become aware that the court has decided against considering complaints that the incomplete oath may be unconstitutional.
The court mentioned the fact that the Royal Palace continued activities with the Cabinet after the oath-taking. Those activities, the court suggested, were required as part of the royal and constitutional formalities after a government is formed.
The court said something about the oath-taking ceremony being part of traditional and unique linkage between the palace and the executive branch.
Tuesday, September 10, 2019: It can be Clashes of the Titans instead of one. The Bangkok gubernatorial election, whose date is yet to be set, may feature the largest number of big-name candidates ever.
From Supachai Panitchpakdi to Nualpan Lamsam to Chadchart Sittipunt to Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit, speculation has already generated great excitement. Not to be overlooked are Abhisit Vejjajiva, Apirak Kosayodhin, Korn Chatikavanij and Nattakorn “Pluem” Devakula.
None of the names has been an officially confirmed candidate, of course, and chances are most of them will not be there when the campaign starts. Special mention, though, has to be given to the increasingly clear sign that both the Democrat and Future Forward parties will join the fray, which will pit them against their respective allies _ Palang Pracharat and Pheu Thai.
Thanathorn’s name may be wild speculation, but if he is to challenge the powers-that-be, winning a Bangkok gubernatorial by a landslide may be better than fighting as parliamentary opposition. It has to be noted, though, that if he is banned from politics in connection with the media share ownership controversy, he won’t be able to run in the city poll.
Of all the names, Chadchart is most likely to run. But even he is reported to be considering competting as an independent, which will force Pheu Thai to look for another candidate. In that case, the biggest party will have to find another promising runner, which will make the election even more mouth-watering.
Monday, September 9, 2019: Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has blamed rural misery on military intervention in politics. In response, his opponents accused him of amplifying political divisiveness at a time when the country should have been united for flood sufferers. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, meanwhile, intriguingly said no comment to everything, reasoning that he was busy trying to help Thais affected by floods.
Political divide means the widespread flooding has been heavily politicized. In addition to the above-mentioned, the Pheu Thai Party said the current Constitution has restricted politicians’ attempts to help their constituencies. Photos and comments shared on the social media praised one side and ridiculed the other.
The situation is very much different from the last massive flooding during the Yingluck government, in which Thais joined hands to help victims and politicization was relatively subdued.
In his controversial flood speech, Thanathorn said skytrain and subway projects were making budgetary allocation totally unfair for rural people. Such injustice could only be corrected by “taking back the power”, he said. The government cried foul, asking him to stop divisive rhetoric and at least one columnist suggested Thanathorn check his party’s related expenses on Bangkok and rural areas before making such comparisons.
The debate will likely continue long after floods recede. People’s suffering as a result of politicians’ cutthroat games will certainly last a lot longer.
Sunday, September 8, 2019: The Democrats only say her name comes up in every pre-election, but with parties struggling to find an attractive Bangkok gubernatorial candidate with a fair chance of winning, Nualphan Lamsam will court intense speculation this time until the candidacy registration is over.
The name of Chadchart Sittipunt has been mentioned by Pheu Thai, and he has become the favourite already although the opposition party said nothing is official. Well-known businesswoman Nualphan, who has also been involved in high-profile soccer management, would make it a very interesting showdown if she does represent the Democrats.
“Her name has always been suggested for every single election,” said Democrat deputy leader Ongart Klampaibul when asked about her. “We have two group of possible candidates _ those who are interested in running for the party and those who we are interested in fielding. We will seriously consider both sets.”
Another name heavily mentioned for the Democrats is one of their own _ former governor Apirak Kosayodhin, who Ongart said has the support of many party members.
The election date has not been set. It’s likely that political allies will turn against one another at the poll, as all of the Pheu Thai, Democrat, Future Forward and Palang Pracharat parties reportedly want to compete.
Saturday, September 7, 2019: The increase of prison sentence handed down to former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom from 42 to 48 years in connection with the rice pledging scandal is gloomy news for many “big fish” suspects, some of whom not implicated in the initial trial, analysts say. Simply put, Boonsong received an added jail term on Friday because the Supreme Court thought his role in the “fake” government-to-government (G2G) agreements to sell rice to China was clear and more indisputable than ever.
The increased jail sentence means the Supreme Court was absolutely convinced about his alleged role in the faking of the business contracts with people who had lied that they were representing the Chinese government. This can be bad news for people who were above him when he served as commerce minister. In other words, Boonsong’s “direct role” as determined by the court would worry big-name politicians supporting the Yingluck government, which made rice pledging a key policy, the analysts say.
There has been consistent speculation that the rice probe was being quietly reopened, despite the fact that several people have been convicted and put in jail already.
Friday, September 6, 2019: Top political parties have finished “dividing” the House committees among them. Who chairs what are as followed:
Pheu Thai will chair 10 House committees _ energy; education; anti-corruption; budget monitoring; foreign affairs; operations of state enterprises, courts and funds; children, women and elderly people affairs; consumer protection; industries; and natural disasters.
Palang Pracharat will chair 8 committees _ police; telecom, communications and digital economy; monetary, banking and financial institutions; parliamentary affairs; military affairs; religious, cultural and artistic affairs; anti-drug and anti-money laundering; and science, technology and innovations.
Future Forward will chair 6 committees _ land and natural resources; state security; law, justice and human rights; political development, mass communications and public participation in politics; economic development; and labour affairs.
The Democrats will chair 4 committees _ commerce and intellectual properties; agriculture and cooperatives; national debts; and social welfare.
The division of House committees’ chairmanships has upset some small parties, with the leader of the Prachatham Thai Party threatening to break away from the government coalition, after the Thai Civilized Party had withdrawn from the alliance earlier.
Thursday, September 5, 2019: The Constitution Court is scheduled to rule on Prayut Chan-o-cha’s prime ministerial qualifications on September 18. This month will also feature important court sessions on Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit’s share controversy before a final verdict.
In other words, the immediate futures of Thailand’s top political nemeses will most likely be decided this month. No need to be said, the final decisions, whatever they may be, will affect Thailand’s short- and long-term political future.
Prayut’s case involves his capacity as a coup-installed leader, leading to a question whether he was a state official, a status that opponents say render his rise to the premiership unlawful. Thanathorn had shares in a company registering to operate, among others, a media business, and there is a question whether he transferred those shares out of the way in time of election candidacy registration. Thanathorn’s case is expected to be finalized this month.
Don’t blink in the next few weeks.
Wednesday, September 4, 2019: Insisting that the opposition “doesn’t stand a chance” in its wish to amend the Constitution, red shirted leader Jatuporn Prompan suggested that the 1997 model that led to “the People’s Charter” should be reused.
The process would involve “minimally” amending the present Constitution to allow the setting up of an independent charter-drafting assembly. This would keep MPs and senators out of it. Barring MPs would eliminate charges that they want to change the charter just for themselves, while excluding senators would prevent military interferences, Jatuporn said.
The charter-drafting assembly would be legally bound not to touch clauses on the monarchy, he said, but the new charter’s content would come directly from the people.
“Unless the people take the leading role, we can never amend the Constitution,” Jatuporn said.
The 1997 model created what was dubbed one of Thailand’s best charters. However, present government leaders have voiced opposition to re-employing the method, saying it would make redundant the fact that the existing Constitution was approved in a public referendum.
Meanwhile, today has seen mixed fortunes for key political players. Sondhi Limthongkul, a media mogul who turned from a cheerleader of Thaksin Shinawatra into his bitter foe, has been released from prison, where he spent more than three years after conviction on financial fraud charges, thanks to a royal clemency programme, while Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the Future Forward Party leader, would continue to be “suspended” as an MP following a Constitution Court order. Dozens of opposition MPs have also come another step closer to investigation into their shareholdings, which accusers claim might cover media operations.
Tuesday, September 3, 2019: Public Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has attempted to allay fears that the ganja liberalisation policy, which he and his party are pushing for, will benefit only rich businesses and spread addiction.
“I have instructed health authorities to quickly make the people understand the government’s policy with the simplest and easiest language,” said Anutin. Rock star Ad Carabao (Yuenyong Opakul) has voiced concern that the policy would encourage business opportunism and poor people would gain only little medical benefits of ganja.
The singer was pointing at what could potentially happen _ socially and politically _ if legal restrictions on ganja cultivation and commercialisation were eased.
“I’m confident there won’t be a problem,” said Anutin, whose Bhumjaithai Party made ganja liberalisation an outstanding election promise. “I don’t think the ministry is being set up (to help big businesses looking to capitalise on the ganja policy). We are sincere about the policy.”
Monday, September 2, 2019: Not every government figure wants the parliamentary debate on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s controversial oath-taking to be held behind closed doors. The government’s chief whip, for one, believes that an open debate could help the coalition.
Wirat Rattanaset, a party-list MP of Palang Pracharat who heads coalition whips, said the public would know both sides of the story if the debate, which will touch upon the sensitive issue of the monarchy, is not a secret session. So far, most media and social media content related to the oath-taking controversy has come from critics of the government.
Besides, Wirat said, the government does not need to be worried about the opposition’s remarks, as each opposition MP would be directly responsible for what he or she says.
Likely date for the debate is either September 11 or 12, he said. The government would finalise the issue of its preferred date tomorrow (Tuesday).
Sunday, September 1, 2019: Speculation over whether the New Economics Party will remain loyal to the Pheu Thai-led opposition’s alliance will intensify following Mingkwan Sangsuwan’s resignation and a sweeping leadership change this weekend.
Manoon Siwapiromrat, a party-list MP, was elected to succeed Mingkwan as the New Economics leader on Saturday, along with other changes at the top. It was too soon for Manoon to discuss the party’s crucial future, but Pheu Thai top strategist Bhumtham Wecchayachai expressed guarded confidence that nothing will change.
“We hope to work closely with Khun Manoon and I believe the party’s policy will not change,” Bhumtham said. “New Economics still attended the opposition’s meetings and the latest one was joined by the party’s deputy leader.”
Manoon’s rise to the party’s helm took place against a backdrop of rumours that at least “some of” New Economics MPs would join the government side.
Saturday, August 31, 2019: The government certainly wants to end the oath-taking controversy here and now, and Deputy Prime Minister Wassanu Krea-ngam has given strong hints on how. The parliamentary debate on the issue, he suggested, may not be open to public.
“I have no opinion on whether it should be a secret parliamentary meeting,” he said. With a big “But”, though. “But normally, any (parliamentary) remark that concerns the monarchy is made behind closed doors. And it doesn’t have to be the government to call for such a secret meeting. A good number of MPs can do it.”
Wissanu added that anyone wanting to leak what was said during such a parliamentary debate could do so at his or her own risks. The opposition, the media and social media may have to take that thinly-veiled warning into account.
With the opposition hoping to eat into the government’s credibility with the debate on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s oath-taking, how it is held is politically significant.
Friday, August 30, 2019: If the Thai-US relationship is not good, it can’t include Thai military spending with money going to America. On that front, ties seem pretty cosy at the moment, with Army chief Apirat Kongsompong vehemently defending the decision to buy a lot of Stryker armoured vehicles from the United States. Today, he virtually asked critics not to describe the incoming batch as “second-hand” and used the term “refurbished” to call it.
He said Washington was alright with Thailand, now that the country has returned to a civil rule, suggesting the recently stormy ties are being increasingly normalised. “I think a lot will follow (when military ties are concerned),” Apirat said. He added that Thailand will receive 70 of the combat vehicles by year-end, but the general did not want to address questions about the price and the country’s military need when compared to things like healthcare and education.
“What matters now is we get the reinforcements we want,” he said.
Thursday, August 29, 2019: Whenever a government campaigns against “fake news”, heavy politicisation is bound to follow. Just ask Donald Trump, whose attempts to ward off criticism were often laughed if he leans on the “misinformation” argument.
The Thai government’s plan to establish an anti-fake news centre is progressing continually, with committees being set up to look into key categories of fake news on the social media and how to combat them. Those key categories, according to Puttipong Punnakanta, the minister of digital for economy and society, include natural disasters, economy, health and cosmetic products and services, government policies and national security.
Puttipong said the centre’s working standard will match those of global social media giants like Facebook and YouTube. The facility should be operational on November 1, he added.
August 28, 2019: A politically significant schedule that many might not have noticed was completed rather smoothly today. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-0-cha, it seems, will have a military he wants in the foreseeable future.
He chaired the highest-level meeting of the Thai Armed Forces and this year’s military reshuffle list was finalized at the end. No major changes were made, meaning the list will go straight to the Royal Palace for the approving command of His Majesty the King.
Prayut, in his capacity as prime minister and defence minister, oversaw today’s meeting of the committee handling transfers of Armed Forces generals.
In Thai politics, who commands what in the Thai military has always been important, even for democratically-elected governments in the past.
Tuesday, August 27, 2019: At least three Future Forward MPs remain indebted to the government fund that gives loans to poor, underprivileged students, according to their asset reports to the authorities. They have apparently been paying parts of their loans, of course, but a question has been asked as to whether or how they were qualified as “poor” while seeking the money.
The issue, as of now, looks like a mini thorn in the Future Forward side, but the social media have started to pick on it and some columnists have mentioned it, hence the possibility of it snowballing into a major political case.
At least one of the MPs should never have been qualified as “poor” on his younger days, it has been pointed out. It has also been noted that all of the MPs in question now have millions of baht as their assets.
Student loans have been consistent sources of controversy, with many loan recipients failing to pay back, resulting in the fund getting depleted. There have been calls for recipients to honour their contracts and for affordable students to leave the fund for those really in need.
Monday, August 26, 2019: Chuan Leekpai, the head of Thai lawmakers, have called on them and their Asean counterparts to totally ignore political differences and tried their best to ensure “justice for all.”
In a speech marking the opening of the 40th Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA), he said that while lawmakers could not ensure income equality, they are far better poised to narrow the gap of justice, albeit differential legal treatment of the rich and the poor.
One way to achieve the narrowing of the gap is to ignore ideological differences and go all out against corruption, no matter who is responsible for it, Chuan said.
He considered himself lucky because he used to head Thailand’s executive branch and is now heading the legislative branch. Both experiences confirm to him the importance of checks and balances. The legislative role, he said, is crucial in fighting corruption and a triumph in the battle against graft will lead to greater legal justice for the underprivileged.
Sunday, August 25, 2019: Critics may be seeing that populism is going digital. The Prayut government is apparently trying to bridge the generation gap in politics with an increased amount of free wi-fi, a programme curiously named to make people think of one party while using the internet.
Against the backdrop of poll results showing opposition figures more popular among young people than the ruling Palang Pracharat Party, the government has pledged to step up the “Pracharat Net” project, which features free internet for tens of thousands of agricultural villages. According to Puttipong Punnakanta, the minister of digital for economy and society, the speed will be faster as well.
He claimed the “Pracharat Net” project now boasts more than 6 million people registering to use free wi-fi. The project also involves teaching Thai farmers about e-commerce.
During his observation tour in Chachoengsao today, there was a demonstration of pesticide spraying by a drone.
Saturday, August 24, 2019: In a rare sympathetic comment from the United States about Thai politics, Thai-American US Senator Tammy Duckworth on Friday has urged Thais to be patient with the “messy” nature of democracy. Her exact words are “Jai yen yen (calm down/be patient/take it easy)”.
She visited Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Friday during her first official visit to her birthplace Bangkok since she was elected in 2016. Before that, there was a press conference where she congratulated Thailand on a “successful election”.
Asked by AFP why she thought the contentious election had been a success, Duckworth replied “Jai yen yen”. She even compared American history to that of Thailand. “One hundred years after we became a democracy, we had a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans … we are nowhere close to that here,” she said. “Real democracy is messy … I understand the frustration of those who want things to move faster in Thailand and I agree with you.”
The decorated US Army veteran, who also gave a speech at the Thai military academy during her visit, lost both legs in 2004 when her helicopter was shot down over Iraq.
Ever since, she became the first Thai-American born in Thailand to be elected to Congress, the first female double amputee elected to Senate, and the first senator to give birth in office.
Friday, August 23, 2019: By the time one reads this update, the three leading figures of the Future Forward Party must have submitted their asset reports to the authorities.
Future Forward spokeswoman Pannika Wanich said she, Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and party secretary-general Piyabutr Sangkanokkul had sought postponement for the submission but would have no problem beating today’s deadline at 4 pm.
“We have received inquiries from many people who wondered why our names did not appear in the asset declaration news,” she wrote on her Twitter account. “The three of us had sought extension of the deadline, something allowed by law and done by 70 other MPs.”
Thursday, August 22, 2019: Thais may be dismayed or even feel threatened by domestic political trouble, but the country has been identified as potentially one of the safe havens for Hong Kong people feeling no longer comfortable with their own politics, Manager online quoted foreign agencies as saying.
The agencies claimed real estate analysts and operators in Hong Kong have named Thailand and Malaysia as standing to benefit the most from political tension in the bustling island.
Many Hong Kong people pondering a life overseas also like Singapore, but the southeast Asian country has less competitive prices than Thailand and Malaysia, it was reported.
Political trouble is not only serious in Hong Kong, but it also threatens to last for a long time, which prompts many to seriously consider the overseas option, the analysts said.
Wednesday, August 21, 2019: In Thai politics, not showing up at a key function is a big deal, as it always leads to questions about loyalty. So, when New Economics Party MPs were not seen when Pheu Thai head Sompong Amornwiwat celebrated becoming the opposition leader today, all kinds of speculation automatically followed.
Rumours that at least “some” New Economics MPs would join the government side have been further fuelled by admission on Tuesday by deputy party leader Niyom Wiwanthanaditkul that while he and party leader Mingkwan Sangsuwan remained firmly loyal to the Pheu Thai-led opposition alliance, he did not know what the others would do.
In the middle of congratulatory faces, Sompong appeared unfazed. He had to. “We have had talks (with New Economics) and I don’t think there would be any problem,” the Pheu Thai leader said.
Things will be clearer when the six-MP New Economics Party holds a press conference, which is expected any minute.
Tuesday, August 20, 2019: Palang Pracharat MP Sira Janejaka continues to get bombardment left and right. That what was perceived as an arrogant and highly improper manner in the South a few days ago was not uncommon among “honourable representatives” _ as Thai MPs like to call themselves _ may say something about the popularity of the Prayut government.
Coalition leaders including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, along with several in the government bloc, have made Sira look like an outcast. They all virtually said the incident in Phuket, in which the Bangkok MP loudly expressed dissatisfaction with police “reception”, was a personal issue that should not be taken as a “government attitude” in general.
But analysts say the uproar and wild-fire sharing of Sira-related content told a lot about how the public think of the government. If the government had been more popular, the outcry would have died down more quickly, they said.
However, guess who is spoiling it for the opposition. Of all the people, Wan Yoobamrung, Chalerm Yoobamrung’s son, is using Facebook to preach against arrogance and dare Sira to come to his constituency for a welcome he would never forget. Sira would not go anywhere near Wan’s area, of course, but he must have liked what Wan wrote, not least because the latter’s family had been involved in cases more serious than plain political arrogance.
Monday, August 19, 2019: With the government having six more House of Representatives votes than the opposition and having lost arguably insignificant voting tests in Parliament, in addition to a defection by a coalition partner and possibly more rebellion within the administration bloc, speculation about the New Economics Party’s future has returned.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan has guardedly welcomed the prospect of New Economics MPs joining the coalition from the opposition bloc, although he, a virtual power broker, claimed he knew nothing about it. “That would be nice” was all Prawit would say. He said that even if a shift of allegiance did happen, he did not even know if all New Economics MPs would join the government or only some of them would come.
New Economics’ loyalty has been doubted by the Pheu Thai-led opposition alliance before, particularly during the race to form a government. If it is being actually wooed by the Palang Pracharat camp, the party apparently has stronger bargaining power now than then.
Sunday, August 18, 2019: At a party seminar today, the Democrats reaffirm their trust of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Not his tongue, though. There are those who believe his words could be lightning rods.
“Maybe it would do him good if he could imitate (late prime minister and statesman) Prem (Tinsulanonda),” said Paitoon Kaewthong, who has overseen Democrats in the North, during a seminar of northern Democrats who also wished him a happy birthday. “Gen Prayut speaks very fast while it is not necessary for him to say everything (in public). Gen Prem was called Phra Thamey the Mute because many times the reporters got nothing from him to write about.”
Paitoon, former labour minister and now 84, said he believed the Prayut government with a slim House of Representatives majority can last long, as a Democrat-led government once proved it. The prime minister and his Cabinet have to work hard for the people, though, he insisted.
Saturday, August 17, 2019: Almost 69% of Super Poll respondents think an “honest government” serves the country better than a “dishonest” one. Problem, however, is apparently with the 31% who think the opposite.
The issues of being honest but dictatorial, or being democratically dishonest, or being dictatorially corrupt have kept popping up in Thai political debate. Super Poll, however, has tried to dwell on the question of honesty alone and steer clear from the dictatorship versus democracy debate in its recent survey of 1,082 people earlier this month.
Even so, the findings are somewhat unsettling. Some 69 % prefer an honest government, while the rest think a dishonest can serve the country better. In other words, the poll suggests that 3 in 10 of Thais believe corrupt governments work better for Thailand.
Other Super Poll results can make Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha smile. A vast majority, over 80% of respondents, thinks the highlight of his “work” over the past years was the big progress in infrastructure projects. What people want for his “civil rule” to prioritize is the cost of living issue and income generation.
Friday, August 16, 2019: Next year, Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong will retire. This year, First Army Region Commander Lt Gen Narongpan Jittkaewtae will reportedly become assistant Army commander-in-chief. Speculation, therefore, has been strong that Narongpan, who is close to Apirat, is next in line for the powerful Army chief position.
Narongpan’s jump from the First Region Army to the Army headquarters is one of the biggest highlights of this year’s military reshuffle. The position of Army commander-in-chief is the most politically significant job. Apirat and all predecessors including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha can testify to that.
News reports suggest that Narongpan’s steep and systematic rise in the Army seems to guarantee his ultimate career destination. The reports also hint that Narongpan’s recent career progress has support from the higher ranks in the Army.
Thursday, August 15, 2019: With the opposition set to grill him in Parliament over the oath-taking controversy, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s political priorities are clear, and the proposed joining of Palang Pracharat is certainly not on top of the list.
“He has not said anything,” was all Palang Pracharat secretary-general Sontirat Sontijirawong had to say when asked about the “invitation”, which seemed pretty important a few weeks ago.
Prayut faced a parliamentary onslaught on his incomplete oath that he uttered before he and his Cabinet officially took office, with the opposition set to submit a motion on the issue this week.
Palang Pracharat, the leading party of the government coalition, has also been pre-occupied with how to manage the slim House of Representatives majority, which had lost a vote a few days ago. The party is looking up to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan to strengthen coordination and fragile coalition unity in his capacity as the party’s chief strategist.
Wednesday, August 14, 2019: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha suggested he did not expect red-shirted leaders and other activists who have been acquitted of terrorism charges to hail the Thai courts.
A total of 24 red-shirted protesters including Veerakarn Musigapong, Jatuporn Prompan, Nuttawut Saikua and Weng Tojirakarn were charged in connection with the Ratchaprasong uprising in early 2010 in what was considered to be one of Thailand’s biggest political cases. Violence rocked Bangkok during the time, with bustling Ratchaprasong area barricaded by protesters for weeks and businesses paralyzed. The defendants were accused of using terrorist means to try to oust the Abhisit government.
The defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence.
Prayut said he did not expect anyone to praise the courts. “Only when people are penalized are the courts deemed to be unjust. This happens all the time without fail,” the prime minister said.
Tuesday, August 13, 2019: The Thai Civilized Party officially announced withdrawal from the coalition government today, with its leader criticizing “disrespect” for small parties, petrol policies that “shifted the burden to the people”, oath-taking mistakes that remain uncorrected, and government MPs’ “lack of complete freedom” to scrutinize the administration.
At a press conference, Mongkolkit Suksintharanon gave a hard-hitting farewell message that, however, ended with some sort of a carrot.
“I believe that Gen Prayut is capable of continuing as prime minister, but he has to right the wrong,” the first defector of the coalition government said. Mongkolkit vowed to play a constructive role in the opposition bloc.
Monday, August 12, 2019: A big majority of respondents to a recent Dusit Poll survey believed “politics” was the cause of the recent bomb explosions in Bangkok. The poll’s findings also showed the public feeling less secured and afraid that it might happen again.
More than 86% of 1,220 people surveyed between Aug 8-10 blame politics for the explosions. Almost 84% are afraid that the terrorist attacks might happen again. Additionally, more than 76% think that the incidents affect public confidence in the government.
Sunday, August 11, 2019: The Thai Civilized Party is set to announce withdrawal from the coalition government, and that could be just the tip of the iceberg. Reports and speculation have it that the party is not the only one ready to walk away, and that the Prayut government might have only 249 MPs left with other small parties also threatening to join in, reducing it to a “minority” in the House of Representatives.
According to its leader, Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, the party’s executives will come together on Tuesday to formally declare the defection. They will declare the party “independent opposition” although there is no such thing in Thai politics.
Saturday, August 10, 2019: Out of “an abundance of caution”, Barack Obama once retook the oath of office on a different day, a surprise move that came after a much-noticed stumble, when the US supreme court chief justice got mixed up with the words, prompting the politician to follow suit.
According to the US Constitution, the president must solemnly swear “that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States”. But Obama said: “I will execute the office of president of the United States faithfully.”
Well, Obama retook the oath despite the relatively minor problem compared with Prayut. Should the Thai leader do the same? A growing number of people are agreeing that he should, and there are signs that he might.
Friday, August 9, 2019: Ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a fugitive sentenced under military rule in Thailand to five years in prison on graft-related charges, has received Serbian citizenship, Reuters reported, quoting Serbia’s state news agency Tanjug. The Serbian outlet reported that the citizenship “could be in the interest of Serbia”. Serbian officials did not comment on the reason behind the decision.
A Serbian government decree confirming Yingluck’s citizenship was published in June in Serbia’s official gazette, it was reported.
The issue has become one of the hottest Thai-related political news at the moment, with the media in Thailand and abroad zooming in on it.In 2010, Her big brother Thaksin Shinawatra was granted honorary citizenship of Montenegro, Serbia’s former partner in the now-defunct state union.
Thursday, August 8, 2019: A lot of politicians have commented on the oath-taking controversy and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s “apology” that seems to put more spotlight on the situation. Here are summaries of some of what has been said:
Future Forward spokeswoman Pannika Wanich: Does this (apology) sound like Prayut wants out?
Pheu Thai chief strategist Sudarat Keyuraphan: Prayut out.
Seri Ruamthai leader Seripisut Temiyavej: Prayut out. Chuan should be held responsible, too, for allowing illegitimate people to announce policies to Parliament.
Chaturon Chaisaeng: Prayut should apologise to public, not Cabinet
Red shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn: Apologies not enough. Prayut out.
Red shirt leader Nuttawut Saikua: This must go to court. We need legal precedent on this one.
Deputy PM Anutin Charnvirakul: I don’t think he’s quitting. He’s just having a little cold and will be back working full time.
Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam: I simply can’t say on somebody else’s behalf whether he’s happy about his work or not.
Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat: People should not go too far with their interpretation of the prime minister’s apology.
Wednesday, August 7, 2019: Should politicians, especially those in high offices, be transparent about their tax payment dating back a few years? California says “Yes” but Donald Trump says “No”.
The US state’s drastic law requiring presidential primary candidates to release their tax returns or be kept off the ballot has been challenged in federal court by President Trump, whose attorneys argued that state’s Democratic leaders had overstepped their constitutional authority and tried to hit Trump below the belt at the expense of human rights.
Thais, facing a lot of political transparency issues themselves, can watch and learn from the saga. Two things are certain: Trump is a public figure and there is nothing to be afraid of if he has been honestly paying his taxes.
Tuesday, August 6, 2019: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s meet-the-people programme may return because, he claimed, there have been calls for it to come back.
“I may do it again,” he said. “But it will be occasional this time, not virtually everyday like the past five years.”
He did not elaborate on who made the calls for the programme, much criticised and taunted in many circles, to be back, only suggesting that much of what said was already implemented or getting started.
“I would love it if you could go back and listen to what was said and see what was done over the past five years,” he claimed. “Sometimes I talked too fast and too long and many people might not watch until the end.”
On the opposition’s questioning of his “incomplete oath”, he said, rather ambiguously, that he was “looking at ways to solve the problem.” On the Bangkok bomb attacks, he said at least nine people were known to have been involved.
Monday, August 5, 2019: Northeastern people like Pheu Thai’s chief election strategist Sudarat Keyuraphan the most, according to an E-Saan poll which tried to find out who was the most popular politician in Thailand’s biggest region. She is followed rather closely by Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and distantly by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
The poll by E-Saan Centre for Business and Economic Research of the Khon Kaen University gives Sudarat a 28.3% rating, Thanathorn 26.6% and Prayut 11.9%.
Rock singer Toon Bodyslam is the most popular social activist thanks to his fund-raising marathon runs. He received a staggering 37.9% popularity rating.
The pollsters surveyed a total of 1,057 people during the first half of the year.
Sunday, August 4, 2019: At least one Dhammakaya advocate is a government MP, whereas the opposition is apparently crawling with supporters of the controversial temple. To add to that, a key suspect in the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative embezzlement scandal is a fugitive former abbot who is immensely popular and who vows to face justice when Thailand returns to civil rule.
Previous attempts to capture Dhammachayo involved a siege of the vast temple and defiance of Dhammakaya followers and monks that sometimes bordered on belligerence. What will happen next has been widely speculated, and linked to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s decision to oversee the work of the Department of Special Investigation by himself. That has been denied, but speculation about Prayut’s motives has been persisting.
Analysts foresee a prolonged and heavily-politicised legal saga, in which Dhammachayo eventually resurfaces to be granted bail. The temple’s current efforts to ordain 5,000 monks in the next few days are seen by some as a strictly religious affair and others as a strategic move aimed at making the authorities think twice before taking any drastic step.
Saturday, August 3, 2019: Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin has denied speculation that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha decided to take charge of the Department of Special Investigation by himself because he (Prayut) wanted to “speed up” certain cases such as the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative scandal.
Somsak said Prayut only wanted to coordinate between the police and military on national security matters and would not interfere with any on-going case.
The cooperative scandal is one of a few politically sensitive cases, and Prayut’s decision to oversee the DSI was linked to the continued flight from justice of a former Dhammakaya Temple abbot, Dhammachayo. The unorthodox temple, often associated with certain leading politicians on the opposite side of Prayut, has been forced to deny involvement in the cooperative embezzlement scandal .
“I had known before I became justice minister that Gen Prayut wanted to bridge the gap between the police and military regarding their works on security matters,” Somsak said. “I don’t think his aim was to take charge of on-going cases.”
Whatever Prayut’s real motive, Friday’s bomb explosions in Bangkok are testing it.
Friday, August 2, 2019: The Thai political scene hots up with bomb explosions in Bangkok and the opposition’s bold yet risky move against the “legitimacy” of the Prayut Cabinet.
Nobody was killed and the explosions apparently had “politics” written all over them. Despite the capture of two suspects, the Bangkok bomb incidents are expected to end up fading away like many politically-motivated “terrorist attacks” before them. Public debate will be ideologically divided like previously, focusing on whether someone wanted to cause disturbances, or whether someone wanted to frame someone, or whether someone wanted to get sympathy from appearing to be framed, or whether someone wanted to get sympathy from appearing to be wrongly accused of trying to frame someone. In short, we will never know.
On the opposition’s questioning of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s “incomplete” oath which it says killed the “legitimacy” of the entire Cabinet, it was a bold move that might backfire. On the one hand, it could be a game in which the opposition tried to point out that anyone could slip. On the other hand, though, the opposition was effectively saying that the Constitution should be taken as it was written, so this could take “honest mistakes” out of the equation and deprive Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and his Future Forward Party of an argument that they could rely on in his share-holding case.
Thursday, August 1, 2019: The Prayut government will work with a Bt3.22 trillion budget for the new fiscal year, with a targeted income up until the fiscal 2022 dropping by Bt1.9 billion, according to the Budget Bureau. Budget details should be finalized for Cabinet approval next week.
Budgetary measures to stimulate spending will be in full swing after the Budget Bill becomes fully effective in January next year, officials said after today’s meeting attended by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
A balanced budget is not expected until 2030, the bureau said.