Constitution Court clears doubts on PM’s qualifications

Gen Prayut and the military junta stand to benefit more from an early election.

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.


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