Future Forward vows to carry on against military intervention in politics

Tuesday, January 21, 2020: Buoyed by the Constitutional Court’s decision to drop charges that it seeks to overthrow Thailand’s political system of constitutional monarchy, the Future Forward Party has declared that it would continue its fight against military interferences in political affairs.

“It was not supposed to go to court in the first place,” said Future Forward secretary-general Piyabutr Sangkanokkul.

“It was military intervention in politics that is destroying the current political system. It was not us.”

In finding the party innocent, the Constitutional Court, however, advised Future Forward to make it clearer in the party’s founding doctrine regarding its support for Thailand’s political system. In the written document, the party said it supported “democracy”, leading to charges that it harboured ill intention towards the constitutional monarchy system. The court, obviously, considered the incomplete mentioning of the Thai political system as an honest oversight.

Thanathorn welcomed the court’s decision and said protests against the powers-that-be were parts of fundamental rights in a democracy. He was referring to a recent running event which was dubbed a show of dissatisfaction against the prime minister.

Monday, January 20, 2020: On the eve of a crucial Constitutional Court ruling that might send him and senior colleagues into semi political oblivion, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit distributed masks to Bangkokians amid the worsening industrial dust problem and declared his Future Forward Party’s readiness to face any kind of future.

It’s a come-what-may kind of defiance, shared with Thanathorn by his top lieutenants Piyabutr Sangkanokkul and Pannika Wanich. They will stay at the party’s headquarters instead of going to the court tomorrow (Tuesday, January 21), when the verdict will be handed down on charges that Future Forward is bent on changing the Thai political system of constitutional monarchy.

Today, Thanathorn was asked if he had a “substitute party” in preparation for a possible dissolution of Future Forward. He declined to say anything about what would happen to Future Forward MPs if the worst was to happen.

“Please just wait and see,” he said. “(All I can say is) we are ready no matter what happens to us. He said he and Piyabutr would “go on provincial tours” to campaign on issues affecting the people if they could not do so in Parliament.

Sunday, January 19, 2020: A vast majority of Thais are very concerned about their safety and believe that the problem of serious crimes is worsening, according to the latest Suan Dusit Poll.

The findings were from a survey of 1,365 Thais between January 15-18. The pollsters were motivated by the shocking murder/robbery at a gold shop in Lop Buri recently.

Close to 70 % of respondents say they are feeling less safe and worried more about their assets and properties. More than half of the respondents blame the economy for the deteriorating problem of serious crimes.

More than 80 % of respondents say they are “very” or “fairly” worried about crimes. Only about 17 % are “not worried at all” or “worried just a little.”

Asked what the government should do, 46.5 % want effective implementation of laws and legal revamp to rein in criminals; 43.4 % want close-circuit cameras in public places to really work; and 20.5 % want the people who matter thinks seriously about improving the economy.

Saturday, January 18, 2020: It’s not everyday that Thaksin Shinawatra would be tainted so negatively by mainstream western media. In a Forces article titled “Crimes Without Punishment: How the Wealthy Before Carlos Ghosn Often Escaped The Law”, he joined the well-known outlet’s unfavourable category of rich fugitives who could have gone to jail in their countries if they had been poor citizens.

The article mentioned the Ratchadapisek land case, in which Thaksin was found guilty, which prompted him to start a life in “political exile.” It also described as “infamous” the sale of Thaksin’s telecom empire to Singapore’s Temasek.

Thaksin’s massive wealth even increased after the escape, according to the article.

Thaksin portrays himself as a political victim and often compared himself to Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, western media’s former darling who has become anything but.

Friday, January 17, 2020: Chalerm Yoobamrung, a key opposition strategist, does not think Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan should be censured unless fresh evidence of wrongdoings has been dug up against him. The opinion, however, is divisive.

Whether or not Prawit’s name should be included in the opposition’s censure motion is a highly contentious issue, which many believe is holding back the opposition’s no-confidence plan. Chalerm has insisted that the luxury watch controversy that had rocked Prawit previously has been debated inside and out, in addition to the deputy prime minister being cleared by the National Anti-Corruption Commission. Unless there were new pieces of evidence or issues against him, Prawit should be let off the hook, Chalerm said.

News reports say other Pheu Thai members have hotly disputed Chalerm’s opinion. Other opposition parties do not entirely agree with him, either.

Prawit has reacted to the news guardedly. But he strongly denied that the “escape” was because he had struck a “secret deal” with Chalerm, who is one of the opposition’s de facto censure leaders.

Thursday, January 16, 2020: Politicians go back on their words everyday, but it will take remarkable efforts to unsay what Chadchart Sittipunt has said regarding rumours that he was forming a political alliance with Korn Chatikavanij.

Chadchart’s social media post praised Korn, who is leaving the Democrat Party, as a person and as a politician, but it unequivocally denied that the two would join forces politically.

“That I and Korn will join hands is simply not true,” said Chadchart, a former Pheu Thai heavyweight who, however, is set to run in the Bangkok gubernatorial election as an independent.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020: His “farewell” was reportedly tearful, but Korn Chatikavanij has made the political scene buzz with speculation that a new, “alternative” political party might be on the horizon.

Korn thanked the Democrat Party, with which he has been for 15 years, but gossips abounded that he felt under-appreciated by Thailand’s oldest political camp, which underwent a leadership revamp last year.

His latest statement has confirmed he would remain in politics, but it stopped short of telling the public exactly what he was planning to do. His “options” seen by mainstream media outlets include joining the Palang Pracharat Party and/or becoming an economic minister; forming a new political party; and running in the Bangkok gubernatorial election.

His future is under as much scrutiny as the future of the Democrat Party, whose former leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, the man he hugged on Tuesday in a symbolic act of goodbye, is also having a diminishing role. Korn’s departure prompted talks _ and denials _ about the party plunging into oblivion.

Rumours that Korn and Chadchart Sittipunt, who is certain to run in the Bangkok gubernatorial election as an independent despite having been with the Pheu Thai Party, will form a formidable political alliance will most likely intensify.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020: Currently, it looks like a trivial, technical controversy, but a court decision to practically allow a massive bidding to go ahead despite being completed beyond the official deadline might set a political time-bomb ticking.

It was a Supreme Administrative Court decision, but attention could swiftly turn to the government, as the matter involves a mega airport development project in U-Tapao and one of the country’s richest and most influential firms.

The Supreme Administrative Court has reversed a ruling of the Administrative Court regarding the selection of private firms bidding to participate in the U-tapao Airport development project and Eastern Aviation City project. To cut a long story short, Thana Holding Co, a firm affiliated with Charoen Pokphand and partners, must be uncorking the champagne.

The secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT) has questioned Thana Holding Co’s right to be involved. The process of the firm’s bidding submission reportedly took place within the deadline but was completed beyond it, with some documents arriving late.

The airport development project involves an enormous amount of money, in addition to CP being a massive firm with massive interests. Inquiries and criticism are expected to intensify. The issue can be heavily politicised.

Monday, January 13, 2020: The initial date earmarked for submission of the censure motion was December 5, give or take. Now, the opposition is looking at January 20.

The reason provided for the very first delay was that December 5 would risk having the no-confidence debate take place while people were going out shopping or partying during the Christmas and New Year.

New dates were then mooted _ late last year, early January and middle January. Now, the opposition’s main man, Phumtham Wechayachai, is saying January 20 is the likeliest date.

“If we submit the motion sooner, they may set the Chinese New Year as the time for the debate,” said Phumtham, chief adviser of the opposition leader, Sompong Amornwiwat.

The logic for avoiding the Chinese New Year is the same as the one used for avoiding the festive year-end period _ the opposition is afraid that the public would not pay suitable attention to what is said in Parliament while they party, shop, or visit relatives and friends. This somehow goes against the opposition’s initial insistence, when cautioned initially that the government had just started working, that national problems couldn’t wait.

Whether the opposition is right or wrong is debatable. What is undebatable is that Songkran will come soon.

Sunday, January 12, 2020: Optimists must be loving it, but pessimists must be praying. Today’s running and walking events held to show dissatisfaction with and support for the prime minister unfolded like the beginning of every political gathering _ with smiles, promises and carnival-style props.

Thousands took part, converging at Bangkok’s key parks and some other places around Thailand. Although some posters and banners carried strong messages, they looked cute, with child-like paintings or drawings taking out some heat. It was peaceful and participants went home early.

Long may the trend continue.

Saturday, January 11, 2020: Not only will “walkers” and “runners” be active tomorrow (Sunday, January 12), but fault-finders on both side of the Thai political divide will also work overtime to get evidence or glimpses of evidence that political parties are behind the pro- or anti-government street events.

“Running to shoo the uncle away” is an event aimed at showing public dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. It will take place nationwide, but so will a counter event intended to support him. Political parties, of course, can’t say they are organising the events or financially supporting them, as legal restrictions prohibit them from using street movements to get political results that could be achieved in Parliament.

So, Thais are hearing that political parties support this or that running event. No politicians are going overboard in promoting the activities. For example, Pheu Thai’s Sudarat Keyuraphan said the “Running to shoo the uncle away” is a “beautiful” democratic activity but she would not go as far as saying “Join it if you love Pheu Thai.”

Friday, January 10, 2020: “See you again at the censure” was the opposition’s message for the embattled foreign minister during this week’s debate on his ministry’s budget. Don Pramudwinai was bombarded by opposition MPs for his US-Iran comment so much that House Speaker Chuan Leekpai had to intervene.

“This is not a no-confidence debate,” Chuan reminded opposition MPs as they lined up on Thursday to accuse Don of “bringing the war home”. Don had said Asean governments had received US notifications before the drone strike in Iraq that killed an Iranian top commander, and the opposition said the Thai taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be used to fund this kind of “incompetent” diplomacy. They asked Prime Minister Prayut Chan-0-cha to remove Don before it was too late.

The budget debate was so heated Chuan had to step in, reminding the opposition MPs that it was not an occasion for character attacks.

The opposition MPs barely listened to Chuan, and asked Don to be prepared for more, harsher attacks during the censure debate. A censure motion will certainly have Don’s name on it.

The Foreign Ministry’s proposed Bt4.97 billion budget, however, passed the second reading thanks to the government’s superior control of the House of Representatives.

Thursday, January 9, 2020: Amid “We will follow you” chants, Sudarat Keyuraphan has reportedly insisted that she was still a member of the biggest opposition party. But, obviously, all remains unwell between her and some high-ranking party figures.

She is quitting as the party’s chief strategist, a position many find redundant to that of her nemesis Chalerm Yoobamrung, who has allegedly teamed up with party leader Sompong Amornwiwat to dilute her influences in Pheu Thai.

Two days ago, Sudarat held a New Year party for Pheu Thai’s Bangkok MPs as well as those from the Northeast who helped the party campaign in the Khon Kaen by-election. About 50 Pheu Thai MPs showed up at her home.

During the party, she insisted that she remained a Pheu Thai member, but bitterly suggested that rumours about her quitting the party entirely had come from enemies within who stabbed her in the back.

Sudarat said although she had decided to quit as the chief strategist, she was willing to help the party with her remaining capacity. It was reported that “We will follow you” chants were heard constantly that evening.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020: What Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said regarding the US strike that killed a top military leader in Iran was bad. But maybe so was the assumption of his critics.

The “Don out!” uproar has followed Don’s statement that he had known about the US strike one day before it happened. Asked to comment on the global tension created by the US strike, Don said he hoped the situation would not deteriorate. But problems concerned other things that he said.

He was quoted as saying that “some coordination has been made” by Washington on the US move. Asean, he said, had known one day before hand what was going to happen. The minister added that Thailand was convinced what was about to happen would not snowball into something worse.

“It doesn’t matter if Minister Don was telling the truth or not,” said dormant red-shirted leader Chatuporn Prompan. “He just can’t say that kind of things, which can make Thailand an accomplice.”

According to news reports, government MPs disagreed with Don’s action, too. The minister has been called a “loose-tongued” man.

But the critics are assuming that the United States actually informed an “allied” government, one led by a former military junta leader whom Washington apparently abhorred, that it was planning a highly confidential military operation against a target that might include a top commander of a Muslim nation. And Don’s statement also referred to Asean, where a few governments are dominated by Muslims.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020: Several mainstream news agencies have reported that Sudarat Keyuraphan’s problems within the Pheu Thai Party may have reached a breaking point. Some reports have gone as far as the politician having packed up and prepared to leave.

Reporters were scrambling to get actual words from her mouth. She will be asked questions about the rumours very soon.

The rumours followed recent trips to Dubai by Sudarat and her opponents in the party. Their growing conflicts were said to require the highest level of refereeing, or Thaksin Shinawatra to be exact.

Party insiders point at Sudarat’s prolonged conflicts with Chalerm Yoobamrung which have led to redundant party positions on election strategy. There is also a serious disagreement between Sudarat and some high-ranking party members when it comes to whether Pheu Thai should field a replacement Bangkok gubernatorial election candidate now that Chadchart Sittipunt is almost certain to run as an independent.

Monday, January 6, 2020: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said his government was closely monitoring the growing problems between Washington and Tehran, and admitted that the on-going tension could threaten stability of energy prices.

“A lot of things can affect us, although we live far away from the conflict zone,” Prayut said. “One of the things worrying us is that energy prices can go up globally and affect the local ones.”

Stepped-up security has been arranged for important venues like embassies, he said. On evacuation of Thais overseas, he said measures had already existed and could be enforced if necessary.

“The Thai Foreign Ministry has been told that if they have to act, they don’t need to wait for orders (until the last minute),” he said.

“Of course, countries are worried. Many things can affect us, especially when trade, the economy and confidence are concerned.”

Sunday, January 5, 2020: With controversies surrounding Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Piyabutr Sangkanokkul and Pannika Wanich, Chaithawat Tulathon has managed to fly under the radar. With uncertainties rocking the Future Forward Party, which might even need to be rebranded and could face restrictions on the trio’s political activities, not any more.

Chaithawat has been tipped as a possible candidate to lead the embattled party, whatever new name it might have to take. He is currently deputy party secretary-general but his revolutionary political ideology is said to be stronger than most in Future Forward.

He and Thanathorn worked together during their student activism days. Student activists during the period, it has been noted, came to embrace the capitalism ideology and became affluent. Their wealth has been used partly normally and partly to advocate an old political principle of “everyone is equal”, which many may find ironic.

But in an interview published very recently, Chaithawat insisted that Future Forward is not relying on political marketing. “You can’t succeed through marketing in politics,” he said. “You have to really believe your belief in order to succeed.”

Saturday, January 4, 2020: The Democrat Party must have loved to hear a stronger denial, but Korn Chatikavanij’s Facebook post stating he is with it at the moment is as good as it’s going to get.

Rumours about Korn defecting to lead a new group or a party have been hounding the Democrats for months. In the Facebook post, he said the following (direct translation from his Thai-language post):

  1. I’m still a member of the Democrat Party and preparing to do my job on the Budget Bill. Please stay tuned for the debate.
  2. It’s true that some people have come to talk to me about setting up a group or a party. They all want to see our country move forward. But (if there’s any doubt) please read the number 1 again.
  3. Palang Pracharat has never approached me to ask me to do anything.
  4. I have never approached anyone in the Future Forward Party.
  5. The Democrat Party has never asked me to contest the Bangkok gubernatorial election. They only wanted me to be a vice chairman of a committee to screen candidates. I have declined that request.

His post ended with a curious statement. “If I’m to make any (key) decision in the future, I will come forward straightforwardly on this space,” he said.

Friday, January 3, 2020: The Prayut government is entering 2020 with everything “under control”, according to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, considered one of the key coalition managers.

In an extensive interview published by Thai Rath, Prawit said the “Three Ps” _ himself, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Interior Minister Anupong “Pok” Paochinda have known one another since childhood and rumours about a split were simply not true.

“We go back 30-50 years,” Prawit said.

Analysts say military-related stability of the government depends much on the three men’s relations.

On the Thai economy, which could turn political sentiment strongly against the ruling coalition, Prawit said the global prospect was not nice but there are things that can be blamed on the government and things that are beyond the government’s control. Internal factors are “fine”, he said.

On the running event dubbed “Run to shoo the uncle away”, which is supposed to expose the scale of how much the Thai public are unhappy with the Prayut government, Prawit said: “There is nothing to worry about.”

On whether the government’s economic leaders were working as a team or whether there have been serious conflicts among them, leading to bad economic management, Prawit said: “There are no conflicts whatsoever.”

On much-speculated relationship among coalition partners, particularly when the Palang Pracharat, Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties are concerned, Prawit said: “Take my words for it. There is no problem at all.”

Thursday, January 2, 2020: Saying Buddhist prayers “across the years” has been trendy over the past half decade, so Super Poll has conducted a survey on what are the most popular wishes during the process.

Coming first among some 3,000 people surveyed is a good economy (79.5 %), followed by national peace (74.6 %), safety from crimes (66.5 %) and harmony and unity among Thais (64.3 %).

Instead of partying, an increasing number of Thais are now preferring to meditate or say Buddhist prayers in the evening of the New Year’s eve over into the New Year. Many temples have been hosting such activities, attracting a growing number of religious faithful.

Critics of Super Poll have always accused it of being politically biased. Among the pollsters’ latest findings include Thais’ “disagreement” with the proposed cancellation of mandatory conscription, the “big success” of the government’s “Chim Shop Chai” campaign and public questioning of charter reform motives.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020: He keeps Thais guessing about his political ideology. And he has addressed two explosive issues _ military roles in politics and constitutional reform.

Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has suggested that it is too soon to change the Constitution, and that the military has an important role to play but it needs a better public relations strategy.

In a Facebook post of a well-known reporter covering military affairs, Chavalit, former Army chief who turned into a political party leader and once served as prime minister, did not seem to agree with the controversial idea of scrapping the mandatory military conscription system entirely.

“We still need it,” he was quoted as saying. He suggested that the military has done too little to defend its grounds on this subject.

On the current Army chief, Gen Apirat Kongsompong, Chavalit said he must be composed and not let roller-coaster politics dictate his action. “Don’t listen too much to politicians because they are singing the same old tunes,” Chavalit said.

On charter amendment, Chavalit said the current Constitution has come into effect for just a couple of years but critics have already started bombarding it.

“The right way to do it is see whether measures (laid down by the Constitution) work or not and then discussions can begin on how they can be improved,” he was quoted as saying. “But some people already are demanding changes.”

On Thailand’s situation as a whole, Chavalit said: “I’m still very worried.”

Chavalit’s political leaning has been a subject for prolonged scrutiny. He has always been deemed supporter of Thaksin Shinawatra and is not popular among those on Thaksin’s opposite side.

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