Resist the urge to photograph your ballot
Saturday, March 23, 2019: Everyone knows the rules when entering the voting booth, but having a smartphone in the pocket can cause a potentially disastrous temptation. No matter how itchy the hands are, however, don’t let the desire to photograph the ballot get to you. Taking a picture of your ballot can land you in a big legal trouble, regardless of the intention.
Offenders face a maximum one year in jail and a maximum fine of Bt20,000 or both. There are other rules as well, such as you shall not damage the ballot or take it outside the booth or display your mark, but those rules are more of a common sense than using the phone to photograph your ballot for a personal memory.
Friday, March 22, 2019: The Thai election has made its way to international gambling, with popular websites offering odds on chances of major parties. Thai authorities have responded to that by repeating their warning that betting on election results can subject offenders to a maximum five years in jail, Bt100,000 fine and revocation of their voting right for 10 years.
Thursday, March 21, 2019: Investigation into alleged irregularities involving a housing program of a previous government has led the Anti-Money Laundering Office to temporarily confiscate 13 plots of land of former social development and human security minister Wattana Muangsuk. The properties, worth a combined Bt51 million, will be in government hands until May 12 but can be subjected to appeals by the owner.
The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Posts had put Wattana on trial related to the Uah Arthorn housing project of the National Housing Authority. The Office of the Attorney-General accused Wattana, a core member of Pheu Thai camp, and eight other associates of malfeasance in office. The suspects were alleged to accept or demand bribes, as well as abuse their authority while handling the project.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019: A diplomatic headache between Thailand and Hong Kong can be a subplot of the general election, as Thaksin Shinawatra plans to attend a wedding ceremony of his youngest daughter Paetongtarn in the island city.
A Thai extradition request, according to reports, was being sent or could be sent to Hong Kong. It would be the first such request, which made the fact that he had visited Hong Kong several times before more intriguing. The Thai authorities said while this could be the first time his locations and travel arrangements were not shrouded in secrecy, a formal extradition request would require solid information from Hong Kong first.
Paetongtarn “Ing” Shinawatra is set to marry commercial pilot Pidok Sooksawas on Friday at the Rosewood Hotel in Hong Kong. The couple has already landed in the city and the South China Morning Post has reported it understands that Thaksin has also arrived. His sister Yingluck would reportedly be there at the wedding, too.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019: Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan has warned that “cobras” _ or rogue MPs who can betray their parties and switch allegiance _ could be numerous in the post-election Parliament if neither side in the political divide won a clear-cut majority.
Speaking at a Puea Chat rally in Bangkok, Jatuporn said he felt a lot of “eggs” could be hatching inside the Democrat Party, whose leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has been highly critical of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha while several Democrats were known to support the prime ministerial nominee of the Palang Pracharat Party.
Pheu Thai is no exception, Jatuporn claimed. “People in charge should try to sort it out,” he said.
The Pheu Thai camp must make sure it wins a clear cut House of Representatives majority to prevent rogue MPs from breaking ranks to support the other side, Jatuporn said.
Monday, March 18, 2019: It seems one of the first major political confrontations after the general election will be over whether the present Constitution should be amended, and if so, how. A five-party alliance to push for amendment has shaped up, with the Democrat Party surprisingly joining Pheu Thai, Future Forward, Chart Pattana and New Economics parties to declare intention to change the post-coup charter.
Today, Palang Pracharat leader Uttama Savanayana insisted that the present Constitution went through a public referendum in 2017, and that should count for something. Changes should go through a similar process, meaning the Thai public should be involved, he insisted, a stand that will likely be backed up by the like of the Action Coalition for Thailand Party.
That Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva joined the five-party alliance somewhat contradicted his earlier stance, which mirrored that of Uttama. What changes the alliance will advocate can be hotly debated, as past charter amendments were often criticised for not actually being for the interests of man on the street.
Sunday, March 17, 2019: When at his peak, Chuan Leekpai was dubbed a “Honey-coated razor”. Judging from what he said during an election campaign in Surat Thani, he is probably still that.
On a rally stage in Surat Thani campaigning for six Democrat candidates, the former party leader and former prime minister said Suthep Thaugsuban should not have zoomed in on the Democrat Party in the latter’s attempt to back Prayut Chan-o-cha and keep Thaksin Shinawatra at bay.
Suthep, who resigned from the Democrat Party in 2013 before launching massive street protest against the Yingluck government, has been critical of the Democrat Party for being ambiguous about who it will support after the general election. Suthep has co-founded the Action Coalition for Thailand Party which will certainly support Prayut as post-election prime minister.
“The Democrat Party brought Khun Suthep up like a son. To him, the Democrat Party is like the father and mother,” Chuan said. “Now the parents are getting poor, but no matter how poor, the son should never attack the parents.”
Chuan is now a party senior adviser but he is revered by every Democrat old and new.
Saturday, March 16, 2019: If you have registered as advanced voters, tomorrow (Sunday) is your day. Don’t forget it, or it will be a big hassle. If you forget, you can’t vote on the normal election day next week, but will have to wait 7 days to tell the authorities convincingly why.
And drinkers who can’t find alcoholic supplies this evening and tomorrow, you know why. Ordination or wedding ceremonies can go ahead, but be careful what you serve or are served.
Friday, March 15, 2019: A Rangsit University poll, which, it needs to be said, was carried out before Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva’s latest harsh statement against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, states that the military man was the most favoured as Thailand’s post-election leader. Findings by the same poll showed Pheu Thai would still be the election’s champion, albeit one that won fewer seats than in the previous election and actually fewer votes than the Palang Pracharat Party and even the Democrats.
The poll showed that Prayut was favoured by 23.5 % of people surveyed earlier this month, followed by Abhisit at 17.6 % and Pheu Thai’s Sudarat Keyuraphan at 14.6 %.
Pheu Thai would win the highest number of seats, 128, the poll found. Palang Pracharat would get 100 seats and the Democrats 86 seats.
Interestingly, the poll found that Palang Pracharat would get 7.8 million votes, followed by the Democrats at 6.6 million votes and Pheu Thai at 5.8 million votes. That is quite strange, given the fact that Pheu Thai won over 15 million votes in the previous election, in which it contested in every constituency. This time, however, the party fielded candidates in only 250 constituencies.
The Rangsit Poll figures came from a survey of 8,000 people in 350 constituencies. The number of seats also included party list seats.
Thursday, March 14, 2019: Deputy Democrat leader Korn Chatikavanich has said that Thailand’s tax base should cover more money of the rich people. Stressing his long-standing economic thinking, he said during a televised debate with Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit that current tax privileges or exemptions have favored the wealthy more than the poor, such as when people have to pay the state for land transfers.
Taxing the wealthy people more has always been a difficult policy to implement, not least because politicians are rich themselves and most of them have strong business connections. To start with, it’s this group that owns a lot of land in the country, thus making any attempt to introduce substantial inheritance taxes all but impossible.
During the debate, Thanathorn kept his focus on attacking military intervention in politics.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019: The Democrat Party’s apparent soul searching seems to be going on unabated, with Secretary-General Juti Krairiksh reiterating that his party would never join hands with Pheu Thai. This has come hot on the heels of Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva’s latest attacks on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha which made headlines all across Thailand and in many other parts of the world.
“We have been saying a thousand times that we won’t work with Pheu Thai,” Juti said. “How many more times do you want to hear that?”
With the election getting nearer, the Democrat Party is being more squeezed by both sides of the political divide. Or it can be said that the anti-Prayut camp is pushing the Democrats towards the other side and vice versa. But if Juti’s press conference was intended to clear the air, the objective was not met, not least because sitting besides him was Abhisit’s adviser Ongart Klampaibul, who spelled out at lengths why the oldest party of Thailand cannot support Prayut.
On the question on everyone’s mind _ “Which side are you actually on?” _ Juti said: “Is that question as important as whether Thais will have food on the table, be able to pay their debts and save some money?”
An interpretation: “Keep guessing folks”.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019: In what could be a major political development, Jaturon Chaisaeng’s sister has started campaigning for the Future Forward Party, after the siblings’ Thai Raksa Chart Party has been disbanded.
Thitima Chaisaeng’s campaign truck has started blaring messages urging voters in Chachoengsao to cast their ballots for Future Forward candidate Kittichai Ruangsawat. She was contesting in the province’s Constituency 1.
It’s not yet immediately clear if her move reflects the overall policy of her political camp. In other words, it remains to be seen if Thai Raksa Chart candidates, who have been automatically disqualified from the March 24 election due to their party’s dissolution, will all ask their electorates to vote for Future Forward or they will act independently on a constituency-by-constituency basis.
Monday, March 11, 2019: Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has found himself further squeezed by both sides of the political divide, whose top figures strongly questioned his anti-Prayut remarks.
Suthep Thaugsuban of the Action Coalition for Thailand Party accused Abhisit of siding with Thaksin Shinwatra, whereas Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan seemed to have pushed the Democrat leader toward “the other side”, too. But Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit and Pheu Thai leader Sudarat Keyuraphan harshly criticised Abhisit for not making it clear cut that he would not join a Palang Pracharat government.
“What did he mean by saying that he would definitely not join Pheu Thai?” Sudarat asked. “Did he mean he was open to joining Palang Pracharat?”
Thanathorn has also asked the same question. Apparently, Suthep did not think that way. He said Abhisit’s claim that he would never back Prayut Chan-o-cha for prime minister could only mean he would help the Shinawatras return to power.
Sunday, March 10, 2019: In a creative election campaign, Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjijava compares Thai voters to a woman torn between four boyfriends.
Pheu Thai, he said, is the old, sweet-talking but cheating boyfriend. “He cheated you over and over again but always tries to come back using sweet words,” Abhisit said in his own handwriting delivered at a media forum.
Palang Pracharat or Prayut is a new boyfriend who has made several promises but has broken one after another and is a control freak, according to the Democrat leader.
“Now you want someone rebellious and you look at Future Forward,” Abhisit said. “But can you love someone who makes you hate everything?”
The Democrat Party is a dull boyfriend who, however, has always been there. “We are probably not flashy but we have been with you every step of the way, saving little by little so we both can do well in the future,” he said.
Saturday, March 9, 2019: Facebook page “SaveThanathorn” has renounced him and his Future Forward Party in a dramatic manner, accusing them of fuelling the “same old divisive politics” by vowing to bring Thaksin Shinawatra home and by criticizing the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party.
The page itself has been questioned, not least because it has been set up only in February. Some comments below the disavowing post said the page misconstrued what Thanathorn said about Thaksin and might have been set up with an agenda.
The “SaveThanathorn” page, in the announcement, said it was closing itself down and “ending our every means” of supporting the party, because “it is regressing toward bad-water politics.” It said it had started supporting Thanathorn out of hope he would play “constructive politics” and abandon current conflicts that have hampered national development.
“Not only has Khun Thanathorn failed to shore up his promises, he has brought the Future Forward Party straight into the divisive circles. (There has been a) vow to bring Thaksin home and a statement that may constitute a contempt of court, all in a bid to gain pro-Thai Raksa Chart votes,” the statement said.
“We hereby would like to announce an end to all our activities supporting the Future Forward Party. However, we respect the opinions and decisions of followers of this page. Good luck to you all.”
The page has fewer than 1,000 followers. It has been posting a few election campaign activities of Future Forward. It vowed to protect Thanathorn “till the end” at the height of legal trouble in February in which he was accused of using Facebook to discredit the Palang Pracharat Party and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Friday, March 8, 2019: Thailand’s political divide means that votes originally earmarked for Thai Raksa Chart would certainly end up for its allies instead. What if those votes are handled or distributed with great precision? Will that soften up the blow of the party’s dissolution?
One theory has emerged that is worth looking into. Let’s say a candidate of Party A initially had a B grade power base, which was not enough to win an election, but the B grade becomes B plus or A minus because the now-disqualified Thai Raksa Chart runner tells voters to cast their ballots for him or her.
It’s an interesting strategy. But it requires precise calculations, swift planning or strategies and clear-cut instructions. Pro-Thai Raksa Chart voters, for example, can be told vote for that or this party across the board or on a provincial basis.
Is this the way to go? It shall be seen soon enough. After all, the EC has given the green light for election candidates of Thai Raksa Chart to help others campaign.
Thursday, March 7, 2019: Thai politics has come to a standstill, with everything paused to focus on the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party. Everyone is talking about it, although many on the social media said the party’s fate was not surprising. Here are some of the high-profile comments:
EC Secretary-General Jaroonwit Pumma: Intensive public relations campaigns are needed to inform voters that ballots marked for Thai Raksa Chart candidates will be nullified.
Future Forward statement: The dissolution of Thai Raksa Chart would undermine public belief that the upcoming election will be just and free.
Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul: I have full sympathy for Thai Raksa Chart executives and would like to tell them that five years or ten years are short periods of time. They can return to politics before they know it.
Political maverick Chuwit Kamolvisit: Those needing a new election may not have to wait that long. Maybe one will take place by the end of this year.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Kreangam: This case should serve as a lesson for the future. Thai Raksa Chart members unaffected by ban are free to help anyone campaign.
Wednesday, March 6, 2019: An academic at the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) has cautioned against what he described as a dramatic surge in “populist” policies on both sides of the political divide, saying creating massive long-term budgetary obligations would give Thailand great financial risks.
Asst Prof Anont Sakvoravich said an economy dependent on export and tourism like Thailand is heavily tied to global economic factors. This, he explained, means international economic changes could drastically affect Thailand, especially when the state has gigantic long-term budgetary obligations to honour.
And he insisted that the global economic situation could put any big populist program in jeopardy.
“It’s my belief that whoever the next government is, it will not have money to fund long-term populist programs that voters are being promised,” he said.
In other political developments, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will likely cite eye problems as an excuse to avoid going on an election rally stage of the Palang Pracharat Party in Nakhon Ratchasima, and the Palang Puangchon Thai (Thai People Power Party) has expelled four candidates accusing it of failing to pay promised campaign funding. Among those fired is Suban Suwannarat, who was supposed to run in Songkhla and was widely quoted by the media as attacking the party, of which Thaksin Shinawatra’s cousin and former Army chief Chaiyasit Shinawatra is the top adviser.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019: One camp of the divided Thai politics seems to be continuing to reel. The Palang Puangchon Thai (Thai People Power Party), of which Thaksin Shinawatra’s cousin and former Army chief Chaiyasit Shinawatra is a key man and was once a magnet, is facing serious complaints by several of its own election candidates. They have petitioned the Election Commission, claiming they had been “duped” by the party, apparently as part of a scheme to gather votes in the proportional system, and were being completely abandoned when funding was concerned.
“All candidates were promised Bt2 million each,” said Suban Suwannarat, registered to run for the party in Songkhla. “We all knew we had limited chances, but we went ahead and apply for candidacy anyway because of the promised funding. It turns out the money never comes and all they do is telling us to keep waiting.” He, who was quoted by several media outlets, claimed he and many candidates think the party’s “wrongdoing” constitutes a dissolution case.
In a rare comment by an election candidate against his own party, Suban was quoted as saying: “I don’t want any vote. I just want to expose what has gone wrong.”
Chaiyasit holds a top advisory post for the party, but a certain report said the dramatic turn of events on the last day of election candidacy registration affected his plan to be in Palang Puangchon Thai’s party list.
Monday, March 4, 2019: Having kept an arguably low profile politically, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak has emerged to hype voters up by predicting the return of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and a post-election economic boom.
Somkid’s close connections with Prayut and the fact that he was even once tipped to be the leading prime ministerial nominee of the Palang Pracharat Party made the predictions all predictable. But he has been relatively quiet lately, raising speculation about possible political ambivalence, not least because of his former close ties with the Shinawatras.
Speaking at a conference organized by the Board of Investment and attended by about 2,000 local and foreign investors, Somkid sang his praises for the government’s economic policies, of which he is an integral part.
“Thai people are not foolish and they know what we have done is laying the groundwork, not flash in the pan,” he said. “The coup was a political accident (not a malicious happening), which occurred in order to restore peace and order. I am confident that Prime Minister Prayut will certainly make a return to continue many things that have been started. I believe that the Thai economy after the election will take a big leap, because all investors have been ready.”
Sunday, March 3, 2019: While other opinion polls have tried to find out who or which party is the most popular, Suan Dusit Poll has sought to determine if Thais are buying ideological argument of political rivals.
And the majority of people Suan Dusit Poll surveyed said they realised it was a power play (both sides don’t actually harbor ideological differences) rather than an ideological showdown.
Of the 1,028 Thais surveyed 59.22% said they considered what was going on a power play, compared with 18.43% who believed ideological conflicts were real.
As much as 61.4% think the political rivalry before and after the election was confirmed has not changed. A total of 22.57% think the rivalry has intensified while only 15.9% feel the situation was more intense before the election confirmation.
Saturday, March 2, 2019: If findings by Bangkok Poll yield any significance for the upcoming election, it’s probably voters’ indecisiveness. A survey of 1,491 people between February 25-26 found that the majority of them wanted Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime minister and Pheu Thai as the ruling party.
However, both categories produced tight competitions in the survey. A total of 17.2 % wanted Prayut as prime minister, followed by Pheu Thai’s Sudarat Keyuraphan (12 %) , Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva (6.9%) and Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (5.5 %). Pheu Thai’s second prime ministerial candidate Chadchart Sittipunt, who ran neck and neck with Prayut as the most popular prime ministerial candidate in another poll (Super Poll) a few days ago, received only 2.9 % support.
Remarkably, up to 46 % still didn’t know who they wanted as prime minister in this Bangkok Poll, conducted by researchers commissioned by the Bangkok University.
On the question of which party voters like to run the government, 12.8 % said Pheu Thai while 11.6 % preferred Palang Pracharat, which has nominated Prayut as prime minister. As much as 53.4 % remained undecided.
Friday, March 1, 2019: The Palang Pracharat Party has proposed the Thai public a major tax reduction scheme, which it says would automatically exempt people earning less than Bt20,000 per month from taxation.
In what could be seriously questioned by economic experts, the party said a large number of Thais would pay 10 per cent less taxes. “Ordinary citizens who are paying 30 per cent will pay 20 per cent. Those paying 20 per cent will pay 10 per cent,” said party spokesman Kobsak Pootakul. People with an annual net income of Bt150,000 will not have to pay any taxes, he added.
Moreover, online vendors can operate tax-free in the first two years of business if his party becomes the goernment, he said, adding that first jobbers will also be exempted from taxes for the first five years. The country’s tax base, if the Palang Pracharat Party is the core of the next government, would be adjusted using the growing number of SME businesses, according to the spokesman. Currently, there are about 3 million SME businesses but a Palang Pracharat government would seek to increase that to 5 million, making up for the reduction scheme, he claimed.
Thursday, February 28, 2019: Charges that Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit “lied” about his business achievement now pale beside fresh allegations against him, officially brought up to the attention of the Election Commission today.
A group calling itself citizens protecting the Constitution has now accused him of harbouring bad intention toward the Thai political system of constitutional monarchy, citing his past comments.
The group, in a letter to the EC, asked the panel to consider submitting a party dissolution case against Future Forward to the Constitutional Court. The 20-page letter included what Thanathorn used to say regarding Article 112 (which protects the monarchy) and Thailand’s transformation from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy.
Thailand’s Constitution prescribes heavy punishment for politicians found guilty of attempting to discredit, change or sabotage the current political system.
Future Forward had earlier expressed concern over investigation into why its website wrongly described Thanathorn as two-time president of the Federation of Thai Industries. The new accusations, however, are far more serious.
Wednesday, February 27, 2019: Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul has registered the biggest surge in a popularity poll among all prime ministerial candidates this month, Super Poll has announced. He recorded a 21.6 % increase in popularity, followed by a 21.4 % rise for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The survey of 6,183 people nationwide, questioned between February 5 and February 26, found that Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit made the smallest gain in popularity, or 10.2 %.
The third biggest increase in popularity, 20.6 %, belonged to Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. In terms of who is the most popular prime ministerial candidate, Pheu Thai’s Chadchart Sittipunt and Prayut are running almost inseparably neck and neck. Anutin is not that far behind and is ahead of Thanathorn and Seri Ruam Thai leader Seripisut Temiyavej.
Tuesday, February 26, 2019: In what could turn out to be a highly-controversial move, the Prayut government is said to be planning to allow three telecom giants to extend concession payments worth a combined Bt150 billion. The reported leniency, which a government spokesman suggested was part of a plan to facilitate 5G development involving Advanced Info Service, True Corporation and DTAC, was decried by former National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission member Supinya Klangnarong as hypocritically supporting a telecom monopoly during a crucial prelude to a general election.
In her tweet, Supinya said the government stands to be deemed a hypocrite after having criticised politicians for giving unfair advantages to big investors. If the three telecom giants cannot get fully involved in 5G bidding or development because their massive debts to the government, then so be it, Supinya said. The idea of genuinely fair competition is giving everyone including new faces equal opportunities to get involved in big projects, she said. The former commissioner insisted that such leniency must come from parliamentary legislation, not coup-imposed powers.
Monday, February 25, 2019: Considering recent political developments, critics may ask “How dare he?”, but Thaksin Shinawatra is not one who cares about such scrutiny. In his weekly “Good Monday” program, he said decisions and moves of men in high positions must follow thorough scientific researches, so that there will be no risks. Then he went on to say that greed, anger and lust should not influence man’s action.
Thaksin said that when he was a businessman, he would throw away projects without any second thought despite having invested a lot in them if data showed there were risks.
He concluded his weekly podcast by saying that greed, anger and lust would certainly lead to wrong moves and decisions. “They cloud our thoughts and prevent us from doing things scientifically,” he said.
Sunday, February 24, 2019: Srisuwan Janya, activist focusing on constitutional affairs, is set to ask the Election Commission on Monday to investigate why the Future Forward Party’s website had wrongly claimed that its leader, Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit, headed the Federation of Thai Industries twice. Thanathorn only served as head of the federation’s Nakhon Nayok branch but the party kept the incorrect information on the website for months before removing it following a lot of complaints.
Srisuwan, who had moved against the National Anti-Corruption Commission following its infamous decision to drop charges against Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan regarding the luxury watch controversy, said the EC should determine if the Future Forward Party’s website had an intention to mislead the public on Thanathorn’s business working records.
Saturday, February 23, 2019: The Army chief has warned politicians not to “cross the line.” The latter have been anything but timid both prior to and after the warning. The party dissolution case against Thai Raksa Chart is starting. The leader of a newly-founded political party, Future Forward, faces legal charges that could seriously hamper his future. An ominous song, Nak Paendin (Wasteful, detrimental existence), is doing the rounds, albeit exclusively online.
Will a coup happen and throw everything back to square one? Analysts say the political situation has changed and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will not benefit from it as much. In fact, he stands a much better chance of retaining power through an election process than a few weeks ago, largely because of the political and legal storms battling the Thai Raksa Chart Party.
A pro-Prayut coup can be ruled out. This leaves a power seizure that the Army chief would unilaterally carry out. Judging from both men’s relationship, the Army chief will have to be very, very ambitious to do such thing.
Election campaigns unavoidably provide provocations, and the Army chief looks like a man whom people rather not provoke. However, according to some analysts, it’s the possible consequences of a coup, not provocations, that must be influencing him. He only has to look at Prayut, once a well-loved figure with many things going his way, to see how a coup can do to him in the long run.
In short, if another coup happens, a lot of people will run.
Friday, February 22, 2019: The Palang Pracharat Party has sent out strong signals that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, its prime ministerial candidate, will not get involved in its election campaign activities including public debates until the party receives a clear answer from the Election Commission regarding what he can and cannot do.
Political rivals have continually challenged Prayut to debate national issues. That, however, can be a strategic move to lure Palang Pracharat and Prayut into making a legal slip. The rivals themselves, after all, have decried what they see as Prayut’s “confusing” roles _ as a coup leader, as a post-coup prime minister and as a prime ministerial candidate in a democratic process. Palang Pracharat’s nomination of Prayut has also been challenged as a possible violation of the Constitution.
The party said today that it has submitted a letter to the EC asking to what extent Prayut can help the party campaign for the March 24 election.
Thursday, February 21, 2019: In addition to being accused of using an online platform to discredit Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Palang Pracharat Party, Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is now facing skepticism over his party’s online promotion of his business success.
In a question going viral, Thanathorn was asked why the Future Forward Party’s website stated, for a long period of time, that he served twice as president of the Federation of Thai Industries although he actually had only led the Nakhon Nayok branch of the federation.
It could have been a minor oversight but for the fact that the misinformation was allowed to persist on the party’s website for five months and was only corrected because of a flood of online criticism, his accusers said. Whether that constituted an intention to mislead the public, a serious electoral offence, must be investigated, according to Jet Thonavanik, a former adviser in the recent Constitution-drafting process.
Apart from the on-going and possible legal problems, Thanathorn is also having to deal with a viral photo of his apparent involvement in the violence-plagued red shirt protest in 2010.
Wednesday, February 20, 2019: The Future Forward Party has warned that locking up its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit after he faces the prosecutors next week on alleged violations of the computer law would not do Thailand’s pre-election image any good.
Thanathorn and two other Future Forward executives have a crucial appointment with the prosecutors on February 27 in connection with a Facebook live in which he seemed to demand that “Friday should be returned to the people.” The statement was a dig at Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for using air time to talk about government policies and other things. In addition to that, he strongly criticised the Palang Pracharat Party’s “sucking power” that had drawn many politicians to the newly-founded political camp.
The party’s spokeswoman, Pannika Vanich, said that the party fears that if a decision is made to prosecute the trio, they may be refused bail and immediately locked up. “Attempts are obvious to speed up the case,” she said, adding that police investigators had informed the party of the need to wrap up the case on February 22. “If the three, who were simply exercising their rights to criticise public figures, are refused bail and taken into custody, it will affect the government’s image locally and internationally.”
A “Savethanathorn” hashtag has been viral.
Tuesday, February 19, 2019: How much does a fledging party with not-so-great hope want for an election campaign? Bt45 million, according to the Thai Civilized Party, which says it is still far off that amount.
The party has raised some Bt6 million, but that could not fund a proper amount of posters and election billboards, essential if ones want to get noticed by voters, said Mongkolkit Suksintaranont, who founded the party last year after making himself known through leading an anti-corruption activist group.
“We are enjoying a considerably good rating, but our main problem is that people always ask which numbers they should mark for our candidates,” said Mongkolkit. “Apparently, we want more posters and billboards to get that information to the public.”
He added that he felt indebted to donors contributing to the current 6 million war chest. “Some people just walked to us and handed us money straightaway,” he said. The party is campaigning on an anti-graft platform, which follows up on Mongkolkit’s previous works.
Monday, February 18, 2019: In what looks like a hint about his political future, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said “it will be over” if he does not retain the premiership after the March election.
Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting, Prayut claimed he was generally well accepted overseas, but international leaders wondered if he could come to power under a due process. “They asked if it was possible for me to come to power constitutionally and legally, and here I am. If I succeed, it’s good. If I don’t, it will be over,” he said. Prayut bemoaned criticism against him and the government, saying attempts to create a peaceful environment conducive to the election have led to attacks by his opponents.
Sunday, February 17, 2019: A clip of Thaksin apparently speaking to his politicians on Facetime has gone viral. Some of those sharing the clip said it was hard evidence of him asserting control over a political party. Those defending him can say the clip only showed Thaksin giving support to his people.
Opinions will be divided amid intensified talks of party dissolution. Here’s a direct translation of what he said (noises coming from the other side were either inaudible sounds or approving laughters). The topic was apparently about politicians defecting to another party:
“(We) will win in all constituencies …
I’m thinking about tweeting my gratitude to all who have left the party. They have made ultimate sacrifices because they have given way to new blood to become MPs. …
Yes, yes, yes, sacrifices. …
I have always said there are two types of departures. The first is leaving to reap experiences and then quit politics. There are stupid (employers) who pay a lot of money. So it’s a chance to earn some money and retire. …
The second type is those who are so confident of themselves that they forget the party is bigger than them and will get more votes than them.
This time we have a chance to bring out the new generation. It’s very good that provinces like Loei and Nakhon Ratchasima will have new-blood candidates.”
In the last portion of the clip, Thaksin said: I’m “Mike Piromporn (the singer).” Then he started singing, drawing more laughter, “I wish you all the best after you leave me.”
Saturday, February 16, 2019: Another poll yet fails to determine if Thai people want the prime minister to come from the election or not. A Super Poll survey of 10,09 Thais, carried out between February 1 and February 15, showed that 8.3%% want the prime minister to be a politician, albeit one participating in the March 24 election, while 7.4%% want the prime minister to be a soldier.
The small gap is made more intriguing by the fact that 56.1% want the prime minister to be a capable person who can put food on the table. This majority group does not state if the prime minister should come from the election or be an outsider.
Dr Noppadol Kannika, Super Poll’s director, said people surveyed wanted a prime minister who really cares about problems of the men on the street. “Our findings show that an activist kind of prime minister is not in demand. Also, a significant number, 21.4 %, said they haven’t found anyone sincere enough to solve their problems and that they have to take care of their own problems. They are so bored of politics, saying it is full of image-makers.”
Friday, February 15, 2019: Abhisit Vejjajiva against Prayut Chan-o-cha has become kind of boring, but the prelude to the March 24 Thai election will never be short of politicians squaring up against one another. The latest one getting media attention is between Action Coalition for Thailand’s big wig Anek Laothammathat and Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
The former has fired the first shot, attacking the latter in a stinging Facebook post, to which the latter has to reply sooner rather than later. Anek wrote that he had had enough of billionaire Thanathorn constantly discrediting Thailand, and making some people “angry” of this country.
To cut a long post short, Anek said he did not know why Thanathorn was unhappy with Thailand, a country that gave his (Thanathorn’s) Chinese ancestors opportunities to build a business empire from nothing, so much. Anek said the Thai system welcomed immigrants with open arms and allowed them to create and thrive on businesses without political or racial prejudices.
“You will succeed in politics and I wish you well,” Anek, himself a Chinese descendant, wrote. “But (take my words for it) no country has given immigrants the same treatment, love, and opportunities as Thailand has given to people like us.”
Thursday, February 14, 2019: The Thai Raksa Chart Party is in no mood to celebrate the Valentines’ Day, its fate hanging in the balance, or in the hands of the Constitutional Court to be exact. This leaves the Democrats taking full advantage of the day of love. Members of the oldest party had good-looking Bangkok candidates give hugs for free through the day, drawing shrieks and roses from women young and old alike.
“Mark me in your heart,” was a message accompanying an Abhisit photo and playing with his nickname “Mark.” It went viral on the social media.
Two younger and handsome Bangkok candidates of the Democrat Party, Parit Watcharasin and Kanawat Chantaralawan, spearheaded the party’s “Free Hug” campaign in the city, receiving a lot of kisses and flowers. This makes the Democrats, the champions of Bangkok in many previous elections, stand out in the romantic day. When the day is done, however, reality sets in, re-exposing the fact that the party has its work cut out in the Thai capital, where voters are divided into anti-Prayut and anti- Thaksin camps, a unique situation that Abhisit is still grappling with.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019: Tension remains regarding the immediate future of the Thai Raksa Chart Party. The question of who was actually responsible for the controversial nomination of Princess Ubolratana as the party’s prime ministerial nominee is increasingly crucial.
In the meantime, though, another day and another sparring match between Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. As usual, it’s over something Prayut had said about politicians.
“Don’t listen too much to politicians who talk a lot but do little,” the prime minister said.
To which Abhisit replied: “Those who talk little aren’t necessarily good doers. (However,) Over the past 4-5 years, nobody talked more than Gen Prayut.”
Tuesday, February 12, 2019: Chaturon Chaisaeng, who missed out on the Thai Raksa Chart Party’s prime ministerial nomination to make way for Princess Ubolratana, has posted a cryptic twitter message hinting that he did not agree with the party’s decision.
“I wasn’t there with them (party members) on February 8 and I haven’t stated my opinion on what happened,” he said. “But when I saw that my fellow politicians claiming they felt so happy, I became quite unease. I was totally unease.”
The princess’ nomination triggered widespread euphoria among Thai Raksa Chart supporters and politicians before it drew strong disapproval from King Rama X, who described it as highly inappropriate.
Monday, February 11, 2019: In Thailand, people can blame practically everything on the “locations”. What is happening to the Thai Raksa Chart Party is no exception. “Feng shui” experts are saying that the party would not have been where it is today had its headquarters been built somewhere else.
The culprits, apparently, are two gas stations that flank the party’s headquarters. That means the party will be under constant “heat”. One problem will come after another, the experts insist.
Also, the presence of a court on the opposite side means the party will keep facing legal trouble, they say.
Nobody is arguing at the moment. One thing has to be noted, however, and it’s the fact that the analysis was only made after Friday, when the nomination of Princess Ubolratana as the party’s prime ministerial candidate triggered a major chain of events, some of which are still unfolding. If Thai Raksa Chart’s feng shui is really bad, how come nobody had talked about it before?
Sunday, February 10, 2019: Political focus remains firmly on Friday’s dramatic developments, with rumours and speculation revolving around the future of both the Thai Raksa Chart Party and the entire election. A political activist said his group was seeking dissolution of the party, whereas reporters scrambled to locate whereabouts of certain key figures.
All eyes will be on the Election Commission this week. The EC will be reviewing the nomination of the eldest daughter of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej as Thai Raksa Chart’s prime ministerial candidate. Calls for the party to be disbanded have added significance to the EC’s review, which came in the wake of strong disapproval of the nomination by King Rama X.
Following are quotes from some key parties involved in the still-unfolding political drama.
Thai Raksa Chart, in Facebook statement: Our position remains unchanged and the party will move forward to contest the election in order to solve problems for the country and people.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, Democrat leader: We are not doing anything, as it is up to the Election Commission to make a judgement and the Thai Raksa Chart Party to deal with the consequences of its action.
Srisuwan Janya, activist focusing on constitutional affairs: Although the Thai Raksa Chart Party insisted it did not violate any law, the EC must look at constitutional questions being asked.
Ittiporn Boonprakong, EC chief: The EC will look at the issue with extreme carefulness and fairness.
Thaksin Shinawatra (tweeting overseas): Chin up and keep moving forward! We learn from past experiences but live for today and the future. Cheer up! Life must go on!
Saturday, February 9, 2019: With the whole country obsessed with what happens next regarding the Thai Raksa Chart Party and its prime ministerial candidate, another bold election move has been made. According to an election campaign poster, the Bhumjaithai Party will completely legalize planting of marijuana or ganja.
Of course, the poster also contains the word “medical benefits”, but it clearly states that free planting of ganja will be allowed if the party is in a position to push for a law. Free cultivation means any household can have ganja, full stop.
Friday, February 8, 2019: The stunning political development involving the Thai Raksa Chart Party today made the social media erupt in mixed, fiery opinions. A lot of social media posters describing themselves as neutrals said they were “confused”.
Not everyone supportive of the Pheu Thai-Thai Raksa Chart alliance is happy with the development. Photos of members of Thai Raksa Chart like Nuttawut Saikua were widely circulated. Nuttawut led a controversial weeks-long protest at Rajprasong intersection many years ago. It was described as a grass-root uprising.
Those excited by the development view the announcement as a vote-getter. A lot of contempt against the “other side” has been expressed on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
They are countered by people who think that the development was the biggest political irony, and that the Pheu Thai-Thai Raksa Chart camp would find it hard to raise several issues during the election campaign.
Thursday, February 7, 2019: Will Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Friday morning tell the public what is widely expected, or will he shock them? Either way, it will be known within 10 am according to the man’s own words.
Friday is the last day of election candidacy registration. It’s also the day all political parties are required to officially reveal who will be their prime ministerial nominees. Prayut has been approached by the Palang Pracharat Party but has been keeping his cards close to his chest and responded to reporters’ questions with characteristic ambiguity today.
Reporters tried in vain, asking him what his decision will be. “You will know in the morning,” he said. Asked if he would appear at the Election Commission head-office, he said, “Why should I?”
Asked what factors are influencing his decision, he said: “As long as people are cooperative and they are not having legal problems, we can work together.” Some may take that as a hint about his decision, but it’s not totally clear, especially given his follow-up statement.
“Bargaining bores me,” he said. It was a remark that followed a question about Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who is also expected to be in Palang Pracharat’s prime ministerial nomination list.
One reporter jumped the gun, asking him how he would cope with a censure vote if he led a “minority” government. “Why would they want to censure me now? I haven’t done anything,” he said. Prayut did add, though, that he thought he could clarify all his action, a statement that, again, can be interpreted as a hint.
Before he left the reporters, here’s his parting shot: “Even me having noodles can be politicised.”
Wednesday, February 6, 2019: What were you doing at his age? Peerasorn Jirapichitchai (seen in the picture) is running in the March 24 election under the Democrat banner. A South China University of Technology graduate, “Nut” is the party’s youngest candidate at 25 years and three months and is competing in Bangkok. He studied economics and international management.
The second youngest Democrat candidate is law graduate Prathan Suthikhiri, who is 25 years and seven months old. He’s also running in Bangkok.
Both are joined by the third youngest Democrat candidate, Rattapong Rahong, who is 25 years and 10 months old, another Bangkok competitor. He’s a foreign-graduated engineering expert.
Tuesday, February 5, 2019: The little-known Thai Local Power Party will most likely struggle in the upcoming general election, but it has already won the social media’s unofficial award for the most creative campaign poster. Its “We are heroes” theme has caught the eyes of news media, the public, and online enthusiasts alike.
The party explained that the theme seeks to give hope to all Thais by calling them the heroes who have gone through tough times politically.
Social media accounts have actively shared and forwarded the posters which depict the party’s election candidates against unorthodox sci-fi backgrounds. The mainstream media have also talked about the creativity.
Monday, February 4, 2019: In what could be considered a polite warning to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha, the Election Commission has told political parties that last-day electoral registration could risk incomplete submission of documents that might rule out individuals involved.
“Don’t do it on the last day, especially near the closing time,” said EC secretary-general Jaroonwit Pumma. “Incomplete documents could mean it’s all for nothing for the persons involved.”
Prayut is yet to announce a decision on whether he would be in the Palang Pracharat Party’s prime ministerial nomination list, which has to be completed when electoral candidacy registration ends on Friday.
Today is the first day of registration. The EC said 57 parties registered their candidates in a combined 329 constituencies. The Democrat Party has registered the biggest number of candidates, 278, followed by Palang Pracharat, 274. Seri Ruam Thai registered 270, Future Forward 267 and Bhumjaithai 264.
Sunday, February 3, 2019: A survey of 1,097 Thais shows that one in three (38.7 per cent) does not know March 24 is the election day. Equally interesting is the finding that as many as 70 per cent have not made up their minds which party will get their vote.
The Super Poll survey also shows a vast majority of the people questioned want Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to make a decision on his political future after the election.
“Every party stands a good chance as of now,” said Noppadol Kannika, Super Poll director. “Voters will make final decisions at the home stretch. It’s also obvious that Thais want the prime minister to keep on working and remain politically neutral during this period.”
Saturday, February 2, 2019: If what Pheu Thai prime ministerial flag-bearer Sudarat Keyuraphan said today was final, strategic mathematicians in her camp must have seen something many others don’t. She said that Pheu Thai will compete in just 250 constituencies nationwide. While she expressed confidence that Pheu Thai will still emerge the champion of the general election, vying for just 250 seats means that even if the party wins all of them, it will still need 176 more to outvote its opponents in the parliamentary election of prime minister.
Supposing Pheu Thai win all of the 250 seats, and get a few more from the proportional system, it will need its key allies _ the Thai Raksa Chat and Future Forward parties _ to win a sizable amount of seats to get the total past or close to 376. That could swing “on-the-fence” parties to join the camp and form a coalition government. If Pheu Thai comes up short and its allies don’t do so well, chances are the on-the-fence parties would support the other side.
Simply put, vying for 250 seats is a risk higher than, say, competing in 300 constituencies. But Pheu Thai’s main reason could be that it wanted to give Thai Raksa Chat, its virtual sister party, some room to compete. Both parties have an unwritten agreement to avoid clashing with each other as much as possible in the election. This strategy hopefully will enable both parties to win more seats than if Pheu Thai had to compete alone. It, however, requires meticulous planning as mistakes could give the alliance’s rivals additional seats.
However, Sudarat, speaking in Bangkok’s China Town, said she was confident that her party would emerge victorious from the election.
“Although we will field candidates in just 250 constituencies, I’m very sure Pheu Thai will be the biggest party after the election,” she told supporters.
Friday, February 1, 2019: Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will not have to abide by the same rules as those prescribed for election candidates when it comes to his use of the social media if he agrees to be in the Palang Pracharat Party’s prime ministerial nomination list.
“But he will have to be very, very careful if he is to mention the party (if he is in its nomination list),” Wissanu said. In other words, Prayut can go on using the social media, but he must not say something like “I like this Palang Pracharat policy.” He still has to look neutral when commenting politically, whether on his Facebook or in front of TV cameras.
Prayut can, as prime minister, embark on official observation trips, if they are “reasonable,” according to Wissanu. “If the trips are not reasonable, he will have to answer a lot of social questions that will certainly tire him.”
Voicing political opinions, something Prayut has been doing regularly, will be put under a public microscope, Wissanu warned. He suggested Prayut had better avoid it, especially if remarks could negatively or positively affect a party. In other words, Prayut must avoid comments that could benefit Palang Pracharat, as he is not its election candidate, and could put Pheu Thai and any other party in a disadvantage.
Meeting with Palang Pracharat people is also a highly sensitive thing. Prayut can meet with Palang Pracharat to “inquire” about its policies but cannot join a meeting in which his role at the meeting can be classified as that of a party member, Wissanu said.
Thursday, January 31, 2019: Most political analysts agree that the March election will produce three political camps _ the Pheu Thai-led alliance, the Palang Pracharat -led alliance and the Democrat-led “On the fence” alliance. It’s impossible for the Pheu Thai alliance to merge with the Palang Pracharat alliance to form a post-election government. Also, Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has all but ruled out any chance of his party working with Pheu Thai. The only factor that will make the Democrat-Pheu Thai marriage possible is for Pheu Thai to offer Abhisit the premiership, a nearly impossible scenario as Pheu Thai will almost certainly become a bigger party than the Democrats.
This leaves a Democrat-Palang Pracharat alliance the likeliest one, many analysts believe. It can happen on a condition that a pre-election agreement is struck between both to give the leader of the “bigger party” the premiership. In other words, if the Democrat Party emerges from the election bigger than Palang Pracharat, both camps would join hands and make Abhisit the prime minister. If vice versa, the first prime ministerial nominee of Palang Pracharat will be prime minister, backed by the Democrats. Whoever the prime minister is will be backed by the Senate.
Much will depend on whether Abhisit likes this condition.
Wednesday, January 30, 2019: Football is a bigger matter than life and death, and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva seems to follow that popular saying made in honour of the world’s most popular sport, at least for now.
Embattled in a political dilemma, in which he is torn between military-backed Prayut Chan-o-cha and the pro-Thaksin political camp, Abhisit took his time off to celebrate his boyhood club’s highly-significant triumph over Manchester City in a crucial Premier League clash early Wednesday morning (Bangkok time). On his Facebook page, Abhisit posted a picture of him looking out into an empty sea, with a caption saying “Where is that sailing boat?”.
Newcastle United FC, Abhisit’s beloved team, beat Manchester City, called “Blue Yacht” by Thai sports commentators and newspapers, 2-1. The result can go a long way to securing Newcastle United FC’s survival in England’s top league.
Abhisit wouldn’t like one comment in particular, though. “Blue Yacht has disappeared, all right, but your party might follow suit,” the poster said.
Tuesday, January 29, 2019: Palang Pracharat may formally invite Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha this Friday to be in its prime ministerial nomination list, certain news outlets reported. The invitation will have to come in the next three days, because registration of election candidates starts on Monday and lasts just five days. Palang Pracharat obviously does not want to leave it too late. Constitutionally, all parties will have to unveil their prime ministerial candidates during election candidacy registration.
Prayut, speaking after four Cabinet members announced their resignations from the government, still insisted that he would return as prime minister only through election. He said he would join only parties whose policies he likes.
Monday, January 28, 2019: March 17 is the election day for people staying outside their voting constituencies. But registration will have to be made online between now up until February 19.
Registration can be made here.
Sunday, January 27, 2019: Recent developments at the controversial Dhammakaya Temple have one well-known news site speculate that its fugitive former abbot Dhammachayo is still pulling the strings at the top of the massive religious group. Manager Online said a very recent reshuffle of senior-most Dhammakaya monks could not have been effected by anybody else.
The unseen “return” of Dhammachayo can be attributed to two main factors, Manager said. The first is the serious infighting that threatened to break the temple apart. The internal crisis involved a showdown between an influential group of lay followers on one side and senior monks running the temple on the other. Some senior monks have recently been moved out of the temple to ease the problem, and some insiders were quoted as saying that only Dhammachayo could effect such transfers.
The second is the upcoming election. The temple has an enormous following and is known to have strong connections with a main political party. He used to say before going into hiding during the military rule that he would face legal charges related to the embezzlement scandal at a major cooperatives only when democracy returns to Thailand.
Saturday, January 26, 2019: The majority of Thai politicians are rich, but Thanathorn Juangroogruangkit said his Future Forward Party is pleased to buck the trend. “We are proud to have people who are really poor represent us in Parliament,” he said while unveiling some Bangkok candidates. “The poor people deserve to have true representation. We won’t care that a taxi driver runs under our party’s banner.”
Although Thanathorn himself is a well-known and successful businessman, he confirmed that many Future Forward candidates are really poor.
Thanathorn, who has been critical of the military government and ruled out any chance to join a government led by Prayut Chan-o-cha, added that his party is showing its respect for the democratic system by fielding candidates in all constituencies nationwide.
Friday, January 25, 2019: What has been holding back Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha regarding telling the public about his political future, according to one report, is the knowledge that post-election circumstances could force his hand rather than give him full control.
Being in Palang Pracharat’s prime ministerial nomination list is in many ways better than waiting for an invitation card, but it will very likely deprive him of freedom in setting up a government he wants if Palang Pracharat is in a position to form a coalition, the report said. Prayut is well aware of horse trading in traditional parliamentary politics that can restrict his selection of his administrative team, it said.
The report, quoting a source close to the prime minister, suggested that Palang Pracharat has been told what Prayut thinks. “He is not having a second thought. He is just thinking that if he is needed, nobody should tell him to do this or do that (regarding Cabinet appointments),” the source was quoted as saying.
Thursday, January 24, 2019: Election candidates are advised to “read the laws carefully” so they know the legal limits of the sizes and numbers of campaign posters as well as where they can place them. Violators will be caught not by the authorities, but their watchful opponents, according to the Election Commission. Some violations have already occurred as the official time for placing posters starts next week, not now, the EC said.
Violators face a maximum six months in jail and a fine of Bt10,000, said senior EC official Wichuda Mekhanuwong. “The laws are quite detailed, so candidates must read them carefully,” she said, adding that the restrictions were meant to create “equality” among parties which are not equally wealthy.
Wednesday, January 23, 2019: Forget about the Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharat parties. The real surprise package of the upcoming general election is the Bhumjaithai Party, according to well-known political academic and analyst Sukhum Nualsakul. The former rector of the Ramkhamhaeng University even sang Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnweerakul’s praises for coming out to promote the party’s big policies and boldly describing himself as a candidate for prime minister.
According to Sukhum, Bhumjaithai could emerge from the general election as big as the Democrat Party and become another major variable in the showdown for political power between the Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharat parties. “The party is well-organized and has proved that by putting together key events,” Sukhum said. “To add to that, the party has a leader with business acumen and who is not so naive politically.”
Among the party’s bold policies is free online education, which is in line with constantly-improving technology that many say will make future education take place primarily in the cyberspace.
Tuesday, January 22, 2019: The war of words between the Palang Pracharat and Pheu Thai parties has been alternating between being outright corny and exceptionally creative. Their latest showdown focused on the economy, which Pheu Thai prime ministerial candidate Sudarat Keyuraphan promised will be naturally good if Thailand returns to civil rule, albeit a government led by her camp. “Thailand will have quality peace, not empty wallet peace,” she had said.
Which was described by Palang Pracharat as a “Short-memory election promise.” “Khunying Sudarat has a short memory,” said Palang Pracharat deputy spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana. “She has forgotten how Thailand’s peace was shattered after her government sneaked an amnesty law through Parliament at 4 am.” He was referring to the infamous Amnesty Law that critics said favoured the Shinawatras and led to weeks of massive protests culminating in Prayut Chan-o-cha’s coup.
Pheu Thai election campaign head Chalerm Yoobamrung has also mocked Palang Pracharat’s high election target, which was 150 seats as of now. Thanakorn hit back, saying Chalerm should have focused on helping his son win the election first.
Monday, January 21, 2019: Followers of Thaksin Shinawatra may be a little bit disappointed with his proposed solutions to Bangkok’s air pollution. His critics, however, were having a heyday.
To sum up what he said for his “Good Monday” programme which is on a website that is being curiously promoted ahead of the general election, he suggested two things: 1. More electric cars. 2. More trees.
“It’s so easy to say that,” a Manager Online headline said.
“We have to be bold and we must not be afraid of changes,” Thaksin said. But in what critics point out as a contradiction to that message, he is quick to say that the transformation into an electric car society must take place step by step. “Owners of conventional cars must not suffer from it. Changes must happen in phases. For example, when people need to buy new cars, they can be encouraged to buy electric ones through some incentives,” he said.
On his tree proposal, Thaksin said: “In Dubai where I live, the amount of dust is in the world’s top ten. One thing I notice, though, is that people are working hard in planting trees, a lot of which have come from Thailand.” He then went on to say that Thais have been busy constructing new buildings, so much so that they have forgotten the importance of trees.
Sunday, January 20, 2019: Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has reportedly been removed as chairwoman of Shantou International Container Terminal (SICT), just about a month after her name was added into the port company’s registration filed in December. No immediate reason was available for the removal, which seemed to coincide with Cambodia’s denial that it gave her a passport which she allegedly used in oversea business dealings.
One Chinese man replaced her as SICT chairperson, according to Isaranews. The South China Morning Post said SICT was originally set up by Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH). Hutchison Port Holdings’ Shantou branch and China Merchants Port Group’s Shantou arm separately own 70% and 30% stock equity of SICT. HPH, is one of the world’s largest port operators and it’s subsidiary Hong Kong International Terminal set up SICT with Shantou Port Authority in 1994.
There is also confusion regarding another company, P.T. Corporation, which is newly-founded and based in Hong Kong and heavily linked with the Shinawatras, Isaranews said. To add to the growing controversy surrounding Yingluck, Cambodia has very recently tightened rules on giving Cambodian passports to foreigners. According to the Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia has all but ended issuance of Cambodian passports to foreigners, unless “it concerns cases that are very special.” Some analysts were quoted as saying that the stricter passport policy may have something to do with Yingluck.
Saturday, January 19, 2019: Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra as well as Yaowapa Wongsawat are reportedly targets of reopening of the rice pledging case by the National Anti-Corruption Commission. Focus, however, will be on Yaowapa as Thaksin and Yingluck have already been in political “exile” overseas.
The Issara news agency reported that a high-level NACC source said the reopening followed fresh information provided primarily by former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, who is serving a lengthy jail term after being found guilty in the original rice case. Boonsong is rumored to have been upset by the way his former “bosses” treated him in the wake of the court ruling.
In addition to fresh information allegedly provided by Boonsong, investigators have talked to his former secretary, Wirawut Wajjanapukka, it has been reported.
Yaowapa’s whereabouts have been a mystery, and her lawyers have sued a journalist who linked her disappearance from public view to the rice case.
Friday, January 18, 2019: Duty free giant King Power has donated Bt24 million to the Palang Pracharat Party at its fund-raising event late last year. Names of party sponsors were made public today at the party’s headquarters, and the list showcased a wide range of businesses covering IT, construction, agricultural commodities and telecom.
The King Power group, however, topped the 20-name list with a Bt24 million donation. The event raised Bt90 million, with most donors on the list donating a minimum of Bt1 million up to Bt9 million.
Thursday, January 17, 2019: March 4 will command a lot of public and media attention because it’s the date when a lot will be revealed concerning Yaowapa Wongsawat’s whereabouts. Her lawyers have sued a journalist, Sermsuk Kasitpradit, for libel and she will have to appear in court on that day to testify.
Being a big part of the Shinawatra clan and the Pheu Thai Party, her weeks-long absence from public view has led to much speculation, not least because of news that the rice-pledging case that rocked the Yingluck government could be reopened.
The lawyers filed a lawsuit against Sermsuk for apparently linking the rumored reopening of the case to her disappearance. People close to her and some party members have defended her, saying that, as a free person, she is free to go anywhere and spend her time quietly as much as she wants.
However, the Sermsuk lawsuit can put her whereabouts in a major spotlight. If she cannot appear in court on March 4, her lawyers will have to tell the judge why. Such an explanation will be something totally different from normal talks between her aides and the media.
Wednesday, January 16, 2019: The Bhumjaithai Party has vowed to give Thais free online education if it is in the post-election government. This is following the Democrat Party’s promise to give monthly cash to families with new-born children up until the age of 8. The Democrat Party’s policy is called “Strong Children”, and party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva denied it smells populism.
Tuesday, January 15, 2019: Perhaps, pro-election activists have focused too much of their energy on “before”, and not “after”. They have made a lot of noises on whether the “150-day time-frame” prescribed by the Constitution should cover the official announcement of polling results, whereas they should have looked at what the Constitution says regarding what happens afterwards, some legal analysts said.
The analysts noted that while previous charters made it clear the prime minister must be elected 30 days after inauguration of the new Parliament, the 2017 Constitution does not provide any such deadline at all. It only says the new Parliament must convene for the first time 15 days after the official announcement of results. Simply put, the search for the post-election prime minister can last as long as it takes.
How this is going to benefit Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the expense of his political rivals is not clear at the moment. One possibility is that he can have all the time in the world to lobby for support, already having 250 senators on his side. Political games and horse-trading can continue weeks after the election. Adding to the uncertainties, Prayut will still hold “Mor 44” (Article 44) powers, the special post-coup summary powers, during the void.
Monday, January 14, 2019: Thaksin Shinawatra’s “Good Monday” project on his website is said to be something designed to attack what is perceived to be the Prayut government’s softest spot without putting the Pheu Thai Party in constitutional trouble, analysts said. His podcast and articles will be focusing on the economy, showcasing his “experiences” that could help Thailand, it has been reported. All this is a show of defiance against the Prayut administration because, reading between the lines, Thaksin is practically saying that Thailand would be economically better off if the military is out of the equation.
Newly-started “Good Monday” will stay away from politics, particularly the mentioning of the Pheu Thai Party and its associates, the reports said. This will protect the parties from legal trouble, as the new Constitution, for the first time, prescribes harsh punishment for political parties working under influences of outsiders, according to the analysts.
Explaining why he launched “Good Monday”, Thaksin wrote that he did not want to “waste” his economic experiences including what he had seen and learned over the past 12 years.
Meanwhile, despite the strong surge of Chadchart Sittipunt, Sudarat Keyuraphan is now poised to clinch the first spot in the Pheu Thai Party’s prime ministerial nomination list, party sources said. Chadchart will be second in the pecking order and party nominal leader Viroj Pao-in will be third.
Sunday, January 13, 2019: Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva continued his walk on the tightrope today, taking a swipe at the military but appearing to agree that the election can be constitutionally delayed up until May. Speaking at the Democracy Monument, where he launched an election caravan and unveiled Bangkok candidates, he said democracy “belongs to the people” but it must also be “clean”. The “clean” comment underlined his party’s stand against the Shinawatras, which it accused of not being honest. At the same time, Abhisit’s emphasis that democracy “belongs to the people” was in response to Army chief Apirat Kongsompong’s criticism against people who insisted that the general election must take place as soon as possible.
Abhisit stressed that people advocating an early election were simply exercising their basic rights, which the military should respect. However, the Democrat leader seemed to side with one camp in the “150 days” debate who argued that the 150-day time-frame was supposed to give a deadline for ballot casting exercise, not for official election results to be announced.
“The Constitution states clearly that an election must take place within 150 days of the introduction of the organic laws, which means the election will take place before May 9,” Abhisit said. The other side of the “150 days” debate has insisted that the time-frame included official announcement of results, meaning if the election takes place too late or too near May 9, official results would not come in time, opening up the possibility of the election being deemed unconstitutional.
Saturday, January 12, 2019: Having warned that it would dominate Bangkok, the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party now claims it would sweep as many as 40 seats in the North, the power base of the Pheu Thai Party. To make the claim more dramatic, Palang Pracharat chief northern strategist Thammanat Prompao said the target referred to constituency elections only.
“We are being perceived as an alternative,” said Thammanat while the party introduced candidates in Chiang Rai. In a spate of days, his party has vowed to beat the Democrats and conquer Bangkok and win big in the North, which is Pheu Thai’s stronghold. In other words, Palang Pracharat has made enemies out of Thailand’s biggest parties.
Meanwhile, the Future Forward Party has cemented itself as being on Palang Pracharat’s opposite side, threatening to abolish the welfare card, informally known as “Poor People’s Card”, of the Prayut goverment, a policy firmly backed by the latter. “We have some welfare policies of our own, but we won’t be spending the same way (as the Prayut administration),” said Pannikar Vanich, Future Forward’s spokesperson in Khon Kaen.
Friday, January 11, 2019: Has the heated debate on when the 150-day election time-frame ends been swung in one camp’s favour? A letter from a head constitutional drafter, Mechai Ruchuphan, has been produced to support the argument that the 150-day period ends on the voting day, not the day official results are announced.
Mechai’s letter was a response to an Election Commission inquiry almost two years ago. Although it stated that charter drafters have no authority to have a final say on constitutional questions, which should be referred to the Constitution Court, the letter attached a meeting memo concerning discussions in September, 2016. The memo quoted Mechai as saying that the 150-day deadline was for the election to be held, not for results to be announced.
There are two major points here. The first is that the 2016 opinion of Mechai, although reflecting that of other charter drafters, is not a final say. The Constitution Court can still rule against it.
But the second point is that the drafters’ opinions seemed to support the idea that the 150-day period is meant to give a deadline for the ballot-casting exercise. If someone asks the Constitution Court to interpret the charter and the court bases its judgement on the “will of the law”, one camp of the debate will benefit at the expense of the other.
Thursday, January 10, 2019: Just like her big brother before her, Yingluck Shinawatra has triggered a controversy over her passport. A Phnom Penh Post story was published on The English-language Nation website today quoting a senior Cambodian official as denying claims that a Cambodian passport had been issued to the former prime minister of Thailand who then used it to register a company in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong-based English language South China Morning Post on Wednesday reported that Yingluck used a Cambodian passport to register as the director of PT Corporation Co in August 24, 2018, almost a year after she fled a court ruling in Thailand.
Media reports say that four months later Yingluck became the chairwoman of Shantou International Container Terminal (SICT), a port operator based in China’s Guangdong province. The Phnom Penh Post said its enquiries to SICT went unanswered.
One of Cambodia’s most senior officials on immigration affairs was, however, quoted as saying that no foreign authorities would be ill-advised to give Yingluck a passport or allow her non-Thai passport to go through.
General Mao Chandara, the director general of the identification department at Ministry of Interior at the time, told The Post that Cambodia had never issued a passport to Yingluck.
“We don’t know whether it is fake or not, but we never issue passports to foreigners,” he said, explaining that doing so is against Cambodian law. He told The Post a passport can only be issued to foreigners who have been naturalised via a Royal Decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni.
“Who in the world doesn’t know that Yingluck is a Thai national and the former Prime Minister of Thailand? How could she use a Cambodian passport to register for a company as a Cambodian citizen? We don’t know what is happening in this story,” The Post quoted him as saying.
Such a denial makes sense. But then again, the same questions could have been raised against Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was known to use non-Thai passports for quite a few times.
Wednesday, January 9, 2019: China is not taking any chance when it comes to Beijing’s relationship with Bangkok, choosing to stay away from the unpredictable and divisive Thai politics, according to the South China Morning Post. The newspaper said that underlining China’s ultra-careful approach is attempted news blackout on a recent visit to southern China by Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra to pay respect to their ancestors.
The paper said brother and sister Thaksin and Yingluck arrived at Taxia village in Fengshun township, Meizhou, Guangdong province, in search of their roots on Saturday. They are said to be fourth-generation Chinese immigrants in Thailand and descended from a family of Hakkas.
“While a resident told the South China Morning Post that the local government had prepared for “prominent Thai” visitors, mainland media and online social media that published photos and video of the visit that day had deleted it by Sunday afternoon,” the English-language newspaper said. It quoted Chong Ja Ian, a professor of foreign policy at the National University of Singapore, as saying that China’s wary approach to the Shinawatras’ visit showed how reticent Beijing was to becoming embroiled in Thailand’s domestic politics.
Tuesday, January 8, 2019: Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has reportedly invested heavily in China. She has been appointed as legal representative and chairwoman of Shantou International Container Terminal (SICT). Her name was added into the port company’s registration filed in December.
SICT was originally set up by Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH). Hutchison Port Holdings’ Shantou branch and China Merchants Port Group’s Shantou arm separately own 70% and 30% stock equity of SICT.
HPH, is one of the world’s largest port operators and it’s subsidiary Hong Kong International Terminal set up SICT with Shantou Port Authority in 1994.
The news came as her big brother Thaksin Shinawatra has tweeted another message attacking Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. “He asked me to return to Thailand and face legal procedures, which are crawling with his men,” Thaksin said. Those legal procedures have come up with a favourable ruling on Prawit’s luxury watch controversy, he added.
Monday, January 7, 2019: Debate continued today on the “150-day timeframe”, within which an election has to be held. So far, the period looks lengthy enough no matter how people interpret “election” _ when it starts and when it ends _ but alarmists will certainly become more edgy if the Election Commission delays the February 24 schedule for too long. And the alarmists cannot be blamed, because the military government has been acting suspiciously all the time regarding its political roadmap.
There was no significant development today, but politicians kept doing what they do best _ giving rhetoric. We, therefore, can focus on some of political quotes concerning the uncertainties surrounding the original schedule of February 24.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha: “Don’t worry too much about when the election will take place. Let’s worry more about electing good candidates.”
Nuttawut Saikua (Thai Raksa Chat): “People who want the election to take place early truly understand the importance of the coronation ceremony. What they don’t understand is why the Election Commission had been suggesting all of the time that it was ready to hold an election on February 24.”
Chalerm Yoobamrung (Pheu Thai): “If they keep delaying the election, there will be a big protest and violence.”
Somkid Jatusripitak: “The United States and China are trying to avert their trade war. (Which means) the other key thing foreign investors are wanting to see is a stable Thai government after the election. The Thai economy will be a lot better in the middle of the year if we stop fighting.”
Sunday, January 6, 2019: The Palang Pracharat Party will become Bangkok’s most dominant political force after the election. That is according to one of the party’s executives. If the aspiration comes true, it means the party’s Bangkok candidates will edge out the Democrats and Pheu Thai, which won 23 and 10 seats in the Thai capital respectively in the last election, in which no other party got a seat in the city of angels.
Bangkok was the hotbed of anti-government activism before the 2014 coup, so Palang Pracharat’s aim of 15 seats in the capital cannot be deemed unrealistic. With the Democrats’ attitude unclear regarding the military and the Shinawatras, Palang Pracharat can exploit the ambiguity.
“Our target is 15 seats. We are not hallucinating,” said Puttinpong Punnagun, one of Palang Pracharat executives present over the weekend at the opening of a party branch in Constituency 5 which covers Din Daeng and Huay Kwang.
The claim can make Palang Pracharat the Democrats’ Number One enemy in Bangkok, a situation Pheu Thai can only smile at.
Saturday, January 5, 2019: Sudarat Keyuraphan, one of Pheu Thai’s prime ministerial nominees, has called for a big voter turnout on the election day, saying a low turnout could enable Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to remain in power.
“If too few people go to vote, Uncle Tu (Prime Minister Prayut) will definitely stay on,” Sudarat told a group of people while on a campaign trail in eastern Bangkok in the morning.
Sudarat said a low turnout would not give her camp enough seats to outvote the pro-Prayut side, “which has 250 senators dressed up for them in waiting for the big moment.”
Meanwhile, uncertainties continued as to whether she will be the Pheu Thai Party’s top prime ministerial nominee. Another big Pheu Thai figure, Chadchart Sittipunt, who will also definitely be in the three-person prime ministerial nomination list of the party, may be receiving the blessing of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, according to a news analysis.
The analysis said Chadchart’s biggest “asset” was the apparent trust Yingluck had in him, in addition to the man’s apparent popularity among city people.
Chadchart was deputy communications minister in the Yingluck government and has been said to comfortably beat Sudarat in online popularity polls. Pheu Thai has a big decision to make, as while Chadchart is apparently more popular in downtown areas, Sudarat is more well known among rural people, who are Pheu Thai’s important political base. However, good news is that the party does not have to make up its mind now. The party can prop any of its nominees up when Parliament votes to elect prime minister after the election.
The other prime ministerial nominee of Pheu Thai is party leader Viroj Pao-in.
Friday, January 4, 2019: Interference, vote-buying and blatant cheats are among reasons given by over 50 per cent of respondents in a King Prajadhipok Institute survey to explain why they don’t have full confidence in the upcoming election, a report said.
The report in Komchadluek online said that of over 1,500 people nationwide sampled for the survey, some 53 per cent said they are not confident the election would be just. The remaining said they are “quite” or “fully” confident that the election would be clean and fair.
The survey divided “confidence” into four categories _ “Fully”, “Quite”, “Not Quite”, and “Not At All.” Bangkok, the North and the Northeast display a sizeable degree of mistrust. compared with the South and Central Region. However, the majority of respondents is concentrated in the “Quite (confident)” and “Not Quite (confident)” categories for all the regions.
To those saying they don’t have full confidence in the election, key reasons are vote-buying, interference and other forms of cheating.
Thursday, January 3, 2019: Pheu Thai veteran and former social development and human security minister Wattana Muangsuk has confirmed that he would sue a hotel in which a video clip of him having sex in a hotel room was made, then leaked and went viral online.
The confirmation was made at a press conference, after days of verbal outrage. Wattana had insisted that his private life was dragged through the mud as part of a political conspiracy to discredit him. However, he and his team of lawyers said at the press conference that the initial targets of the lawsuit would be the hotel and the origin of the online frenzy.
Wattana said he did not take legal action right away because he wanted to give society time to “get a grip” and realise what politics could do to innocent people.
Last year, Wattana was at the receiving end of a legal action due to a project that took place when Pheu Thai was the ruling party.
Wednesday, January 2, 2019: Chadchart Sittipunt is threatening to overtake Sudarat Keyuraphan as the Pheu Thai Party’s top most candidate for prime minister, according to reports. Both will certainly be in Pheu Thai’s list of prime ministerial nominees, but who is above whom can only be confirmed in the middle of this month when the list is officially made public.
Whispers that Chadchart was coming on strong became loud proclamations over the past two days, fuelled by Chadchart’s own Facebook post, in which he wished followers a Happy New Year and a cartoon of him leading a Pheu Thai “Avengers” team is highlighted. That he dwarfed Sudarat in the cartoon was seen as a clue on the prime ministerial nomination pecking order.
He was deputy communications minister in the Yingluck government, after making it big in the business and academic circles. He has been quite popular online, but whether he is better known among rural people than Sudarat is open to debate.
Sudarat helped fan excitement by confirming that Chadchart was “for real, not just something made up by news reports.” She suggested that top executives of the party had discussed and agreed on his nomination.
Tuesday, January 1, 2019: Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has launched another stinging attack on the government, accusing it of heavily asserting influences over the upcoming election. In the process, he seems to further decrease the possibility of his party supporting Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s purported bid to return to power.
Abhisit said every government more or less tried to manipulate or exploit electoral rules, but the Prayut administration was far ahead of all governments in that department. Has he burned the bridges with the prime minister? If not yet, it’s pretty close.
Not only that, Abhisit has vowed to quit as Democrat leader if his party wins fewer than 100 seats in the upcoming election. With the Palang Pracharat Party coming on strong, and the Pheu Thai Party expected to sweep a large number of seats, the 100-seat target is a very tall order.
Monday, December 31, 2018: Critics will be rubbing their hands in the next few days as the Prayut government plans to officially proclaim its “successes” since the 2014 coup. There will be a “long and thick” version of the information to be given to top political circles like parliamentarians and the Cabinet as well as public libraries, and a shorter version along with an English version to be given to others. Among “key” points are peace and order, finalised corruption cases and the welfare card (better known as “Poor People Card” programme, according to reports.
The official proclamation of “successes” is expected to take place around or a little before the election candidacy registration period in the middle of January. The two developments being close together can be a coincidence, but analysts cannot help but note that the announcement of “successes” will take place when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is scheduled to make public his decision about his future. In other words, when the government announces its “successes”, the Palang Pracharat Party may coincidentally declare Prayut as their prime ministerial nominee.
Sunday, December 30, 2018: Pheu Thai’s election campaign leader Chalerm Yoobamrung said his party would push for constitutional changes after next year’s election. Speaking in Si Sa Ket, he said Pheu Thai would also seek to pursue its healthcare policies, the “village fund” initiatives, as well as tough anti-narcotics measures if the party is in the next government.
Pheu Thai’s proposed constitutional changes have been met with a cold shoulder from the Democrat Party, another major political camp. Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the election campaign was not the time to talk about a “divisive” issue. The government, meanwhile, has warned Pheu Thai that showing contempt for the Constitution would be tantamount to showing contempt for Thais who overwhelmingly voted to pass it a couple of years ago.
“Pheu Thai will win and we will do what we are supposed to do,” Chalerm said. Then he went on to list a few policies including amending the Constitution.
Saturday, December 29, 2018: The Puea Chat Party is seeking to appeal to “LGBTQ” (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transsexual and Queer), vowing to increase social, religious and political acceptance for the group.
“Thailand is more open than ever before when it comes to LGBTQ, but there is a lot of room for improvement in the social, religious, political and legal spheres,” said Supraipol Cherdchu, who is tipped to run for the party in Bangkok.
He did not see the birth of Puea Chat as a result of political needs to beat certain constitutional rules. Supraipol said he saw Puea Chat as a great opportunity for the new generation to push for ideas that political old-timers may have ignored or been too conservative to accept.
Friday, December 28, 2018: The Democrat Party has vowed to “spare nobody” in a sweeping anti-narcotics policy. Having presented a “Strong Children” policy which involves monthly government payout to families with young children up until the age of 8, Thailand’s oldest political camp now zeroes in on another major social issue in its election campaign.
The party has promised to give more legal power to anti-narcotics police, allowing them to submit cases directly to the prosecutors, significantly increase penalties on state officials involved in drug trades, punish users if they are arrested again after rehabilitation, build more rehabilitation centres across the country and set up anti-drug watchdog groups with salaries and allowances.
“Drug problems can be absolutely solved if we can get the officials involved,” said Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. “Our policy will spare no-one, which is the only effective way to deal with the situation.”
Thursday, December 27, 2018: The social media erupted against the National Anti-Corruption Commission’s decision to let Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan off the hook in connection with the luxury watch controversy. The NACC’s move was not quite unexpected, and it was a damn-if-you-do-damn-if-you-don’t political situation, but the real blow was suffered not by any camp in the political conflict, but by Thailand’s already-weak campaign for government transparency.
Comments on the social media targeted Prawit’s refusal to resign and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s decision to keep him in the Cabinet. Both men’s moves were described as “typical” when Thai politics is concerned, in which “receipts”, not damaged public trust, mattered whenever someone faced accusations of graft or being unusually rich.
Wednesday, December 26, 2018: A crucial decision by the National Anti-Corruption Commission on Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury wristwatch controversy is expected to be announced early Thursday afternoon. Any decision is expected to generate big political repercussions.
The NACC has had the hot-potato case on its hands for many months, after public questions arose as to why Prawit failed to report a number of expensive accessories in his mandatory asset declaration, and whether he was “unusually rich” when considering his civil service salaries. His vague explanation that he borrowed the accessories from some friend did not satisfy critics.
The case is said to be one of the biggest smears on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s proclaimed intention to “clean” Thai politics. Many critics said that it did not matter if Prawit had violated the laws or not, as Prayut was supposed to set a good example that serious doubts alone should be enough to remove a Cabinet member.
Tuesday, December 25, 2018: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has defended a series of government giveaways as measures to help poor people, dismissing critics’ charges that he has been resorting to populism to promote himself as a candidate for post-election prime minister.
“Nothing is against the laws and the government is just using its mechanism to give assistance to the poor,” he said. “Critics are saying I’m handing out freebies. How can I? Sometimes you should not look beyond the fact that a few needy people are happy.”
A cheap-loan program called “One Million Homes” has attracted massive interests. It also has fuelled criticism that the Prayut government is using a lot of state money to boost its image ahead of next year’s election. A few other programs have similarly been dubbed as “populist” by critics, who say the administration has proved no different from ones run by the Thaksin Shinawatra camp. One main criticism facing pro-Thaksin governments had to do with measures to help the poor that required questionable amounts of money.
Prayut, speaking during an inspection trip to Samut Prakan, called for “careful” absorption of news, which has not been kind to him lately. “When it comes to getting information, everyone should have immunity. Newspapers are saying I’m like this or I’m like that which sometimes is not always true. Despite my temper, I’m a nice guy,” he said.
Monday, December 24, 2018: The Palang Pracharat Party only needs to look at the recent Thai political history to be really afraid, according to one of Thaksin Shinawatra’s top warriors. Surapong Suebwonglee, former deputy prime minister who also served as finance minister and ICT minister, has pointed out in a Facebook post that the Thaksin camp had been there before _ rocked by a coup and large-scale defections _ only to bounce back stronger with all the rebels regretting their decisions.
The coup that ousted Thaksin and the subsequent dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai Party made all analysts rule out Thai Rak Thai, but its reincarnation won a landslide election victory. After the People Power Party became Pheu Thai, the camp scored another massive election triumph.
“I’m confident Palang Pracharat will not only miss its target of 150 seats by 300 per cent like Thai Rak Thai opponents did, but the humiliation may reach 400-500 per cent if this election is free and fair,” Surapong wrote. He himself has suffered legal consequences related to the Thai political crisis, being sentenced to a year jail a couple of years ago for malfeasance related to Thaksin’s telecom interests.
Sunday, December 23, 2018: Bhumtham Wecchayachai, Pheu Thai’s secretary-general, has confirmed that Sudarat Keyuraphan will be among the party’s three prime ministerial candidates. In a lengthy interview with Thai Rath online published this weekend, Bhumtham harshly criticised Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who he said “never gets democracy”, and highly praised Thaksin Shinawatra, calling him an ideological leader of many Thais.
That Pheu Thai will nominate Sudarat has never been in doubt. However, Bhumtham said his party will “most likely” nominate three persons to meet the maximum constitutional quota for parties’ prime ministerial nominations.
“We have people who are ready,” he said. “We are not a new-born party. We have been there for quite some time and we have produced good leaders.”
Saturday, December 22, 2018: A very interesting political development today is the warm welcome in Uttaradit province given to the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party. News reports said a few thousand people turned up at the provincial stadium to listen to the party’s leaders and election candidates spelling out their plans. Among those on the stage are former well-known red-shirted leaders in the province including Suporn Attawong, widely-called “Isaan Rambo” for his confrontational and belligerent political activism.
The involvement of former red-shirted figures may explain the attitude in Uttaradit toward Palang Pracharat. However, the Pheu Thai Party has been insisting that defectors will be “punished” by voters in next year’s election.
Palang Pracharat members openly said the party supported Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The former red-shirted leaders said they defected because the new party had a clear-cut policy on reconciliation. They denied that they made a political U-turn because of fears of legal action.
Friday, December 21, 2018: Somehow, Yaowapa Wongsawat, a key Pheu Thai figure, has to quash damaging and persistent rumours about her whereabouts by simply appearing in public. Whispers are threatening to become rumbles, so to speak.
The rumours have to do with speculation that ex-commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, serving a lengthy jail term in connection with the controversial rice pledging scheme of the Yingluck government, may have spilled the beans over who else were involved in the highest level. Reporters began to notice her absence from public views almost two weeks ago when Yaowapa failed to attend a wedding ceremony in Udon Thani.
One of her aides has dismissed the rumours and insisted that, as a free person, the wife of ex-prime minister Somchai Wongsawat and younger sister of Thaksin Shinawatra could go anywhere. The government also denied she had fled the country. However, the rumours have refused to go away.
Thursday, December 20, 2018: Fund-aising events earlier this week by the Palang Pracharat and Action Coalition for Thailand parties have drawn criticism and charges that they might have violated laws banning organising entertainment for voters and giving them special treats.
The Election Commission is expected to be asked by the “Protectors of the Constitution” association today to investigate the events, in which Palang Pracharat managed to raise Bt650 million, with donors giving Bt3 million for each table.
The Palang Pracharat Party’s event, in particular, featured famous performers in addition to top delicacies. The party called the event a great success, but latest developments indicated a fresh political storm might be brewing for the pro-military camp.
Wednesday, December 19, 2018: Election campaign limits set by the Election Commission are still up for amendment, but drastic changes are unlikely. The proposed limit for a constituency candidate’s spending is Bt2 million, while that of each political party is Bt70 million. Without fund raising where many groups pool their money, it’s hard to imagine how a lone organisation will sacrifice Bt70 million for the interests of the motherland.
Thirteen parties have given feedback to the EC regarding the proposed spendings. Eleven of them agree with the EC, whereas the remaining two think the numbers were too high and should be toned down.
The parties’ reactions are surprising. Everyone knows that real spendings of each party will far exceed the limits, but so far nobody has come out and said so.
Tuesday, December 18, 2018: The Bhum Jai Thai Party has brought telecom into the election campaign by calling for a legal amendment ahead of bidding for the fifth generation (5G) cellular communications frequencies. Its spokesman said that without the proposed amendment, many would feel discouraged, creating all kinds of uncertainties affecting the 5G development, which is essential for national competitiveness in the brave new world.
“This big leap is crucial,” Settapong Malisuwan said at a telecom seminar in his capacity as someone who used to be in the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission.”5G will change everything people do, as the speed will be a lot faster than the previous generations. The state will have to facilitate the development in all possible ways. As things stand, a lot of players will be discouraged from the bidding.”
Monday, December 17, 2018: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he had no comment on arguably the hottest political story of the hours _ calls for foreign observers to be witnesses to the Thai election. “It’s a political question so let’s have politics handle it,” he said, responding to reporters’ questions. Apparently, he does not seem to consider himself a part of Thai politics.
Again, the government has seemed to pass the buck to the Election Commission, which still seemed unable to provide a clear-cut answer. In an interview published today, EC secretary-general Jarungwit Phumma admitted that foreign observation should help enhance the credibility of the February 24 election, but he said “the policy ultimately will have to be looked at” if a request formally and finally comes. If he was referring to “the government’s policy”, was he attempting to pass the buck back?
Jarungwit did say, though, that the previous controversy, involving designs of the election ballot, should be solved this week.
Sunday, December 16, 2018: Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has strongly denied that his party’s “Strong Children” policy is one kind of populism. The policy is attracting much attention for two reasons. Firstly, it has been the first key policy put forward by a political party ahead of the February 24 election. Secondly, it calls for a massive amount of budget to fund, among others, monthly payment of Bt1,000 to each of families of newly-born children up to the age of 8.
The policy also covers extended free education, free quality lunches and upgraded English teaching. “We want to lay down good and strong foundations for our country,” Abhisit said. “Populism involves things that are unsustainable. Children are our future so this one is absolutely not. We don’t dream it up and then say let’s do it. These are measures that have gone through elaborate studies. Certain people even think Bt1,000 a month is too little as it means recipients can spend only Bt30 a day to buy good food for their kids.”
Saturday, December 15, 2018: Every news website has yet to politicize the arrest of a man suspected of throwing hand-grenades at anti-government protests at the Victory Monument and on Banthadthong road in January 2014, but there has been some apparently sensitive information being reported that could generate big repercussions ahead of next year’s election.
Krisda Chaikae, 47, was reportedly arrested a few days ago by police and the military at a Thai-Cambodian border crossing. The capture of the Kanchanaburi resident was said to be the result of joint cooperation between Thai and Cambodian police. However, how, where and when the man was arrested are probably not as important as what he has said or about to say, analysts say.
The man reportedly told police he could not stand the pressure of the manhunt launched by the Cambodian police and decided to slip back to Thailand and was arrested at a border crossing in the eastern province of Sa Kaeo. Perhaps a more important piece of information being reported by certain news outlets was his alleged claim that while he was on the run, he lived on a monthly payment of Bt30,000 someone gave him. The identity of the money provider is not available.
Friday, December 14, 2018: It seems the controversial election ballot design will almost certainly be changed. Signs of the Election Commission back-pedalling on the no-logo, no-party name design have been there for several days, but the EC should next week formally notify political parties crying foul over the unorthodox layout that a change to please them is inevitable.
Meanwhile, in what is yet another cautionary tale for political appointees and senior bureaucrats, whose fortunes can change overnight depending on how the political wind blows, former Department of Special Investigation chief Tarit Pengdit was sentenced to one-year imprisonment by the Supreme Court after being found guilty of making unfounded corruption allegations against former deputy prime minister Suthep Thuagsuban concerning the construction of 396 police stations.
Tarit served for both Democrat and Pheu Thai governments and was a highly-powerful figure in his days. His fall-out with the Democrats came after Pheu Thai rose to power.
Thursday, December 13, 2018: Thaksin Shinawatra’s call for constitutional amendment has, to different degrees, drawn cold shoulders. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said Thaksin should “worry about himself” while Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva had commented earlier in the week that now was not the time to talk about the highly-divisive issue.
Both Prawit and Abhisit, however, suggested that nothing was written in stone so future amendment was always possible. “If the future government finds it hard to function due to the charter, then we talk about it,” said Prawit. As of now, Prawit added, “he should worry about himself.”
Abhisit said amendment pushes must be cautious and the Thai public should be consulted. “Now is not the time to inflame rifts,” said Abhisit.
Thaksin had posted on the social media earlier in the week that the current Constitution was dragging the whole country down. He did not elaborate, only saying that it did not advocate civil rights.
Wednesday, December 12, 2018: The government’s welfare card project, which allows registered poor people to pay less for basic necessities _ in some cases getting state money in their accounts, has continued to be hotly debated on the social media. Proponents and opponents of the project are arguing whether it was vote-buying, or blatant populism, or misuse of taxpayers’ money. Enter hashtag #บัตรคนจน and one can see pros and cons of the controversial project, which has already become a big election issue.
The controversy had been simmering for quite some time, with the Pheu Thai Party insisting that healthcare initiatives of ousted Thaksin Shinawatra were better. But it has come to a head a few days ago, when a woman wearing apparently expensive accessories posted on the social media that she was a card holder. One person said on Twitter that the massive amount of money pouring into the project makes a mockery of rockstar Toon Bodyslam’s insistence that the majority of Thai state hospitals were lacking basic equipment.
Tuesday, December 11, 2018: Today saw several political bans lifted, the Election Commission back-pedalling on the controversial no-logo, no-party name election ballots, and ministers who are also members of the Palang Pracharat Party showing no signs of quitting their government posts.
The lifting of the bans will allow political gatherings, activate and facilitate financial transactions that fund political activities although organisers will have to keep the authorities informed of certain major political rallies. In other words, a semblance of election campaigns as Thais know it will take place really soon.
The reprieve does not earn the government praises. Instead, criticism continued over the controversial prototype of election ballots that showed no party name and logo. The criticism was so strong that the Election Commission has suggested it is looking at two designs, one of which mirrors the non-controversial old one.
Meanwhile, four ministers associated with the Palang Pracharat Party have shown no signs they are preparing to quit their government posts. Pressure has been mounting for their resignations but it is expected to peak when a royal decree on the February 24 election takes effect.
Monday, December 10, 2018: Former student leader Thirayuth Boonmee made a lot of comments today, and one of them called on Thailand’s two biggest political parties to stop their “politics of hatred”, which he seemed to blame for the on-going military influences over Thai politics.
The now-seasoned academic, who in the 1970s led one of the country’s largest anti-government uprisings and has gone through Thailand’s ideological shifts, appeared to favour peaceful and constructive solutions to the on-going political impasse. He said the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties must do away with confrontational approaches that pitted them against each other over the years, and come up with really creative means to push the country forward. It’s the only way to keep the military at arm’s length, he said.
His call marked Thailand’s Constitution Day. The current charter is the country’s 20th, which Thirayuth suggested could be amended and improved later, after politicians managed to restore normalcy.
Sunday, December 9, 2018: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has reiterated the government’s stand that an international study ranking Thailand as the nation with the most unequal distribution of wealth should not be taken out of proportion. Posting on his Facebook, he called for “prudent consumption of news”, saying a problem that has been there for quite some time and could not be solved overnight should not be used to attack the government.
“This is a solvable problem but it can’t go away overnight,” he said. “I’m urging all Thais to look at the news wisely in order not to fall on anyone’s trap.”
The information in question is in the Global Wealth Report for 2018, which used data provided by the Bank of Thailand and International Monetary Fund.
Saturday, December 8, 2018: If Sontirat Sontijirawong has his way, the Palang Pracharat Party will decide to hold a “primary” on who the public want the party to nominate for prime minister. The commerce minister and Palang Pracharat secretary-general said he planned to propose to the other party executives that the party’s list of prime ministerial candidates should be endorsed by party members.
The party’s support for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is no secret, so its members must be those wanting to see him continue as chief executive after the February 24 election. The intended “primary”, therefore, can be just a matter of formality.
Friday, December 7, 2018: So, the election is February 24, but what are other important dates? Due to the latest political roadmap emerging today, election campaigns can begin on January 2, whereas political parties should announce their prime ministerial candidates between January 14 and January 18, in addition to election candidacy registration.
February 4-16 will be for ballot casting outside Thailand. Advanced election (for those still inside Thailand but working outside their constituencies) will be on February 17. The last day for electoral results announcements is April 25. The last day for senatorial nominations (to make up a 250-member chamber), with the final list ready for royal approval, is April 28.
The dates for elections of House of Representatives speaker, Senate speaker, the prime minister and appointment of the Cabinet are not set but the majority of them can be in May.
Thursday, December 6, 2018: Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngarm said some political parties’ plan to boycott Friday’s meeting to discuss easing of political restrictions would have no effect on the roadmap toward next year’s election.
“We have a lot to give, and one of them is the definite election date,” said Wissanu. That can be the major thing to come out of the planned meeting, which two biggest political parties _ Pheu Thai and Democrat _ will boycott.
“It does not matter who will come and who won’t,” Wissanu said. “Even if the meeting didn’t take place at all, the government would still lift political restrictions anyway. It’s always our intention to do it.”
Wednesday, December 5, 2018: Pheu Thai chief election strategist and prime ministerial candidate Sudarat Keyuraphan has denied that a former Khon Kaen MP and someone tipped to take his place in the upcoming election were engaged in a brawl over who should represent the party in the northeastern province. The former MP, Nawat Tohcharoensuk, had been implicated in a murder case and there were fears the on-going legal process could complicate his candidacy. Sudarat denied that he assaulted his possible replacement during a party meeting.
“There was no such violence,” she said. “What is being said about it has been blown out of proportion.”
She admitted, though, that some potential Pheu Thai candidates have their preferred constituencies overlapped with one another. The problem is normal, particularly because electoral zones have been redrawn all across the country, she explained.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if Sudarat will find her responsibilities and election strategist overlapped with those of Chalerm Yoobamrung, who has been appointed head of Pheu Thai election campaigns. The two have a history of not seeing eye to eye.
Tuesday, December 4, 2018: Pauline Ngarmpring, Thailand’s best-known transgender of the hours, has decided to enter politics. In her Facebook announcement, Pauline said that in becoming member of the Mahachon Party, she wanted to serve everyone, not just bisexual people. “I don’t want to be called the first this or the first that. I just want to be useful for the country I love,” she wrote.
She made big news last year on returning from overseas. Everyone who had known her as a man, who founded the “Cheer Thai” movement and vied for presidency of the Thai Football Association, was shocked because they didn’t have a clue. Reactions to and consequences of the “Pauline” story give Thailand some encouragement when it came to controversial gender issues. The Thai society is definitely more receptive, but Pauline entering politics means she is taking the test to the next level.
Monday, December 3, 2018: Pheu Thai secretary-general Bhumtham Wecchayachai has asked Prayut Chan-o-cha to quit as prime minister if the latter is to be nominated by the Palang Pracharat Party for the top executive post after next year’s election.
Over the past two days, Palang Pracharat all but confirmed it would nominate Prayut as prime minister, which was not a surprising development. However, pressure can increase for Prayut’s resignation in the same manner as in the aftermath of news reports linking certain Cabinet members to the pro-military party. And Bhumtham wants to make sure Pheu Thai leads the Prayut-should-resign-first bandwagon.
“It’s not about the laws,” Bhumtham was quoted as saying. “It’s about doing things gracefully and being the right model.” Prayut’s response to that would surely be something to behold.
Sunday, December 2, 2018: The leader of the Bhum Jai Thai Party has ruled out the possibility of a national government, saying he would make sure it would not happen. Anutin Charnvirakul was, however, vague on the most contentious question he is facing: Will you support Prayut Chan-o-cha or the Pheu Thai Party after the general election?
In an interview with Manager Online, Anutin said his party would settle itself in the opposition bloc if all other parties start trying to form a “national government.” With one party as an opposition party, the government won’t be called a national government, no matter how many parties are in the administration.
“In politics, you need someone as the opposition,” Anutin said. He gave the usual “for the best of the people” responses when asked who his party will support after the election. The Bhum Jai Thai leader, while admitting that influential Newin Chidchob remains his mentor, said other people are also giving him valuable advices.
Saturday, December 1, 2018: Seri Ruam Thai leader Seripisut Temiyavet has launched fresh, stinging attacks on the military, saying it intended to put him in jail for “cheat” allegations.
He said his “opponents” sought a court warrant for his arrest on Friday, in a bid to make sure that upcoming holidays would prevent the process of bailing himself out in time. The court did not grant an arrest warrant, however.
The Seri Ruam Thai Party, whose executives include many former Pheu Thai figures and ardent critics of the military, is another ally of Pheu Thai. Seripisut, a former outspoken police officer, had repeatedly vowed never to work in a military government and been seen as very sympathetic toward pro-election activists. The looming legal trouble has to do with what he said publicly in June, when he accused the military of cheating and making Thai lives miserable.
The failed warrant attempt, Seripisut said, underlined an intention to “silence” political opponents. “I was lucky the court didn’t buy it [the claims against me],” he said, adding that trying to take legal action against him now for what he said in June was highly unusual.
Friday, November 30, 2018: Both the mainstream and social media focused on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s hot temper today, although it can be said that their treatments of his latest outburst was divided along political lines. Those mainstream outlets who lent considerable weight to his “apology” were at least kind to him, but, to others, if the headlines suggested he was vulgar, the relevant outlets probably can’t wait to see his back.
The contentious issue is the redrawing of electoral constituencies, which critics say is “unfair” to many parties and seems to favour the newly-formed Palang Pracharat Party. The day’s newspaper headlines proclaimed many constituencies were “freaks”, which ticked him off at a much-monitored function.
On the social media, either Prayut was a mad dictator who couldn’t stand criticism or he was a grouchy old man who meant no harm. The incident is unlikely to change voters’ plans, though. They apparently made up their minds long before those curses came pouring out of his mouth.