Rice case reopened

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.

Bhumjaithai said in Buriram today that if it was in the post-election government, it would push for a policy that would allow Thais to get free online education “for life”. This is in fact a daring and revolutionary political promise, as constantly-improving technology is tipped to change the face of education drastically, with much of future learning taking place online.
“Our party leader will tell you in detail what can be done to achieve our goals, which absolutely have nothing to do with winning political wars in the old-fashion way,” said party spokesman Settapong Malisuwan. He added that among other policies was creation of a special economic zone in Thailand’s violence-plagued deep South.

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.

 

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