Duty free awarded as it was always going to be awarded

1 06 2019

It was some time ago that there were mutterings that football oligarchs at King Power might lose their lucrative monopoly on duty free. Other retailers complained and mumbled about competing with King Power for the monopoly post-2020, when King Power’s contract ended. Others claimed that money owing to the state was going missing but the courts disagreed.

The junta even went back and forth a bit on the new concession and there were stories about auctions and big foreign bidders.

Now we haven’t followed this story particularly closely, but we did notice the story that Airports of Thailand Plc that the “King Power Group has won the bid to operate duty-free shops at Suvarnabhumi airport for another 10 years and six months and another to run commercial space at the airport…”. That seems to us like no change at all, despite the grinding of teeth that seems to have gone on.

AoT executive vice-president Wichai Bunyu said there were just three contenders, and that King Power blitzed the others “in terms of financial returns.” He said” “The promised return is higher than what we’ve received and exceeds our expectations…”.

The other contenders were a group led by Bangkok Airways and the Royal Orchid Hotel (Thailand) company.

Having held the monopoly at Suvarnabhumi since the airport opened in 2006, it will be 2031 when this concession finishes. Not bad when it is considered that tourist numbers have ballooned from 11.5 million in 2006 and are forecast to reach almost 80 million by 2030.

The very same day this concession was awarded, “King Power Suvarnabhumi Co, another subsidiary of the group, won the bid to develop and operate commercial areas at the international gateway, also for 10 years and six months” over Central Pattana Plc. AoT’s Wichai gave exactly the same reasons for this concession being awarded to King Power. He added that the “overall commercial space covered 22,000 sq m…”.

Other concessions are coming up for duty-free outlets at Phuket, Hat Yai and Chiang Mai airports, and King Power wants those too.

King Power’s Srivaddhanaprabha has grown hugely wealthy on duty free. It has also been able to back some political wheelers and dealers, most notably Newin Chidchob of the Bhum Jai Thai Party and has been skilled at making royal contacts. That all helps the group and family get wealthier.





On the road to nowhere (new)

24 05 2019

Is wasn’t hard to predict the final “election” result. PPT predicted a junta “win” a long time ago. The “win” was never in doubt as the whole process was rigged.

HRW’s Sunai Phasuk put it this way:

The March 24 general election was structurally rigged, enabling the military to extend its hold on power. While maintaining a host of repressive laws, the junta dissolved a main opposition party, took control of the national election commission, levied bogus criminal charges against opposition politicians and dissidents, and packed the Senate with generals and cronies who will have the power to determine the next prime minister, regardless of the election results.

What wasn’t clear is that the bumbling generals would be snookered by the electorate. Thai voters, despite all the rigging and repression still voted for anti-junta parties, with the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Puea Thai Party winning a plurality.

Despite this, the junta’s puppet party, Palang Pracharath, will head up a coalition of some 20 parties. While a great deal of bargaining has gone on, pro-military parties like Bhum Jai Thai and the anti-democrat Democrat Party were always likely to saddle-up with the junta – after all, they have supported it for years and worked for its coup back in 2014.

In a throwback to December 2008, when the military midwifed a government led by the Democrat Party’s Abhisit Vejjajiva, it is reported that there was:

a meeting between Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha], his deputy Prawit Wongsuwon, Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Democrat secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on at a military camp in Bangkok…. They discussed coming together to set up a government with the PPRP as the main party, the sources said, adding that given the atmosphere of the meeting, the “deal” to form the next government is almost sealed.

The wheeling and dealing is over who gets what. Bhum Jai Thai wants a bunch of potentially lucrative cabinet slots that all seem focused on benefits for the Buriram clan. The Democrat Party wants anything at all that will allow it to look stronger than its horrid election result suggest.

Following the junta’s clear message, via the Election Commission and Constitutional Court, that it intends to grind the Future Forward Party into political dust, the deals were more easily struck, with most of the remora micro-parties and even the middle-sized parties rushing into the octopus-grasp of the junta.

How strong that grasp will be is yet to be tested. A 20-party coalition is a recipe for instability or for massive corruption in keeping it together. There’s also the “Prem model” who tried to ignore party and parliamentary bickering and ruled as a cabinet-led government. Like Gen Prem, Gen Prayuth has a tame Senate. In fact, the Senate looks rather like the puppet National Legislative Assembly of the past few years.

A weak coalition government with an autocratic premier suggests that The Dictator will require strong support from extra-parliamentary sources – the king and the military. Neither is likely to be maintained without cost and deals.

Back in the 1980s, the main threats and support for Gen Prem were extra-parliamentary, and despite the image of a period of stability, saw several coup attempts.





Race to coalition

26 03 2019

While the “election” results are still the subject of complaint, both Puea Thai and Palang Pracharath are racing, neck-and-neck, to announce a coalition. Remember that this is in a context where the final result has yet to be confirmed.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[a]t least six pro-democracy parties led by Pheu Thai will hold a briefing on their intention to form the government even without Bhumjaithai or the Democrats on Wednesday morning.”

It is reported that Puea Thai (unofficially 137 seats) will come together with Future Forward (87), Seri Ruamthai (11), Prachachat (6), New Economics (6) and Puea Chat (5). Together, that’s 252 seats, enough to form the government, which is formed in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the junta’s Palang Pracharath is reported to be putting a coalition together to take government. To do this means that it must congeal with the Democrat Party, Bhum Jai Thai and one of the parties listed as possible Puea Thai coalition members.

Puea Thai promises an announcement at 10 am Bangkok time.

This is not what the junta expected. Perhaps it should have, given that its design on the electoral system intended coalition governments.

If Puea Thai announces a coalition that allows it to form government, the junta has several choices: (i) accept that but try to control through the constitution, judiciary and senate; (ii) lure away one of the Puea Thai partners or cobra politicians; (iii) use its lackeys in the judiciary and Election Commission to alter the “election” outcome by disqualifications and dissolutions; or (iv) another coup.

Interesting times.





Further updated: Counting begun

24 03 2019

Counting in the junta’s election has begun after the polls closed at 5 pm Thailand time.

There have been widespread reports of polling official failures, vote buying, and a plethora of other problems and cheating. Many of these events, while widespread, have not all looked like massive and organized cheating. The only arena where there appears to have been organized cheating is in numerous reports of vote buying, especially from the northeast.

That said, Khaosod reports that there are sufficient reports of irregularities for the “[v]ice president of P-Net, the People’s Election Network, Laddawan Tantivitayapitak … expressed concern about the Election Commission’s efficiency…”. She said: “I’m still reluctant to say I’m confident this [election] will be in order…”. With counting yet to come, there are more opportunities for irregularities and cheating.

Khaosod stated that:

perhaps the most serious, a video news report suggested improper vote manipulation by the army. In a Thairath TV reporter’s clip, a military officer is seen inside the polling area watching each of his subordinate vote in Bangkok’s Phaya Thai district.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reported some efforts to prevent votes for Future Forward. The Nation reported voter fraud.

It remains to be seen how interested the EC will be in fraud against anti-junta parties and how hard they will go after them for alleged offenses. The latter is a way to change results.

Update 1: At just after 8 pm Thailand time, the results of about 44% of vote counted show Puea Thai and Palang Pracharath more or less neck in percentage terms, with the former ahead in terms of constituency seats won. Results vary at Khaosod, Bangkok Post and Vote62, but the biggest movers seem to be Future Forward, which has done reasonably well, Bhum Jai Thai, which has done a lot better than expected, and the Democrat Party, which has done very badly. Overall, for the constituencies, five parties have taken most seats on current count.

The result seems to be that if Palang Pracharath gets together with Bhum Jai Thai, it has sufficient seats to combine with the appointed senate and hoist Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha back into the PM’s seat. But the outcome also promises considerable instability.

Update 2: PPT just saw the EC’s unofficial results from just after 8 pm, which makes a stab at constituency and party list: Puea Thai (153), Palang Pracharath (139), Future Forward (78), Bhum Jai Thai (63), Democrat Party (35), and then others.

That’s about what might have been expected from the rigging. As noted, Future Forward and Bhum Jai Thai did better than many expected and the Democrat Party has crashed.





Predictions and oddities

22 03 2019

There are a ton of articles about making predictions about the outcome of the election and there will probably be a lot more over the next 24 hours. Some are pretty awful, some are better and some are oddities.

One real oddity is a report about the police’s “X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner” round-up – seriously, that’s the name – which has been going for a while now. It began as a blatantly racist “Operation Black Eagle,” targeting “negroes.” Immigration police deputy chief Maj Gen Itthipol Itthisaronnachai said the 490 foreigners had been rounded up to “protect” the election. He declared: “As you know, this is the period right before the elections.” Maybe he’d been drinking.

Most pundits reckon that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will be returned as premier following the election. What is less clear is how many seats his Palang Pracharath Party will win.

Even with enormous rigging and cheating, it is looking like the junta’s own party may not do very well at all, with some predicting as few as 50 seats. That would, for the junta, amount to a defeat. It would mean that the junta and Prayuth would have to rely on other devil parties such as Bhum Jai Thai and Action Coalition for Thailand. But even that may be insufficient and will mean that the Democrat Party, never a poll winner, might hold the balance of seats.

It may be that the lower house is dominated by pro-Thaksin Shinawatra and anti-military parties that can snipe at the cobbled together pro-junta government. It would be messy and open the way for Puea Thai to claim that the electorate has been robbed.

Will Gen Prayuth covet the premiership enough to deal with all these parties and his electoral “defeat”? Is he prepared for the loss of face and the bickering and bartering? Is he prepared to show up in parliament to be harangued by opponents?

If he isn’t up for it, then pundits say another election will follow. We doubt that, simply because the military brass are unlikely to see that as changing anything much at all. We’d predict another coup, and pretty soon after the vote.





Devils circle

17 03 2019

The junta’s devil party is Palang Pracharath. It was formed by the junta as a vehicle for The Dictator and the junta to continue in power beyond their rigged election.

With voting now on – overseas and advance domestic – other opportunistic rightist parties are lining up to ally with Palang Pracharath and its junta bosses.

Anutin Charnvirakul at the head of the Bhum Jai Thai Party has announced that his party is:

ready to work with parties that are loyal to … the monarchy, can make the country thrive and do not lead the country into conflict. If a party meets our conditions, we will support it and its prime ministerial candidate….

That should be no surprise. After all, the party was essentially created to represent the military’s electoral interests back at the time of the 2007 election. The party splashed loot about and did badly back then and was punished by pro-Thaksin voters for fielding turncoat candidates. It did poorly again in 2011 and now is only relevant as a mini-devil party supporting the junta.

More interesting is the Democrat Party and Abhisit Vejjajiva. He’s writhing and slithering like a wounded snake.

The headline for his interview with the Bangkok Post is as damning as it gets: “Abhisit OK working with military.” Of course, despite his denials, Abhisit has been with the military for years and supported both the 2006 and 2014 military interventions. For reminders, look here and here.

He groveled further to the junta, saying that he would only “join a no-confidence motion against a future [unelected] Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha if there were ‘good reasons’…”. So while saying he’d rather he was premier and would not support Gen Prayuth, Abhisit does not reject him as premier.

Abhisit also says that he “categorically rules out supporting any future coups,” which would be a huge change from his previous support for them as a means to remove elected governments.

And, he reaffirms that the Democrat Party is willing to join the devil parties: “he’s open to working with pro-military Palang Pracharath Party…”.

As for the anti-democratic, military-backed, appointed, senate, Abhisit can only waffle about maybe doing something or other about its undemocratic nature.

At this point, we at PPT would be willing to bet that the main devil parties will be Palang Pracharath, Bhum Jai Thai and the Democrat Party, and that this alliance, together with the senate, is very likely to deliver The Dictator as premier. Only a massive reaction against devil parties at the polls has a chance to prevent that.





Inequality politics

14 03 2019

The Bangkok Post writes that “six key parties have vowed to narrow the income gap…”. The parties are: Democrat Party, Palang Pracharath, Bhum Jai Thai, Chart Pattana, Puea Thai and Future Forward.

Laughably, the Democrat Party, often the favorite of bug business and the ruling class, had leader Abhisit (I’ll-do-anything-to-be-premier) Vejjajiva promising “to reform the economic structure…”.

Puea Thai and Future Forward presented Keynesian policies. Palang Pracharath said they would do whatever its minister-founders had been doing for the past five years. The other two were forgettable.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, campaigning as “official business” so he could avoid legalities and use up more taxpayer funds didn’t say much about income gaps. In Nakorn Ratchasima, he promoted himself. He appealed to voters to give “us” another five years.

Yes, that’s not campaigning but official business. The Election Commission was having its political cataracts replaced so could Sgt Schultz on Prayuth’s breaking of electoral laws.

Back to income and inequality. We suggest readers might appreciate a story at Ozy.





Vichai’s political location

30 10 2018

The Nation was quickly off the blocks with a eulogy for Vichai Raksriaksorn-cum-Srivaddhanaprabha. It lauds him as a “master of the big deal.” What, exactly, does this mean?

The articles observes that Vichai was “the key figure behind the huge success of King Power International, Thailand’s duty-free shopping giant,” adding that he “bagged many big deals … including their latest acquisition – the MahaNakorn development project, Thailand’s tallest mixed-use tower – at Bt14 billion.”

The Nation says that Vichai was “a son of Wiwat and Prapasorn Raksriaksorn. He graduated high school from Woodlawn High School, US, and did his bachelor’s from the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ramkamhaeng University, and got a degree from Northrop University’s Business Administration Faculty in the US.”

There’s a couple of Woodlawn schools in the US. However, Northrop University is known for having been de-registered in early 1992 for an array of corrupt activities, poor administration and low standards.

The report claims “Vichai became a vastly experienced businessman, both from his own and jointly-managed companies,” but the companies pale into minuscule insignificance when compared with King Power, which was founded in 1989. He had some experience with Downtown DFS (Thailand), but King Power eclipsed and pushed aside Downtown/DFS and all other competitors for concessions at the airports.

Vichai’s move into duty free began with “the country’s first downtown duty-free shop as a joint venture with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, before expanding the business to Cambodia, Macau and China, as well as Thailand’s international airports.” The company’s own history is brief but worth a look while wondering how it all happened. It states that it received the airport monopoly concessions in 2006, whereas an AP report states: “The granting of King Power’s monopoly status at Thailand’s airports — set in motion in 2004 by the government of since-ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — caused some controversy.” PPT looked through standard references and at our newspaper clippings, but could not confirm the AP account. (Readers can let us know.)

Exactly how King Power achieved its monopoly remains opaque for us. What we do know is that duty free shopping creates all kinds of advantages, one of which is huge cash flow, which has grown by leaps and bounds as tourism has expanded to enormous growth. The report states that “Vichai controls and chairs $3.3 billion (revenues)” from King Power in a private company with a board studded with children and other relatives.

The report notes Vichai’s close link with Newin Chidchob and also mentions a close connection to the Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. It doesn’t mention his links with Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul.

His “passion for sport, especially polo and football” is also listed.

Exactly how Vichai came to be “ranked by Forbes as the fifth richest person in Thailand in 2018 with US$4.9 billion” remains something of a mystery. His wealth is huge but he also pays 2 billion baht a year for the Suvarnabhumi airport concession.

But then there’s the fact that in 2012 “the family was bestowed the new family surname Srivaddhanaprabha by … the late King Bhumibol – the name means ‘light of progressive glory’.”

Like many Sino-Thai tycoons, Vichai was an extraordinary royalist and supported many royal causes. He has credits for the yellow wristband for the king.

Political backstopping, royalism, and opaque deals and bureaucratic linking seem to be a pattern for fabulous wealth for a well-connected few.





Updated: King Power helicopter down II

28 10 2018

Most international reports are now assuming that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is dead following the crash of his helicopter in the U.K.

What is somewhat odd about these reports is that they are based on little official information and continuing silence on important matters from the football club, Vichai’s family and King Power. Even police are silent as they say they are investigating. There’s no confirmation of who was on the helicopter, whether some were taken to hospital or if bodies were recovered.

Fans of Leicester City appear convinced that Vichai was on the helicopter and that he died in the crash.

In Thailand, it seems that Vichai’s business and political allies know what has happened. The Straits Times reports that the media :

… zeroed in on another football baron, Mr Newin Chidchob, who owns local league champion Buriram United football club and was at Pullman Bangkok King Power hotel next door. The motorcycle enthusiast looked grim as he left the hotel with his entourage of superbikes.

Meanwhile, Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul, “who said he had just spoken to Mr Newin” stated: “We just lost someone who made big contributions to the public. I am sure his legacy will live on.”

Anutin added that Vichai was a “big brother,” stating: “He is a self-made man, worked hard and loved friends dearly…”. Reflecting the norms of Sino-Thai tycoons, Anutin recalled: “I told him that I loved riding horses and, the next day, a nice horse was sent to me… That’s the way he was.” He does not explain what “self-made” means in the murky world of King Power’s monopoly.

Update: Leicester City has now confirmed Vichai’s death. The club’s statement includes confirmation that “None of the five people on-board survived…”. The report states that “Leicestershire police have named them [the others on the helicopter] as Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, two members of Vichai’s staff, and pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.”





King Power helicopter down I

28 10 2018

Most readers will already know that a helicopter that usually transports King Power boss and Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has crashed and burned shortly after take-off from Leicester City’s latest game. As we write this, there is no news of Vichai’s fate or whether he was on the ill-fated flight.

A Sky News report tends to gloss Vichai’s life, so we thought a rundown of the posts we have had on Vichai might be in order. He is a man who became very rich very quickly based on a monopoly for duty free sales in Thailand, has rightists and royal political connections, including being associated with the funding of anti-democrats, and a royally-bestowed family name. PPT’s posts go back to 2009, not long after we began: