More on King Power

28 08 2010

Airport duty free monopoly King Power is seldom far from the front pages. Much of this has to do with the close links between its Thao Kae Vichai Raksriaksorn and political wheeler-dealer and Buriram godfather Newin Chidchob. PPT summarized our postings in our recent account of the second bombing outside King Power’s Bangkok headquarters.

One interesting little paragraph hidden away in a bombing report stated: “Newin Chidchob, banned politician and de facto leader of the Bhumjaithai party, a coalition partner of the Democrat-led government, also reportedly had dinner at a restaurant in King Power Shopping complex Thursday evening.”

These political connections are important for Vichai, who seems to be the biggest backer of Newin and his party. PPT earlier posted more background on Vichai.

Vichai is one of Thailand’s richest Sino-Thai businessmen. Some time ago PPT posted that Vichai’s background is not very clear. In 2007 he was ranked by Forbes as Thailand’s 21st wealthiest, worth about US$200 million. He’s much richer than that now. The best available account of King Power and its economic and political power is by Chang Noi. The airport monopoly also provides the huge cash flow that are a political asset.

Vichai almost single-handedly established and developed the rich person’s sport of polo in Thailand. You’d think this was little more than a hobby, but through his Thailand Polo Association, Vichai has been able to link to royals worldwide – they all seem to play this ostentatious sport – and this has added greatly to his credibility in Thailand’s high society. The Association is also populated by “advisers” who are generals in the police and military.

All of this is relevant background to a story in the Bangkok Post, where the first paragraph states: “King Power, the duty-free enterprise, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a magnificent evening, designed to depict its 20-year journey to success.”

It continues: “Under the concept “Wondrous Power: The Blissful Journey”, the event started with a lavish party, where guests – who came from the top echelons of politics, business and society – were served light cocktails around the 2nd floor Crown Atrium of King Power complex. They also enjoyed a carousel-themed exhibition portraying King Power’s rise to its present height of success.”

Some of the lucky revelers are shown in the following pictures we have picked out of the story. Who’s in the picture (left)? They are: Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, Srisakul Promphan, the boss and host Vichai Raksriaksorn, Minister of Defence General Prawit Wongsuwan, Aimon Raksriaksorn, currently deputy chairman and CFO at King Power, Minister of Transport Sopon Zarum of Newin’s Puea Thai Party, and Police General Sant Sarutanond.

And then throw in this picture (right). None other than 2006 coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin. That’s some kind of political connections! Like former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Vichai seems a first-generation super-rich businessman who relies on state power for profits – in this case the duty free monopoly. However, unlike Thaksin, he seems to have taken the old Sino-Thai path of having powerful political connections rather than being directly engaged in formal politics.

PPT can’t help wondering if this remains a viable strategy in the age of globalized capitalism. It might well be a viable strategy for the backward-looking political regime that currently runs Thailand.

Tricks, dirty tricks and trouble

18 07 2010

The Financial Times (15 July 2010 – readers need to sign-up to get access) has an account of the imprisoned red shirt leaders who are said to “have warned of ‘big, big problems’ if the government pushes ahead with its announced reconciliation plan.” The FT was able to conduct the first interview with Korkaew Pikulthong and Weng Tojirakarn who have been locked up since 19 May 2010. Korkaew is the current Puea Thai Party candidate in the Constitutency 6 by-election in Bangkok.

Both leaders said “they were deeply worried about the future.” Korkaew is the one who suggested big problems lay ahead. Korkaew and Weng “confirmed that the opposition had not been asked for input.” Korkaew said: “I don’t think [the prime minister] has the real intention to reconcile the Thai people…. He has no plan to improve the situation. It is just words, no actions.”

The interview was conducted in circumstances where Weng was said to have had to bend “almost double to shout through the perforated steel mesh, the only way of communicating in the noisy visiting room of Bangkok Remand Prison.”

Korkaew complained about the election situation: “I can’t do anything much, I can’t tell [voters] what is on my mind and have no chance to meet the people to tell them my policies…”.

That’s not quite accurate, for the very generous officials at the Corrections Department have graciously allowed Korkaew to record three 3-minute speeches, one of which the Puea Thai Party may be able to use for campaign purposes while their candidate remains banged-up.

Chatchai Chuiklom, chief of the Corrections Department, is cited in another Bangkok Post story as saying that “Korkaew is not receiving any special treatment because of his candidacy in the by-election. In line with department rules, he is not even allowed to use the internet. Mr Korkaew’s detention under the emer gency decree has been extended twice by the courts. He is appealing to the courts to be released to campaign for the by-election.”

The Post runs the line that the fact that Korkaew is not permitted to campaign is a great advantage because he gets a sympathy vote. On this occasion it quotes former democracy advocate and human rights lawyer turned yellow-shirted anti-Thaksin campaigner Thongbai Thongpao, who claims that a real democrat can get elected from inside jail. It is as if the Post and Thongbai think being in the slammer and being prevented from campaigning is a magical advantage. This is utter nonsense. Even the Post admits that, so far, the “best Puea Thai has managed to do so far is to broadcast a recording of a speech by Mr Korkaew to voters.”

The Post’s headline and some of the items in the story are outrageously biased against Korkaew, while the Post has been highly positive in its coverage of the Democrat Party candidate.

The Puea Thai choice of candidate, however, is undoubtedly meant to be symbolic of the red shirt struggle of democracy versus the anti-democratic Democrat Party-led coalition and its policies.

Democrat candidate Panich Vikitsreth is an acolyte of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, and Kasit is known to be popular with the yellow-shirted crowd in Bangkok’s middle and upper classes, despite his erratic behavior (or perhaps because of it).

The Democrat Party and its coalition are desperate to win this election. A loss would do incalculable damage to the government. Hence, ignoring the fact that Korkaew is locked up, the Democrat Party is already screaming about “dirty tricks.” The Democrat Party shouts about “vote buying and intimidation hav[ing] already begun…”. PPT recalls that, in the 2007 election, it was mainly army money doing the vote-buying (see also Chang Noi below). In fact, so important is this election that PPT expects the military and the government to be the ones engaged in dirty tricks (in addition to keeping the opposition candidate from campaigning).

For an account of the constituency, see this Chang Noi article: “The previous poll in 2007 was almost a dead heat, so the result this time will signal how popular opinion has been changed by the turmoil of the past two years, and especially by the May events. The implications could be enormous because the government’s parliamentary majority is a lot shakier than it looks.”

Chang Noi concludes: “But if Bangkok 6 swings in the red direction, the medium term impact on Parliament could be critical. MPs in the middle ground will start to worry about how they will be treated by the electorate at a future poll if they are clearly identified with this coalition…. [I]f the Democrats win a solid victory in Bangkok 6, the government will be more secure, and the prospect of a Pheu Thai victory in a future general election less certain. So Bangkok 6 is not just another by-election but a contest that the Democrats and their various backers simply cannot afford to lose. For this reason it may not be at all like a normal poll, and may not be decided by normal means.”

If the Democrat Party wins it will have to be by a massive landslide. Anything less would always be a hollow victory over a candidate locked up, essentially gagged and bound by the government parties

Updated: Caravan fallout

22 03 2010

Update: “Reconciliation” seemed to last only a few minutes. By the evening of Monday, the main state media outlets were attacking the red shirts quite vigorously. Thai Television included a long “news analysis” that would have been at home on ASTV. Indeed, it included several unattributed references to the ASTV’s publications attacking the red shirts.


It does seem that the enormous red shirt caravan and the support it achieved in Bangkok has had a considerable impact. It has been baffling and challenging to pro-government groups for all kinds of reasons – see the excellent Chang Noi column.

Immediately after the caravan, there were reports of bombing, and this could have been a sign of a darker force at work to undermine the red shirt leaderships’ determination to be non-violent. These threats could have come from a range of disgruntled or determined or wildly worried sources. There were some red shirt affiliates who wanted a more aggressive approach. It could have come from disgruntled military and intelligence types who have long employed these kinds of unsettling tactics. It could have been a government strategy. What seems clear at the moment is that there has been a stepping back from this strategy. It could easily return.

The military-backed government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva seemed determined to get tougher. Abhisit himself went on the offensive, attacking the red shirts as Thaksin Shinawatra-dominated and money dominated. He blanketed television. He was supported by a range of yellow-hued attacks o the red shirts. The determination to denigrate the rallies and caravan as the actions of the paid-off, duped and ignorant was seen amongst Democrat ideologues and was all over the ASTV/Manager and yellow-shirt twitters and blogs. That continues. On the English-language blogs, the determined yellow shirts returned in heavy posting, demeaning and damning the red shirts in tones almost identical with those used to damn rural voters when the People’s Alliance for Democracy wanted them effectively disenfranchised. Letters to the English-language press have been dominated by outrage against the red shirts from supposedly foreign readers.

However, the government and its backers seem to have gradually seen the message of the past days and week as representing a serious challenge. Increasingly, there seems to have been a lot of pressure for Abhisit and his backers to return to “reconciliation.” That term was originally the rhetoric of the 2006 coup leadership and the governments that followed, but the Abhisit government seemed happy enough to abandon it. This pressure began before the caravan on Saturday, but has since increased. Some of the Thai-language press has been gradually more willing to consider a red shirt view (see here and here).

The pressures included the rallying of Peua Thai parliamentarians and leader Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to the red shirt leadership. Initially, some Peua Thai leaders seemed reluctant to be openly associated with the red shirts, but as the movement has achieved successes, that reluctance has melted away. The pressure from parliamentarians for the government to seek a way out was also significant. So too was the pressure from coalition partners and the usually government-supporting groups.

Initially, Abhisit seemed intent on putting out “let’s talk” signals, but maintained conditions that the red shirt rally leadership rejected. The Nation (21 March 2010) reported that Abhisit held out the possibility of a general election this year. That was significant for the coalition still feels that it will lose, meaning that the strategy has long been to avoid an election for as long as possible. This year has problems. For one thing, this government and its supporters want to control the military reshuffle due in October to ensure the “right” people get control for the next few years. That would at least ensure that a pro-Thaksin government would not have much free reign.

Abhisit somewhat foolishly suggested that two of the most anti-red shirt Democrats be negotiators – propaganda chief Sathit Wongnongtoey and Korbsak Sabhavasu. Abhisit seems to trust these men, but they have low ratings amongst red shirts. Abhisit soft-pedaled, saying these guys wanted to negotiate the terms of negotiation with the red shirts rather than to negotiate ways out of the “crisis.”

The red-shirt leaders insisted they would only talk directly to Abhisit about any truce prospects.” They added that dissolving parliament was the main demand.

Abhisit continued to reject this in a familiar statement that there would be a House dissolution only when the country is ready for a free and fair election so that the public will benefit from such a move.” He added: “we have to cut a deal that we would do it [house dissolution] for the public interest with no Thaksin issues involved…. This is seen by many red shirts as a return to a position of 2008, where after winning the 2007 election, the then People’s Power government was prevented from dealing with any constitutional or other issues that the PAD and its backers considered “Thaksin-related.” Abhisit is agenda-setting for a feared “pro-Thaksin” government.

Coalition partners Puea Pandin and Chart Thai Pattana were far more supportive of talks with the protesters. The Nation reported that “Watchara Kannikar of the Chart Thai Pattana Party said both the government and protesters should reduce their preconditions so that there could be a deal.

Now a cynical PPT would see much of this as an attempt to regain the political driving seat by a visibly disturbed government. Indeed, Abhisit was forced to call all of the coalition party leaders to his army base “government house” for an all channels live broadcast to redisplay coalition unity. It looked like a shaky strategy and ended remarkably abruptly. The point of the media event was to announce some stepping back. The Nation (22 March 2010 – reported that The coalition parties agreed negotiations should begin today with mediation by the National Human Rights Commission or senators…”. The meeting appointed “Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat [and] … Korbsak Sabhavasu as negotiators [to]… meet with red shirt leaders Dr Weng Tojirakarn and Jaran Ditthapichai today to set the terms of talks.” The red shirts quickly rejected Chinnaworn and opened the possibility of dealing direct with the smaller coalition parties.

Abhisit was also forced to agree that he might have to lead negotiations with the red shirt leaders. But positions remain quite a way apart. The red shirts know that the government could return to a strategy of waiting out the red shirt protest or worse.

Interestingly, the impact of the red shirt caravan has been sinking in for government supporters. The Nation has a Page 1 comment alters its political language to talk again of “reconciliation.” In a classic piece of Nation doublespeak, it is stated that politicians are the problem: “We can’t let those with political stakes exert a grip on our hearts and souls for their own interests. It’s as simple as that.” PPT observes that The Nation has been heavily involved in a strident campaign of political hate for several years so this is the equivalent of a racist calling for inter-racial harmony. The born-again reconciliationist as the Nation calls for a middle path: “An independent person must be able to loath Abhisit but love those who adore him at the same time. An independent person must be able to scrutinise Thaksin and understand why others think highly of the man.” The editorialist seems to think the way out may be in a slimy political deal.

Maybe it will be a slimy compromise in the end. Cynically, if the establishment already controls the judiciary and many of the so-called independent bodies, can maintain the 2007 Constitution, controls the military, has the senate in its pocket, and can set an agenda in advance for a pro-red shirt government, then as that government comes to office it is totally hamstrung. And then there is the threat of PAD or worse. More cynically, a darker outcome of destabilization and military intervention is possible. A darker 1976-like right-wing crackdown on opposition may have faded for the moment, but not the forces itching to crack heads.

A few things are clear: the red shirts and their innovative political tactics are something that might scared the blue bloods out of the morning latte and croissant with imported preserves and served by the red shirt maid (“Will she now be emboldened enough to murder me and loot the house?”) but they have been a raging success amongst those millions who understand double standards, inequality and the power of the amart. These things are sort of new and sort of old. Who would have thought that in a supposedly post-industrial world, a movement of peasants and workers would rise? Scary enough to get an elite deal perhaps? But also scary enough to prompt the darker forces also.

Smoke, mirrors, darkness

22 02 2010

Chang Noi is usually a good read. The most recent contribution in The Nation (22 February 2010) is worth reading in its entirety.

Chang Noi makes a point PPT has been declaring for some time – when the military are back in the political driving seat, all the things associated with the authoritarianism of the past are back as well.

Chang Noi’s penultimate paragraph is worth citing: “When you try to qualify democracy by rigging the rules, when you obstruct the freedom of information with too many repressive laws, when you allow politics to be enveloped by fear, then the fog rolls in, the mirrors change perceptions as in an illusionist’s show, and darkness descends.”

Updated: Making connections that count

6 02 2010

Update: Update: The Bangkok Post (7 February 2010) has a story on Newin’s Buriram PEA footbal team.


A few days ago PPT had a short comment on Privileges of wealth and position”. In that post we mentioned the demise of PB Air and its estimated 2 billion baht in liabilities. The airline was associated with Piya Bhirombhakdi, who is now off doing his new luxurious hospitality venture, the 3-billion-baht Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Krabi. We mentioned the Bhirombhakdi family’s royal connections.

In this post, PPT wants to add more on royal and political connections.

We begin with a column by former Thai Rak Thai Party man Suranand Vejjajiva (Bangkok Post, 5 February 2010) where he writes of the Ministry of Interior’s plan to “set up a satellite television channel, TV Mahadthai to create a better understanding of the ministry’s policies and activities, with special emphasis on ‘protecting the institution [of the monarchy]’.” When combined with appearances by “the interior minister, his deputies, the directors-general of various departments and the provincial governors” one could hardly imagine anything more boring, and in the minister’s case, would probably be barely intelligible.

This is yet another way to waste of taxpayer’s money for the benefit of particular interests. But here’s the interesting bit: the press has noticed that this is a Phum Jai Thai Party exercise, with the backing of Newin Chidchob and his family: so they call it “Blue TV.” It isn’t as if Thailand needs more pro-government and pro-monarchy television. The country is full of this propaganda and it is currently becoming more dense.

Newin has promoted his Phum Jai Thai as a monarchy-loving and monarchy-protecting party promising a Thaksin Shinawatra-like return to the good economic times. Newin appears regularly on television at royal-related events, promoting clumsy and obvious kinds of royal propaganda. But it is blue for his party and for the royal he seems to be most keen to support.

Related, it is widely reported that Newin has bought one of Thailand’s major league football teams. Newin is the new chairman of Buri Rum-Provincial Electricity Authority FC. Of course, its kit is blue. What was most interesting for PPT in the extensive television coverage was the sponsors: Chang Beer and King Power.

Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi is the owner of Chang. He is well known as one of Thailand’s wealthiest men but has been reasonably publicity shy. Lycos Retriever has some details. There’s also a chapter on him in Pasuk and Baker’s Thai Capital published in 2008. Family details are available here. He has good bureaucratic contacts through his liquor and beer businesses. Charoen has been a generous donor to royal activities. He is remarkably powerful and has huge cash flow, which makes him a valuable political ally.

The King Power link to Newin has been known for several years. Vichai Raksriaksorn has been one of Newin’s strongest supporters and he is wealthy, politically active and a big supporter of things royal. He is the one credited with having “plagiarized” the Lance Armstrong plastic bracelets in Thailand and made them Long live the king bracelets and raised a fortune that he handed over to the palace.

Vichai’s background is not very clear. In 2007 he was ranked by Forbes as Thailand’s 21st wealthiest, worth about US$200 million. He’s much richer than that now. The best available account of King Power and its economic and political power is by Chang Noi. The airport monopoly also provides the huge cash flow that are a political asset.

Vichai almost single-handedly established and developed the rich person’s sport of polo in Thailand. You’d think this was little more than a hobby, but through his Thailand Polo Association, Vichai has been able to link to royals worldwide – they all seem to play this ostentatious sport – and this has added greatly to his credibility in Thailand’s high society. The Association is also populated by “advisers” who are generals in the police and military.

To bring the connections back to where we began, PPT suggests looking at the Thai-language edition of the U.K.’s Hello magazine often highlights royals, the rich (Charoen’s son’s engagement and wedding was covered) and polo. In the print version of the latest issue, pictured at the website, but with no detail, has an advertisement for a 20 February fund-raising polo game that is called the Queen’s Cup, for “ladies” on page 97. They also have a King’s Cup for the gentlemen players. This advertisement features M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, lady-in-waiting to the queen.

Being back with a Bhirombhakdi means we are now full circle on the connections, with Newin and the queen featuring.

Thitinan in the Guardian

8 11 2009

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, one of the most frequent commentators in English on Thai politics has an article in the Guardian (8 November 2009: “Thailand’s urban-rural split”). Readers of this blog will find the analysis of interest.

PPT recognizes that the article is meant to explain a highly complex political situation to outsiders and that this necessitates a little simplification. However, we consider that Thitinan has made it just a little too simplistic.

Take, for example, his initial claim that the “country’s wrenching political struggle over the past several years has, at bottom, concerned what will happen after the … king’s reign … comes to an end.” We think this devalues the struggles and debates of the past decade. Sure, some analysts tried to say that the 2006 coup was, at base, about managing succession. But the evidence has been that the coup was one part of a broader reactionary agenda to maintain the political and economic status quo in Thailand politics. So, at bottom, the struggle is about power and control, not about what happens when the king dies. What is at stake is not “the soul of an emerging Thailand” but control of political and economic power in Thailand.

Further, the claim that “Thailand’s colour-coated crisis pits largely urban, conservative, and royalist “yellow” shirts against the predominantly rural “red” columns of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra” might have some validity but PPT would hope for an  analysis that explains the complexity associated with such a rural-urban characterization. Just one example. What are we to make of the working class? There’s been a tendency to say that their “connections back home” make them rural and “red.” These connections may be important, but they operate in a different social and political milieu born of industialization and urbanization. It may be that there class location is what is significant.

Thitinan makes much of inequality, and this is an important issue. Readers may well want to look at the recent Chang Noi column (2 November 2009: “Politics and Thailand’s wealth gap”) that has some data on the astounding income and wealth inequality in the country. The struggle is on, not necessarily for a “share” but for a different allocation of wealth and associated political power.

No surprises in Newin court case

21 09 2009

It was no surprise that the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Office cleared for former Thai Rak Thai minister but now leader of the Bhum Jai Thai Party Newin Chidchob. Newin’s conviction would have seriously upset the coalition government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Democrat Party (Bangkok Post, 21 September 2009). No one was found guilty. The Nation’s story is here.

Newin was so sure that he would be acquitted that he pre-planned a celebration party.

The huge conglomerate CP breathed easy that it got off as well.

For some background, see here and here, with the PAD view here . For an earlier report on fears that Newin might be found guilty and the court’s decisions to chase a defendant down (was he not convinced of a not guilty verdict then?), see here. For Chang Noi on the teflon Newin see here and here.

Even though former TRT ministers were also found not guilty, the only one who really mattered and who will matter to those looking at the case for its political implications was Abhisit government power broker Newin.

Whether the decision was legally founded or not, the outcome will be viewed as yet another example of the bias of the judiciary in political cases.

Investigating the Suvarnabhumi occupation very, very slowly

12 09 2009

There is an interesting story in The Nation (11 September 2009: “Top cop changed head of airport probe before quitting”). As PPT reported earlier, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva seemed to solve his police problem when the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) investigation into violence during the People’s Alliance for Democracy occupation of parliament on 7 October 2008 found against the police chief, General Patcharawat Wongsuwan.

Police General Patcharawat is not going quietly. This report states that he “signed an order just before he stepped down to change the head of the police probe into the yellow shirts’ seizure of Suvarnabhumi Airport late last year.” It adds that he signed the order just 2 days after the NACC “found grounds for criminal and disciplinary action against Patcharawat over his role in the crackdown on an anti-government mob outside Parliament on October 7.”

Patcharawat replaced Police Lt-General Wut Phuavej with Police Lt-General Somyos Phumphanmuang. The report says that Lt-General Wut “was seen as siding with the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). He took to the PAD stage and defended the yellow shirts in front of the Royal Thai Police Club last July when the PAD voiced upset at being charged with terrorism for their mass protest at the new airport.”

So it is now clear why this investigation has been proceeding at a snail’s pace (remember this?). But will things change?

The report states that Lt-General Somyos is “close to Newin Chidchob, the de facto leader of Bhum Jai Thai Party, and Vichai Raksriaksorn, owner of King Power, which runs the ‘duty free’ outlet at airport.” This might suggest that nothing much will change. However, it also gives Newin a card he can play in inter-party rivalry within the coalition government.

As a footnote, Suvarnabhumi airport’s monopoly duty free operations – granted under Thaksin Shinawatra’s government – have been under scrutiny recently (try Googling “Suvarnabhumi scams”) and King Power’s Vichai Raksriaksorn has been ranked as one of Thailand’s richest by Forbes. Chang Noi mentioned him recently and King Power’s SEC listing is here. Vichai is a keen polo player and has been president of the Thailand Polo Association, and loves teaming up with Britain’s Princes Charles and William and being pictured with them in Hello magazine. PPT is unsure how close he is with Thailand’s royals, where polo is not so pukka.

Fairy tale Thailand

5 09 2009

In PPT’s it-might-be-humor-if-it-wasn’t-so-sad post recently, we mentioned Mong Thongdee. The Nation’s “Venus” column is not one we usually spend much time on, but this week has an interesting take on Mong and the not-so-fairytale ending to his case.

More broadly, the column points out “Surely, the incident has reminded authorities that they have not done enough for those underprivileged kids – or look at it in another way, they have done nothing so far.” Actually, it is worse than nothing.

A couple of years ago the military – they were running the government at the time – decided to really push the notion that stateless children and their families were threats to “national security” and tried to restrict migrants most basic rights. This didn’t get far, but the abuse of the human rights of migrants and stateless people by Thai authorities continues unabated.

Update: Chang Noi has a useful article on this topic (The Nation, 7 September 2009: “A paper dart that illustrated a huge waste of human potential”) and the plight of migrants in Thailand.

Clearing the poor and the politically active

2 09 2009

Also available as กำจัดคนจนและพวกเรียกร้องทางการเมือง

Most authoritarian governments get around to campaigns that involve social panics and social order. Some readers might recall earlier campaigns involving, amongst others, actions against alleged communists and, more recently, against prostitution and teenage pubs and discos. Often the intended audience for such events is the middle class, but they can be wider actions, and Chang Noi’s article some years back is worthy of mention.

Now The Nation (2 September 2009: “Homeless ejected from Sanam Luang”) reports what might be the beginnings of a similar campaign aimed at cleaning the streets of undesirables that has begun, perhaps not by chance at Sanam Luang. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s (BMA) latest attempt to cleanse the area has seen almost “1,000 homeless people and street hawkers” sent packing, but has them vowing to return.

Some of those chased off claim that “Sanam Luang is a place for the poor.” But they are wrong according to the Democrat Party’s privileged prince and Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra.  Why? Sukhumbhand “explained that it was necessary to clean up Sanam Luang because it was a venue for royal ceremonies.”

So in the interests of the royals not having to see the disadvantaged and unwashed masses or have “their” grounds sullied by them, the poor and homeless will be placed on a register and “given accommodation or sent back home.” The problem is none want to register.

Is this the beginning of campaigns to make the middle class feel more comfortable? The riff-raff are threatening for them. Or is it a process to sanitize Sanam Luang and perhaps also and attempt to depoliticize the area?

Depoliticizing certain places – mainly royal places? – is continued in another report The Nation (2 September 2009: “Govt to re-invoke ISA to handle red shirts’ rally”), where the government is said to be “set to re-invoke the Internal Security Act if the red shirts try to stir up trouble about the time the prime minister heads to New York for his September 21-27 visit, the Cabinet heard yesterday.”

Notice that there is an assumption that the red shirts will stir up trouble. The government’s “thinking” is that 19 September is the critical date as it marks the anniversary of the 2006 coup. With no evidence for his personal panic, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban asserts his belief that red shirt leaders will incite their followers. Ever vigilant for “any sign of disturbance”, the government has found that the ISA is a good means to prevent political activism.

Suthep blamed “ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra for taking an active role in instigating the political turbulence” while Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s “acting” spokesman and “top aide” Panitan Wattanayagorn said that the  government “would be closely monitored because of suspicion that the red shirts would mount an all-out effort to oust the government this year.” Panitan believes that the government’s evil political opponents may actually “try to fault” the government. Surprising and shocking! They may even attempt to “topple the government before the economic recovery starts to kick in.”

Panitan is usually so boring and expressionless that he is not the media’s most prized sound bite, but having predicted the economic recovery next month, his heart must have been racing as he attacked the red shirts for their penchant of attacking the government’s performance.

PPT, tongue firmly embedded in cheek, agrees that the very idea that political opponents might attack the government in a political system meant to be democratic is abnormal, even outlandish.

Then, the usually dull Panitan reached a climax of excitement compared Thaksin to Bin Laden: “a fugitive difficult to apprehend but facing increasingly restricted freedom of movement.”

Why are the usually unexciting are suddenly jumping about?  It isn’t entirely clear, although one guess might be that the Democrat Party has seen cause for rejoicing over the perceived success of the use of repression to limit political activism via the ISA. Panitan was one of the academics considered an architect of the ISA and may be feeling vindicated. But his comments and a range of recent events suggest cause for concern for political development in Thailand.

Govt to re-invoke ISA to handle red shirts’ rally

Published on September 2, 2009

The government is set to re-invoke the Internal Security Act if the red shirts try to stir up trouble about the time the prime minister heads to New York for his September 21-27 visit, the Cabinet heard yesterday.
“This week or next is not worrisome but the situation is of concern from September 19 when the red shirts are expected to mobilise crowds for a prolonged protest aimed at overthrowing the government,” Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuagsuban was quoted as saying in the Cabinet meeting.

Rally organisers will likely cite sentiment against the September 19 coup three years ago to rouse the red shirts, he said.

The Cabinet will be on call to convene a full session to authorise the security measures upon detecting any sign of disturbance, he told the cabinet meeting, ruling out a meeting of selected Cabinet members in order to avoid legal wrangling over security law enforcement.

Earlier, Suthep said in an interview with the government reporter blaming ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra for taking an active role in instigating the political turbulence that conflicts will dissipate once Thaksin puts society ahead of his vested interest.

He also claimed that he tried but failed to open a line of communication with Thaksin, who refused to answer his telephone call.

“I believe when Thaksin is ready for talks, reconciliation will become a reality,” he said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Suthep would be in charge of peacekeeping. He also confirmed his trip to attend the United Nations General Assembly and the G-20 meeting.

He played down concerns about hurting confidence by laying down the security blanket, saying reports indicated that tourism and the business climate were unaffected.

He said Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij told the Cabinet that businessmen and bankers understood the need for strict security and had no objection to enforcing the special measures.

Abhisit’s top aide Panithan Wattanayakorn said the political situation would be closely monitored because of suspicion that the red shirts would mount an all-out effort to oust the government this year.

“This month and the next one will be crucial for the government’s survival because the red shirts will try to fault and topple the government before the economic recovery starts to kick in,” he said.

The red shirts will try to provoke an uprising by citing any pretext – whether the 2006 coup, the bureaucratic infighting for key appointments, the Asean Summit in October or the doctored audio clip – to force the government’s exit, he said.

The red shirts are well aware of the time constraint to rouse the crowds before the economy gets back on solid ground, he said.

The ex-premier’s predicament was similar to Bin Laden’s – a fugitive difficult to apprehend but facing increasingly restricted freedom of movement, he said.

Although Thaksin can travel to assorted small countries in need of capital for investment, he has been denied entry by major countries, he said.

Thaksin is losing the chance to sustain his popularity, he said.

The leadership split in the red-shirt movement should not be construed as a sign of weakening but a strategic shift to focus on respective strongholds, he said.

Thaksin stands to gain from the rift by using the divide-and-conquer tactic on his differing targeted groups of red shirts, he added.

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