Democrat Party Rajaprasong rally to “explain killing”

22 06 2011

In The Nation, it is stated that its planned “rally” at Rajaprasong is to “express its views on the bloody military crackdown last year…”. Democrat Party strategist Korbsak Sabhavasu says they want to do this regardless of the impact on votes. He says the party, led by Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban, who oversaw the murderous crackdown, wants to give its “side of the story.”

He adds: “The party needed to explain its side of the story and voters have the right to know the truth before casting their ballots. Many people directly involved in the incident, such as Jatuporn Promphan and Natthawut Saikua are Pheu Thai Party candidates…”.

Of course, the government has Jatuporn locked up in order to silence him.

Abhisit said he wanted “relatives of six dead rescue staff members to listen to the Democrats’ explanations on the bloody incident. The six were killed in Wat Pathum Wanaram temple…”. He claimed: “If they listen to the other side of the truth, they would get a better understanding of the situation…. I’m ready to exchange opinions with the relatives…”.

Is the Democrat Party serious? Is Abhisit serious? Hasn’t their story been, all along, that no soldier killed anyone? Hasn’t this been stated ad nauseum? Hasn’t the government, the Department of Special Investigation and its Army deliberately delayed all investigation? Didn’t protesters run in front of bullets?

If, just for a moment, we consider them serious, and that they do have another story to tell, couldn’t they have explained “their side” earlier? Couldn’t Abhisit have talked with relatives of the dead before, in a situation other than a political rally? Couldn’t they have expressed sympathy? Shouldn’t there have been some progress on a serious investigation of the killing? No, they aren’t serious at all. They are desperate and heartless knaves.



Democrat Party burning

15 06 2011

When the big red shirt rally began in Bangkok in March 2010, one of the first events was the “caravan” around the city. This parade was chilling for the establishment and for the Abhisit Vejjajiva government because it showed that the red shirts had huge support in the city. The mainstream media estimated the caravan and supporters in the tens of thousands. At the time, PPT had a report, and while we didn’t nominate a figure, we reckon there must have been hundreds of thousands throughout the city. We had another post of the fallout from the caravan.

Now the Democrat Party has had a micro-caravan in the city. The Bangkok Post reports that the aim of this parade, which included Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, was to remind “voters of last year’s political violence in a bid to stem the Pheu Thai Party’s fast-rising popularity.”

On the morning of the event, the Bangkok Post had an op-ed that also sought to remind Bangkok’s English-language readers of 19 May. Its title was “Do we remember the burning of Thailand?” No coincidence there as the Post has become, like its elite brethren, increasingly panicked by the polls that appear to show Puea Thai taking a lead even in Bangkok.

This op-ed begins, explaining the surprise of “many” – PPT assumes that author Voranai Vanijaka means those he knows, and many of these are likely to be establishment figures: “Many people have expressed bewilderment. How is it that Pheu Thai Party’s popularity is at a high? How is it that they are leading the Democrat Party in poll after poll? Sure, Yingluck Shinawatra is a hot item right now, but that can’t be the sole reason, can it?” It goes on to admonish the Democrat Party for not reminding people of these “heinous and treasonous” acts.

Astonished, he asks: “How many of us actually remember the burning of Thailand? How many of us still talk about it? Is the atrocity still alive and vibrant in the consciousness of the Thai Kingdom? From what I’ve observed, most people have pretty much forgotten.” Perhaps with Army urging, or Newin Chidchob’s base political instincts at work, or even with the urging of others who compare this arson to the sacking of Ayudhya, the Democrat Party has responded.

Voranai makes some pretty basic errors. Take this as an example: when referring to the arson in Bangkok and provinces he says: “Of course, no one has been found guilty of any crimes, as yet.” Doesn’t he read the press or the blogs? Doesn’t he know that there are plenty of red shirts still locked up over these events?

But back to the Democrat Party micro-caravan.

The Democrat Party’s strategist Korbsak Sabhavasu is not as negative as Voranai. He believes that “the majority of the public still have bitter memories of the unrest and the burning of Bangkok.” The Post helpfully explains that the Democrat Party is “changing election campaign tactics to cut the ground from under Pheu Thai by reminding voters that key figures of the red shirt movement who are now running for the general election under the party’s banner, are alleged to be involved.”

Korbsak explained that “the violence in April and May last year stemmed from the red shirt movement led by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, which is aligned with Pheu Thai…. [M]any top figures of the red shirt UDD are now running for the election on Pheu Thai’s party list and some of them are likely to be given cabinet portfolios if Pheu Thai wins the election and forms the government…. The public should be able to imagine what kind of government they would get…”.

How was the micro-caravan received? There’s not a lot in the report, but the accompanying photos tell a story. In Samrong, Puea Thai supporters held up anti-government and pro-Puea Thai placards and lifted their index fingers to signify their support for Puea Thai. Maybe the Democrat Party was lucky to avoid a different finger. Suthep had to avoid eggs thrown at him.

In a related move, Abhisit has gone back to Facebook to defend “his government’s crackdown on red shirt protesters in April and May last year.” This is something also seen in Voranai’s op-ed, where he claims that the red shirts are always reminding people of “their” deaths. He urges Abhisit to do the same. And he does.

Abhisit apparently claims that “persistent efforts have been made to raise the issue of the 91 deaths to step up a hate campaign against him ahead of the general election.” As in our earlier posts, here and here, Abhisit is again self-serving and self-centered.

In fact, there has been a consistent effort to raise these deaths – and the actual figure now seems to be 93 – since May 2010. There’s nothing new. Indeed, even the panel Abhisit himself appointed has not been able to resolve anything because state officials and agencies are blocked from providing evidence.

Abhisit’s post refers to “mysterious armed groups who mingled freely among the protesters.” Indeed, they do seem mysterious for none seem to have been arrested and charged.

The premier promised to post more comments soon “to explain top red shirt figures could have prevented the deaths.” He says that “they opted for more deaths so they can press the charge of killing people against me…”. Now PPT thinks this is a new take. Again, very self-centered, but Abhisit is claiming that the red shirt leadership decided to “sacrifice” its supporters. This is an arrogant claim and by preventing independent investigation of events, Abhisit can pretty much make up any story he wants. As he does so, it is me, me, me. In fact, those who recall the last hours of the rally will know that those defiant demonstrators who remained wanted no capitulation and even jeered the leadership when it surrendered.

PPT agrees that the election is not over yet and that predictions are pretty much useless. What we do know is that Army-commanded Internal Security Operations Command has deployed 17,000 of its spies throughout the country to collect “evidence” of Puea Thai misdeeds for changing any narrow election victory by that party. We also know that the Election Commission is considering issuing red cards even before the election day. If we were betting people, we’d be wagering that, if this comes about, these cards will overwhelmingly target Puea Thai.

Why are we confident on this? Just look at what happened in 2007. Almost all the disqualifications were of People’s Power Party victors. Even if Puea Thai scrape in, we don’t think that a judicial coup is out of the question. And even if Yingluck has been “cleared” by the SEC, PPT expects this “perjury” allegation to be pursued further. And, we believe that the establishment is up for another party dissolution case.

Updated: Abhisit presides over royalist celebration as Thailand drowns

23 10 2010


Update: Latest reports are of at least “38 people … reported dead in 13 provinces that were hardest hit by flood during Oct. 10-24, according to Medical Emergency Institute of Thailand (NIEM) Sunday. The highest death toll of six were reported in each of the provinces of northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima and Buriram as well as central Lop Buri.”


The current flooding in Thailand is a disaster. The death toll is reportedly more than 35 and millions are said to be impacted. Some areas are completely cut off and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said that some places may be inundated for weeks or a month.

Criticism of the government’s response are rising, like the waters. The Nation reports criticism from a senior technician. The response to this criticism is telling. Secretary to the prime minister Korbsak Sabhavasu said the “government had thought about setting up a war room to handle flood management. “But we are worried about natural slow progress and red tape through the bureaucracy after it is set up.” He adds: “Now we are thinking about how to shorten the process and increase the speed of work. I admit that the problems get worse because there is no host agency to take care of them, which should be directly under the Interior Ministry’s supervision…”. People are dying and in great need and the government is “thinking.”


Is that good enough for a government that claims to be concerned about rural people? No, this government is failing. The Nation says that the “[d]elivery of relief supplies and aid money is continuing, but largely through efforts of the private sector and the media, which initiated donation campaigns before the authorities followed suit. But when it comes to regulations on handling donated money, the PM’s Office Ministry is having problems with the Bt90 million it has in hand.” That sum is a pittance and it isn’t even getting distributed.

Permanent secretary of the Ministry of Interior Juturong Panyadiloksays this: “It will be clearer next week how the money will be given to flood victims…”. Meanwhile, people struggle to save each other and their belongings.

Staggeringly, a “Government House source said there had not been any discussion or meeting to discuss payment conditions or speedy delivery of donated money to cope with urgent needs…. The main responsibility for flood management had been assigned by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, but after his resignation to take part in a by-election campaign, Abhisit was too busy with other tasks.”

To be fair, Abhisit has visited flood-affected areas, being photographed in boats, but the sources says: “No one in the government is now dealing with the flooding…”. That is a remarkable criticism. What has Abhisit too busy for a major national disaster? According to The Nation, he’s presiding over “a religious ceremony to mark the centennial anniversary of the death of King Rama V on Saturday. The premier and his cabinet gave alms to monks before laying wreaths at the King Rama V’s statue at the Royal Plaza. He would preside over an opening ceremony of exhibition of King Rama V at Wat Mahathat Yuwarajrangsit in the afternoon.”

Nothing is more important than licking royal boots.

Veera’s release raises questions

1 08 2010

Red Shirt leader Veera Musikapong has been released by the Appeals Court. He is released on bail of 6 million baht and a list of political restrictions including being unable to speak with the media. His release has raised questions.

The Criminal Court had previously turned down Veera’s bail requests. Those requests had been made in concert with other red shirt leaders, Earlier in the week it was disclosed that an individual application was being made as it had a better chance of success.

And so it was, for when Veera gained bail, the court also approved .a Department of Special Investigation request to continue the detention of the other red shirt leaders for a further 12 days.

Questions are being raised in two areas. First, why is it that Veera benefited from the testimony of the Democrat Party’s Korbsak Sabhavasu, who is also secretary-general to the prime minister. The court cited his testimony “as its main reason for granting the bail request.” Apparently, “Korbsak confirmed that Mr Veera did not condone the use of violence and agreed with the government’s reconciliation approach.” Korbsak “agreed to testify on Mr Veera’s behalf because he regarded him as a rational UDD leader.” He added: “Sometimes, we should extend a [helping] hand to them,” Questions are asked about the nature of Korbsak’s testimony and of the possibility of a behind the scenes deal. This leads to the second question.

The court is reported to have “said investigators looking into the terrorism allegations against Mr Veera had found he was not a hard-line member of the UDD and they did not want to oppose his bail. The question, then, is why was he charged by the DSI just hours previously?

Do these questions have anything to do with the Jakrapob Penkair interview released at about the same time as Veera’s bail, where he is critical of the demonstration leaders? Will the opaque dealings ever be fully revealed? Probably not.

With 3 updates: Talk of talks

17 05 2010

Reports are in the Bangkok media of possible talks. The Bangkok Post says this:

A telephone call from Korbsak Sabhavasu, the prime minister’s secretary-general, to Natthawut Saikua prompted the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leaders to hold an urgent meeting, according to television reports.

The meeting began shortly after 3pm, the deadline given by the government for protesters to leave Ratchaprasong.

Most of the protesters remained at the rally site despite the deadline although they looked tense on seeing a government leaflet dropped from helicopters warning them to immediately leave the area.

On receiving the call from Mr Korbsak, UDD leaders went inside a portable container for a meeting.

Meanwhile, acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation would hold a meeting at 5pm to discuss steps to be taken to retake the occupied area after the 3pm deadline.

He declined to go in to detail, saying only that priority would be given to evacuating children and the elderly from the rally site. Mr Panitan said Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was still in high spirits and determined to overcome all problems.

It is indeed pleasing to know that Abhisit is happy and well as the death and injury toll increases.

The Post also says that Thaksin Shinawatra has called for more talks:

Ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra called on the government and his red-shirt supporters Monday to step back from a “terrible abyss” and start talks to end civil violence.

“I stand with my countrymen in this terrible hour in our history,” Thaksin said in a statement.

“The pictures that I have seen go beyond any nightmares that could have been envisaged. I have no choice but to state resolutely the need for all sides to step back from this terrible abyss and seek to begin a new, genuine and sincere dialogue between the parties,” he said.

“The present action of the government dishonour our history and will forever weaken our institutions and democracy.”

… Abhisit’s government has accused Thaksin of inciting unrest in the capital from overseas.

The Reds called Sunday for UN-mediated talks to end street clashes in the heart of the Bangkok that have left at least 35 people dead since Friday, but the government rejected the idea, saying it was an internal matter.

Thaksin called for the United Nations “to immediately engage to act as facilitator for this negotiation.”

He added: “That organisation should not allow itself to be silenced by a prime minister who failed to understand that a right to life is a core universal value that unites us all as one.”

Update 1: The BBC is reporting that a response from red shirts calling for more talks has been met by the statement that they must call off the rally first.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post reports that the red shirt leadership is prepared to accept “Senate Speaker Prasopsuk Boondej’s offer to mediate truce talks with the government…”.

With more than 37 are dead, the report is that “Natthawut Saikua …  said that the UDD accepted the offer and wanted to urgently end the ongoing violence, and had called on the government to stop shooting at the protesters. The UDD was unconditionally ready to negotiate.  However, senators who would mediate the talks must not include members of the group of 40 pro-government senators, he said. Mr Nathawut said the UDD had left it to Mr Prasopsuk to coordinate with the government for talks.”

Update 3: Same response from the government, at least according to the BBC: no negotiations until the rally ends….

More on the economy and red shirts

19 04 2010

There is much complaining about the economy and yesterday PPT posted about tourism and some conflicting data. Today, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has demanded that “a fresh assessment of the impact of the prolonged anti-government rally on the economy…”.

It is reported that anti-red shirt business groups “did not want the government to postpone the spending of the fiscal 2011 budget. The government will start using the fiscal 2011 budget in October this year.” The government is prepared to protect and support private businesses: “Abhisit had assured the private sector that the government will provide them full assistance…”. Indeed, “Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij and PM’s secretary-general Korbsak Sabhavasu had been assigned to help employees and businesses affected by the political demonstration at Ratchaprasong intersection.” That’ll be like a normal extended family dinner for Korn.

It is then something of a surprise to see the Wall Street Journal (19 April 2010) where it is said Finance Minister Korn said the government has “scrapped plans to seek parliamentary approval for a special bill allowing it to borrow an additional 400 billion baht to partly finance the 1.4 trillion baht ($43.3 billion) fiscal stimulus program…”. The reasons provided were that “improvements in the government’s fiscal position and a previously approved decree allowing 400 billion baht of additional borrowing are sufficient to finance the stimulus program…”. It was reported that the positive momentum of recent growth was “expected to carry forward to the first quarter, partly due to the low base effect, which Mr. Korn said would result in robust on-year growth in the first quarter.”

That seems upbeat, even rosy.

With 4 updates: The crackdown II

10 04 2010

PM’s Office minister Sathit Wongnongtoey, who has seldom been a source of accurate information has made claims of attacks on Government House. PPT is seeking independent confirmation of this.

The government has called for protesters to retreat – government is said to be retreating: “Army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd went on national television Saturday night to ask the protesters to retreat as well.  Sansern said a senior government official has been asked to coordinate with the protesters ‘to bring back peace’.”

The Nation reports that the “government has assigned PM’s Secretary General Korbsak Sapavasu to negotiate with red shirts’ leaders as clashes between soldiers and protesters continued.  Emergency Operations Command’s spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said at 9pm that Korbsak will seek ceasing of all actions by both sides.” He said: “We believe that at the moment, negotiation is needed to prevent further damage to properties and lives of both sides…”. It seems odd for the government to decide now to negotiate. Are there splits in the government and with the military? Where is Abhisit Vejjajiva on this?

There are government reports that 20 soldiers were injured in a grenade attack when clashing with red shirt protesters near the Democracy Monument. Later, the Bangkok Post reported that the government’s “call for truce came after at least 100 soldiers were reportedly wounded in the clashes with the red-shirts at Khok Wua intersection on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on Saturday night while trying to advance towards Phan Fa bridge amid fierce resistance by the red-shirts.” No confirmation of this. The government is claiming that the violence is only from red shirts.

Update 1: By late evening, the Nation has reported 8 deaths and almost 500 injured: “Eight people, including a foreign cameraman, were killed as red shirts protesters battled with combined forces of police and soldiers.  Erawan Rescue Center’s chief Phetpong Kamjornkitjakarn said a total of eight people were killed during the clashes.  At least 486 people, soldiers and red shirts protesters were wounded.  He confirmed that one victim was a Japanese reporter of Reuters news agency.  Central Hospital director Dr Pitchaya Nakwatchara earlier identified the cameraman as Hirouki Muramoto.  Muramoto was shot at his chest, he said.  The others were Sawat Wangam, 43, who was hit at head, while the two others victims; Thanachai (last name unknown) and Noppachai Mekfangam, died after being shot at the chest.  Name of the fifth victim could not be identified.”

Reuters says 521 killed or injured and it is reported that “Klang, Hua Chiew, Mission hospitals which are closest to Phan Fa brdige could no longer accept any more patients as the emergency wards were full. Any more injuries will have to be sent to other hospitals.” This same report has details on the red shirt reaction. Red shirts are trying to ensure that casualties and bodies are not hidden by the government. This relates to claims that the bodies of people killed by the military last April were spirited away.

New York Times report is here.

Update 2: Prachatai reports 15 dead. This is confirmed at the Bangkok Post where it says: “678 injuries and 15 deaths: 4 soldiers and 11 civilians.All the road intersections leading to the UDD protest site at Phan Fa bridge are being manned by securities personnel as reported by a TV late news.”

Update 3: The government is claiming that the red shirts have taken 20-30 soldiers as “hostages.” If this is correct, it is not clear what is being negotiated. [This was later revised down to 5 “hostages” but the source remains the military spokesman.]

Update 4: AP has a useful report on the day’s events. It begins: “A crackdown on anti-government protesters in Thailand’s capital Saturday left at least 15 people dead and more than 650 injured, with no progress toward ending a month-long standoff with demonstrators demanding new elections.  It was the worst violence in Bangkok since more than four dozen people were killed in an anti-military protest in 1992.” It is added: “Bullet casings, rocks and pools of blood littered the streets where pitched battles raged for hours. Army troops later retreated and asked protesters to do the same, resulting in an unofficial truce.” AP says that the “savage fighting erupted after security forces tried to push out demonstrators…. The army had vowed to clear the protesters out of one of their two bases in Bangkok by nightfall, but the push instead set off street fighting. There was a continuous sound of gunfire and explosions, mostly from Molotov cocktails. After more than two hours of fierce clashes, the soldiers pulled back.”

Most of the fighting was said to have taken place near the Democracy Monument. This report states: “Soldiers made repeated charges to clear the Red Shirts, while some tourists stood by watching. Two protesters and a Buddhist monk with them were badly beaten by soldiers and taken away by ambulance. A Japanese tourist who was wearing a red shirt was also clubbed by soldiers until bystanders rescued him.”

Michael Nelson, a German scholar of Southeast Asia said “Abhisit ‘failed miserably’, and Tanet Charoenmuang, a “political scientist at Chiang Mai University sympathetic to the Red Shirt’s cause, said he expects the fighting will resume because the protesters are unafraid and the government refused to listen to them.”

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.

Sufficiency economy projects and corruption

20 01 2010

Update: The Bangkok Post (20 January 2010) reports that the first investigation into Thai khem kaeng (Strengthening Thailand) projects are just beginning in the Ministry of Education. At the moment it is an internal inquiry. This inquiry is worth following, although the external pressure is not as significant as in the Ministry of Public Health case.

The Post also calls for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to be more open and transparent. It calls for him to release reports on the Ministry of Public Health and Thai Airways scandals. It says: “For a government that occasionally pledges openness and accountability, the actions of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his subordinates in two recent cases must raise eyebrows.” Importantly, it is added: “Abhisit should order their public release, and should also make members of the Banlu commission and the airline’s investigating committee available for close media questioning. These are rapidly becoming cases where justice may seem to have been done. But without full access to the reports Mr Abhisit used as the basis for punishment, no one can know if justice is actually being done.” An excellent point.

*** Original post is below ***

As regular PPT readers will know, we have repeatedly posted regarding the accusations of corruption within the Office for Sufficiency Economy Community Projects since 8 August 2009. We followed up on that first report with more detail on 19 August 2009, and continued to post after that, especially as the projects disappeared from the news. That disappearing act followed the appointment of well-known royalist MechaiViravaidya to take charge of the Office .

In these sufficiency economy scandal, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Korbsak Sabhavasu resigned his role as chair of the Office and his brother, who was deputy head of the Office resigned, but there was no accounting of the corruption that was exposed. It was announced in October that Korbsak would step down as Deputy PM to become Abhisit Vejjajiva’s secretary-general. That only happened this week. No better than a slap on the wrist for an incompetent and allegedly corrupt minister.

Now Mechai has finally made comments that have been reported (The Nation, 19 January 2010).

Mechai is reported as saying that he will “reveal guidelines on fund allocation to district chiefs nationwide. He said these guidelines should minimise corruption because provisions have been made for those involved in graft to face criminal charges.” Interesting comment for it appears to admit corruption (but see below) and, second, seems to say that there were no measures for criminal charges previously. Is that serious? There are umpteen opportunities to bring civil charges and to seek anti-corruption agency investigation.

More interestingly, though, Mechai dismissed the earlier reports of corruption as a public relations problem: “Mechai attributed the negative news to poor public relations and lack of public understanding and participation.

Mechai plans to change this by having “anybody above the age of 15 … [being able to] voice their opinion. This is the first time that the country’s youth, numbering about 5 million, will offer opinions on how the Bt18.6-billion government budget should be allocated…” says Mechai. He also plans a “nationwide referendum for most-needed projects”. In addition, referendum “participants will be encouraged to point to all traces of corruption. At the same time, Mechai has decided that the budget will be used to first help the poor and the underprivileged, not purchase equipment.Mechai added that: “Different opinions are welcome, and a second round of the referendum is possible.

Mechai is a PR specialist. Is PR sufficient? Nationwide referenda will trump local needs assessments? Is this really the way to deal with this particular example of corruption? Thai Crisis also comments here.

Thai khemkaeng in Chiang Mai

19 12 2009

The government’s propaganda arm, the MCOT, reports on Thai khemkaeng projects from deep inside red shirt stronghold Chiang Mai (16 December 2009: “Bright investment outlook for Chiang Mai”).

While Chiang Mai might be a “political stronghold of Thailand’s former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, convicted of misusing the power of his office,” the MCOT tells its readers that the “investment outlook seems brighter in the year to come…”. Why is this? MCOT explains that it is “thanks to the government and private investments.”

The government has “at least five big projects are set to get off the ground next year, including an international exhibition and convention centre project … [and] a development project for road expansion to facilitate agricultural transport, a logistics system and a project to improve a local bus terminal in the provincial seat to support millions of incoming tourists.”

These projects “have a budget of over Bt3 billion (some US$90 million) from the government’s Strong Thailand Project, of which Bt18 billion (US$545 million) is allocated for the province…”.

The president of Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce is happy about the budget from the Strong Thailand Project, claiming that ” Bt4 billion ($121 million) has already been distributed to various projects here…”.

Big beneficiaries of this Thai khemkaeng investment are said to include “two big [real estate development] companies from Bangkok and Dutch investors planning  to “extend abut Bt3 billion ($90 million) for construction of a large department store…”.

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government continues to hope that pouring funds into “local” areas will improve the economy, create jobs and translate into votes. This is seen in the approach to the northeast (Bangkok Post, 18 December 2009: “Democrats set out plans for Northeast”), where the opposition Puea Thai Party is very strong but where the “Democrat Party is looking into extending the debt moratorium for village fund members as a means to woo northeastern voters…”. It also plans to increase funding to village development funds and to expand the  railway network.

Leading the charge are Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu (already the subject of major corruption allegations associated with various government spending projects), Democrat deputy leader Kraisak Choonhavan (who only joined the party just prior to the last election),  and Democrat list MP Somkiat Pongpaiboon  (one of the leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which now has its own New Politics Party). The Democrats also “showcased government projects such as the Thai Kem Kaeng (Thailand: Investing from Strength to Strength) scheme to stimulate the economy.”

Sound familiar? Remember the criticisms made of the Thaksin Shinawatra government accused of “policy corruption” that was considered the equivalent of vote buying? That kind of criticism was made by each of the Democrat Party politicians listed in the previous paragraph.

Bright investment outlook for Chiang MaiThe global economic downturn coupled with several of political turbulence have marred the investment atmosphere in Chiang Mai, a political stronghold of Thailand’s former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, convicted of misusing the power of his office, but the northern city’s investment outlook seems brighter in the year to come thanks to the government and private investments.

In the public sector alone, at least five big projects are set to get off the ground next year, including an international exhibition and convention centre project on a piece of land covering over 300 rai (about 120 acres). There is also a development project for road expansion to facilitate agricultural transport, a logistics system and a project to improve a local bus terminal in the provincial seat to support millions of incoming tourists.

All these will have a budget of over Bt3 billion (some US$90 million) from the government’s Strong Thailand Project, of which Bt18 billion (US$545 million) is allocated for the province, while provincial authorities expect to generate more employment and income to stimulate the local economy.

According to the president of Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, the budget from the Strong Thailand Project is one factor that will help improve the economy of Chiang Mai.

“As the budget for this project has been allocated mainly at the local level here in Chiang Mai, there’ll be more investment and construction for the primary infrastructure. Now Bt4 billion ($121 million) has already been distributed to various projects here,” said Narong Kongprasert, president of the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, the vice president of the Real Estate Entrepreneur Association of Chiang Mai and Lamphun viewed that the property business in the region is outstanding and continues growing in this year’s last quarter following signs of economic recovery.

“The tendency of the housing development market in Chiang Mai this year hasn’t actually gone down,” said Paisan Phucharoen, the association’s vice president.

“Although there were problems of Thailand’s internal politics of colour codes in the beginning of the year, the economy in Chiang Mai in 2010  could in fact be vigorous, for I heard that there are two big companies from Bangkok which came to buy and plan to develop land here in the province.”

To show signs of the positive investment tendency, an instance of the private sector’s big investments is due to the fact that around Bt1.2 billion (some $36 million) has recently been invested in a housing development project, set to be completed early next year on a piece of land connecting Chiang Mai’s provincial seat and Hang Dong district, an area considered a prime location for real estate developers, and where other several projects are also under construction.

Also, as a city of undoubted potential, Chiang Mai has recently attracted a group of Dutch investors to extend abut Bt3 billion ($90 million) for construction of a large department store to be targeting over 14 million northern Thais.

From all investments planned ahead, the city has guaranteed itself that for the year to come it is still a jewel for many who love to discover more of this land called the ‘Rose of the North’ filled with its Lanna culture. (TNA)

Features : Last Update : 17:46:29 16 December 2009

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