Ministers in tepid water

14 01 2019

We are slow in posting on this story, partly because there wasn’t much media attention to it.

However, Thai PBS and the Bangkok Post did mention it in a little more detail than other outlets.

It noted that the Election Commission sent cases involving three serving junta cabinet members and a former minister to the Constitutional Court. Going to the Court could mean very little as it is essentially a puppet agency, so that’s why instead of headlining ministers being in hot water, we think it is tepid water.

Following a complaint in February 2018 by Peua Thai Party’s legal advisor Ruangkrai Leekitwattana who petitioned the EC to look into the shareholdings of the four individuals following their assets declarations.

After 11 months, the EC found fault with the four “for holding shares in companies granted business concessions by state agencies in violation of the Constitution.” The four are former Prime Minister’s Office Minister M.L. Panadda Diskul, Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee, Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, and Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn.

The Constitutional Court must now decide “whether they should be disqualified for conflict of interest for their share holdings in violation of sections 184 and 186 of the Constitution.”

Ruangkrai’s petition claimed:

… ML Panadda had 6,000 shares of Airports of Thailand Plc, operator of Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and other airports. Although ML Panadda no longer was a minister, a guilty ruling means he will be banned from holding office for two years.

Mr Suvit had 90,000 shares of Global Power Synergy Plc (GPSC), a holding company of power-generation subsidiaries of PTT Plc, who holds state energy concessions.

Mr Pailin, a former CEO of PTT Plc, also had 5,000 shares in energy giant PTT Plc and more in its subsidiaries — GPSC (50,000 shares), IRPC Plc (240,000), PTT Global Chemical Plc (60,000) and Thai Oil (40,000). He also had shares in three other companies — Gulf Energy Development (300,000 shares), Banpu Power (10,000) and Intouch Holding (26,000).

Dr Teerakiat had 5,000 shares of Siam Cement Plc.

The case continues to confirm that cabinet ministers under the military junta consider they have impunity.

When they declared their assets, Panadda was the wealthiest cabinet member, with assets of 1.3 billion baht or almost US$40 million, Suvit had assets conservatively valued at 73.4 million, and Teerakiat has assets of 44 million baht. Pailin’s assets were reported at 179.1 million baht and his shares in the companies listed above are today worth more than 38 million.

Suvit’s case is somewhat more interesting than the others as he is Palang Pracharat’s deputy leader and simultaneously and unethically also a cabinet minister. If he is banned, the party also faces scrutiny. His response to the referral was to say “he was not worried with the Constitutional Court’s proceedings because they would not affect his work in the government or his political work with the Palang Pracharat party.” Such pomposity comes from knowing he is more or less untouchable. He did add that “his work in the Science and Technology Ministry was almost completed and he would quit the cabinet at the right time to spend full time in politics.”

Pailin’s response was a bit more to the point, claiming “that he had already transferred all his shares to a private fund before he assumed cabinet portfolio and that he had nothing to do with the management of the shares.”

We await the Constitutional Court’s timely decision, but will not hold our collective breath.





The junta’s campaign double standards

10 01 2019

With rumors that a royal decree is due at any moment, parties are continuing to campaign and the military junta is continuing to cheat.

The most recent example is the sudden withdrawal of permission for the Puea Thai Party to use a sports stadium for a campaign rally in Phayao.

Out of the blue, the Phayao Provincial Administration Organization withdrew its previous permission to allow use of the sports stadium to be used. Suddenly, the PAO discovered – was told – that this could not be done. Hurriedly, the PAO decided to “explain” this by declaring that allowing the party to use the government stadium “would give the party an unfair advantage over other political parties.”

Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, confirmed that he was lying when he said that he knew nothing of this but then declared “he believed the PAO acted according to the law.”

Knew nothing but knew it was legal. Yeah, right. Baldfaced lying has been a a defining feature of fascists worldwide, and so it is in Thailand.

He was caught out when reporters asked him why it was that the junta’s devil party, Palang Pracharath, had been able to use a government facility in Phayao for a campaign rally, the lying general suddenly decided that the whole thing was a provincial affair.

Double standards? You bet, big ones.

Cheating? Of course.

Rigging the election? Yes, still rigging.





Elections, winners

7 01 2019

Still no news on an election date and no sign of a royal decree on the election.

Meanwhile, there’s quite a lot of seemingly sudden recognition that the outcome is likely to less than optimal.

The Bangkok Post reports that most politicians, including those from the junta’s devil party, are predicting an outcome that will be potentially messy.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva covered all bases:

a party winning more than half of the 500 MP seats at stake and governing solo; parties huddling together to form a government with a House majority; and parties left locked in disagreement while a few of them attempt to set up a minority coalition administration … [and] a government with a parliamentary minority is not totally out of the question, but it would suffer from enormous internal instability.

Meanwhile, “figures with the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) … agree that a post-election government may not last for very long as the administration might be made up of several medium-sized parties prone to bickering and disunity.”

Most analysts still predict that Puea Thai and its allied parties will likely win most seats, but not sufficient to form government.

Back to the early 1990…? But as another article in the Bangkok Post reports, the miltiary will win no matter what the “election” outcome. It states: “The military will continue to play an important role in Thai politics this year, regardless of whether or not Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha returns as premier after the general election.”

The military will campaign hard for The Dictator, but this role also puts it in every community and village in the country, embedding the power it has grabbed since the 2014 coup.

Its relationship with the king also increases its power and prestige. Its role in the now notorious coronation will increase its profile, along with that of the military leader Gen Apirat Kongsompong.

He’s already threatening (for his boss, The Dictator): “The poll results must be accepted, no matter who wins or loses…”. He’s got two years more to serve as army boss, so his support for The Dictator following an “election” is pretty much set.

And if all else fails, as Gen Apirat has warned, another coup is possible.





Election (probably) delayed III

5 01 2019

The Bangkok Post states that this is the “timeline set out at a joint meeting between the National Council for Peace and Order and [some] political parties on Dec 7 last year”:

  • Jan 2: Government announces royal decree for election to be held. Parties officially start campaigns. (This did not happen)
  • Jan 4: EC [Election Commission] announces the election date, number of MPs, constituencies and MP application locations.
  • Jan 14-18: MP applications take place. Parties release names of their prime ministerial candidates.
  • Jan 25: Qualified party-list and constituency MP candidates announced
  • Feb 4-16: Overseas voting held
  • Feb 17: Advanced voting held
  • Feb 24: General election held
  • April 25: Last day official voting results must be announced (not less than 95%)
  • May 9: Parliament convenes. Prime minister elected, cabinet formed, existing cabinet and NCPO relieved of duty, new government delivers policy statement within 15 days

In response to the military junta’s plan to delay the election without taking responsibility for the delay, the EC says “it will set the election date only after the government formally issues the royal decree on elections.”

The royal decree, scheduled for 2 January, is still not out.

Wissanu Krea-ngam said “the government had asked the EC to reconsider the election date by taking into account the royal ceremony.” He means coronation.

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times states:

The government was expected to issue a royal decree on January 2 that would have effectively made the February 24 date official, but hesitated when the royal palace announced on New Year’s Day that the coronation would be staged between May 4-6.

Like PPT, Crispin tends to blame the junta for yet another delay, seeing this as an outcome of fear that its devil party, Palang Pracharath, will not do well enough in a poll:

… one military insider with connections at the Internal Security Operation Command, a military spy agency, claims its polling has consistently showed, including as recently as two months ago, that Peua Thai will resoundingly win any free and fair election.

Not that a junta election can be free or fair.

But if the coronation really is a problem, why does the commentary not criticize the monarch for choosing a date that screws up elections?Why can’t the “constitutional monarch” be told to change the date of his coronation?

Well, we know why. It is because not a word of criticism or direction is permitted.

But really, the king has had plenty of time to choose a date and he and his Royal Household Bureau have known the proposed election schedule for a while, having had the draft royal decree on the election in hand for some time.

So why choose a date that screws all that up?

The answer might be that his astrologers just couldn’t find another auspicious date. But that seems as unlikely. Or it could be that he is working with the junta to delay the “election.”

Whatever the reason, this shamozzle of choosing of a date and announcing it just one day before the royal decree on the election was due tells us quite a lot about the king and his reign.

The king is egotistical. He’s chosen a coronation date that suits him and he cares little for anything or anyone else, least of all the Thai people. Of course, he’d think he’s the center of the Thai universe. That’s what he’s been told by  royalists and his family since for decades.

It also tells us that he cares little for constitutions and constitutional constraints on the monarchy. His aggrandizement of himself as monarch, as explained by The Economist, points to this.

So if the EC is growing something that might look a little like a spine, it must face down junta and monarch. That seems unlikely.





Reaction to the NACC’s Prawit decision II

29 12 2018

The Nation reports “widespread criticism after the [National Anti-Corruption Commission] commissioners decided to drop charges against [Gen] Prawit [Wongsuwan]’s controversial collection of 22 luxury watches…”.

A Bangkok Post editorial states the NACC ruling “is unconvincing and dubious due to its weak rationale behind the decision and and its half-baked probe into the case.” It adds that “given its half-hearted commitment to pursue the case in the first place, the public has reason to suspect that the intention was to let the deputy prime minister and defence minister off the hook easily.”

Interestingly, the Post points to a similar case where an official was convicted:

In 2011, when it probed former transport permanent secretary Supoj Saplom’s possession of an undeclared asset, a 2.9-million-baht car, which he claimed belonged to a friend, the NACC ruled against him, saying such high-value lending was not possible. It also ruled that Supoj was guilty because he was the one who actually used the car, even though the registration papers stated that his friend was the owner….

Conveniently for Gen Prawit and the military junta, the NACC now seems to have reversed itself and it now says that holding and using watches worth millions is okay.

Other reactions:

Anti-corruption activist Srisuwan Junya … issued a statement … alleging malfeasance on the part of the five commissioners who had found Prawit innocent and declared he had gathered 20,000 signatures to get them sacked.

Activist Veera Somkwamkid said … he will file [a] lawsuit against the NACC for letting Prawit walk free.

Meanwhile, Puea Thai Party deputy spokesman Wattanarak Suranatyut asked if others face a similar situation do they now just say the valuable item is “borrowed” from a “friend“?

The Democrat Party’s Charnchai Issarasenarak said “the NACC appeared to have found an excuse for General Prawit, instead of finding facts regarding the controversial collection.” He added: “The NACC was incapable of finding facts about the 25 watches. This is a disgrace for the agency and could end up being a catastrophe for it…”. Worse for the NACC, Charnchai”accused the NACC of lying to the public by claiming it could not find out who had bought these watches.”

In another Bangkok Post report, Khattiyaa Sawasidipol, deputy spokesperson of Thai Raksa Chart, said “the NACC’s resolution would allow people suspected of assets concealment to cite being on loan as an excuse.”

In The Nation’s report, the NACC is reported as “defending” its decision. NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon insisted its decision was “based on evidence shown in the case file…”.

That is about as weak as it can get. However, it matters little for the puppet NACC. It does as it is told and then returns to its protective shell – the military junta.





Further updated: No law for the junta’s party I

21 12 2018

The junta’s main devil party, Palang Pracharath, held a big bash for “supporters” to give it hundreds of millions of baht. The Nation reports that the fund-raising bash “featured 200 banquet tables and was aimed at raising around Bt600 million for the pro-junta party.” In fact, the party’s deputy leader Nattapol Teepsuwan said the “actual take was nearly Bt650 million, against an outlay of Bt3 million.”

The whole event had a dubious legal status, but as we know, law doesn’t bother the military junta and its acolytes.

As pointed out by two other party hierarchies, even holding the event seems illegal. Puea Thai’s Phumtham Wechayachai pointed out that his party cannot “organise a fundraising event in that fashion because the organic law governing political parties does not permit fundraising [until] after a royal decree announcing the election takes effect.” He noted that the decree is not expected until 2 January.

Phumtham suggested that the Election Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission “investigate the feast following reports that government officials and political office holders contributed to the campaign.”

His position was supported by Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva who “called on the PPRP [Palang Pracharath] to disclose the names of its supporters at the fundraising banquet for the sake of transparency and in compliance with the law.” He observed that “people who donate 100,000 baht or more to a campaign are legally required to disclose their identities. Those who paid for the tables [at the Palang Pracharath shindig] are considered to be the party’s financial contributors.”

One of the legal questions relates to “how Cabinet ministers and civil servants were able to afford seats at an extravagant fundraising dinner run by the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party on Wednesday.” Well, maybe not how they could afford tables but where the money came from. In addition, the “law on political parties prohibits state agencies from giving them donations of any kind or participating in their activities.”

The devil party and the junta needs to “explain” how tables that cost Bt3 million each “were reserved in the names of the Finance Ministry and state agencies including the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).” Twenty tables were reserved for the Finance Ministry (60 million baht) and three for TAT (9 million baht), meaning that just these two state agencies poured 69 million baht into the junta’s political party.

Finance permanent secretary Prasong Poonthanet “insisted yesterday that no state funds had been expended.” He did not explain how the Ministry had and paid for 20 tables.

In addition, “[f]our tables, worth a combined Bt12 million, were reserved in the name of Phalang Pracharat secretary-general Sonthirat Sonthijirawong, who is commerce minister in the military-led government.”

Reacting to this obvious breach of rules, “activist Veera Somkwamkid said yesterday the National Anti-Corruption Commission should determine how many active civil servants attended the fund-raiser and how they obtained tickets.” He added to the legal mire by pointing out that if civil servants had seats given to them, “they should be scrutinised for illegally receiving a gift worth more than Bt3,000. And if they paid for themselves, they should be scrutinised for being ‘unusually rich’…”.

Because this is the junta’s party and enjoys reflected impunity and because the EC and NACC are essentially puppets of the junta, we would be surprised if they did anything much at all.

Update 1: For more information on who reserved tables at 3 million baht a pop, see the Thai-language ISRA News site. It lists names and numbers of tables. One important omission from the above news stories is the Bangkok Administration with 10 table (30 million baht). Naturally enough, the governor of Bangkok is a junta appointee and other senior members of that administration are deep yellow junta supporters.

Update 2: The Nation reports that the TAT has said it is “impossible” that “it spent Bt9 million on banquet tables at a fundraising dinner for pro-junta party Phalang Pracharat.” TAT director Yuthasak Supakorn declared his “agency had nothing to do with the dinner” adding that he “might take legal action against those reporting the false news for defaming the agency.” A Palang Pracharath official concurred and “rejected the report that the finance ministry and TAT had made donations and joined the fundraising dinner on Wednesday.” He added that “the fundraising process was transparent and the party would disclose the names of the donors in a couple of weeks.” We are pleased that’s sorted out then. Or that it will be fudged “in a couple of weeks.”





Updated: Things that make you go, hmm

15 12 2018

There’s a lot going on, so this is a catch-up on a few media stories worth considering. And these are all from the Bangkok Post!:

Watana gets off: The Criminal Court has found Puea Thai politician and junta critic Watana Muangsook not guilty in a quite ridiculous charge related to comments he made about the vandalism associated with the stealing of the 1932 plaque from the Royal Plaza.

The court said Watana’s comments:

were opinions that could not be deemed a computer crime. They posed no threat to security…. The court said his messages could be considered in the context of academic freedom and his criticism of authorities did not reflect ill intent.

The ridiculousness of the charge is that the junta has never done anything to find those responsible for stealing the plaque and replacing it with a royalist plaque that could easily have been composed in the palace. Of course, the authorities have done nothing because they know exactly who ordered its removal and replacement.

EC makes false promises: By now readers know that we think the Election Commission is totally compromised. So a promise to be clear about the election is simply impossible. Where it is closer to the truth it is in stating: “This is all about establishing credibility by generating information that is reliable and correct for the international community.” What EC president Ittiporn Boonpracong might have said was that the EC’s job is establishing credibility for the junta’s election by generating information that obfuscates. After all, that’s its track record to date. That impression of the EC’s bias is reinforced when Ittiporn mumbles that “foreign envoys did not appear to have any concerns about predictions by some critics of that the poll would be ‘less than free and fair’.” Of course, no one expects a free or fair election. Even the Bangkok Post has been forced to question the EC’s “independence” and “credibility.” Is the EC’s task just to give “credibility” to the junta’s rigged election?

Parliament has no home: The parliament building has been closed and will be given to the king. So the bureaucracy of the parliament and the puppet National Legislative Assembly is homeless. Why the Royal Household Bureau can’t wait for a few months is never explained by the fearful Thai media. Consider the fact that the NLA seems to have been caught unaware by this move and has only just begun to look for a expensive, temporary home. Why’s that?

The Eel jailed: The exceptionally slippery Tharit Pengdit and Suthep Thaugsuban used to be tight, at least when Suthep was managing the crushing of the red shirts. They later fell out and became enemies as DSI led investigations into Suthep’s role in the gunning down of protesters. The enmity was further deepened when Suthep accused Tharit of defamation in February 2013. This had to do with corruption over police buildings under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. In two court cases in 2015 and 2016, Tarit was found not guilty. Suthep appealed to the Supreme Court. So the question is why Tarit suddenly decided to plead “guilty” before the case was concluded and why is he now jailed for a year. That makes you think.

Guess who?: In a two horse race between consortia of some of the biggest and best-connected Sino-Thai tycoons for the contract to build a high-speed railway connecting three major airports, the one led by CP has won. As well as winning, they get a state subsidy of almost 120 billion baht. Makes you wonder how rich the richest non-royals can get.

Update: The authorities have assured Thailand that CP didn’t “win” the bid for the HSR. They just had the lowest bid and negotiations are now needed with the CP consortium in order to determine whether they will win. Funny way to do tendering, but we are willing to bet on the outcome, as we were before the two bids were opened.