Thaksin in Singapore

25 09 2012

A report at Bloomberg is full of ironies regarding politics and Thaksin Shinawatra. Yingluck Shinawatra in New York for the U.N. General Assembly – that’s where Thaksin was in 2006, when the coup was launched – Thaksin himself has been in Singapore, reportedly as a guest of Temasek. It was the sale of Shin Corp to Temasek that unleashed a wave of Bangkok-based anti-Thaksinism that prepared the ground for the coup.

It is a long report which PPT won’t summarize here. Essentially, Thaksin is clear that neither he nor his sister’s government are going to be doing too much to provoke political opponents: “It’s like the government is living in a house full of land mines. So you have to be very cautious of what you are doing.”

Part of the reason for that is self-centered but part is Thaksin the businessman speaking, arguing that political stability helps investment (and the observation that the Thai stock exchange has the world’s second-highest growth this year).

The issue of constitutional reform remains on the agenda, however, as does the investigation of deaths in April and May 2010. Thaksin says: “It’s too much the way they crack down on the people,” Thaksin said, adding that the International Criminal Court is considering whether to accept a petition on the case filed by the Red Shirts. “Definitely they have to be held accountable.”

On the report by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission report and Kanit na Nakhon’s call for Thaksin to leave politics Thaksin says: “That’s the view of a very few people, especially the chairman…”. He adds that “Kanit was ‘still angry with me’ about a dispute over who to include in his Thai Rak Thai political party, the party that brought him to power in 2001. Kanit declined to comment directly on Thaksin’s remarks when reached by phone late yesterday.”

Wikileaks, palace and cheering the junta

28 03 2012

Yesterday PPT posted on a Wikileaks cable about an “unsolicited” briefing U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce was pleased to receive from military junta employee and message boy Bowornsak Uwanno.

That cable was interesting for several reasons, one of which was a tone that indicated support for coup and military junta. That tone becomes a cheering for the illegal actions taken by the military brass in this cable.

Also dated 25 September 2006, in this cable, Ambassador Boyce appears to support some of the junta’s political repression. He first refers to the  Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy and its decision to ban “illegal” wiretapping and “eavesdropping” on communications.

Of course, “legal” wiretapping was still fine, and this move by the junta was based on what Boyce says is “widespread fears” that “Thaksin [Shinawatra] and his supporters were using their control of the largest cellphone operator.” Boyce seems to have forgotten that Thaksin had sold his telecoms interests to Singapore’s Temasek in January 2006. Despite this, Boyce claims that the “fears” has foundation. The cable states “… we believe [the fears] were justified.”

The cable then turns to the junta’s “Public Announcement 22” where it:

advised all administrative and political organizations on the local level which “disagree with the CDRM” to “stop their political movements or activities until the situation in the country is back to normal.”

Tellingly, there is no embassy editorializing on this, suggesting that Boyce isn’t about to condemn a military crackdown on political liberties. This lack of comment is even more telling in that the cable linked above had a comment on the military protecting freedoms. All Boyce does is observe that there is some “anti-coup political discussion…”.

The cable then turns to the junta and the palace:

All television stations simultaneously broadcast a September 22 ceremony at which CDRM leader General Sonthi and other CDRM figures received the Royal Command empowering the CDRM to run the government….

It is pointed out that the king “does not appear in person for such ceremonies.” Clearly, this television event was another element in justifying the coup to the Thai public. At the same time, it also notes that cosmetic surgery was underway to try to protect the palace from criticism of deep involvement in the coup:

a Chinese journalist from Guangming Daily informed us that the Thai MFA protested a Xinhua News Agency story that linked the coup with the monarchy, and Xinhua was in the process of formally apologizing for the report.

Erasing the palace’s fingerprints has continued since then.

The cable then discusses a range of issues, mentioning in neutral terms, the continued detention of four pro-Thaksin politicians. It does reject rumors that the junta moved to prevent a pro-Thaksin coup as:

… nothing more than an effort at a post-facto justification of the coup by journalists, who are supporting the coup because they hated Thaksin, but have a guilty conscience about it.

There seemed no “guilty conscience” at the Ambassador’s residence, for under the sub-heading “KINDER, GENTLER COUP – PHOTO OP OF THE DAY,” Boyce says:

Everyday, the front page of the various newspapers show pictures of smiling soldiers receiving flowers from the public and playing with children. Today’s best public relations photo showed a smiling bride and groom in Chiang Mai, getting their wedding pictures taken in front of a tank.

Cheering the coup from Wireless Road may not seem diplomatic, but all along Boyce had been pro-yellow, pro-royalist and pro-coup.

V for vendetta

24 02 2011

Vendetta is not our word. It is from the Bangkok Post and refers to the fact that “[n]early half of the board members of TOT Plc have tendered their resignations over the past two days for fear of a possible legal backlash over the state enterprise’s move to demand compensation from mobile market leader Advanced Info Service. Five of the 12 board members decided to quit because they were unhappy with the board’s decision to submit the AIS compensation case for approval at a meeting tomorrow, TOT sources said.”

The Post goes on to say that “TOT is under pressure from the government to pursue massive compensation from AIS over a series of amendments to its concession.” The Abhisit Vejjajiva government claims that the amendments caused TOT to lose 74 billion baht.

One of the board members stated that the “directors had gradually quit because they were frustrated at the government’s pressure on TOT to demand compensation from AIS.” He claimed that the government’s action was probably in breach of the 1992 Public-Private Joint Venture Act.

This action by the government relates to complicated changes undertaken in the mobile telecoms sector when Thaksin Shinawatra was prime minister and when his family controlled AIS. The company was later sold to Singapore’s Temasek.

The implication of the Post headline is that the Abhisit government is continuing its vendetta against anything considered to relate to Thaksin.

Some might also see a recent political case, also reported in the Bangkok Post, as falling under the V word. Chinnicha Wongsawat is a Puea Thai Party MP for Chiang Mai and the daughter of former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat and Thaksin’s niece.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission “has asked the Supreme Court to bar [Chinnicha] from holding political office for five years after she failed to reveal the full extent of her liabilities when taking office as an MP.” It says that “she failed in a declaration of her assets and liabilities to the NACC on Jan 22, 2008, upon being elected an MP, to include a debt of 100million baht that she owed to businessman Bannapot Damapong, a stepbrother of Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra, the former wife of Thaksin.”

“Chinnicha said she did not declare the debt in the first place because she believed she was not required to do so until the Assets Scrutiny Committee – the graft panel set up by the engineers of the Sept 19, 2006, coup that ousted Thaksin from power and later disbanded – had ruled on whether to unfreeze the money.”

The NACC has “decided the MP had intentionally submitted a false declaration of assets and liabilities.” It wants her banned for 5 years. PPT doesn’t know the intricacies of the machinations over money that went on following the coup, but it seems odd indeed that liabilities and funds frozen by the government at the time would be considered “deliberately hidden.”

It is easy to conclude that the anti-Thaksin vendetta continues unabated as the royalist regime seeks to further embed its rule.

Down the Thaksin road

19 08 2010

Is it just PPT that feels a sense of déjà vu in reading the press over the last couple of days?

First, related to a PPT post of a few days ago, we have more news on the King Power takeover of Leicester City Football Club. One of Thailand’s wealthiest men, and one with political connections, Vichai Raksriaksorn, is claimed to be “set to turn Thailand into the Asian football-academy hub.” Of course, this is to be on his own vast land holdings, and he suggests near Suvarnabhumi airport where the King Power group has the duty free monopoly. It is said that “Many hundreds of millions of baht would be spent in setting up the Leicester City football academy in Thailand…”.

Doesn’t this sound like Thaksin Shinawatra when he took over Manchester City? Remember his Liverpool deal that failed in 2004, his Man City deal that saw Thaksin signing three Thai players in 2007 and they were first Thai players ever on the books of a Premier League club, his claims that the deal would be great for Thai football, the Thai themes he pursued with the club, and the politics of football. As Thaksin’s sone was involved at Man City, so it Vichai’s son, who is now Leicester City’s executive director. Leicester City’s stadium will be renamed the King Power Stadium.

Second, there is the story in the Bangkok Post regarding 3G licensing – yes, we know, 3G is now ancient in technology terms, but Thailand is just creaking round to it. The report is that the “National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Wednesday defended its efforts to limit foreign participation in the country’s telecommunications sector, arguing that the rules do not violate global trade commitments.” Clearly this is another Abhisit Vejjajiva government attempt to attack Advanced Info Service (AIS) – associated with Thaksin’s sale of Shin Corp to Singapore’s Temasek.

Didn’t Thaksin get quite a deal of stick in his “nationalist” days when he was even accused of being anti-foreign, not least in telecoms (where his family had a huge stake)? See some of the story here.

Third, and most obvious, the Democrat Party-led regime’s never-ending attempts to ladle money into the countryside – something he party chastised Thaksin for. Arguably, Thaksin had more a program for the loot than the current government does and the criticisms of Thaksin for policy-related vote-buying would apply to the Democrat Party if they had any policies other than shoveling the money out to curry favor.

The Thai world keeps turning but seems to return to Thaksin again and again.

Updated: How much more censorship?

13 06 2010

Quite a lot more it seems. The Bangkok Post (13 June 2010) says that the authoritarian tendency of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime knows few boundaries.

The Post reports that  hardline “Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij and Sirichok Sopha, the prime minister’s secretary, flew to Singapore in mid-April as political protests were escalating to meet Temasek executives with two proposals…”. Like a Fascist politician, Korn reportedly asked the Thaicom satellite owner to prevent “the red shirt protesters’ People Channel (PTV) from broadcasting inappropriate programmes via Thaicom.” Apparently it was an offer Temasek could not refuse, and it sent the offer to the “Thaicom board, and subsequently the PTV broadcasts were blocked…”.

Like a Mafia godfather, Korn apparently made Temasek an offer. The “Thai government is proposing to buy Thaicom Plc from Singapore-based Temasek Holdings to avoid future conflicts stemming from the use of the company’s satellites to air anti-government broadcasts…”. The wording of the article is a little unclear: “Korn … ask[ed] Temasek if it would be possible for a Thai state enterprise, either MCOT or CAT Telecom, to take over Temasek’s indirect investment in the satellite operator.” Temasek’s response is not yet known.

Unsatisfied, it is reported that the “Thai government is still pursuing the idea under a government-to-government deal, which could result in changes in the terms for the remaining 12 years of Thaicom’s concession, or even a new satellite concession.” The idea is to make Thaicom effectively “a state enterprise and the government would find it easier to regulate satellite broadcasting.”

Temasek might like to offload Thaicom as the investment hasn’t been particularly easy to deal with and there have been numerous clashes with the military and post-coup governments. It is also an “industry is highly competitive with low margins.”

In other words, the implication of this story is that the Abhisit regime and its royalist backers are prepared to spend billions of taxpayers money to protect themselves and the monarchy. Censorship is tightening even further, and this authoritarian, military-backed regime wants to cut off all opposition media.

Update: Bloomberg BusinessWeek has a longish story on the proposed purchase of Thaicom and converting it into a state agency, meaning tighter censorship. It notes the Mafia-like offer that can’t be refused from a determined right-wing regime. The market price of Thaicom has increased but is still below its book value.

Abhisit, violence and the Songkhran Uprising

27 08 2009

There is an audio clip doing the rounds that purports to be Democrat Party Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ordering the use of violent force against red shirt demonstrators during April’s Songkhran Uprising. Abhisit doesn’t deny it is his voice, but says the clip has been doctored to change what is said on the clip. The red shirts deny being part of any “dirty trick.”

PPT had a link to the clip (see below) but it now seems to be gone – part of the Democrat Party-led government’s remarkably regular use of censorship.The site hosting the clip states:

หมายเหตุ “ไทยอินไซเดอร์” ทางเว็บมาสเตอร์ จำเป็นต้องถอดคลิปเสียงอื้อฉาวนี้ออก หลังได้รับการแจ้งจากหน่วยงานรัฐ มิเช่นนั้นจะทำการปิดเว็บ แต่เรายังขอลงเนื้อความที่มีการถอดคำต่อคำมาลง เพราะเชื่อว่า “ผู้อ่าน” มีวิจารณญาณในการรับข้อมูลข่าวสาร ว่าสิ่งใดควรเชื่อ หรือไม่ควรเชื่อ

28 ส.ค.2552

Recall the uproar when the Thaksin Shinawatra government tried to clamp down on the media. In fact, it seems to PPT that the Abhisit government is perhaps having more success in its censorship than Thaksin’s government did.

PPT has previously questioned Abhisit’s truthfulness. However, this time, we are going to assume that he is not lying. So what is happening?

In the Bangkok Post (27 August 2009: “PM: Altered audio clip misleading”) Abhisit confirms that “the voice” orders “officials to use force against red-shirt protesters…”. Abhisit states categorically: “the clip … is definitely an edited clip because I have never given out such order…” and he added that he could prove this fact. PPT will be interested in such evidence.

Sounding more and more like Thaksin Shinawatra when he was prime minister, Abhisit claims the clip was the “work of people with the ill intention of causing misunderstanding and instigating unrest, and added: “I will take legal action against whoever is involved…”. The voice clip was apparently played by the UDD’s DStation, and Abhisit “warned the red-shirt group not to spread the audio it because he would take legal action against them as well.”

Then, Abhisit, after saying how bad the perpetrators of this “dirty trick” were says that he knows “who emailed this audio clip [and adds that they] were connected to politicians and companies with links to a former prime minister, but did not say outright that the person was Thaksin Shinawatra.” To ssome observers, this might sound fishy; he knows who did it, threatened legal action, but then doesn’t name anyone. But let’s assume there are good reasons for not naming names.  Anyway, it is a developing Thai political tradition to mention unnamed people or to reveal their initials only.

But if they are known, will they be arrested?  The premier sort of waffles about “it would be good if this could be done because this should not happen to anyone.” So maybe he doesn’t know who they were?

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the “clip was clearly edited in a way to discredit the government.” This didn’t bother him because he thinks the “public were well enough informed to decide themselves whether the clip was credible or not…”. Well, maybe, but Abhisit is threatening to sue those who play it.

But Abhisit has support for his version of events. First, “Deputy Interior Minister Thavorn Senniam said he was with the prime minister during the Songkran riots all the time but never heard him give such an order.” And, Democrat Party advisory chairman Chuan Leekpai said “he could guarantee that Mr Abhisit had not ordered use of force as alleged.” Were both really by Abhisit’s side during every minute of those events?

The UDD said that so long as “it had not been clearly proven whether the clip had been edited or not, the red-shirts would not use it as a political issue to attack the government during their anti-government rally on Sunday…”.

Update 1: It comes down to this: can Abhisit really prove his counter-claim in any definitive way? Probably not. Could it have been people inside the government putting out the clip? Possibly, given the contest that has been going on of late. Could it be from within the military or ISOC? Also possible, but usually their fingerprints are large as they are so clumsy. Clearly Abhisit is under attack from many sides, but the government simply can’t afford to risk an election. So in the end, this is likely to be just one more of the mounting cases of claim and counter-claim that cannot be proven. There will be an opinion poll that will show something about public perception, but that will count for little as these opponents chip away at Abhisit.

Update 2: Thanks to several readers and to Bangkok Pundit, PPT got their copy of the clip here. We have to say that it certainly sounds like Abhisit and the statement sounds convincing. If it is a fake, it seems to have been exceptionally well done. In The Nation (28 August 2009: “Riot audio tape doctored: PM”) Abhisit admitted the voice in the clip belonged to him, but believed that part of the content was doctored because he did not make such orders. He then adds: “The audio clip was edited because the levels of sound were different,” and then adds, intriguingly, “I affirm that I have never said these words in such a combination.” He also said that he was “ready to clarify any doubts regarding the audio clip and blamed those behind it of intending to hurt the country and incite violence. He also warned such audio editing could be illegal.”

Recommended: Suranand Vejjajiva in the Bangkok Post, 28 August 2009: “PM not taking chances as red shirts crank up engine”.

Update 3: The Democrat Party’s Abhisit and his supporters are in full damage control. The Bangkok Post (28 August 2009: “Audio clip ‘sent from former Thaksin firm'”) reports that Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks proclaims that his party has traced the origins of the emails that circulated the audio clip. Buranaj says ” the original email message containing the altered audio clip featuring Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s voice was sent from a computer at SC Asset, a subsidiary of Shin Corporation, the former investment conglomerate of ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” The “odd” thing in this is that Shin is now owned by Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government’s investment arm but is still run by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s  sister (The Nation, 28 August 2009). The “edited voice recording” was sent on to the “information technology and public relations office of the opposition Puea Thai Party before being distributed to about 30 news reporters.”

[Update: PPT believes this information on ownership is incorrect and that SC continues to be controlled by Shinawatras.]

Buranaj “said this explained why Puea Thai MPs tried to get the clip played during Thursday’s meeting of the House of Representatives, which was debating the 2010 Budget Bill.” Meanwhile, another Party spokeman claimed that “forwarding false information is a violation of Article 94 of the Political Party Act and this could lead to a party dissolution.” And, in what is becoming standard practice for the Democrat Party-led government, the “website that released the audio clip had already been shut down, Information and Communications Technology Minister Ranongrak Suwanchawee said. She had ordered its closure.” She also “stressed that stringent legal action under the computer crime law would be taken against all those who forwarded the email containing the audio track.”

It may be that the Democrat Party sees this as an opportunity to go after Thaksin’s family again as another way to stymie the red shirts andPhuea Thai Party.

In a separate statement, “Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon strongly denied reported allegations the armed forces were somehow involved in releasing the sound clip.” He also said he believed that Abhisit would not issue orders to violently crackdown on protestors. He was supported by Army commander-in-chief General Anupong Paojinda who also “insisted that the military had nothing to do with the questionable audio clip.”

Update 4: The Bangkok Post (28 August 2009: “Spokesman: Clip a plot to topple govt”) has “acting government spokesman” Panitan Wattanayagorn claiming that a “group of people craving for violence wants to create a situation that could lead to a change of government and the release of the altered voice clip of the prime minister is part of its plan to incite hatred for the government…”. With no new evidence, Panitan claims that the allegedly edited audio clip “was intended to urge the people to come out against authorities.” In line with a point PPT has made in another post, Panitan says that the “government will try its best to secure the country’s stability…”.

He also said that the government would “take steps to bring those involved in tampering with the clip to justice.” After claiming that they know who distributed the clip, the government now claims that they are now in pursuit of the alleged makers of the clip. saying that there “are only a few groups of people who have the ability and equipment to do this in Thailand and it would not be difficult to find … the culprit.” If the clip is a concoction, why would acting spokesman Panitan think it had to be made in Thailand? Does he know more or is this fishing?

Update 5: The Bangkok Post (29 August 2009: “Democrats warn rivals over audio clip”)  reports that the Democrat Party is accusing “the opposition Puea Thai Party and a company linked to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of being behind the proliferation of the clip.” Now the government proclaims the clip as a “threat to national security and hurting the country as well as inciting people (to cause disturbances)…”, according to the ICT minister. Yes, national security.

Further , it has been claimed that ” the Constitution Court … [should] consider dissolving any political party involved in the posting of the clip as it could lead to violence and put national security at risk.” Yes, national security.

Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks said “it was obvious Puea Thai MPs wanted to provoke hatred against the government in the run-up to the UDD’s planned rally at Sanam Luang tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Puea Thai MP Jatuporn Promphan said “SC Asset and the party will lodge a defamation suit against the Democrat Party for accusing the party of being the mastermind of the clip.”

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