The hatred of Thaksin Shinawatra runs so deep in the Democrat Party that it leads them to lead campaigns to overthrow elected governments, trash parliament, demand a military coup and, now, to support the military dictatorship. Of course, there are other reasons for these actions apart from personalized hatreds – protecting their class and privileges, disdain for the electorate, political laziness and a penchant for authoritarianism.
The hatred for Thaksin has been seen in the most recent example of the Democrat Party’s support for the military junta in its most recent spat with Thaksin.
A few days ago we posted on the junta’s claims that Thaksin was behind the recent very mild opposition expressed in some quarters to the military’s draft constitution. In an agitated response to reporters, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, The Dictator, stated: “… Who’s doing this? Who’s supporting them? Who’s plotting all this? Firstly, it’s foreign lobbyists. Who? Thaksin!” Later, the “evidence” for this was claimed to be a story in The Guardian from December 2013, where Thaksin is mentioned in a list of clients with UK PR firm Bell Pottinger. Yet, as the Bangkok Post points out, it is not clear how much lobbying this firm does. One UK website lists just one meeting between the firm and government, in 2011. It does not appear to lobby at the EU.
There are three elements to this accusation. First, foreign lobbyists, second, Thaksin, and third, the weak “evidence.” In the deep and conspiratorial social media and emailed claims by yellow shirts these elements are one in the same. They have long claimed that it is Thaksin who hires the lobbyists who then give royalist Thailand a bad run in the foreign media and turn Western governments, the UN and EU against royalist Thailand. Some of these claims originate in the writings of extreme US libertarian rightists.
Many Democrat Party members are hitched to such conspiracy theories, not least because a good conspiracy theory means less real research on particular topics and offer the Democrat Party “explanations” for their electoral failures that mean the party doesn’t need to examine itself. So when the junta announces a conspiracy, it is easy and natural for the Democrat Party to jump on board.
The lack of “evidence” from the junta suggests that it is listening to the conspiracy theorists. In fact, the evidence for Thaksin’s employ of Washington-based lobbyists is well-known, admitted and available in public documents. Thaksin had business arrangements with several firms including Amsterdam & Peroff LLP and Baker Botts LLP, among others.
To the recent Prayuth claim, Thaksin responded, saying: “the post-coup government’s image over its two years in power was poor in the eyes of the international community simply because of its severe violation of human rights and international laws.” He went on: “Instead of admitting to his fault and correcting the problem, the leader blamed me and accused me of hiring lobbyists to campaign for boycotts of Thailand…. No lobbyists in the world could destroy you as effectively as you are destroying yourself…”. He added: “I don’t need to waste money to hire anyone to condemn the Thai prime minister and thus damage the country…”.
Two things come to mind. First, Thaksin does not explicitly deny using lobbyists, and second, he’s right about the damage the junta does to Thailand.
This response itself got a response from former Democrat Party MP Watchara Petthong, who has defended the military regime by pointing to “clear evidence” that “former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has hired lobbyists, indicating he was behind international criticisms against the junta.”
The first part of the claim is clear, as noted above. The rest is an accusation, the veracity of which may be tested. The claim was made with reference to the Lobbying Disclosure website of the US House of Representatives, which the Democrat Party member declared “clearly indicated Thaksin had regularly hired foreign companies from 2006-15 to lobby US officials to react unfavourably to Thailand throughout the years.”
Watchara went on: “How could he deny it? Whom should the people believe — the US House of Representatives or Thaksin? … How can we believe what he says?”
Interestingly, the Bangkok Post did not simply buy Watchara’s claims and did some research. It says:
A search of records on file in Washington appears to indicate that lobbying firms have done no work on Thaksin’s behalf in the two years since the military coup that overthrew Yingluck’s government.
Considering that Thaksin is a billionaire investor with interests all over the world, including mining in African countries, some of his lobbying arrangements might not necessarily involve politics but could be linked to US regulatory and trade issues.
To its credit, the Post did consult the individual reports of the lobbying firms lists as having Shinawatra dealings.
According to the data on the Lobbying Disclosure website, Thaksin was listed as a client in 49 quarterly filings by lobbying firms between 2006 and the first quarter of this year. Most of them were for fees of less than $5,000.
Since the third quarter of last year, Thaksin has had BGR Government Affairs on retainer but for each quarter the firm has checked the box “No Lobbying Activity” and the fee paid has been “less than $5,000” (175,400 baht). The small amount of compensation suggests it might be just a retainer fee.
… Since the 2014 coup, there have been no records of substantial fees paid by him to lobbyists, according to the data.
In all of the lodged documentation for the period since the coup, this is the standard look of them:
The two points to note are: payments are “Less than$5,000” and “No Lobbying Issue Activity.” This is reported in every single disclosure from second quarter 2014 and into 2016.
So when Watchara asks: “Whom should the people believe — the US House of Representatives or Thaksin?” the answer seems to be believe both. As far as this data show, and this is the evidence source claimed by Watchara, while Thaksin retains lobbyists in Washington DC, but these lobbyists have not been doing any work for him.
These may not be the only facts available, but they are the stated source of Watchara’s claims. Again, they seem based on lazy research and the deep resentment and hatred of Thaksin rather than being a factual account.