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  1. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/MJ20Ae02.html It's all wet in Thailand By Shawn W Crispin BANGKOK - As Thailand counts the cost of massive seasonal flooding, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's political and economic leadership is under sharp new scrutiny. Catapulted to power on a class struggle rally cry and pro-poor populist policies, her government's response to the disaster has prioritized the protection of industrial estates and central Bangkok property over grassroots livelihoods and lives. The floods have devastated agricultural crops, inundated over 14,000 factories, including multinational manufacturers like Honda and Toyota, and caused over 300 deaths. As much as six million tons of rice crops have been damaged, representing 23% of the year's main harvest; thousands of manufacturers face extended work stoppages, jeopardizing global supply chains and the solvency of Thai plants that owe over US$2 billion in outstanding loans; the total death toll won't be known until high waters recede in 14 worst-hit provinces. Finance Minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala has estimated the deluge will shave between 1% and 1.7% off this year's gross domestic product (GDP) growth, a loss assessment international investment banks corroborate. The government has signaled plans to spend at least 130 billion baht (US$4.2 billion) in flood relief and rehabilitation, pushing deficit spending to its 20% legal limit of total annual spending. The government has also indicated it may take out external loans to finance the emergency efforts. Harder to calculate is the impact on Yingluck's credibility and popularity, which pre-flood was riding a July election win high, but post-flood is expected to sink, including in some of her Puea Thai party's worst-affected provincial strongholds. Her government's response to the disaster has been by all accounts erratic and uncoordinated, bringing the premier to tears at one point and underscoring her lack of political experience and control over her administration. Her self-exiled, former premier brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, has been widely reported to be managing her crisis team from the United Arab Emirates. The floods have also raised new questions about Yingluck's economic priorities, including her dogged commitment to populist policies during a time of national crisis. Economic analysts contend the floods point to the pressing need to spend more on infrastructure, including on better water management systems, to avert future crises and reassure foreign investors in industrial estates that this year's floods are an anomaly rather than the new norm. Thailand was buffeted by major flooding last year as well. (Thaksin claimed in a press interview that he has a 400 billion baht plan to avoid future floods, though he failed to disclose details.) Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has suggested that Yingluck reallocate funds earmarked for a populist policy cosseting first-time home and car buyers, a program critics say will benefit her family's and cronies' property businesses, to flood-affected victims in need of basic food and shelter. Those calls have so far been ignored: Yingluck's public relations team released a statement saying that all the "urgent economic stimulus plans" that were announced before the flooding will still be implemented to "improve [the] Thai economy". Yingluck's commitment to the program underscores her need to regain suddenly lost political momentum, a drive that before the floods was pushing for the criminally convicted Thaksin's return to Thailand as a free man by year's end. Her government was elected in July on a wide raft of populist offerings, including a fixed rice price guarantee, a countrywide minimum wage hike, and free tablet computers for school students, among other frivolous giveaways. The floods, deaths and devastation, however, have taken much of the buzz out of those offerings. Even before the deluge, Yingluck's brand of populism was viewed widely as a crude imitation of Thaksin's original pro-poor platform, which entailed village development funds, a debt moratorium for farmers and low-cost universal health care. Critics have argued her populist policies will do more harm than good for the rural poor, and through state intervention threatens to build up significant pricing distortions across the economy. Heavy interventions Criticism has centered on her main rice pledging scheme, where the government vows to pay a fixed 15,000 baht per ton at a time global prices float around 10,000 baht. Thailand is typically the world's largest rice exporter, commanding around 30% of the global market. Economic analysts argue that the scheme will encourage overproduction, encourage worker migration from industry and services to inefficient agriculture, burden the government with billions of dollars in annual losses, and potentially erode Thai rice export competitiveness. Nor does the scheme protect farmers against the flooding devastation they now face. Yingluck's mandated minimum wage hike, which was pushed through on October 17, elicited calls from local manufacturers to suspend the plan until they can recoup massive flood-related losses and regain their financial footing. The scheme will raise minimum daily wages by 40% to 300 baht in Bangkok and six other well-off provinces, and by 40% on prevailing pay rates in other poorer provinces. Similarly, the scheme raises economic concerns about export price competitiveness and the future solvency of industries competing for markets and investments with lower-wage countries like Vietnam and Indonesia. Because the informal sector employs as much as 60% of Thailand's work force, according to World Bank estimates, analysts contend the policy will be impossible to enforce in a meaningful way across the broad economy. Sriyan Pietersz, head of research at JP Morgan in Bangkok, says provincial small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), many of which operate on thin margins and have been devastated by the floods, will feel the biggest impact. Ironically, SMEs were a grassroots constituency Thaksin championed through cheap government loans during his tenure but Yingluck's policies now threaten to put them out of business. Korn Chatikavanij, formerly finance minister in the Democrat Party government, is among the critics of what he refers to as Yingluck's "cheap thrill" populism. Measured against the outgoing Democrat Party's grassroots policies, Korn contends that Yingluck's offerings are comparatively "wasteful" and represent a "serious distraction" from the economic inequalities and structural shortcomings his government addressed in a supposedly more "sustainable and practical way". "Thaksin had fresh ideas; this government has no ideas," he quipped. Thaksin's original populist policies, devised after rather than before he was elected, were heavily marketed to establish his pro-poor credentials. At the same time, his government spent more to rehabilitate indebted industrialists, property developers and other entrepreneurs flattened by the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. Thaksin's populist policies came under heavy criticism that the spending risked a fiscal blowout - warnings that came to nothing due to his use of off-balance-sheet state banks to fund many of the programs. Yingluck has stolen pages from her elder brother's populist playbook, passing funding responsibility for her 114 billion baht rice pledging scheme to the state-run Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives. She has also shown flashes of political courage by scrapping or scaling back some of the wilder populist pledges her party made on the election campaign trail, including a plan to distribute government-backed credit cards to indebted farmers. An election pledge to distribute computer tablets to all eight million of the country's school children has since been limited to only first-year students. With pre-flood public debt at 43% of GDP and calls for counter-cyclical spending to guard against a possible double dip recession in the United States and Europe, Yingluck has fiscal room to maneuver. Inflated popular expectations initially aimed to buoy Yingluck's popularity and keep the military on the hind foot while she pushed controversial political measures, including Thaksin's return to Thailand. But the devastation of the floods has raised hard questions about Yingluck's economic and political priorities, and there is no guarantee the political novice's commitment to populism during times of crisis will amount to the same political boon as Thaksin's pro-poor policies. Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia Editor.
  2. ASIA HAND Fluid loyalties, obscure intentions in Thailand By Shawn W Crispin BANGKOK - Four months after self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra's protest group fired rhetorical broadsides at Thailand's royal family, his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra opened her prime ministerial tenure with praise and respect for the same royal institution. The discrepant signals underscore the divergent interest groups now under Thaksin's political umbrella and whose push and pull will determine largely the stability and longevity of Yingluck's new government. The appointment of Yingluck's cabinet signaled a conciliatory course by sidelining the radical "red shirt" protest leaders whose rally cries last year for early elections helped pave her way to power but whose firebrand criticism of the royalist establishment is seen as a political liability to her reconciliation agenda. None of the protest group's leaders who won office on Thaksin's and Yingluck's Puea Thai party list was selected to her 35-seat ministerial line-up. Instead, Yingluck's maiden speech as prime minister emphasized the need for Thais to rally around King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his 84th birthday celebrations scheduled for this December. In the same address, she quoted at length from one of the widely revered monarch's speeches, saying Bhumibol's unifying example would serve as her "guiding light" as national leader. Yingluck's appeal to royal righteousness is indicative of the accommodation reached behind the scenes between Thaksin, the royal palace and military top brass ahead of last month's general elections. (See The deal behind Thailand's polls Asia Times Online, June 30.) According to sources familiar with the talks, the military agreed to allow Puea Thai to form a new elected government unopposed in exchange for a Thaksin promise to rein in his camp's anti-monarchy element and resist intervention in military affairs, including the upcoming annual reshuffle that determines the army's leadership. Army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha, a member of the elite Queen's Guard, is eligible to serve three more years in his position and viewed as the palace's preferred soldier to help manage the eventual succession from Bhumibol to heir apparent Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. Yingluck's pro-royal signals may also be interpreted as an early bid to reconcile opposed political camps and rehabilitate her brother's suspect royalist credentials, one of the reasons military coup-makers cited for staging the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin's then caretaker government. Some analysts have portrayed Thailand's subsequent conflict of competing street movements and judicial coups as pitting pro- and anti-royalist camps, a characterization Thaksin has contested but his aligned protest group intimated in its speeches, media and street graffiti. While loyalties and intentions are still obscure and fluid, Yingluck has emphasized she will give top priority to achieving national reconciliation. Apart from the pre-election deal brokered with the military and palace, Thaksin has reportedly sent emissaries of conciliation on at least two recent occasions to meet with leaders of the pro-royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest group, according to people familiar with the situation. The PAD's street protests paved the way for Thaksin's 2006 ouster and crippled the workings of two of his aligned governments in 2008. Yet there are already concerns that if Yingluck pushes too hard, too fast for a political amnesty that both absolves the military and outgoing Abhisit Vejjajiva government of responsibility for last year's armed crackdown on protestors and allows the criminally convicted Thaksin to return to Thailand as a free man the move could spark new bouts of instability or even a military coup. So, too, could any move to pardon the handful of Thaksin-aligned activists who have been charged or sentenced to prison for lese majeste. Government as family business Her pace will be determined largely by how power is shared and exercised between Thaksin, who is legally banned from politics until May 2012 and currently a fugitive from Thai justice, and Yingluck, a political novice who rose rapidly through the corporate ranks of Thaksin's family business but is unaccustomed to the rough and tumble of Thai factional politics. Thaksin has already said he would like to return to Thailand in November to attend his daughter's wedding. Thaksin famously referred to Yingluck as his "clone" during the election campaign and local media reports indicated Puea Thai faction leaders traveled to Dubai to lobby Thaksin for ministerial portfolios in the new government. Yingluck has denied Thaksin was involved in selecting her cabinet but it's already become clear to most observers that her team of political advisors is carefully managing her public image and tightly scripting her speeches. "It's being run like a family business where Thaksin is chairman of the board and Yingluck is the CEO," said one well-connected diplomat who recently paid a courtesy call to the new premier. "It will be rule by committee where advisors take the lead on day-to-day management, Thaksin provides the strategic direction and Yingluck is the photogenic figurehead - just like a corporation." Yingluck's advocates believe her mild-mannered temperament and management-by-delegation style represents a hopeful antidote to her hard-charging brother, whose divide-and-rule tactics and penchant for antagonism spawned political enemies and contributed to his military downfall. With the global economy tipping towards recession, Yingluck's ambitious populist spending plans will likely receive less critical scrutiny and open the way for the many patronage politicians in her cabinet to profit from their portfolios. At the same time, there are doubts among the diplomatic community that Yingluck has the stature or competence to manage such a high-powered and potentially treacherous post. One senior Western diplomat who met with Yingluck after the election said her replies to his questions lacked coherence even after conferring with her three top advisors before replying to every one of his queries. A similar disconnect between question and answer is evident in several of her Thai and English language press interviews, according to journalists. One area where her government will require coherence is in its management of military affairs. Her appointed defense minister, General Yuthasak Sasiprapa, said on Wednesday that he had no plans to remove any armed forces commanders after he officially assumed his post. Analysts believe his working relationship with army commander Prayuth and approach to military reshuffles will be key to future stability. Yuthasak, the son-in-law of former military dictator Prapat Chrusathien and a board member of several prominent Thai corporations, is perceived by diplomats to be more business-driven than politically-minded and unlikely to unseat Prayuth or his top deputies. Nor does his appointment signal impending military reform: while serving as deputy defense minister in 2004, Yuthasak was implicated in a 1 billion baht (US$32.7 million) helicopter spare parts bidding scandal but was later acquitted of the charges. His family has interests in a Bangkok-based Sasiprapa Thai boxing gym that has trained and dispatched heavies for debt collection, including for certain Macau casinos, according to a private investigator who recently probed his family's business background. Any indication that Yingluck's administration is padding rather than clipping the military's interests after years of ballooning budgets and political meddling at Thaksin's expense could raise tensions with the "red shirt" parliamentarians who have called for military reform and justice for the military's lethal crackdown last year on their protest. Whether the activists-cum-politicians press those demands or go quiet amid the privilege and protection of parliament will determine largely if future instability comes from inside or outside Yingluck's government. Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia Editor. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/MH11Ae01.html
  3. July 5, 2011 11:49 pm Thaksin’s dreams can end Thai democracy By Joshua Kurlantzick Only a decade ago, Thailand was one of Asia’s strongest democracies. Today, that democracy has fallen off a cliff, a worrying trend, which despite the optimism of the Arab spring, is increasingly being seen elsewhere in the developing world too. Now, with the election of the Puea Thai party, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand risks losing a last chance to put its wobbly democracy back on track. Thailand’s democratic fall is relatively recent. Reformers took control after the failed military interventions of the early 1990s, passing a progressive constitution in 1997, and holding free elections. “Thailand’s freedom, openness, strength, and relative prosperity make it a role model,†US assistant secretary of state James Kelly declared in 2002. Growing divides between the middle and upper classes and the poor, however, gradually polarised Thai society, leading to turmoil, and a bloody crackdown in Bangkok last year that killed at least 90 people. Mr Thaksin was at the heart of these tensions. First elected in 2001, he proved a revelation. For the first time here was a Thai politician who appealed to the poor – who, as in many developing countries, comprise the majority of the electorate. Politically engaged for the first time, they turned out in droves. Yet as he won mandate after mandate, Mr Thaksin – like other elected autocrats such as Vladimir Putin or Hugo Chavez – began to undermine the rule of law, enacting policies that favoured his family businesses, alarming Thailand’s middle class and elites, the military and royal family. The result saw a familiar pattern from angry middle class revolts from Venezuela to the Philippines, in which these groups disdained elections and fought back in the streets, toppling Mr Thaksin in a coup in 2006. Yet, now believing that their votes mattered, Thailand’s poor were also unwilling to give way, leading to frequent battles with security forces. Now, in this election, they, and Ms Yingluck, have handed the establishment one of their worst defeats. Now Thailand’s first female prime minister has a chance to put its democracy back together. Despite her surname, she may win acceptance on all sides, simply by not being her brother. Unlike him, she seems to understand the need for compromise, including a vow not to prosecute army officers for last year’s bloodshed. But if she fails to take this chance, her country could again descend into civil conflict – foreshadowing similar implosions in other failing democracies worldwide. Here the early signs have been mixed. In the days after the election, all sides called for calm. Rather than govern alone, Ms Yingluck chose to bring others into a coalition. Her primary mission, she told reporters, was “to lead the country to unity and reconciliation.†In response, Thailand’s army chief, an arch-conservative traditionalist, has said the military will not interfere with her government. But this detente is unlikely to last. Though Ms Yingluck has avoided discussing the topic, many in her party, who worship her brother, want him back. Puea Thai promised an amnesty during the campaign, and the Thai press reported on Tuesday that these plans were now being developed. Though he claims to want to retire, Mr Thaksin, an incorrigible politician never happier than in front of a crowd, has no intention of stepping back from the limelight. Even so, as by far the most divisive figure in the country, his return could spark major street protests by the middle class and elites, just the kind of unrest that could provide a rationale for military intervention to restore order. In the longer run, both Thailand’s urban middle classes and its poor must accept the need for painful change. The poor, and their allies in Ms Yingluck’s party, must accept that they have to protect private property rights and the rule of law and also that they must not let Mr Thaksin back into Thailand, no matter how much they love him. The middle classes, including their allies in the army and the royal palace, need to accept that if Thailand is to be a democracy, the will of the voters must triumph. Hardest of all, Mr Thaksin must accept that he really does have to retire, if he wants his country to flourish and his positive legacies – including political empowerment and poverty reduction – to stand the test of time. But if he and his sister insist on a comeback, he may yet have to take responsibility for the final fiery death of a once-promising democratic nation. Joshua Kurlantzick is Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/10772e7a-a737-11e0-b6d4-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1RarqCsUl
  4. EDITORIAL The time has come to rediscover our moral compass By The Nation Published on July 9, 2011 A blanket amnesty will do nothing to heal the bitter divide in Thai society - justice and the rule of law are the only way forward In early 2003, the administration of Thaksin Shinawatra launched a controversial campaign in the name of a war against drugs. Within three months, about 2,500 suspects and a handful of innocent bystanders had been killed. The official explanation was that this was "bad guys killing bad guys". Nobody believed it, but we Thais didn't really care. As far as we were concerned, justice had been served. But a few people in the political establishment, including close allies like the US, decided it was time to tap Thaksin on the shoulder and remind him, as leader of the Thai government, that controversial policies using body counts as the benchmark for success could damage bilateral ties with foreign countries, who often restrict cooperation with governments that grossly abuse their power. The Thaksin administration duly came to its senses and the killing stopped. Sad to say, a society that opts for such a heavy-handed solution however controversial it may be, is a weak society. It is one that can be easily exploited and manipulated even in the face of glaring contradictions with its traditional values. Remember the topless Songkran girls dancing on the back of a truck on Silom Road? They were just metres away from rows of topless-dancer go-go bars. We were angry but we didn't really know why. Perhaps the word "contradiction" is an understatement when it comes to describing our society. While most political parties have invested heavily in trying to understand what makes Thai people tick, we seem to have lost sight of more basic but important things. Integrity, honesty, generosity, humility and other important virtues are hard to find nowadays when we speak of governance. We see things the way we want to see them, and along the way we compromise our own values for short-term gains. Instead of defending the ground rules we instead ask, "What's my cut? What's in it for me?" Along with the controversial drug war, Thai people have tolerated a culture of impunity - but as long it was only for members of their own political and social camp. The Pheu Thai Party accused the outgoing Democrat-led Government of not moving fast enough in bringing the yellow shirts to justice for occupying Suvarnabhumi Airport and Government House when pro-Thaksin administrations were in place. The ball is now in Pheu Thai's court and it remains to be seen how its incoming government will handle the red-shirt leaders who called on their supporters to turn Bangkok and city halls around the country into a sea of fire. The bottom line is that we have to have an ethical standard, and the law of the land and the country's constitution is not a bad place on which to peg our moral and political integrity. We may have lost our bearings when it comes to calibrating our moral compass, as our reaction to the Songkran dancing girls suggests, not to mention that many of us keep re-electing gangster-politicians despite knowing full well of their past deeds. But let's not allow the ongoing political divide to get the better of us. Let the law of the land serve as our equilibrium - the ground rule that must be upheld by any means necessary. We cannot be fooled by the shallow logic that a blanket amnesty will make everything okay and enable us to move forward, mapping our future on a clean slate. Justice must be rendered regardless of the colour of one's shirt, political affiliation or uniform. Too many have lost their lives and too much damage has been done. Justice must be swift, effective and "blind" and all the wounds and scars must be addressed. Otherwise, we as a nation will never close this bitter chapter that pitted Thai citizens against one another. http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2011/07/09/opinion/The-time-has-come-to-rediscover-our-moral-compass-30159836.html
  5. Changing of the guard in Thailand By Shawn W Crispin BANGKOK - In a tightly scripted and richly financed campaign, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra's Puea Thai party notched a majority in Sunday's highly anticipated Thai elections, handing the outgoing Democrats another humbling defeat. Despite widespread concerns of a possible post-poll coup or street upheaval, all signs so far point towards a smooth democratic transition. While an earlier accommodation reached between the royal palace, military and Thaksin representatives to allow Puea Thai to form a government has held in the election's immediate aftermath, the potential for instability will rise in the months ahead as the party moves to implement its many campaign vows, including an amnesty in the name of national reconciliation for the criminally convicted Thaksin. (See The deal behind Thailand's polls Asia Times Online, June 30) Led by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's younger sister and a political novice, Puea Thai won 265 out of a possible 500 seats, outpacing widely the second-placed Democrats' 159. On Monday, Yingluck announced plans for a five-party coalition, which, if formalized, will account for 299 parliamentary seats. Those numbers could narrow after the Election Commission disqualifies an unknown number of winning candidates for electoral fraud. The commission is now weighing 190 different complaints and historically has penalized scores of candidates. Yingluck ran on a mix of populist promises, a push for national reconciliation and her family namesake. Despite the hint of nepotism in her appointment and background, Yingluck's inexperience was sold as an asset by Puea Thai spin doctors, while local media and foreign commentators fawned over her looks, gender and polished campaign posters. Thaksin referred to Yingluck as his "clone" in press interviews from self-imposed exile in Dubai, intimating he was the brains behind her candidacy and campaign. Nonetheless, voting patterns were consistent with past elections, where Thaksin-aligned parties dominated the populous north and northeast regions while the Democrats held sway over the capital and less-populated south. While some analysts interpreted Puea Thai's win as a popular rebuke by the rural poor against a Democrat-aligned urban elite, mappings of the result showed more clearly a geographical rather than ideological bias to the vote. Both top parties maintain formidable political machineries in their geographical strongholds. The Democrats' electoral strategy fell short on two key fronts. The party failed to capture the rice-growing central plains region, a swing geography the party targeted while in office through populist policies, including a rice price insurance scheme it expected would win rural votes. Its loosely allied Bhum Jai Thai party, meanwhile, underperformed expectations that it would split the populous northeast region vote after breaking away from a previous Thaksin-aligned party in 2008. The timing of the polls also militated against the Democrats. Analysts believe the party squandered an opportunity earlier this year to leverage last year's robust economic rebound from global crisis to its electoral advantage. By the time now-defeated prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called the polls, globally driven higher prices had trickled down to Thailand's grassroots. Puea Thai campaigned on its ability to tackle inflation through a vowed 40%-75% increase in the minimum wage. From rhetoric to reality While Puea Thai's win was popularly portrayed as a landslide, Yingluck's coalition government is expected to be weak and potentially short-lived. Foreign investors sold down the Thai stock market by over US$1.5 billion from when it became apparent in early May that Puea Thai was leading in opinion polls. International investment banks advised clients to sell Thai shares ahead of the election, a pre-emptive vote against a Puea Thai-led government's ability to maintain political stability and manage the economy. With a stable transition in sight, the bourse bounced back by nearly 5% on the day after the polls. Still, economic analysts say Yingluck will be hard-pressed bureaucratically and ill-advised fiscally to implement all of the populist pledges her party made on the campaign trail, including distribution of free iPads for all eight million of the country's school students and a rice price guarantee that promises to pay nearly double current market rates. Investment bank HSBC wrote in a post-poll report that Puea Thai's populist policies threaten to raise rather then relieve mounting inflationary pressures. The research said that increasing minimum wages would "come back to bite" Thai consumers as producers and employers inevitably passed on the higher costs and potentially hurt the country's competitiveness as a regional foreign direct investment destination. Other analysts foresee a stability-versus-growth clash between Yingluck's economic team and the Bank of Thailand, which before the polls was poised to raise interest rates from 3% at present to 3.75% by the end of year to contain inflation. Tighter monetary policy, including a possible rate rise on July 13, would dampen prospects for the post-election, feel-good economic bounce Puea Thai clearly aims to manufacture through ramped-up populist spending. The bigger risks, however, will be political. As part of the behind-the-scenes election deal reached with the palace and military, Thaksin reportedly agreed to refrain from intervening in military affairs, including the annual reshuffle that comes into effect in October and determines the army's leadership and rank-and-file promotions. Hints that outgoing defense minister General Prawit Wongsuwon could be reappointed under Yingluck would be consistent with the terms of that deal. At the same time, former "red shirt" protest leaders elected on Puea Thai's party list will be expected to push for greater civilian control over military affairs and justice for the 91 deaths caused during last year's protests and military crackdown. Any push to prosecute top soldiers for the deaths would jeopardize the pre-election accommodation and put the new government on a collision course with army commander and palace favorite General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Prawit has said the military accepts the election result while Prayuth has declined to make a public comment. Amnesty for all Future stability will be determined largely by how hard and how fast Yingluck's government pushes for an amnesty that paves the way for Thaksin's return and rehabilitation after he was ousted in a military coup in September 2006 and later fled Thailand after a court found guilty of corruption in 2008. If Puea Thai had won a more commanding majority of 300 or more seats and thus was less reliant on coalition partners for stability, analysts believe Thaksin would have aimed to fast-track the amnesty program. Yingluck has said her government will give first priority to addressing economic problems. People familiar with the party's pre-election plans say a new body to be formed alongside the Democrat-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be tasked with making recommendations designed for a national reconciliation referendum. That vote, the sources say, will pave the way for a general election next year in which the 111 pro-Thaksin politicians banned from politics after the 2006 coup would be eligible to run. Many Puea Thai MPs, including party leader Yingluck, are believed to serve as proxies for more influential banned politicians. Any amnesty plan passed instead by parliament would legally require King Bhumibol Adulyadej's signature to become law. A similar push for amnesty in April 2008 during the Samak Sundaravej government sparked "yellow shirt" protests that laid siege to Government House and crippled the workings of two Thaksin-aligned administrations. Those protests climaxed in the week-long seizure of Bangkok's two international airports, a move many analysts speculated had implicit military backing. It's unclear now whether the same anti-Thaksin forces have the wherewithal or unity of purpose to launch an equally destabilizing street movement. Recent "yellow shirt" protests targeted their once-allied Democrats and failed to galvanize significant popular support for their nationalistic agenda. Nor is it clear that the movement has the same high-level military and royal backing it once had. The group announced it will dismantle its protest site near Government House on Abhisit's departure and ahead of Yingluck taking office. The bigger shadow over her administration will be the threat of a judicial intervention, similar to court decisions that dissolved two previous Thaksin-aligned parties in 2008. Democrat Party members hinted on the campaign trail that they would challenge the legality of a Puea Thai win on the grounds Thaksin has acted as party leader while being a banned politician. The Department of Special Investigation, meanwhile, is set to investigate whether Yingluck perjured herself as a witness in one of Thaksin's recent asset cases. There are already signs Puea Thai plans to pre-empt those charges. An alleged leaked "red shirt" memo circulated over the Internet during Sunday's polls indicated plans to appoint new, and presumably more sympathetic, judges to top courts in the name of judicial reform. Complaints of political meddling in nominally independent institutions animated the protests that led to Thaksin's 2006 military ouster and Puea Thai moves against royally-endorsed top judges could provide the first spark of resistance to Yingluck's rule. Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia Editor. (Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.) http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/MG06Ae01.html
  6. Already posted here in "News" on June 30. http://www.thai360.com/fbb/showtopic.php?tid/540922/
  7. I read and downloaded all of Bangkok Embassy cables which were published as of 2 weeks ago. But I tried Wikileaks today and it's blocked. I'm trying some mirror sites now.
  8. I was actually referring to Wattana and Yingluck. I would not trust much of what Wattana says and my guess is that Yingluck is being kept in the dark about a lot of things her brother et al are doing.
  9. How much of what they say is truthful?
  10. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/MF30Ae01.html ASIA HAND The deal behind Thailand's polls By Shawn W Crispin BANGKOK - High-level secret talks between Thailand's royal palace, military and self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra point towards a stable outcome to this Sunday's highly anticipated election. Contrary to widespread speculation of a post-poll coup and new rounds of street violence, the military is more likely to stay in the barracks if Thaksin's Puea Thai party wins and forms a new government. Puea Thai has surged ahead in pre-election polls, holding sway in its geographical strongholds and taking the lead in pivotal swing constituencies. The party has rallied around Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, a political novice whose campaign has focused on the need for national reconciliation. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has acknowledged his Democrats trail in opinion surveys, and party members seem increasingly resigned to a second-place finish. It's a popular result the country's royalist establishment appears to have anticipated. According to sources familiar with the dialogue, Thaksin interlocutor Wattana Muangsook, Queen Sirikit's lady-in-waiting Jarungjit Thikara and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan met in Brunei in February to discuss post-poll scenarios. There have been subsequent meetings between the three camps, including one in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, according to the same sources. The talks have aimed to avoid new confrontation and foster reconciliation after last year's anti-government "red shirt" street protests and military crackdown resulted in the deaths of 91 people, mostly civilians. They also signal the potential building blocks of a wider accommodation between Thaksin's camp and at least one section of the royalist establishment concerning the looming royal succession from 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej to heir apparent Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. According to a source familiar with the talks, the military has agreed to allow Puea Thai to form a new elected government unopposed in exchange for a vow from Thaksin not to pursue political revenge or legal prosecutions of top military officials behind the 2006 coup and last year's crackdown, and to refrain broadly from intervening in military affairs, including the annual reshuffle that determines the army's leadership. Army Commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha, a palace favorite and member of the elite Queen's Guard, is eligible to serve three more years in his position. Thaksin's representative has also been pressed at the talks to rein in the anti-monarchy elements in his camp, including ranking members of his aligned United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protest group and Puea Thai party, according to the sources. Many royalists believe the UDD's overseas chapters are mainly responsible for the flood of anti-monarchy material that in recent years have been posted anonymously to the Internet. Fronted by Abhisit's administration, the royal establishment's crackdown on freedoms in the name of defending the monarchy has undermined its international credibility and hit its domestic popularity, witnessed in the Democrat party's apparent flagging support among Bangkok's middle classes after carrying the capital convincingly at the post-coup 2007 polls. The suppression has given some currency to Puea Thai's calls for democracy, despite Thaksin's own authoritarian record and the party's many highly placed gangster politicians. The Democrats have been at pains to counter perceptions that they have served at the military's pleasure, including by whitewashing its role in killing unarmed UDD protestors during last year's crackdown. Nobody on either side has been brought to account for the violence. To put reconciliation efforts on a new track, the three sides to the secret dialogue have discussed the formation of a new independent commission whose recommendations, including a potential amnesty for Thaksin, Abhisit and the military, would eventually be put to a national referendum. Surakiart Sathirathai, a foreign minister under Thaksin and known royalist through his family connections, has apparently been agreed to lead the panel. The election deal, which evolved over a series of talks, builds on an earlier accommodation reached with Thaksin in October last year. That negotiated de-escalation in tensions saw the UDD sharply circumscribe its protest activities, while officials stopped without explanation their earlier bids to extradite Thaksin from exile in Dubai. It also allowed Thaksin access to the 30 billion baht (US$1 billion) of his assets not confiscated in last year's Supreme Court decision that sparked the UDD's nine-week protest. Meltdown scenarios Whether the deal holds up after the polls will depend on several mutable factors. Judging by the frequent failure of previous informal and formal talks held since the 2006 military coup, the potential for another meltdown cannot be ruled out. People familiar with the secret talks believe that Yingluck's campaign emphasis on reconciliation, and Thaksin's and UDD leader Thida Thavornseth's recent public pledges of allegiance to the constitutional monarchy, have deliberately signaled commitment to the deal. Nor have they rallied around jailed UDD co-leader and Puea Thai party list politician Jatuporn Prompan, who was detained after making comments perceived as critical of royal family during a UDD rally in April. However, people familiar with the talks suggest Thaksin's commitment could falter once his sister and allies - assuming, as opinion polls suggest, Puea Thai wins the election - are firmly in power with a democratic mandate. His negotiating leverage, including for his own amnesty and political rehabilitation, will be significantly enhanced if Puea Thai wins in a landslide and is able to form a majority government without coalition partners. Previous behind-the-scenes talks, including an April 2010 meeting between Bangkok governor and Democrat politician Sukhumbhand Paribatra and Thaksin in Brunei in the wake of protest-related violence that resulted in deaths on both sides, have seen Thaksin back away from stated commitments. Similar backtracking was apparent in May 2010 when UDD leaders agreed to dissolve their protest in exchange for early polls but reneged after Thaksin balked. Just as significant is whether the royal establishment is unified in doing a deal with Thaksin for the sake of stability. It's unclear how King Bhumibol's royal advisory Privy Council would react to any reconciliation proposal that grants Thaksin amnesty for earlier court decisions, including a criminal corruption conviction, and allows for his return to Thailand. While both Prayuth and Thaksin have been vocal during the campaign, the Privy Council has been conspicuous in its silence. It seems apparent that one side of the royal establishment is keeping its options open for another judicial intervention that could dissolve any Puea Thai-led government soon after it is formed. Thai courts brought down two Thaksin-aligned governments in 2008, paving the way for Abhisit's rise to power through what many believe was a military-influenced parliamentary vote. In 2007, a military-appointed tribune ruled to dissolve Thaksin's first political party, Thai Rak Thai, and ban 111 of its senior executives from politics for five years. Democrat party politician Kiat Sittheeamorn intimated during a recent presentation to foreign reporters that his party would challenge a Puea Thai win on the grounds that Thaksin has illegally served as the party's leader as a banned politician. Puea Thai has campaigned on the motto "Thaksin thinks, Puea Thai acts" and Thaksin has admitted in press interviews that he personally has devised many of the party's policies. There is also a potential case brewing against Yingluck that may accuse her of perjury in one of Thaksin's asset trials. Some political analysts read special relevance into King Bhumibol's speech last week to newly appointed judges, advising them to be vigilant and impartial in serving the nation. His previous speeches to judges have come ahead of pivotal court decisions, including ones that have gone against Thaksin and his aligned political parties. Although King Bhumibol is at present confined to a wheelchair due to health complications, a family member has said he is on a recuperation course to begin walking again by July. King Bhumibol's upright presence is significant. A previous signature campaign organized by the UDD calling for a royal pardon for Thaksin fell on deaf palace ears. The Democrats have bid to leverage into that royal position and have campaigned on a "no amnesty" policy. Yet the three-way secret talks indicate that another side of the establishment sees the need for reconciliation with Thaksin's camp and has apparently lost faith in the Democrats' ability to protect the continuity of its interests after the highly revered King Bhumibol passes. Earlier this year, there was widespread speculation that Prayuth could move to topple Abhisit to halt his early election plan. Others interpreted the sudden outbreak of armed hostilities with Cambodia in February as the military stoking a national security related pretext to subvert the polls. But while the military is widely viewed as on the ascendency, through rising budgets and policy independence, there are parallel indications of erratic behavior that show it feels more cornered than confident as it becomes more deeply entrenched in daily politics. According to one military insider with access to top generals, Prayuth and his deputies view another coup as unviable due to the potential for a popular uprising and more bloodshed. Army chief-of-staff Daopong Rattanasuwon, who has been instrumental in army crackdowns on the UDD, recently indicated in private the need to co-exist peacefully with Puea Thai. The top brass, meanwhile, are reportedly "horizon scanning" for scenarios to burnish the military's public image and to step back from politics while maintaining enough power to intervene in case of a threat to the monarchy, including during the succession. On one horizon is the idea that a deal with Thaksin could represent the best hope for containing the anti-monarchy sentiments unleashed by radical elements in the UDD. While Thaksin was accused of disloyalty to the crown by the 2006 coup-makers, his still close ties to heir apparent Vajiralongkorn could be leveraged to build popular support for the succession - rather than the other way around. The two have met several times since the 2006 coup, including in recent months in Munich, Germany, according to one Bangkok-based diplomat. While the three-way secret talks point towards a smooth democratic transition and new hope for national reconciliation after this weekend's elections, there are still several potential dark clouds on the political horizon. The one thing Thailand's six-year-old political conflict has demonstrated clearly is that there are no permanent friends, enemies or deals, and thus new bouts of instability cannot be ruled out. Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia Editor.
  11. I've used this guy several times: Mr. Go Pal Lama No. 456 497 4th Floor, Pantip Plaza 604/3 Petchburi Rd. Rajthevi Bangkok 10400 Thailand +66 22550743 +66 818402532
  12. Kamphaeng Phet has became famous for 2 events last week. The assassination of a Police Chief and now this. The video. Not for the feint of heart.
  13. A man who was arrested for killing the superintendent of Sai Ngam Police Station in Khamphaengphet has pleaded innocent. Narong Thongchai, 43, was nabbed at 8.30pm on Tuesday in Nakhon Phanom. The fatal attack on Pol Colonel Krirkrit Niyomserm took place on April 19 in Nakhon Sawan. Speaking at a press conference, Narong Wednesday denied the charge that he killed Krirkrit, saying that he had not left Nakhon Phanom since last August. Police believe Narong has been involved in six murders, including the one that claimed Krirkrit's life. However, Narong has admitted to two murders. In the first case, he was convicted of shooting dead a local politician in Kanchanaburi and was sentenced to one year in jail. He jumped bail. In the second case, he gunned down a man after receiving payment from the victim's wife. He jumped bail in this case as well. http://www.nationmultimedia.com/home/Man-held-for-killing-policemen-pleads-not-guilty-30154108.html *************** 1 year for conviction of assassinating a politician, incredible! (He has very strong backers.) Amazing how quickly the police can find the culprit when they want to. At the Police Chief's cremation ceremony on Saturday, I was told by his closest friends that they knew who ordered the hit as well as who carried it out. They then told me that the hit man would be 'finished' very shortly. This would be his last job. It was all set.
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