Monday, December 29, 2008

Red Rally and the Democrats...war of attrition


What's wrong? The protestors think "hijacking" MPs from the pro-Thaksin camp was wrong. This morning, the red-shirted protestors were surrounding the Parliament House to make their dissatisfaction known.

Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva was holding out at the Democrat Party headquarters, saying he could wait until the protestors could ensure the safety of MPs to enter the Parliament building to attend the session that will hear him deliver the new government's policy statement.

"I won't walk over blood-soaked bodies to deliver my statement," he declared, apparently referring to the Oct 7 incident in which many yellow-shirted protestors were injured at the same site when they tried to prevent the Somchai Wongsawat government from delivering the policy statement.

The protest leaders, however, said they won't block the entrance to the Parliament House. "We will let the MPs in but they have to enter on foot," one of the protest leaders said.

Will Abhisit make that walk through the protestors this morning?

Not very likely. Suthep Thuaksuban, the deputy premier, told reporters this morning: "No, we won't take the risk. On Dec 15, when the House met to vote on the prime minister, some MPs' cars were smashed. How can we be sure?"

Keep waiting. Democracy means freedom to express your views. It also means you have to be very patient indeed.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Biggest challenge in his political life



Abhisit Vejjajiva is due to deliver his policy statement to Parliament for the first time as prime minister tomorrow, amidst a rally being organized by the "red-shirted" protestors who are on the side of Thaksin Shinawatra.

No violence is expected. Abhisit has announced that police won't use tear-gas or any kind of weapons to confront the protestors. The Oct 7 incident, in which many yellow-shirted protestors were injured by police action, won't be repeated, he said.

The protest leaders have vowed not to surround the Parliament building. They simply want to show the world that the Abhisit government had been formed illegitimately, by "hijacking" MPs from the previous pro-Thaksin alliance.

The opposition has threatened to grill Abhisit on his alleged "draft dodging." Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will be questioned about his role in support of the People's Alliance for Democracy and Defence Minister Hen Pravit Pongsuwan will be asked about his role in helping to cobble together the Abhisit government.

It's not his rhetoric or even his policy that resembles Thaksin's "populism" that's the problem. It's how he can keep his fragile coalition government together in the wake of constant political horse-traing that is the main threat to his survival.

Abhisit knows how vulnerable his position is. He said the other day that if he can't deliver on his promise, "I will let somebody else take over."

And that "somebody else" is ready to cut him down every minute of the day.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Foreign Minister Kasit's first faux pas


Kasit Piromya was quoted yesterday in the Daily Telegraph as saying that the protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy, including the occupation of the Suvarnbhumi and Don Muang airports were "a lot of fun."

The new Thai foreign minister, I assume, didn't want to sound so flippant about the incidents that had received some very bad press abroad. He was talking to a group of foreign diplomats and journalists soon after he took office.

"The food was excellent, the music was excellent," he was quoted as saying.

The British paper said the audience was "astonished" to hear that. Kasit of course did make some serious comments about the PAD protests, which he attended regularly while they lasted. He was also quoted as saying:

"Look at (the PAD protests) as pushing the process of democratisation forward..."

He also said: "You should be happy that for the first time ordinary people came out in full force to oppose corruption. If society has to be changed, it has a price."

But what caught the Telegraph's reporter's real attention was when Kasit said:

"People said we were armed. My wife used to go every evening. What was she armed with? only food and medicine."

But the headline declared: "BANGKOK AIRPORT PROTESTSW WERE FUN, SAYS THAILAND'S NEW FOREIGN MINISTER."

Morals of the story: Never get light-hearted at the wrong time, about a wrong subject.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Come on, Abhisit, you certainly could produce a better team than this.....


One would have thought Abhisit Vejjajiva could have done better in cobbling together a more "presentable" Cabinet line-up.

But as it turned out, it was quite a disappointment, especially for those who had expected him to come up with a more impressive group of ministers in charge of economic affairs.

The commerce minister (Ms Porntiva Nakasai) and industry minister (Chanchai Chairungruang)'s only qualifications were that they represent the interests of two coalition partners -- former Machima and Pueau Paendin. No experience. No record. No professional acceptance by the public.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij may have had some experience in the private financial sector. But this is also his first major assignment at the national level. Tourism Minister Chumpol Silpa-archa was put in this post only because the core leadership of Chat Thai Party has been banned from politics for five years by the Constitutional Court.

The only reason that Premier Abhisit's first Cabinet setup is such a poor show is political. Abhisit admits that he has to "strike a proper balance" to maintain political stability. In other words, he has to turn a blind eye to inefficiency and political expediency in order to be able to stay in power.

But didn't he say that although numbers may count in politics but it's the quality of work and popular acceptance that is the ultimate proof?

Well, he had better start proving that he means what he says before he gets into more turbulence that lies ahead.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Abhisit tells CNN: I am not happy with the way things are



DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thailand's new prime minister isn't mincing his words on the state of the economy.

ABHISIT VEJJAJIVA, PRIME MINISTER OF THAILAND: I'm telling the people now it's going to be tough, but it's not impossible to overcome.

RIVERS (on camera): So, when you say tough, what do you mean?

VEJJAJIVA: I mean that, you cannot expect, for instance, the rates of growth to hold up to the rates that we've experienced maybe in the last couple of two, three years. There's going to have to be a slowdown. There will inevitably be problems in terms on employment. And that it's not going to be easy to completely stabilise the political situation in the short space of time.

RIVERS (voice-over): And he acknowledges the political horse trading with former allies of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, wasn't an idea way to come to power.

VEJJAJIVA: I'm not happy with the way things are. If I could choose my own path, I would love to get into power after elections. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. But, I do come through a democratic, constitutional system, according to parliamentary rules. And I intend to use that majority now to work for the Thai people and to do my best for the country. And when things stabilise, then it's time for the people to have another position.

RIVERS (on camera): Thaskin Shinawatra and his allies would say, look, we're the most popular show in town. Any way you cut it, irrespective of any electoral fraud, we would still win a landslide --

VEJJAJIVA: Let me ask you again. Why have opinion polls put us ahead of them?

RIVERS: Well, why won't call an election if you think you're going to win?

VEJJAJIVA: Because at this time, people expect a fast recovery of the economy and to stabilise the political situation.

RIVERS: I mean, they would say you're running scared because you know if you hold an election tomorrow, you'll lose.

VEJJAJIVA: I don't think I would.

RIVERS: How did you persuade Newin Chidchob's faction -- a politician who was loyal -- not just loyal to Thaskin, he was one of his right hand men, for goodness sakes. How did you persuade his group of MPs to come over to your side?

VEJJAJIVA: Basically, they felt that Thaskin had raised the various political contracts to levels that were no longer acceptable to them.

RIVERS: And so they were honestly doing this for the good of the nation?

VEJJAJIVA: If people were to speculate about the various deals, let me tell you outright that there are no deals made concerning the interests of groups of people. Rather, what we talked about was that this was a real chance for the country to achieve stability and to move the country out of the crisis. Let's do it together.

RIVERS: Why then did senior democrats and other politicians go and visit the army commander General Anupong? What has he got to do with this political situation?

VEJJAJIVA: I'm not aware of that kind of meeting. But, the army chief has said, that he has expressed views on how the country should move forward. And he wasn't partisan.

RIVERS: But, did you consult with General Anupong?

VEJJAJIVA: I have never consulted.

RIVERS: Never? You've never consulted with him in the last few weeks about the situation?

VEJJAJIVA: No. No.

RIVERS (voice-over): He also acknowledged that Thailand's strict les majeste laws stopping criticism of Thailand's revered king were being used as a political weapon by rival politicians to attack one another.

VEJJAJIVA: There are cases in the past where this law has been abused for political purposes. And I agree that that has to stop.

RIVERS: And he denied he tacitly supported yellow-shirted anti-taxing protestors who'd occupied government buildings and Bangkok's airports.

VEJJAJIVA: We had a common cause, in terms of fighting injustices. We don't always have common objectives. For instance, when they suggested that a new political system should be put in place with some appointed offices, we disagreed. And certainly, our methods are different and I express opposition to the way they decided to occupy
both Government House and also the airports.

RIVERS: The big question is, how long will he last? The fifth prime minister is just over two years. His main battle now may simply be clinging onto power.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lydia: What has 'Dad' Thaksin got to do with this?


Singer "Lydia" Saranrat has sued celebrity astrolger "Mor Krit Confirm" for making public predictons that she was pregnant. A tearful Lydia was asked by Channel 3 anchor Sorayuth Suthassanachinda last evening whether the timing of the incident was politically motivated. The soothsayer made that prediction just after former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra had divorced his wife, Khunying Potjaman, Sorayuth asked.

Lydia has called Thaksin "Dad" all along. She told the television anchor: "I have not been in touch with the former prime minister for quite a while now. But he knows what has happened to me. He has also asked one of his men to clarify that he did not divorce Khunying to marry me..."

So, put a stop to all the rumours, won't you?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Abhisit: The 27th PM at 44...Will he be Thailand's "Obama(rk)?"


He was never sure until the real votes were counted this morning in the House of Representatives. The 235 votes he got (against 198 for Police Gen Pracha Promnok, nominated by Thaksin Shinawatra's side) weren't overwhelming. But the margin of 37 votes was comforting enough.

It will be a daunting task indeed for Abhisit Vejjajiva (nicknamed "Mark"), Thailand's youngest prime minister ever. But he will be taking over the country at a critical and confusing time. The fact that he owes his rise to a tainted faction led by Newin Chidchob, once the Democrat Party's arch-rival, will remain a big question mark. Speculation that the army chief, Police Gen Anupong Paochinda, had a hand in manipulating this outcome will prove a negative mark that's difficult to delete.

But the test will be how Abhisit can unite a highly divisive country -- and whether he can implement a massive stimulus economic package that will prove that when it comes to economics, he is no novice, compared to Thaksin who left his mark in the rural areas as the man who injected money and life into the villages.

Abhisit has vowed to lead the Cabinet's economic team himself. He has also said he will move the date of the Asean summit earlier from March to February to restore the region's confidence in Thailand, the Asean's current chairman.

Will he be able to create, like Barack Obama, a "team of rivals" to show that he is an "inclusive" leader? Can he show the "red shirted people" that he is also their leader?

If Abhisit can't show some concrete results in the first 100 days, he is doomed.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A cornered dog being buried alive?


Thaksin Shinawatra had promised to give "the best-ever statement" at tonight's "Red Rally" at the National Stadium. But his pre-recorded speech was far from impressive. It was nothing more than a repeat of his old complaints -- that he was being politically persecuted.

Yes, he did use a few phrases aimed at dramatising his plight. Thaksin likened himself to a "cornered dog" with no way to go. In a thinly-veiled reference to Newin Chidchob, his former right-hand man, Thaksin said "some politicians are now betraying the public by voting for the other side while they try to bury me alive..."

He cancelled his much-hyped live phone-in apparently because Snoh Tiantong, leader of Pracharaj Party and Pracha Promnok, head of the Peau Paendin Party, had asked him to hold that one off so that Snoh could nominate Pracha as a candidate for the premiership in the House on Monday. Pracha will become his third "nominee" to be premier after Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat. But this time the opposition Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva may defeat Thaksin's man.

All in all, tonight's event, despite the frantic attempt to promote it as a "make-or-break" move for Thaksin's Peau Thai Party to turn the political turn in its favour, did not produce the kind of impact the organizers had anticipated.

Thaksin did not deliver a knock-out blow.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thaksin promises to give his best-ever statement on the phone


The organizers of tomorrow evening's red-shirted rally started "hyping" Thaksin Shinawatra's scheduled "phone-in" today with a blaze of publicity.

"The Democrats are already shaken by what the former prime minister is going to say in his phone-in. He told me that he was well-prepared for the presentation and it would be his best ever speech," said Nattawut Saigua, the government's spokesman and a core leader of the "red-shirted movement."

Is he going to "expose" Newin Chidchob, one of his former right-hand men, who has broken away to help the Democrats form the new government?

Nattawut would not deny that. After all, that's what promises to be the crowd-pleaser. Stay tuned on this blog!

Anupong: Did he advise or did he meddle?


He has kept his promise not to stage a coup -- so far. But did he stage a "quiet coup" by pressuring several groups of politicians to back the Democrat Party to form the next government?

"I offered my advice but I did not meddle in the formation of the new government," declared Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda yesterday.

Why did he offer his political advice then?

"Because the public has put high hopes on the military to improve the situation facing the country. I also would like the country to move on."

Did he negotiate for the post of defence minister?

"No. I have never aspired to any political post."

You will have to come to your own conclusion if you have any doubt on whether the army is behind the current showdown between Thaksin Shinawatra's Peau Thai and the Democrat Party to become the core of the new government.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What if you gave a party and nobody came?



Snoh Tiangtong thought he was being groomed as the new "kingmaker" for Thaksin Shinawatra. He threw a party at his house last evening, trying to present the perception that he can still call the shots. But the guests he wanted most refused to show up. Only members of Thaksin's Peau Thai Party were there.

Snoh wanted Gen Chetta Thanacharo, leader of Ruamjai Thai Chatpattana, to be the main guest. He also called up Police Gen Pracha Promnok, newly-elected leader of Peau Paendin, to be there. The two have been proposed as possible candidates for the premiership if Thaksin could pull off the "switch" back from the Democrats through Snoh's good offices.

But Snoh must have found to his chagrin that his charisma had evaporated. Pracha said he was taken ill. Chetta said he was seeing a dentist. And Ruamjai Thai's Secretary General Pradit Patraprasit called reporters at Snoh's residence to declare that if Chetta showed up at the party, he was only representing himself -- and would have nothing to do with the party's position which was to back the Democrats to form the next government.

If there was such thing as a free dinner, very few politicians were ready to go for it. The price may be too high.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Newin, the king-maker: I still respect Thaksin but...



Newin Chidchob, once former Premier Thaksin Shinnawatra's right-man operative, has emerged as the new "king-maker" to give his former boss' a real nightmare: Making the opposition Democrat Party the core of the new government thereby blocking Thaksin's effort to get his Peau Thai Party back to power.

Newin's faction of about 30 MPs from the Northeast has defected from Thaksin's party to the other side. The unthinkable has happened. Today, Newin was seen embracing Abhisit Vejjajiva publicly, forming a new alliance that one a week ago was considered impossible.

"I still respect Thaksin. He is still my boss. But sometimes, we have to make decisions that benefit the country rather than satisfying personal aspirations," Newin said. Yesterday, one of his aides quoted Newin as having told Thaksin on the phone:

"It's all over, boss. We will have to go separate ways..."

No permanent friends or enemies in politics. You don't need any more blatant example in real life.

The 3 'Ps' in green ...and their 'political advice'


Is the military behind the ongoing frantic effort to form a Democrat-led new coalition government?

Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda says he has only been given his personal advice to the politicians. He denies playing an active role as alleged by the Peau Thai Party members, who stand on the other side of the Democrats.

But there is no secret that Gen Anupong (nicknamed "Big Pok") has been holding close consultation with two other generals -- Gen Pravitr Wongsuwan, a former army chief, and Gen Prayudh Chan-ohcha, the current army's chief-of-staff.

Gen Anupong has insisted that he won't stage a coup. He has also gone on television to make his political stance clear. After the Oct 7 police attacks against the PAD demonstrators in front of Parliament House, he said in a television appearance that: "If I were Prime Minister Somchai (Wongsawat), I would quit."

He later led the task force of advisers to the premier to tell the public that the Somchat government should dissolve the House to call a new election.

No doubt, the "Three Musketeers" are being closely watched by political observers.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Desperate Thaksin keeps calling...


Lots of people, especially those in the medium-sized and small parties, were getting personal calls from Thaksin Shinnawatr yesterday -- and today. That's rare. It used to be quite difficult to get a direct line with the former prime minister. You had to go through a few "personal contacts" before you could say "Hello" to him.

But since the Democrat Party managed to recruit quite a number of MPs from Thaksin's former coalition partners and held a surprise press conference on Saturday, Thaksin suddenly became a very humble man. He was supposed to have offered the premiership to Maj Gen Sanan Kachornprasart, deputy leaders of the disbanded Chat Thai Party, although it's a small party with about 15 MPs left.

Sanan ignored the generous offer and went ahead to join Democrat Secretary General Suthep Thuaksuban in the press conference.

Then, Thaksin floated another offer: Any party joining his new Peau Thai Party will be given a Cabinet seat for every five MPs. That's incredible because if that's the formula, the Cabinet will be many times the size of the legal 35.

In other words, Thaksin is ready to do anything just to make sure that his party remains in power.

The once unquestionably most powerful politician in the country is now begging every possible MP to "Please don't leave me....I need your help."

For many an MP, the ability to say: "Sorry, sir, but I have to follow my conscience" to Thaksin is massively satisfying indeed.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The road ahead is bumpy for Abhisit


The Democrats pulled off a surprise today when they managed to get representatives from five smaller parties -- previously partners of the just dissolved People's Power Party (PPP) -- to join hands in forming the next government, with Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as the new prime minister.

Democrat Secretary General Suthep Thuaksuban claimed at the press conference that he had garnered 260 MPs to back his boss as the next premier. But the Peau Thai Party -- successor to PPP -- also held an urgent meeting yesterday to declare that they will press on with their attempt to form the next government too.

That means a new battle will erupt in the House of Representatives to fight for the right to lead the next government. Peau Thai's ultimate weapon, if it loses out in the parliamentary war, is the constitutional prerogatives of the acting premier, Chaovarat Chanvirakul, to dissolve the House to call a new election.

Even if Abhisit's chances of becoming prime minister have brightened for the first time in the past week since Somchai Wongsawat was ousted as premier when his PPP party was ordered disbanded by the Constitutional Court, the road ahead is still full of roadblocks. The small parties remain divided and last-minute lobbying by Peau Thai Party may still turn the tide against him.

Peau Thai's main weakness is that it could not produce any credible and respectable candidates for the premiership. The names of Chalerm Yoobamrung and Mingkwan Saengsuwan have been greeted with deep skepticism. Peau Thai Party, facing a severe challenge from the Democrats today, took a step backwards for the first time today by suggesting that the smaller parties could nominate their own candidates to lead the new government.

In fact, the Peau Thai's leadership even offered Sanan Kachornprasart, deputy leader of the Chat Thai Party (also disbanded together with PPP), the premiership if his party was to remain with the previous line-up.

Sanan appeared side by side with the Democrat Party's Suthep in the press conference to snub the Peau Thai's overture.

The political see-saw continues unabated.

She is back but is she really divorced from politics?


Khunying Pojaman Shinawatr (is she still using Thaksin's family name?) flew back to Bangkok last night. And nobody believes she isn't on some important political mission.

It's strange but true. All page one headlines in the local press this morning were unanimous that she is back here to clear up the mess after the People's Power Party (PPP) was ordered disbanded together with two others. All PPP MPs were supposed to walk straight into Peau Thai Party, the brand new home set up a few weeks ago to carry on Thaksin's political venture. But with Newin Chidchob's faction of about 37 MPs showing signs of a defection and the emergence of other uncertainties, the stage is set for a new round of turmoil. And she apparently is here to make sure that the "right" man becomes the next prime minister.

Pojaman, according to some insiders, is here to sort out her financial arrangements after she and Thaksin signed divorce papers some two weeks ago presumably in Hong Kong. But the timing of her return (Peau Thai Party is scheduled to hold its first major meeting tomorrow) has inevitably pointed all political analysts to one direction.

That raises the question again of whether her "divorce" from Thaksin is for real. Or was it another political ploy?

Pojaman is appealing the court's ruling that handed down a three-year jail term for her evasion of some 546 million baht in tax when she transferred a major chunk of stocks of Shinnawatr Computers and Communications to her relatives. She has been acquitted in another case -- the Rajada land deal -- in which Thaksin was given a two-year jail term without probation.

The Thaksin-Pojaman "split-up-and-fight" saga has just begun.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chuan says "No;" Snoh: Why not me?


Chuan Leekpai, former premier and chief adviser of the opposition Democrat Party, wasted no time in turning down any offer to make him the next prime minister. "It's our party's principle to let the party leader assume the premiership if we form the core of any government," the senior politician said this moring. (Click on the video to listen to his interview).

Chances of the Democrats leading the new government are slim. But under the current fluid situation, anything is possible. The ruling People's Power Party (PPP) which has been disbanded by order of the Constitutional Court may be split. One major faction led by Thaksin Shinawatr's erstwhile right-hand man Newin Chidchob has made it known that they would reject Thaksin's nominees on grounds that such a choice would plunge the country back to turmoil again.

A spokesman of Newin's group (claiming control over 37 MPs) even suggested Chuan should take over the premiership to put the country back on the healing process. The statement suggests that Newin's faction may consider breaking away from Thaksin's new party, Peau Thai.

The five small parties that were part of the PPP-led coalition met last night and, according to one of the leaders, Snoh Tianthong, leader of Pracharaj, an agreement was also reached to the effect that they would not support any nominee from the Peau Thai Party, in effect snubbing any choice imposed by Thaksin.

Snoh said the five coalition partners, while opposing any move to join hands with the opposition Democrat Party to set up the next administration, concluded that the next premier should come from the smaller parties.

Snoh and Gen Chettha Thanajaro, leader of Ruamjaithai Chartpattana, have been mentioned as possible nominations.

Thaksin, giving instructions to his party from abroad, won't budge. But his clout is dwindling in the wake of the growing uncertainty hovering over his own future and the obvious polarisation of the domestic political line-up.

The next few days will witness intense behind-the-scenes negotiations. Nothing -- including back-stabbing, betrayals, line-up switchover -- is to be ruled out.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thaksin breaks Thai leaders' code of conduct


Someone sent me this very interesting political observation:


________________________________________
Lesson of Thai leaders' code of conduct

The problem now with Thailand is that Thaksin Shinawatra does not concede. This is not Thai-like as judged by the political history.

In the past, all Thai leaders who lost power or the game of power play agreed to live in exile or stayed in Thailand in seclusion for the sake of the whole country rather than fighting till their supporters and their opponents died.
Modern Thai political history is spared the bloodshed compared with other nations.

King Rama VII faced a military coup in 1932 that brought down Absolute Monarchy, which had been around in Thailand for more than 700 years. The King conceded his power because he did not want Thais to kill each other.

When the King realised that he could not be part of managing the country in transition for the interest of the majority Thais, he abdicated in 1935. Then, the coup-makers were more interested in power struggle for their own benefits. The King left for England and died there. This was the King's sacrifice.

Field Marshal Pibul Songkram lost power in the political fight against Gen Sarit Thanarat. He fled to Japan and died in exile there. He conceded the defeat and never plotted to destroy Thailand, although he had a capacity to do so. Given his power, he could easily have marshalled a military faction in support of him for a political comeback.
This was Field Marshal Pibul's sacrifice.


Pridi Panomyong, the statesman, also lived in exile in China and later France after losing the political power. He conceded defeat without blaming any one, at least openly. The stake of the country was higher than his own benefits.
This was Pridi's sacrifice.

Field Marshal Thanom Kittikajorn, after the 1973 bloody incident, stepped down from power. He was the dictator with the most powerful. But he agreed to resign after the bloody incident for the sake of the country. He was even more powerful than Thaksin or any leaders because Thailand in the early 1970s was still very underdeveloped without any institutions. He could easily have eliminated all of his political opponents easily with his guns and tanks.

But Field Marshal Thanom lived in seclusion without trying to reclaim the political power or plan any plot against his country.
This was Field Marshal Thanom's sacrifice.

Gen Suchinda staged a coup and afterward he ran into the political crisis with the May 1992 tragedy. The military then under his regime was most powerful, unchallenged. But he agreed to step down for the sake of the country. He never plotted any ill plan against Thailand.
This was Gen Suchinda's sacrifice.

Thaksin Shinawatra is the first to have violated the Thai leadership's code of conduct. He would not concede defeat even when it was over. He has been plotting ill plans against Thailand all along with his international and local PR machines.
He does not know how to make a sacrifice.




________________________________

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

PAD ends all rallies 10.00 am Dec 3


The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), after holding a marathon 192-day protest, declared an end to all rallies as of 10.000 am tomorrow (Dec 3), a few hours after the Constitutional Court handed down verdicts to disband three political parties in the current coalition government. The country's biggest, ruling party, People's Power Party, is the hardest hit. All its 37 executive members, including Premier Somchai Wongsawat, will be banned from politics for five years.

Sondhi Limthongkul, reading PAD's statement, at around 6.00 pm, said the protestors will return to the streets if the new governerment attempts to amend the constitution to benefit the Thaksin regime -- or if any effort is made to curtail royal powers.

"After 192 days of protest and about 10 of us killed and hundreds injured by war weapons used by our opponents, we have decided to call off the rallies because we have achieved our victory. But we will be ready to come back if things go wrong again," he said.

The question now is: Who's going to be the next prime minister? Will Thaksin make a return in one form or another. Who will be his "third generation of nominees" after Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat?

Watch out for my next posting here.

Urgent! Premier Somchai is OUT! PPP is disbanded...


The nine-member Constitutional Court ruled unanimously to disband the ruling People's Power Party at around 12.30 today, prompting Premier Somchai Wongsawat, one
of the party's 37 executive members, to lose his post immediately.

The court said the 37 executive members will be banned from politics for five years, according to Article 237 of the Constitution aimed at punishing parties whose executive(s) were involved in electoral fraud. The party's deputy leader Yongyuth Tiyapairat had earlier been handed a guilty verdict by the Supreme Court.

The ruling means Somchai loses his premiership immediately. The two other parties in the coalition government -- Chat Thai and Machima -- were also disbanded in two parallel verdicts today.

The verdicts mean that Thai politics will undergo another major change although most of PPP's MPs are expected to join a newly-formed party, Peau Thai, to continue to hold the majority in the House.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sulak: Premier should seek royal advice


Sulak Sivaraksa, one of Thailand's best-known senior social critics, has suggested that Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat should seek a private audience with His Majesty the King to ask for a solution to the current political crisis.

Sulak, speaking on Thai PBS television on Saturday night, said he was confident that the King would be neutral and would offer the most appropriate way out of the ongoing political chaos.

Privately, Sulak said he would like the premier to step down, paving the way for the formation of a national, nonpartisan government under the leadership of a "respected outsider." That would require an amendment to the constitution which requires the premier to be an elected MP.

Sulak said every player involved in the political drama should "look at the long-term picture" rather than their short-term interests.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Daily Telegraph: Thailand now 1 of world's 20 most dangerous places


Things will get worse before they get better. Britain's Daily Telegraph has named Thailand one of the world's 20 most "dangerous" places, after Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, South Africa, Jamaica, and Sudan -- and on the same list as Colombia, Haiti and Eritrea.

Only last month, Bangkok was voted "the most popular tourist destination" in Asia by an American magazine. How things just came tumbling down within a few weeks.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thaksin in new video: New coup means bloodshed

Former Premier Thaksin Shinawatr talks to Thomas Crampton, former Bangkok-based correspondent for IHT and New York Times, presumly in a Hong Kong hotel. He said if there was another coup, blood will be shed. Thaksin continues to say that politics has interfered with the judiciary system. He apparently wants to be close to Thailand to direct Premier Somchai Wongsawat's every move.

Nov 29: Final showdow: Crackdown or coup?


It's the final face-off today: Crackdown against the protestors at the airport or a coup -- or one after another?

The three key players are: Former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, now believed to be in Beijing, is still believed to be directing Premier Somchai Wongsawat's every move from abroad. He just appeared on a video from Beijing declaring: A new coup would mean bloodshed.

Premier Somchai has declared a state of emergency at both Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports. He has named the interior minister to be in charge of dispersing the protestors -- starting with negotiations with the People's Alliance for Democracy.

PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul announced last night there won't be any negotiations until Somchai quits.

Interior Miniter Kovit Wattana countered this morning with a new threat: If PAD refuses to negotiate, we will proceed with the mission (clearing protestors out by force).

Army Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda is resisting Premier Somchai's order to crack down on the protestors. He also says he won't stage a coup.

Somchai yesterday sacked Police Chief Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwan, allegedly because the latter refused to comply with the "clear-out-the-mob" order.

Is Gen Anupong the next to fall? Somchai has said he won't sack any military officer, at least for the time being.

PAD (the yellow shirts) and pro-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (the red shirts) who have threatened to come out in full force against a coup, are probably both pressuring the army to go for the "last resort" especially if blood is shed, either through the crackdown or clashes between the anti-Thaksin and pro-Thaksin groups.

There is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Coup? Stop the tank in Bangkok's traffic jam


THAILAND'S ruling party today called on its supporters to clog Bangkok's streets to prevent a possible coup attempt after Prime MinisterSomchai Wongsawat rejected army demands that he resign, Bloomberg news reported.

'People who have cars and cabbies should drive and block any tanks that may come out if there is a coup,' Mr Suthin Klangsaeng, a deputy spokesman of the People Power Party, said in comments broadcast on Thai PBS channel. 'Anyone opposing a coup should also take to the streets.'

So, Bangkok's notorious traffic jam is actually quite democracy-friendly, then.

Emergency decree tonight!!


The Cabinet, holding a special meeting in Chiang Mai today, decided to
declare a state of emergency at the country's two major airports: Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang.

Premier Somchai Wongsawat was expected to go on television tonight to assign police to enforce the emergency decree to clear protestors from People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) from the two sites. It is feared that violence may break out if police move in because PAD protestors have vowed to resist any attempt to evict them from the two protest sites.

Rumours of a military coup have intensified today despite Somchai's assurance that he won't sack Army Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda who proposed yesterday that the premier dissolve parliament to call a new election and PAD cease its protest activities.

Anupong today cancelled an earlier scheduled meeting of the Channel 5 board of directors which he chairs. He was said to have been accompanied by Army Chief-of-Staff Gen Pravit Jan-ohcha to have a surprise meeting with Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda.

The army spokesman told a press conference that the convoy of tanks spotted on Bangkok streets today was a demonstration for military cadets -- and had nothing to do with any attempted coup.

Once the emergency decree is declared, a new confrontational atmosphere will erupt between police and the protestors. But the private sector has complained bitterly about the damage caused by PAD's seizure of the country's main international airport.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

PM lands in Chiang Mai, goes on TV to reject call for new election

Suvarnabhumi: Closed until further notice

Suvarnbhumi closed, where will PM land?


Operation Disruption launched by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) late last night may confront Premier Somchai Wongsawat's decision to declare a state of emergency when he attempts to land somewhere in Thailand on his way back from Apec Summit in Lima, Peru.

But will Somchai carry out the threat? How can PAD justify its seizure of the country's main international airport that disrupted the lives of so many Thai and foreign passengers? It's a high-risk move that PAD would spend lots of time and energy to explain to the public in general.

The military said there won't be a coup. But that doesn't mean the army could keep a "live-and-let-live" attitude when chaos reins and a paralysed government seems incapable of running the country.

A PAD core leader, Suriyasaid Takasila, said last night that if Somchai quits as premier, PAD would consider calling off the six-month seizure of Government House. But if Somchai insists on clinging to power, the chaotic situation in Bangkok will deteriorate. Clashes between the red and white-shirted elements will intensify. Tourism will be hard hit. People's morale will be badly hurt. And the country will plunge deeper into the political abyss.

The only solution: PM Somchai stands down. PAD calls off its protest. A new, bipartisan coalition set up to draw up a new constitution to pave the way for a new general election that will guarantee free, fair and transparent pollings.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Who is a rebel?

Gunman caught red-handed....


PAD's guards were fighting a running battle against pro-government taxi-drivers this evening. Gunfire was heard before eleven persons were injured and rushed to Paolo Memoiral Hospital.

The clash took place at Vibhavadi Rangsit 3 at around 5.00 pm.

Reporters saw about 20 PAD guards running down a truck when it reached the soi to confront the taxi-drivers.

Some of those involved in the fight were seen using pistols to fire at their opponents.

Suriyasai Takasila, a core leader of PAD, said he couldn't confirm or deny whether the gunmen were PAD members. "But we have been under attack from the other side in the past few days. So, if some of us had to defend ourselves, it's quite justified."

But resorting to violence goes against PAD's longstanding principle of "civil
disobedience." He countered: "But the pro-government side has been attacking us with M79 grenade-launchers."

Things will apparently get worse before they get better.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An extraordinary statement about an 'ordinary crime'

Premier Somchai Wongsawat, speaking from Peru where he is atteding the Apec Summit, was only provoking another angry outburst from the anti-Thaksin camp when he said the latest M79 attack on protestors at Government House early yesterday was "just an ordinary crime case."

"I would also like to know who did it," he said, conveniently ignoring the fact that the use of M79, a grenade-launcher, is considered illegal in peace time, no matter who uses it. At least seven protestors of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) were injured, one of them seriously (shown in the picture).

This was the second attack of its kind in three days. One person was killed and 23 injured in a similar attack early Wednesday. Police have been unable to identify the people behind the daring attack.

There was little doubt that the series of attacks was aimed at frightening PAD away from holding a mass rally on Monday at Parliament House in what they have described as "the ultimate war" to topple the Somchai government. Today (Nov 23), the pro-government elements are holding their own rally under the theme of "Today's Truth" at Wat Suankaew to counter the PAD.

If the premier says it's just an "ordinary crime," then you can be sure that more "ordinary crimes" will certainly follow.

Either he is fantastically naive or inexcusably malicious.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thaksin launches his 'last war'


His divorce from wife Potjaman may have raised eyebrows everywhere. And this picture of him with lovely singer Lydia has nothing to do with the ongoing conspiracy theory behind his move.

I am convinced however that the divorce is but a tactical move for Thaksin Shinnawatr to pave the way for his "last war" to make a political comeback. He recently told his close aides in Hong Kong that even if he beat a retreat, his political foes would still be determined to "kill" him.

One speculation has it that Thaksin, as part of the divorce, would spend about Bt10 billion (or around half of his share of the post-divorce wealth split) to kick off campaigns in all forms and shades with particular emphasis on mobilizing the masses in the rural areas to clamour for his return.

Thaksin is also expected to make use of the network of political affiliates such as the United Front for Democracy and the "We-Love-Thaksin" movements as well as some of the 111 former members of the banned Thai Rak Thai Party to engineer the comeback campaign.

Several politicians loyal to Thaksin have offered these scenarios as a result of Thaksin's "go-for-broke" strategy:

1. Thailand may split up along the former Soviet Union style.
2. Civil war may be inevitable if Thaksin stages his "last war" without regards for the ensuing chaos.
3. Bloodshed is unavoidable if the end justifies the means.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

PM, Army Chief: Who's scaring whom?


A strange memo has just gone out from the defence minister's secretariat to all military units concerned to deny that a committee has been set up to investigate the army chief for having gone on television to "discredit" and "smear" the prime minister.

It wasn't that long ago that the army chief together with the supreme commander and heads of the navy, air force and police went on Channel 3 to talk politics. The famous quote from the army chief was: "If I were the prime minister, I would have quit (to take responsibility over the Oct 7 incident)."

The immediate reaction from most analysts:Premier Somchai Wongsawat, who is also defence minister, is afraid that such a rumour could anger Army Commander-in-Chief, Gen Anupong Paochinda,to the point that a new confrontation between the premier and the armed forces could explode into a new crisis.

Was it just a rumour? Well, it was almost a "credible rumour" when even the name of the head of the probe team was mentioned: Air Chief Marshal Kampol Suwannathat, the defence ministry's general officer, who promptly shot down the story, saying there was no basis to the speculation at all.

The rather odd memo of denial said it was the army chief's personal right to express his political opinion.

Even more interesting was the statement in the memo stating: "The prime minister is not angry with the army chief. They continue to work together harmoniously."

Will that put an end to the rumour or will it re-ignite a new one?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ailing Samak faces protest at Houston airport


Samak Sundaravej and his wife Khunying Surat flew into Houston, Texas, early this morning (Bangkok time), only to be greeted by a group of protestors who held up posters reading: "Houston PAD members (don't) welcome traitor..." and "Fate doesn't have to wait until next life..."

The protestors call themselves members of the People's Alliance for Democracy in Houston. Somehow, they found out the arrival time of the former prime minister who was accompanied by his wife on a United Airline flight that left Bangkok early yesterday.

Samak, after over a month of treatment for liver cancer at Bumrungrad Hospital, is reportedly getting further treatment at an unnamed American hospital.

It was not clear how Samak reacted to the protestors who were holding the posters right next to him at the airport lounge.

He has been convicted to two years in jail by the court for a libel against former Deputy Bangkok Governor Samart Rajpolasith. His lawyers say he has not filed an official appeal.

(Pictures from Manager Online)

Thaksin, Prem...No love lost between them


What's Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat up to when he said today that Gen Prem Tinsulanond, former premier and President of the Privy Council, "could play a role" in mediating an end to the ongoing conflict?

But nothing has happened since Somchai sought a meeting with Prem as soon as the former assumed office.

Now, every political pundit in town knows that Prem and former Premier Thaksin Shinnawatr, Somchai's brother in law, eye each other with deep suspicion, no matter what they say publicly about each other.

Now, a group of the ruling People's Power Party, is collecting signatures from MPs (they claim to have got 90 so far) so that they can appeal to Prem to take on the role of the "middle man" to get all parties concerned to come to the negotiation table.

That move, of course, has been seen as a cynical gesture from the government MPs who, without a doubt, realize that the relationship between Thaksin and Prem remain somewhat soured in the background. It's no secret, of course, that Thaksin has always harboured the suspicion that Prem ("someone with extra-constitutional power") has been behind the move to unseat him. Prem has kept quiet throughout and has never publicly responded to the accusation. Sources close to Prem say he remains suspicious of Thaksin's political ambition...and the danger of his "the-end-justifies-the-means" attitude.

Is the PPP's MPs' move to enlist Prem's help in resolving the national conflict in fact a trick to corner him. Is Thaksin behind this new plot to embarrass Prem?

Not a few political analysts will tell you the jury is still out.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Chamlong: We'll talk...but only on these conditions


On the surface, Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang, a core leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy, seems to have taken a softer position. He has opposed any negotiations with the government all along. Today, he gave the first indication that PAD may be ready to sit down for the first round of serious negotiations.

But several conditions will have to be first met: First of all, PAD, he says, will only talk to the government and no third or fourth parties will be involved. Secondly, a "middle man" who can be trusted by both sides will have to moderate the talks. No time frame is given. No agenda is proposed.

But hold on, before you think Chamlong has really taken a sofer stand, listen to what he added on to his list of conditions for talks: Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat will have to quit as part of the deal.

That's a tough stand. But then, PAD has denounced Somchai as Thaksin's "true nominee" from Day One. So, that final but unnegotiable condition isn't anything new anyway.

Do I think the PAD-government talks will actually happen? Not for now, I am afraid. Both sides are going through the motions of wanting to appear flexible but deep down, neither is ready to step back from their current positions.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Split right down the middle


Thaksin Shinnawatr's "phone-in" show on Saturday didn't help bridge the widening gap between the red-yellow warring parties. On the contrary, things got worse because Thaksin was talking mostly about his personal problems, and not the nation's dangerous, deteriorating sense of national harmony.

A leading academic trying to propose a peaceful, third way out, had this to say to underline how hopeless the situation is when we talked over a cup of tea yesterday:

"I am afraid nobody is listening to anyone. The country is split right down the middle. No one knows what is right or wrong anymore. Right is wrong and wrong is right. If this goes on, I am afraid it will end up with people killing one another. Must there be more bloodshed before we can find a so-called neutral person to step in to end the confrontation? In fact, is there such a "neutral" person around?

I am desperately looking for that little ray of light at the end of this dark, dark tunnel.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thaksin's thinly-veiled plan to seek amnesty


The Thaksin's "Phone-In Show" last night had one
obvious aim: to seek enough sympathy from the crowd
to ask for a public request for royal amnesty from
the two-year imprisonment term handed down last week
by the Supreme Court for Political Office Holders.

But is it legally permissible? Premier Somchai Wongsawat,
Thaksin's brother-in-law, said he won't be proposing
the amnesty for the ex-premier. "Besides, only the affected
person can submit such a request."

Government spokesman Nattawut Saikua said Thaksin won't
be seeking amnesty anyway.

National Insitute of Development Administration (NIDA)
Rector Sombat Thamrongthanyawong said a convict can only
seek a reduced jail term when he has started serving
the prison term, not before.

"Or else, pressure could be applied to the government to
initiate a bill to seek amnesty. But then, it's against
the constitution to take such action for any one person,"
he said.

Thaksin's revealing statement that sparked this line of
speculation was: "Only through royal kindness or people
power can I return to Thailand again."

To my mind, the more tell-tale statement was when Thaksin
kicked off his ten-minute phone-in (from Hong Kong) with
this seemingly innocent question to the estimated 50,000-strong
crowd:

"Do you miss me?"

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Red rally, yellow rally


As I write this at around 8.00 pm, the "Red" rally at the Rajamangla Stadium (capacity 49,000 seats) is in full swing. The "Yellow" rally at Government House is also gathering momentum. Thaksin Shinnawatr, believed to have flown from London to Hong Kong yesterday, was supposed to make his "phone-in" at 8.00 pm. But the organizers just said that would be postponed until 10.30 pm.

No reason was given for the delay. Originally, Thaksin was to call in "live." But later reports suggested that he had decided to tape it in advance -- and it would be a 8-minute clip instead of the earlier scheduled 20-minute live talk.

The pro-government Red speakers (United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship or UDD)were apparently encouraged by the big turnout. They called for the ouster of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) from Government House and the shutdown of ASTV, which has served as PAD's mouthpiece.

The huge poster at the stadium declares: "We fight against coup..."

The anti-government Yellow movement leaders, boosted by a much bigger turnout than any other of the past 160 days of the occupation of Government House compound, declared repeatedly: "The Red gathering is not our competitor....they are just Thaksin's lackeys."

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat told reporters this morning that he was "concerned" about the rising tension the new confrontation could bring about.

Military leaders say they are on alert to prevent any possible clashes between the Red and Yellow members.

I expect no clash tonight but that doesn't mean the PAD and UDD won't raise their stakes in the next few days to step up their respective bargaining powers. No solution is in sight.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Caught with his pants down?


This is supposed to be a man who looks very much
like Premier Somchai Wongsawat.

He is the "star" in a sensational 25-minute video clip that shows him with a number of "girl friends" on various occasions...and one of the clips had this man driving a BMW to a love motel after picking up a woman from a house on March 24, two years ago.

In another part of the clip, the man, wearing glasses, is shown parking his white Lexus SUV at a restaurant where he had lunch with his wife. The "wife" in the clip is said to look very much like former Premier Thaksin Shinnawatr's sister, Yaovapa, who happens to be the present prime minister's wife.

Naturally, when reporters met the premier yesterday, he was asked about the steamy clips. Somchai just smiled and promtply walked away.

The fact that the premier refused to deny that he was that man in the footage has of course fueled a new round of speculation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New violence this morning...Bombs thrown at PAD guards, Judge's home

I woke up this morning, even more depressed than the day before.

At around midnight, a bomb was hurled into the house of Charan Pakdithanakul, a well-known Constitutional Court judge who had come under attack by pro-government groups on state-run NBT television channel.

At 3.20 am, M-26 grenades were thrown into a group of guards of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) at Makkawan Bridge. At last report, at least nine persons were injured, one seriously.

A while later, gunshots were heard fired into a PAD rally, at a nearby location
(Chamaimaruchet Bridge, near Government House.)

Who's behind this new escalation of violence? If the Somchai government is serious about law and order, it won't be too difficult a question to answer. But if the government remains "neutral" as it has claimed all along, accusations of government-sponsored violence against anti-government elements will fly high and thick today.

It's also interesting to note that this latest seires of violent incidents took place just a few hours before the PAD was scheduled to hold a rally in front of the British Embassy to pressure the British government to extradite former Premier Thaksin Shinnawatr who has been sentenced to two years in jail for "conflict of interest" when he allowed his wife to take part in a bidding for a piece of land put up for auction by a government agency.

Just as you thought things couldn't get any worse, they did.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thaksin may lose his rank, passport..and his shirt


Former Premier Thaksin Shinnawatr may soon lose his rank of lieutenant-colonel for his conviction in the controversial land purchase case. Police say they are looking into all related laws and regulations. The National Police Act says that a commissioned officer found guilty of corruption or sentenced to jail could be stripped of his rank.

Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat has also said that his office is looking into regulations that a former premier found guilty of a criminal charge should be deprived of the special privileges granted under a diplomatic passport.

Will Thaksin also lose his appeal to "unfreeze" the estimated 70 billion baht worth of assets ordered by the court so far? We shall see whether he will also lose his shirt. Or whether he will get back a jacket after losing his shirt.

Monday, October 27, 2008

In tense Thailand today, Yellow versus Red as Green looks on, nervously



Monday morning, Oct 27...and the signs aren't good.
In fact, all indications point to
a deterioration of the political confrontation here in
this "Land of Smiles."

It seems, sadly, that Thais don't smile that much,
or that sincerely anymore, these days.

The ongoing show-down between
the pro and anti-government camps could turn into a bloody
civil war, if no workable solutions are forthcoming.

The anti-Thaksin "Yellow" versus the pro-Thaksin
"Red." Somewhere in between is "Green" -- the military which
has vowed to stop any bloodshed should the first two groups
engage in violence.

A "third force" has emerged over the weekend. A coalition of
academics and social activists, calling themselves "Santi Prachatham
Network" launched its "Three Stops Campaign" urging all groups to
put a halt to stirring up the public's sentiments.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD -- yellow) continues to
occupy Government House. The pro-Thaksin United Front of Democracy
against Dictatorship (UDD, red) will hold a major rally on Nov 1,
with Thaksin promising to call in from London for a live interview to
mobilize his supporters.

UDD and former deputy police chief, Police Gen Salang Bunnag, have
threatened to suround Government House to force the PAD out. Salang
has since backed down from the plan. But he says anything could happen
from now on.

The PAD responded by building up walls of tyres to keep out any
possible invaders.

Military leaders have met to discuss contingency plans for any possible
violent clashes.

No signs of a compromise or peaceful solution just yet. Things will
get worse before they get better. Hope I can report more encouraging news
in my next blog.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thaksin's extradition: Lengthy and complicated


BBC's Michael Dobie says the procedure to extradite Ex-Premier Thaksin Shinnawatr can be "lengthy and complicated."

Thailand and Britain have had an extradition treaty since 1911. For the request to succeed, the UK extradition courts must agree that Thaksin's crime can be considered one in Britain as well.

But British authorities will have to consider whether the cases against Thaksin are "politically motivated" as claimed by Thaksin all along.

Extradition lawyer Clive Nicholls was quoted as saying: "If it appears the request to extradite is in order to punish him for political opinions, extradition is barred."

The BBC correspondent adds that the UK courts will also look at whether Thaksin has received a fair trial and if there is the possibility of a retrial or a challenge to the conviction if he is returned.

Of course, the Thai prosecutors will argue that the latest Supreme Court's verdict to jail Thaksin for two years without a suspended sentence was based on an anti-corruption clause in the Anti-Corruption Act that is aimed at punishing politicians pursuing "conflicts of interests" activities.

Is "conflict of interest" a serious issue in British politics?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Be warned: Don't talk politics with Thai friends...you may get killed


I am not joking. Three friends were having a drink
last night in a restaurant on the suburbs of
Bangkok. One guy ended up stabbing one of the
two friends, because they started arguing over
who was right or wrong about the ongoing political
controversies.

Thai society is split right down the middle between
those passionately in favour of Thakin Shinnawatr,
the ex-premier, and those strongly against him.

Police quoted the suspected killer as testifying:
"We were having a nice drink when things turned sour
because we started to discuss politics. One of us
said he was against the protestors. When we criticized
his stand, he became enraged and started shouting
angry words at me. He said I was stupid and politically
ignorant. I knew he was drunk but I got mad all the same.
When he left the table, I followed
him and pulled out my knife to stab him...until he
couldn't breathe anymore..."

Police didn't say whether the alleged killer was also
intoxicated.

So, if you are Thai, be warned. Don't talk trash about
politics with friends when you want to have a good
time together. Even husbands and wives, brothers and
sisters are said to have split up because of the current
political stand-off in Thailand.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Elephant gets killed on Bangkok street?

Believe it or not, elephants do get killed on Bangkok streets in traffic accidents. Just the other day, an elephant was knocked down by an oncoming van. It died instantly. A man standing close by was also killed. Police rushed to the scene of the accident but didn't know how to handle the case. The elephant wasn't supposed to be walking on the streets of Bangkok. The car driver was obviously caught off-guard when he saw a huge pachyderm right in front of his speeding car. Non-government organizations against cruelty to animals have been protesting against the use of wild animals for donations in the city. But nobody seems to be able to stop the trend.

So when you are driving in Bangkok, apart from being on alert for intoxicated drivers, be aware of the fact that you may run into elephants at the next turn.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thai politics: From hand clappers to foot clappers


The anti-Thaksin protestors have been using hand clapppers to cheer up one another. Now, the pro-Thaksin protestors against protestors have come up with their "foot clappers" in retaliation.


It's the symbol of hands of PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) against that of DAAD's feet (Democratic Alliance Againsti Dictatorship).


It's yellow against red.


It's "new politics" against "old politics."


The introduction of "foot clappers" into the divisive political atmosphere is particularly interesting since foot has always been considered a sign lowly gesture. Thais don't use their feet to point at things. Thais don't put their feet over things they consider respectable. "My foot!" is considered a rude expression.


When you get mad, you may slap others with your hand. But it's when you getting really worked up that you kick somebody else with one of your feet.


The introduction of politics of "foot" therefore indicates that Thai politics has been plunged to a new low indeed.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bangkokians' concern: Traffic jam over street violence?




If yesterday's AFP report datedlined Bangkok was anywhere near accurate, then lots of soul-searching is in order indeed. And we shouldn't get angry if your foreign friends say we are still a third-word nation.

The AFP story had this to say: Despite international headlines screaming of turmoil in Thailand, many Bangkok residents see this week's violence between police and protesters as more of a traffic problem than a political one.

In a country that has seen 18 coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, the clashes were treated with concern and sadness, but the sprawling capital mostly carried on as if nothing was amiss.

"Politics in Thailand is not stable," shrugged an unconcerned commuter on the ultra-modern light railway who would not give his full name.

Two people were killed and more than 470 injured when police clashed with thousands of anti-government protesters who stormed parliament on Tuesday.

As with previous political violence at nearby Government House this year, the fallout was localised.

"The first factor is the traffic for the people who work in that area," said Sinisa Lungrung, 32, who works in marketing. "The second factor is the uncertainty that affects people's lives."

Student Kantapat Tepinpria, 16, goes to school near parliament. The unrest added 30 minutes to his commute, he said. When asked if there were any further effects, Kantapat thought for a moment, then shook his head: "Just traffic."


Just traffic? Well, who can argue with the wisdom of the so-called "man on the street" especially conducted by a foreign correspondents on the Bangkok streets.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mr Prime Minister, you are playing a dangerous game

Click to watch my video comment on the arrest of protest leader, Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang, just as he was casting his ballot in Sunday's Bangkok governor election yesterday. The domestic political temperature suddenly soared to new heights.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Phallus as national souvenir? Sir, you must be joking!

Never a dull moment in Thai politics. The new culture minister, Worawat Ua-apinyakul, hardly in office for a week, has proposed that local amulets in unusual shapes such as phallus charms, Nagas, and buffaloes will be made into Thailand's pride as cultural souvenirs.



It's a sick joke, screamed well-known culture academic Srisak Wallipodom, who declared that the minister has no understanding of culture.



Simply put, if the idea was ever taken seriously, he said, it would plunge the country into a "crisis of culture."



The minister had also suggested that his new, innovative "national sovernirs" would include the mythical serpent-like creature naga, also known as "kwai thanu." It's a well-known folk talisman in the shape of buffalo, used by local villagers to protect them against all kinds of evil powers.



"We can turn local amulets with phallus symbols and buffalo statuettes into key chains and sell them to tourists," a dead-panned Minister Worawat said.



He will even provide certificates of authenticity to show that their wares were properly made.



If a lot of Thais think he has gone bonkers, the minister insisted: "Don't you view this new idea of mine with contempt. This is a real innovation."



Well, all I can say is: Sir, you probably have better things to do.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Confused in Thailand? Get used to it!


I don't blame any foreigner who says he or she is totally confused about what's happening in Thailand these days? We Thais are arguing over what's the real meaning of it all anyway.


President of the Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) Munenori Yamada told us during a roundtable discussion last week that Japanese investors had been baffled by the protest movement here.


What is the whole theme of the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) in the first place, he asked.


"We tried to understand the political conflict here. But unlike protests elsewhere in the world, there is no clear theme on what is the cause of the discontent. For instance, in the US, people protest about whether they want a centralized government. But here, there's no clear explanation as to why protestors have turned against the government. So, Japanese investors are perplexed by the situation," Yamada said.


My advice to Yamada is first to pay a visit to the Governnment House. That's the first confusion. Why do people go to the Government House to understand the protestors? Well, if you are in Bangkok, you know the answer to that question.


Second, read up on "Thaksinomics." Third, get Sondhi Limthongkul to answer some of the "questions you were afraid to ask."


If you are still confused, then, just get used to it! That's part of the fun. For Thais, once we get to understand what's it all about, we would begin to get bored. And getting bored in a democracy is a dangerous thing.