Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thaksin in new gamble in Hong Kong

Thaksin Shinawatr is scheduled to speak at the Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents Club on Monday, March 2. He may reschedule that talk if news about is imminent arrest proves could be confirmed.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday that the ministry would be ready to coordinate matters if the police and public prosecutor seek Interpol's cooperation in taking the ex-premier into custody and send him back to Thailand to serve the two-year jail term handed down earlier by the court on the Rajda land case.

Will Thaksin take the risk of being arrested right in the presence of the whole gallery of foreign reporters?

Nobody knows. He may think it's all worth it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kasit: If need be, I'll be back on the streets

Kasit Piromya, the foreign minister, is the main target of the renewed red-shirted protest today. But he vows to stay on -- unless he is indicted as one of the members of People's Alliance for Democracy's accused of breaking the law at the height of the yellow-shirted protest late last year.

"I am ready to resign if I am charged. Then, I will be going back on the streets to resume my role as an activist," he told reporters.

So, if the foreign minister quits, it won't be because the red protestors plan to gather in front of the foreign ministry tomorrow to demand his resignation.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Thaksin: Newin is trying to tear me up

Thaksin Shinawatra simply couldn't resist the temptation to give it to his former right-hand man turned traitor: Newin Chidchob.

He told a group of Pheau Thai MPs in Hong Kong over the weekend that Newin was now intent upon "crushing me to pieces." He knows Newin is very ambitious. The guy wants to be prime minister himself.

But Newin may not be his worst problem for now. It's the "two-headed birds" within his own party that's his main concern. Some of them are ready to betray him yet again, he said. "But if we win, they will be on our side," Thaksin consoled his people. Perhaps, he was simply trying to console himself.

In short, Thaksin was saying he couldn't trust anyone at all -- even those who paid him a visit in Hong Kong!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sleepless in Hong Kong

He has just sneaked into Hong Kong from Singapore after having visited Nicaragua. Thaksin Shinawatra is now a real opposition leader in exile. He met several groups of his Pheau Thai's MPs here today, apparently spearheading the no-confidence debate against the Abhisit government.

The timing couldn't have been more obvious. The "red-shirted" protestors have called for another major rally on Feb 24. That will coincide with the Asean Summit in Hua Hin (Feb 28-March 1). Then comes the opposition's censure debate in the House in early March.

Thaksin has called the Hong Kong special meeting to make sure all the anti-government activities will be properly coordinated. First, he will have to decide who's going to be his nominee to run the opposition party. Then, he will have to decide how to make sure that all the financial needs for his political drives back in Bangkok will be met.

You don't need to be a political pundit to know what's going to happen next. Whoever turns up in Hong Kong will be considered the real "insiders." And the real Pheau Thai Partt leader will be one of them. That's for sure.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thailand does poorly in 'brand perception' survey

Thailand does poorly in a "Nation Brand Perception" survey. While Singapore comes out as No 1, Thailand is ranked 195th out of 200 nations and territories covered in the survey.

The report has been released by the East West Nation Brand Perception Index based on analysing millions of mentions of countries in hundreds of thousands of news articles, every quarter. For the first indexes (quarter 2 of 2008), 38 prominent global media sources were surveyed between April 1, 2008 and June 30, 2008.

This collection contained almost 5 million references to the 242 countries or regions identified for the study.

Of these references, which were grammatically connected to the countries in question, almost 1.5 million were defined as positive while 1.7 million were defined as negative.

The Nation Branding Index (NBI) score relies both on the overall quality of the media and the prominence of the country, determined by the number of country references or mentions. NBI scores are distributed around a mean 50 with a standard deviation of 10. For the second quarter of 2008, the scores ranged from 17.2569 to 91.3769.

The purpose of this study is to enable countries to address their branding and communications problems -- and to identify their strengths and weakness.

The top ten "best brands" of the survey: Singapore, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Ireland, Finland, Algeria, Peru, Poland and New Zealand.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Abhisit: Lunch with the FT in Davos..but why didn't he eat?

When Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij showed him a copy of the Financial Times (Weekend edition), Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva nodded: "Yes, I have read it. I don't like the caricature though. I look too old and ugly..."

"And you don't have a tie like that?" Korn said, to which Abhisit responded: "Right. It's not my tie. But I guess the cartoonist wanted to portray the fact that I am a fan of New Castle soccer team."

It's the "Lunch with the FT" column by Gideon Rachman while they were attending the World Economic Forum in Davos late last month.

When he was asked whether Thaksin Shinawatr has any good things about him, Abhisit responded: "He has a modern outlook. With him being in the communications and IT business gives him that feel. And he moves quickly. But he doesn't appreciate the true values of these times which is all about human rights, participation, true democracy, transparency and good governance."

Asked about the lese majeste laws, the PM said: "It's like the contempt of court laws in Britain. They are designed to protect an institution that is politically neutral and supposed to be above conflict."

Abhisit admitted that the law is sometimes abused and there may also be pressure for the law to be liberally intepreted. "I will try to find ways of fixing that," he said.

The column disclosed that when Abhisit was at Eton and London Mayor Boris Johnson was one of the classmates, the future Thai future was known among friends as "Veggie."

Johnson has boasted to being the only person in England to be able to pronounce "Vejjajiva" correctly.

It was supposed to be "lunch" with the FT but the columnist complained that Abhisit didn't touch the food at all.

"True," the PM told Korn, "the food didn't look too inviting to me on that day."
It was a sandwich in a Davos restaurant.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Amnesty for Thaksin? What's the hurry?

Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva has not publicly rejected the proposed bill to offer amnesty to politicians affected by the Sept 19,2006 coup. But when he was asked about the issue in his weekly television show yesterday, the obvious response was: "What's the hurry?"

He was careful not to be seen to be blocking the move which could also benefit some of his coalition partners, though. Abhisit did inject a cautious note: Politicians shouldn't be seen to be acting on bills that could be seen to constitute conflicts of interests.

In other words, let the pro-Thaksin elements do what they are supposed to do. But other politicians shouldn't just jump on the bandwagon simply because they, too, could get a free ride.

In other words, don't undermine the public's faith when it is needed the most.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Quitting politics in exchange for amnesty?

In the wake of the Pheau Thai Party's plan to propose a bill for a general
amnesty for all politicians, the inevitable question is whether the whole exercise is aimed at getting Thaksin Shinawatra off the hook.

If that's the case, the so-called "National Reconciliation Bill" would be a non-starter. But then I heard on radio just now that former Army Chief Gen Chaisith Shinawatra was proposing that Thaksin could pledge to abandon politics once and for all in exchange for an amnesty.

"I think Thaksin may consider this option. His family has learned the lesson. And I believe he also wants to spend the rest of his life in some peace," Gen Chaisith, one of Thaksin's nephews, said on "Lap, Luang, Prang" (Secret, Deception, Camouflage) programme on FM 100.5 just now.

The problem is even if Thaksin does make that statement, how many people would really believe him?

I for one will be quite skeptical.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Abhisit is asked: Is the era of military coups over?

Does Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva think the era of military coups is over?

In response to that question posed by Forbes magazine's Eric Ellis in the latest edition, the Thai prime minister had this to say:

"We hope so, I would have said, 'Yes, but I've had a number of lessons. After 1992, we were very determined that the 1991 coup was the last one. But it's sad to say that during the Thaksin years, they were dragged back into politics. Every time there's a coup now, the military learn a hard and more expensive lesson that, though they might get cheers from people when they come in to restore order, they are not in a position to govern..."

Abhisit added: "Part of the mistake of the Thaksin years was involving the military as a political tool, creating the reasons or excuses, depending on how you see things, for a coup. If you look back at the history of coups, you can always list the reasons in the first announcement of the coupmakers: corruption is on top, division, violating the monarchy. It's always been like that. If we eliminate these conditions, there's no reason why there should be one."

Monday, February 9, 2009

After London and Tokyo, will Washington ban him too?

Will the US also close its door to Thaksin Shinawatr? There are no official indications so far. But speculation is flying thick that Washington may follow London and Tokyo in refusing to issue a visa to him if he applies.

The official reason given by the Japanese consular officials are simple and clear: Under official guidelines, anyone sentenced to one than one year in jail by court and doesn't lodge an appeal within one month would be considered a convict not allowed into Japan. It doesn't matter whether you are an ex-premier or a criminal.

China may not have the same ground rules but Chinese officials have reportedly been keeping a close watch on Thaksin so that he won't land there to organize political activities that may sour relations with the current Thai government.

Chinese leaders are pragmatic people. They don't want any government to issue visas to people hostile to the Beijing government either.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Thaksin: Where are you?

Everybody knows where he is supposed to be today. But then, nobody is quite sure.

One of his close aides, MP Chatuporn Prompan, a core leader of the "Red-Shirted Movement," has told his friends in the Pheau Thai Party not to disclose the ex-premier's whereabouts "for fear of attempted assassination."

But a group of MPs from this party, led by Chiang Mai MP Surapong Tovichakchaikul and Samut Prakarn MP Pracha Prasobdee, has made it public that they are heading for Hong Kong this weekend to pay Thaksin a visit.

So, is Thaksin really in Hong Kong? We shall soon know.

One thing is certain for now, though. He isn't in Koh Kong of Cambodia. That's the assurance given by no less a person than Premier Hun Sen who told visiting Thai Defence Minister Gen Pravit Wongsuwan yesterday that Thaksin was definitely not on Cambodian soil, at least as far as yesterday was concerned.

Thaksin can't go to England. Japan has banned him. China keeps a close watch on his movement to avoid offending the Abhisit government. Cambodia's PM Hun Sen is a shrewd politician. He wouldn't want to sour relations with PM Abhisit by appearing to be too close to Thaksin although they remain "close friends." You don't hear Thaksin express too keen an interest in going to the United States either.

So, there aren't too many places that Thaksin could go now, especially if he is nervous about attempts on his life.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Thailand's very own Obama's look-alike: Bangrak Obama

Supoj Boonseubwong, 50,owner of a sportswear shop in Saraburi province, wasn't aware of his facial similarity with that of the new US president until recently when he was playing in a local soccer match.

The announcer at the game said it loud enough for everyone to hear: "We have an Obama look-alike here today. Cheer him up!"

Then, a song composer Charan Sariwong, approached him, saying that he was interested in composing a set of songs for him so that he could issue a music album by the end of this month.

Supoj the singer will be known as "Bangrak Obama."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bhumjaithai: Coalition of the Desperate

Keep a close watch on the newest political party in town -- Bhumjaithai -- which has turned out to be a collection of some of the best-known former supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Bhumjaithai may be loosely translated as "Pride of Thai."

Thaksin probably thinks they are "traitors" -- but they probably think of themselves as the country's saviours by helping the Democrats -- their former arch-rivals -- to form the current coalition government.

The leaders of Bhumjaithai include such political heavyweights as Newin Chidchob, Suriya Chuengrungruangkij, Somsak Thepsuthin, and Sora-ard Klinpratum -- all of them once standing by Thaksin's side. Now, they are on the opposite side.

Today, the party boasts at least 32 MPs in their stable, having moved from People's Power and Machima, the two parties dissolved by court orders two months ago for breach of law.

The Democrats need them to survive. They need the Democrats to continue in a position of power.

Perhaps, we can call the arrangement the "Coalition of the Politically Desperate."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thaksin and the 'two kids'

Who are the "two kids" trying in vain to untie the web of serious
problems of the country?

That's'Thaksin Shinawatra's latest salvo against the Abhisit government
in his "phone-in" to a seminar of his Pheau Thai Party at Khao Yai yesterday.

He didn't elaborate. But, it isn't too difficult to guess. He was apparently referring to two "young kids" in the Cabinet -- Premier Abhisit and Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij. Both are in the late 40s. Both went to Oxford. Both could pose a threat to "Thaksinomics" if the new "Abhisitonomics" works out.

Thaksin said: "The whole world is facing problems. The two kids' ability to solve problems is limited. The problems aren't as easy as they thought."

Thaksin's biggest fear, perhaps, is that if these "two kids" manage to convince the Thai people that they can do a better job than Thaksin, then it could mean he will be gone forever.