Thursday, July 29, 2010

Suu Kyi: Election "absolutely unlikely" to be free and fair

Detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi believes that the upcoming Burmese election is "absolutely unlikely" to be free and fair "because the election date has not been set and political parties will not have enough time to campaign."

she said this to Nyan Win, a senior official in the disbanded National League for Democracy, who met Suu Kyi on Tuesday.

He told The Irrawaddy magazine that her health is good and that they also discussed the appeal of the 18-month extension of her house arrest and renovation work that was needed on her home.

There has been speculation that she may be released before the election but so far there has been no confirmation.

In March, the NLD decided not to register as a political party for the 2010 election, saying that the election would not be free and fair.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In case of a war...

Lt Gen Thanongsak Apirakyothin, the Third Army Commander, was discussing the formation of the new 7th Infantry Division based in the North when he obviously let slip a very interesting "strategic plan."

Asked by a Matichon reporter whether the setting up of the new division in the north was a reaction to recent reports of neighbouring countries' plans to develop nuclear capacity and digging of underground tunnels close to the Thai border, he responded:

"We have our own assessment of possible future scenarios with our neighbours. If it's Cambodia, one squadron of our F-16s should suffice. But with Burma, we aren't quite sure. They have MiGs and are backed by the Russians and they also have a nuclear development plan aided by North Korea. Therefore, we have to develop our own preventive plan for the future. It's nothing to do with politics..."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mingkwan is ready for the top job!

Mingkwan Saengsuwan, a former commerce minister under the Pheau Thai Party, now says he is ready to assume the premiership "should the majority in the party decide to nominate me as a candidate for the primer's post in the upcoming election."

But would Chalerm Yoobamrung, the party's MPs chairman, agree? Hasn't Chalerm been strongly opposed to Mingkwan's political ambition?

Mingkwan was quick to point out to reporters that they had patched up. "Didn't you see the two of us hugging each other the other day?"

Most political reporters say Chalerm and Mingkwan have called a truce and have been eager to make a show of their "reconciliation."

But hasn't Mingkwan been dubbed "warrior in an air-conditioned room" by some of his critics within the party?

Mingkwan hit back: "If I had just been working in an air-conditioned room, I wouldn't have been able to jack up the price of paddy to 14,000 baht per ton (when I was commerce minister)."

He says Pheau Thai Party should win no fewer than 250 seats in the upcoming election.
"Now is the time for all our MPs to start visiting their constituencies in preparation for the new polls," he said.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Now, Opposition will get free air time on Channel 11

The Opposition will get some free air time after all. Channel 11 will launch a new programme entitled: "Trong Pai Trong Pa" (Straight to the Poin) starting Aug 2, beginning 10 pm, Monday to Friday.

It won't be a "solo" opposition slot though. Opposition figures will be invited to join their government counterparts (perhaps starting with the govt and opposition House whips) to discuss issues of the day. The problem behind the scenes has been who will be moderating the programme. A number of well-known anchors have politely turned down the offer for fear of being caught in the unenviable position of being seen siding with one side or the other.

The latest I heard is that "Adisak Srisom," Channel 11's veteran moderator will be filling in for the first few programmes before a "permanent solution" is found.

Would Pheau Thai Party despatch Chalerm Yoobamrung as the first salvo on the air? If so, would PM Abhisit accept the challenge of facing his long-time political rival in a live debate on Channel 11?

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Sign is back and it needs special security now!

The "Ratchaprasong Interesection" sign disappeared for one day -- and was back today. The sign, covered with dirt and even graffiti, was removed on Monday for a thorough cleaning. When it came back yesterday, it looked so clean that the speculation was that it was a "new" sign.

As cartoonist Arun here suggests, a squadron of security officials may now be necessary to just guard the sign from being vandalised or taken away. It has simply become too politicized!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Now, the 'Loei Model'

And now, it's the "Loei Model." It's supposed to be a local initiative in this northeastern province to encourage reconciliation at the local level.

A sort of a "town-hall meeting" tookplace here during the weekend at the Loei Rajabhat University where the provincial governor, Pornsak Jiaranai, chaired a discussion on "Trend Towards Reform for Thailand."

The most interesting aspect of the meeting was that both the "reds" and "yellows" were represented in the public seminar and local leaders at the provincial, district, tambon levels were all present.

Participants were at pains to stress that while they continued to respect the freedom of expression for all shades of the political scene, what they agreed upon was that they would not support the use of violence.

Loei is basically a "red" area, with four Pheau Thai MPs and one Bhumjaithai (pro-government)MP.

Some leading government people flew up to Loei to take part in this "reconciliation experiment" including PM's adviser Apirak Kosayothin, Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Polabutr and Deputy Govt Spokesman Supachai Jaisamut.

If the Loei Model project shows any positive sign, they plan to move on to Pai (Mae Hong Son) where a similar sort of activity has also taken place. And if the trend prevails, then election campaigns could take place without risk of violence.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pridiyathorn approached to lead Pheau Thai? I wouldn't bet on that

If you ask me, I would tell you this speculation wouldn't turn out to be anything concrete. M.R. Pridiyathorn Devakul ("Mom Ouei") becoming the leader of Thaksin Shinawatra's Pheau Thai Party?

But then, it's a juicy rumour that is sweeping the town. Why? First of all, Thaksin needs someone to head his party like a hole in the head. Chalerm Yoobamrung has been battling it out with Mingkwan Saengsuwan. Gen Chavalit YOngchaiyudh is always there waiting in the wing. But none of these could really hold the party together.

M.R. Pridiyathorn's name has come up perhaps because he is one of the handful who are "available," having no clear affiliation with any particular political grouping.

The former deputy PM, ex-commerce minister, and former central bank governor, is also the father of M.L. Nattakorn Devakul ("Pluem") who has been quite active on Voice TV providing lively comments that are critical of the Abhisit government and in a number of cases quite pro-Red.

It's no surprise that the son's political commentaries may have something to do with the rumours that the father could well be taking an active political role once again. And what's wrong with Thaksin calling up Mom Ouei to say: "Hello, how's your son doing?"

Mind you, I am in no way suggesting that the conversation did take place or that the two have come to any agreement if they have actually been talking to each other.

If you need additional information to enhance your analytical depth on this issue,let me tell you that M.R. Pridiyathorn, by the way, has just agreed to take up the position as chairman of the board of directors of the Post Publishing Co.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Even Chuan says he has a 'heavy heart'

When Chuan Leekpai, the Democrat Party's chief adviser, says he has a "heavy heart" in getting his party through the legal battle over the proposed dissolution of his party, there are grounds for even the most optimistic observers to take note.

The Public Prosecutors say they have wrapped up the case against the country's oldest political party and will recommend this afternoon to the Constitutional Court to dissolve the party and ban its over 40 executives who held positions in 2004 and 2005 from politics for five years.

This is related to the allegation that the party received illicit donations worth 258 million baht from TPI Polene Plc, a cement giant that belongs to Prachai Leophairatana in 2005.

The case against the Democrats states that the donations had been made through disguised transactions. If that charge is proved right, the party could be in violation of Section 95 of the 2007 Political Parties Act.

Chuan doesn't usually show any anxiety in public when it comes to the future of his own party. But he has said so several times in the past week and disclosed that he will meet PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, the party's leader, to discuss how to consolidate his legal staff to fight the case.

Is there a "Plan B" for the Democrats in case the "worst-case scenario" should come to pass? Officially, Chuan, Abhisit and even the party's secretary-general, Suthep Thuagsuban, deny it. But when news leaked yesterday that a back-up party, known as "Thai Khemkhang" (Thai Strength), has been registered as a possible reserve, the party's leaders say they have nothing to do with it.

I don't believe, for a moment, of course, that there is no Plan B. But I do know that splits without the party are beginning to emerge. And, if the Constitutional Court hands down a negative verdict, you can expect factions within the party to go different ways.

The Democrats are standing at a crucial crossroads. There is no doubt about that.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Siam Twins don't promise a miracle

They call themselves Thailand's political "Siam Twins" and they certainly realize that expectations are high for them to produce a miracle of a national reform "action plan."

But Anand Panyarachun and Prawase Wasi are realistic enough to know that it's easier said than done. That's why Anand has made it known that the success of the mission to reform Thailand won't rest with the two Siam Twins or the 46 other committee members of the two commissions (one is called the Reform Thailand Committee and the other is known as the Reform Assembly).

"It's going to require the contribution from everybody in the country," Anand declared.

The fact that both have been able to recruit some of the country's best-known intellectuals and activists are already a small miracle itself. But the real test will be when they submit their full report at the end of their three-year tenure.

By then, nobody is quite sure who's the prime minister to preside over the ceremony to accept the Action Plan.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A tall order: In search of truth, not a witch-hunt

Kanit na Nakhon, chairmn of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), admits: "It's the toughest assignment in my life."

The 9-member TRC insists that they are seeking answers to questions over the country's problemsof divisiveness. It's not a "witch-hunt." And, according to a leading member of the commission: "We aren't here to judge who's right and who's wrong."

The commission will have a two-year term and will file an official report to the Cabinet every six months.

"We will be neutral, transparent and diverse. We are here to restore peace, not conduct a witch-hunt," vowed Kanit.

The other 8 members of the commission: from left, top, Kittipong Kittayarak: Permanent Secretary for Justice; Jutharat Ua-amnoey: Chulalongorn's Political Science Faculty; Decha Sungkawan, Dean of Thammasat's Faculty of Social Administration; Phairoj Polpetch: Secretary of People's Rights Protection Association; Manich Sooksomchitra, Thai Rath's senior editor; Ronnachai Kongsakon: Associate dean of Ramathibodi Hospital's Faculty of Medicine; Somchai Homlaor: Chairman of Human Rights Law Society and Surasak Likasitwatanakul: Dean, Thammasat's Faculty of Law.

That's as diversified as you could get. But then, whatever the formation, criticism will surely come from some quarters. The only yardstick will be how the public judges its performance once the real final report is made public.

Monday, July 5, 2010

World Cup or not, football politics is all the rage here

Football has become a political gimmick for leading Thai politicians, at both the local and national levels.

Local football clubs have been taken over by leading politicians and it has been said that "football fields" and "election campaign arenas" have become more or less the same thing.

In other words, politicians have taken to using football matches as their "vote-getting tools." Soccer has become a "brand-building" gimmick. But in the end, it's money that counts.