Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Same song, different keys

You don't get to see Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva in his singing mood too often. But he did pair up with well-known artist Pongsith "Pu" Khampi yesterday to sing his famous song: "Talod Waela" ("All the Time"), with Minister of PM's Office Ong-art Klampaiboon trying to chime in.

Perhaps, Abhisit wasn't too happy with his own performance. His explanation? "Pu and me were singing on different keys."

That happens quite often between him and some of his Cabinet members, especially with his coalition partners in Bhumjaithai Party, doens't it?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

His intense silence has fired rumours about 'intensive care'

Is he in ICU (Intensive Care Unit)? Or is it just some wild rumour promoted by some of his foes?

Manager Weekly today put Thaksin Shinawatra on the cover again with a simple headline: "ICU"? The story inside repeats the speculation about Thaksin's health. But some Pheau Thai MPs who claim to have met Thaksin recently insisted that the ex-premier remains in good health.

One of the reasons that has fanned this rumour is Thaksin's recent low-profile. He has stopped tweeting. He doesn't make any "phone-in" or video links to his supporters here. Very few people have seen him. PM Abhisit Vejjajiva suggested to reporters earlier this week that Thaksin might have been in Brunei. But nobody has confirmed his presence anywhere.

Most conspicuous has been Thaksin's silence after the Cambodian government announced that he had resigned as adviser to Premier Hun Sen and his critics immediately said he had in fact been fired.

His silence has been deafening. Hence the rumours.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Prem wears orange, suggesting a reconciliation message?

Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, the president of the Privy Council, turned 90 on Aug 26. He tried to make it a low-profile affair. The top brass and senior officials who wanted to pay their annual homage had to get into his house through the side and back doors. No grand, open ceremonies like previous years. The official reason given was that the ex-premier didn't want to draw undue attention to his personal life.

But then he did send a message through the colour of his shirt. It was plainly orange. Reporters were quick to offer their interpretation.

It's not yellow. It's not red. It's a combination of both. Was Prem suggesting a compromise, a national reconciliation of sorts?

I am sure he won't comment on the interpretation. But then, I am sure he won't deny such a harmless -- even constructive -- suggestion, whether he wore that nice, colourful shirt deliberately or not.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thai and Khmer ambassadors are back. But why so sudden?

Ambassador Prasart Prasartvinichai left this evening for Phnom Penh to resume his ambassadorial post in Phnom Penh. His counterpart will arrive in Bangkok tomorrow.
The question remains: What's behind this dramatic, abrupt resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries?

Did Thaksin Shinawatr "resign?" or was he politely asked to quit?

And even he had actually been requested to resign by Premier Hun Sen as had been rumoured here, it was still a "lightning" move, considerating the fact that Hun Sen and Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva were exchanging heated words, both submitting their angry letters of protest against each other to the UN.

Ambassador Prasart was said to have been told last Friday to make preparations for his return to Phnom Penh. That means behind-the-scenes moves had been on a few days before the official "resignation" of Thaksin was made public Monday.

Were the military officers on both sides of the border instrumental in convincing their respective political leaders to call a "political truce"? Was there intervention by a super-power or two to persuade Hun Sen to reach out to Thailand?

These questions and others remain unanswered as of now. Stay tuned. We will find out soon enough.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pa Prem turns 90 this week with little fanfare

Privy Council President and Ex-Pemier Gen Prem Tinsulanonda celebrates his 90th birthday anniversary this Thursday (Aug 26) but he won't be celebrating with style -- for fear of drawing unnecessary attention.

In previous years, Prem threw open his residence's doors for senior military officers, bureaucrats, businessmen and the press on his birthday for well-wishing ceremonies. Not this year, though.

Yes, he made a public appearance for representatives of 3,221 students who had been granted scholarships by his Prem Tinsulanonda Foundation.

Gen Prem told them that he believes that Phra Siam Thevathiraj, the sacred spirit that protects Thailand, will ensure that good people are rewarded and bad guys are punished.

There is no doubt that Gen Prem, who has kept a low profile in the past few months since the eruption of street violence, has emerged in public again for one very crucial reason: to debunk rumours that he has been seriously ill.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Why Seksan agrees to leave his world of solitude

Seksan Prasertkul, former student activist, more recently university lecturer and writer, has been plucked out of his "solitude" by former Premier Anand Panyarachun to join the "Reform Thailand Commission."

In his first comprehensive interview published in Nation Weekender, Seksan said he had reluctantly left his self-imposed solitary existence because he was obliged when Anand asked him to do so.

"Besides, I have been writing about social injustices. The reform commission's role would complement what I have been doing and commenting upon all along. Also, the April-May events saddened me tremendously. That was what convinced me that I should contribute in whatever way I can to help society," he said.

Seksan insists he isn't interested in getting involved in politics, believe it or not.

"Since I left the jungle (with Communist Party of Thailand), I have been teaching, writing and doing arts. In the past ten years, I have spent time studying Dharma. All of these have nothing to do with politics. I don't why put the public seems to have expectations about my political role. In fact, if I had wanted to get involved in politics or sought political power, I wouldn't have waited until I am over 60," he said.

There is a personal sense of built involved too. "Today, the country's situation has deteriorated to a great extent. It's very worrying. That makes me feel reasonably guilty if I didn't offer help in whatever way I could..." Seksan added.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The worst-case scenario: What if the Democrat Party is dissolved?

Some Democrat Party's strategists are already working on the "worst-case scenario" if the party was to be dissolved by the Constitutional Court over one of the two cases of election law violations.

In that case, all the party's executive members could be banned for five years from politics. That leaves Chuan Leekpai, currently chairman of the party's advisory board, the most likely choice of becoming the prime minister to replace Abhisit Vejjajiva. Suthep Thuagsuban, the party's secretary general, would also be still active since he won't be on the list of the banned executives. Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij would also be one of the handful party's senior members to remain active in politics.

That scenario, however, is possible on the assumption that the opposition Pheau Thai Party can't convince the current coalition partners such as Bhumjaithai and Pheau Paendin and Chat Thai Pattana Parties to abandon the Democrats to form a new coalition government.

Things remain fluid, of course. But nothing is impossibl in Thai politics.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chief Govt Whip issues his thinly-veiled threat

If Chief Government Whip Vittaya Kaewparada sounds rather tough these days, it's because Aug 18-19 will be crucial for the House to pass the second and third readings of the 2011 Budget.

Rumours of possible defections by coalition partners have been rife. But political pundits would tell you that it's nothing but bluffing. No government MPs would want to scuttle the Budget because they all stand to get a piece of the cake after all. Some of them who have hinted at possible abstention or voting against the government have done so only to gain attention and possibly boosting their bargaining power. When all is said and done,the Budget will be passed.

Vittaya's most effective weapon is his threat: "If the House plays games, then the prime minister will have to make his decision."

That could mean only one thing: House dissolution for a new election.

But even if Abhisit Vejjajiva has that power, he wouldn't want to exercise it. After all, the PM also wants the Budget to pass so that he could spend effectively enough to enable him and his party to gain the most from the upcoming election that will most probably come early next year -- if the PM can call all the shots, that is.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Now, what do we do with the Bt46 billion?

We asked our friends in the Twitter world for suggestions on what to do with the Bt46 billion assets seized from Thaksin Shinnawatra now that the Supreme Court has rejected his appeal.

Here are some highly interesting ideas.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

TV Roundtable on Cambodia:A win-win encounter

It was a win-win "Roundtable" on Channel 11 on Sunday when Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva invited his critics on the Phra Viharn controversy to "debate" the issue live for three hours on public television.

Both sides had done their homework and the Thai public was given both sides of the story in an open, frank and lively way.

Compared to his similar live broadcast negotiations with the red-shirt leaders a few months ago, this encounter was much more creative and productive. There were of course moments of heated exchanges between Abhisit and Veera Somkwamkid,one of the leaders of the "Thai Patriots Alliance" who had demanded that the government push out the intruding Khmers on the mountain border area -- and to abrogate the 2000 MoU.

But the rhetoric was polite and based on facts rather than emotion. Abhisit could have said to have scored well, if nothing else, for his willingness to debate his opponents in a public forum. None of his predecessors had had the political courage to have done that.

The Patriots Alliance chalked up good marks for their well-informed presentations of the facts behind the Thai-Cambodia conflict over the mountain temple.

And when the debate ended three hours later, the audience got to learn more about the complicated issue.Neither side gave grounds but the Thai public is now in a better position to take an informed stance.

When the sense of nationalism is backed up by facts and informed analyses, the danger of tense confrontation should be considerably reduced.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Panitan says he hasn't been told there is a new govt spokesman

Panitan Watanayakorn tells us he has not been told by PM Abhisit or FM Kasit Pirom that he will be moved to the post of "assistant minister" at the Foreign Ministry.

Of course, he must also be surprised by news that he won't be the government spokesman anymore. The new man, according to a widely-circulated report, is Thanawat Polvichai, dean of the economics faculty of Thai Chamber of Commerce University.

Whether Panitan is relieved in leaving the post having to deal with media or not isn't clear but he has always been quoted as saying that it is just a "provisional posting" and that he would welcome a full-time replacement.

Now, if Panitan is made "assistant minister" at the Foreign Ministry,he will replace Panich Vikitset who was elected recently as the new MP for Bangkok's Constituency 6.

Panitan has been criticized by some Democrats as being "too soft" in his posturing as government spokesman. He himself has always insisted that he isn't the kind of "ferocious mouthpiece" of the government. That attack-dog's tactics could be better handled by the Democrat Party's own spokesmen.

Speculation was rife recently that he might be replaced by Apirak Kosayothin, former Bangkok governor, who was said to be more comfortable as one of the PM's advisers.

Thanawat is a familiar figure among the local media. He has been expressing his views on a number of economic issues. He also serves as a news anchor giving background analyses on current economic stories.

Now, he will have to show that he can handle political issues with equal speed and efficiency.

If Panitan wants to know what's really happening, all he has to do is to whisper into the PM's ear: "Is that true, sir?"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The '3Ps' and their behind-the-scenes merger move

They are known within the political circles as the "3Ps" -- Pinit Charusombat, Pairoj Suwanachawee, and Preecha Laohapongchana -- and they form the backbone of the current coalition government.

The three Ps are said to be contemplating a merger so that they could put themselves in a stronger position after the next election, vis-a-vis other "medium-sized" parties, particularly Bhumjaithai Party which is under the direct influence of Newin Chidchob, PM Abhisit's stronger backer.

The three groupings now have a total of 18 seats in the House. If they join forces with Banharn Silpa-archa's Chat Thai Pattana Party with 25 ad another small party such as Machima, which has about 9 seats, the total could come to 52. And if they exert real effort, perhaps the merger could expect to strike 60. That means they would be in a position to bargain with either the Democrats or Pheau Thai Party for some a real substantial piece of the cake.

Does all the talk about this "re-alignment" send a signal that elections are imminent?

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva told The Wall Street Journal today that he won't call an election before early next year "at the earliest."

But his coalition partners don't seem to think along the same line. They don't want to be caught off-guard, obviously.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

And the next Army Chief is......

Most military analysts here say unless there is a last-minute earthshaking turnaround, the new army commander-in-chief will be Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, replacing Gen Anupong Paochinda.

This will mark the rise of the so-called "Burapha Payak" faction within the army, the other being "Wong Thewan" which has been struggling hard, albeit behind the scenes, to prevent the former from assuming absolute control over the army ranks.

Burapha Payak means "Tiger of the East" has been boosted because of Gen Anupong's wide-ranging influence in the past few years. "Wong Thewan" meanwhile comprises mostly army generals from powerful families, some of whom have been politically active.

Gen Prayuth's rise will further strengthen the position of the current crops of army leaders who have worked closely with the ruling Democrat Party through Deputy PM Suthep Thuagsuban.

The army's top brass, who have been trying to remain officially "neutral" under Gen Anupong's leadership, are expected to become more assertive on security issues particularly when they are linked to political conflicts.

Whatever the outcome of the next general election, and whoever becomes the new PM, the new army chief seems bent on a "no-nonsense" stance in dealing with what they consider "acts if terrorism" be they of political and security nature.

While Gen Anupong is seen to be diplomatic and political savvy, Gen Prayuth is considered more outspoken and "a man of action."

What that means in practical terms will depend on how the politicians play their games from now until his scheduled retirement -- in four years.