Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Weng-Sodsri face-off: Hot air in the rain

Election Commissioner Sodsri Satayatham claims her life has been threatened "but I am already 60 years old and not afraid of death."

Weng Tojirakarn, a red-shirt leader, hits back by saying that Sodsri might have been too paranoic about the so-called "death threat," insisting that the red shirts won't put pressure on the EC to endorse Jatuporn Prompan.

Sodsri says if she and/or other EC members are assassinated, society would be plunged into chaos and the military could stage a coup and that means Pheu Thai Party won't be able to rule the country.

Weng retaliates by saying that she was simply thinking in the old mode again.

Will this new verbal exchange lead to anything? Not really. The latest I heard today is that the EC is mostly likely going to endorse Jatuporn tomorrow anyway.

All the talks about threats on both sides are nothing more than just "strategic moves" in the post-election landscape. Lots of hot air in the rainy season. That's about it.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sodsri says in again!

She is probably the most outspoken among the five Election Commissioners. She has crossed swords with a number of politicians. Some of her comments have been controversial, such as the one she said a "quiet coup" was being plotted to pre-empt the general election which has come and gone, of course.

The "quiet coup" didn't come about -- and Sodsri was later to explain that she had "leaked" the story only as a warning about the possibility of a non-election.

Today, she did it again. Sodsri, I heard on radio, was quoted as warning the red shirts: If you resort to violence, the military may stage a coup and your Pheu Thai Party won't be able to form the new government.

Her latest comment was apparently in response to a reporter's question on how she would react to some red-shirts' possible pressure on her if the EC didn't endorse Jatuporn Prompan as an MP.

The EC has postponed its decision on Jatuporn's status from yesterday to Monday on grounds that a lot of work still had to be done on his case.

Will Sodsri say she said what she did today only to warn the red-shirts against putting undue pressure on her again?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kittirat: A foreign affairs portfolio surprise?

Nobody has contacted Kittirat na Ranong to offer him the foreign affairs portfolio in the Yingluck government just yet. At least, that's what he told reporters yesterday.

"I was quite surprised to read about it," he said, referring to a newspaper report earlier yesterday that he was to be the "dark horse" to become the new foreign minister.

Kittirat, former president of the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) and currently president of Shinawatra University, is no doubt close to Thaksin Shinawatra. He is also known to be associated with the group led by Sudarat Kaeyurapan within the Pheu Thai Party.He had been tipped to take up one of the Cabinet posts in the new government but the foreign affairs post wasn't one of them.

Read his lips. He didn't really deny the story. He was simply saying that there had been no official approach to him so far.

What if an offer was made? Would be accept it? Kittirat, in his typical diplomatic style, responded:

"I will think about it when I have been approached," he said.

In other words, he hasn't turned it down just yet.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gen Prayuth's 'good mood' doesn't last long

Army Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha got irritated, then apologized, and then got irritated again today.

He had over the weekend hit back at critics over the triple helicopter accidents, saying that the detractors weren't knowledgeable enough about how the army operates and that they should sympathize with those in uniform who were performing their duties under difficult conditions.

The following day, Gen Prayuth said he might have sounded too aggressive in his rebuttal and he apologized for that. "I am usually a kind-hearted person, though," he added, this time with a little smile.

But his "good mood" didn't last long. This morning when he met reporters before boarding the plane for Singapore, the army chief sounded miffed yet again.

He didn't like the headline in a mass-circulation newspaper this morning which said he was "pleading" with the new government to buy 30 new helicopters.

"I don't have to plead with anyone about anything. The purchase of helicopters has been on the drawing board all along. It wasn't that I took the opportunity of the accidents to try to squeeze in a request. The army does what it has to do, that's all. It doesn't matter who will be the next government. We are ready to follow the orders of the government," he said, before asking the press to be more prudent in the choice of words to use in the headlines.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Vichit: The man to watch to lead the new economic team

When I asked Vichit Surapongchai, CEO of Siam Commercial Bank, the other evening in a social function about rumours that he was taking up a Cabinet post in the Yingluck government, the well-known banker didn't deny it.

"That would be troublesome, wouldn't it?" he said, jokingly. It wasn't supposed to be denial or confirmation -- just a tactic to forestall further questioning.

That's why I wasn't all that surprised when Post Today reported this morning that Vichit might well become deputy premier and finance minister in the new government.

If that should come to pass, what role would Dr Olarn Chaipravat, Pheu Thai Party's seniormost economist and finance expert, play in the new administration?

Of course, Dr Olarn, who was once the bank's chief executive, would remain an important part of the new government's economic team. But somehow, all the leading men in support of "Thaksinomics" would be given their respective roles in the Yingluck government. How the final line-up will look like is still under intense discussion, we hear. Supply exceeds demand in a hugely lopsided way, we understand.

What does he think of her?

Quotable quote: Anusorn Amornchat, Yingluck's husband: "My wife is polite but firm..."

Monday, July 25, 2011

The young man who will be Thaksin's son-in-law

Who's the young man who is becoming Thaksin Shinawatra's son-in-law when he gets married to Pintongta "Em" Shinawatra towards the end of this year?

Matichon yesterday identified him as Nattapong Kunakornwong, who was voted "Hi-So Idol" of Cleo magazine in 2007.

Nattapong is the son of a major textile exporter. He obtained his bachelor's degree from Chicago and met Pintongta when they were studying for for master's degree on property management at Chulalongkorn University.

Matichon says "Pong" also owns a few high-end condominium projects including "D-65" and "Hive" in Sukhumvit area.

Voice TV, in an interview with Thaksin in Dubai that was broadcast on July 8,quoted him as saying that her daughter had visited him with his would-be son-in-law in Dubai and he had approved of her choice.

Thaksin told Voice TV: "I told my soon-to-be son-in-law that although we weren't too close together, I wanted him to know that I love my daughter very much and he must also love her and I will consider him my child too. This was my brief statement to him..."

Matichon also quoted Thaksin as saying that although he would very much like to attend his daughter's wedding in Thailand around the end of this year "but if I can't make it, she will understand. They will come to pay me homage after the ceremony."

Thaksin said he had teased his daughters by tell them that they should compete in producing grandchildren for me to raise...and spoil.

"I told them to speed up to have grand children for me to spoil. They told me No, they were afraid I might spoil them. I am getting old and I want to have grandchildren around me..." he was quoted as saying.

Chuwit tells Yingluck: No "Family Cabinet" please

Chuwit Kamolvisit, leader of Love Thailand Party with four MPs in the House, has started to play his role as an active opposition lawmaker.

He has warned Yingluck Shinawatra to avoid forming what he calls a "Family Cabinet" amidst rumours that Thaksin Shinawatra has told his other siblings -- brother Payab and the other sister Yaowabha -- not to serve as "brokers" for people lobbying for ministerial posts.

The earlier reported plan to hold Thaksin's 62nd birthday party on July 26 (tomorrow)in Bali has been squashed. He is flying to Europe to meet his own children for a private celebration. One of his daughters tweeted yesterday that she was flying to Europe to be with her father for the birthday's celebrations.

Yingluck has said she won't be joining the party. In response to Chuwit's remarks, she again was emphatic yesterday that she would be picking her own Cabinet members and "those living abroad" won't be meddling with her task as PM-to-be.

But she wants the Election Commission to approve 475 MPs (95% of the total number) before she goes about forming her first Cabinet.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The 'Yingluck Phenomenon'...a premier in 49 days

If and when she becomes prime minister in the next few weeks, Yingluck Shinawatra will make history on at least three counts:

1. The first female prime minister of Thailand.
2. The youngest premier of the country.
3. The first person to have spent the shortest period of time in politics before reaching the country's top political post: 49 days from the day she was named the No 1 on Pheu Thai's party list.

Khao Sod has come up with a special publication on her life which coincides with the Pheu Thai Party's own book entitled: "The Yingluck Phenomenon."

Matichon, Khao Sod's sister paper, said there was speculation that she may be "allowed" to stay as premier for four to six months before some "disruptive events" will oust her from the post. But then, the paper also suggested that on the other hand, there are political observers who believe that if she knows how to handle her new job, Yingluck could run the government the full four years' term.

But first things first. Let's see her resume the premiership before any speculation is taken seriously.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Yingluck asks red shirts to let EC do its work...

Yingluck Shinawatr today came out to ask the red shirts and other parties to stop putting pressure on the Election Commission which, she says, is working hard and independently to process the outcome of the July 3 election.

Her statement came after Abbhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party asked her and Pheu Thai leader Yongyudh Vichaidit to declare their public position on this issue.

These statements from Yingluck and Abhisit followed an earlier critical remarks by Nattawut Saikua, a leading red shirt leader, who had said the EC was being influenced by "invisible forces" to block red-shirt leaders from being endorsed as party list MPs.

Now that all the people who should make their stands clear on the issue have made their statements, it's time to ask all parties concerned to adopt a "hands-off" policy towards the EC. No?

(I must confess that the latest picture of Yingluck this morning prompted this post in the first place. A reporter at the scene said she looked stressed and didn't sport her usual smile. But then, this picture tells a different story.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thaksin invites Sondhi and Sonthi for a cup of coffee in Dubai

Thaksin Shinawatra says he is ready to reconcile with his foes. "Let them come to Dubai. I'll buy them coffee. Both Sondhi and Sonthi are welcome here. I am ready to forget the past although that doesn't mean I will have to work with them in the future," he told an interviewer on Thai PBS.

Apart from that social gesture, the former premier in exile, didn't offer anything concrete to implement his "reconciliation" concept. He repeated his general statements -- "I am not a revengeful man" and "I am ready to forget and forgive" -- but he didn't say what he would do to make a new beginning possible.

"I don't have to go back to Thailand. Don't worry about me," he said. At one point, Thaksin said he had before the 2006 coup that ousted him from office in fact planned to resign his premiership on his 60th birthday.

"But now I have to fight on," he declared.

In other words, Thaksin offered no new ideas or indications on how he will turn his pledge for national reconciliation into real actions.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chuwit's advice for Democrats: Only two words will make the difference

Chuwit Kamolvisit, leader of Love Thailand Party, has four members in the House. He has joined the Democrats' 159 seats and Bhumjaithai's 34 plus the one-member Rak Santi Party of Purachai Piemsomboon as well as Gen Sonthi Bunyaratakalin's Matupoom Party's two seats to form the 200-seat opposition party in the House.

The businessman-turned-politician maverick has one piece of advice for the Democrats. There is no way that the Democrat Party can beat Pheu Thai with policies, he says.

"The only way the Democrats can win over Pheu Thai hinges on just two words: Thaksin,"
Chuwit told Matichon Daily in an interview published today. He didn't elaborate.

How he will help the Democrats keep checks and balances on the Pheu Thai-led coalition government, with 300 seats under their command, remains to be seen.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Abhisit poised to play the role of a ferocious Opposition Leader once again

The badly-battered Democrat party is holding an executive committee's meeting next week amidst call for a major revamp of the country's oldest political party.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, who quit the party's top post to take responsibility for the poor performance in the July 3 election, is expected to be voted back in. But he will be under tremendous pressure to offer a new structure of the party to be better prepared for the next election.

The Democrat Party has not won a general election in the past 19 years.

At stake is the position of the party's secretary general. Suthep Thuagsuban has resigned together with Abhisit and has vowed not to accept re-election.

Various factions within the party are pushing for their own candidate for this powerful post. A Northeastern faction has proposed Kalaya Sophonpanich as a likely candidate. But other choices are expected to be raised in the party's crucial meeting to elect a new line-up for the party's top decision-making body.

Abhisit has not ruled out a return to the party's top post. He is expected to lead the opposition party in the House which is due to vote Yingluck Shinawatra as prime minister early next month.

As opposition leader, Abhisit is unrivalled. But he will have to prove that he can make a come-back as prime minister in order to be seen as an effective opposition leader. That will take lots of hard work, especially in the Northeastern constituencies.

Friday, July 15, 2011

'Thaksin doesn't know how to spell Ning' (Stay put)

Matichon Weekly says if Thaksin Shinawatra wants his "clone" sister, Yingluck, to lead the new government smoothly, he should just step back and stay in the background.

The cover story suggests that Thaksin is playing too active a role in trying to form the new Cabinet -- a task that should be left to Yingluck who is slated to assume the premiership.

Yingluck, the magazine says, has been caught in a difficult position when the Pheu Thai Party has to backtrack on several major election promises. She has had to refer the questions on the Bt300 minimum wage, the Oil Fund, etc to the party's executive committee.

If Thaksin continues to "interfere" with his sister's role, she would lose the image of being a leader.

"The current situation has led some people to say that if Thaksin knows how to spell 'Stay Put' then the Yingluck government might be able to proceed more effectively..." the Matichon Weekly's cover story concludes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The party that has lost every major election for 19 years

Nation Weekender's latest issue puts on the cover an analysis on why the Democrat Party has lost every general election in the last 19 years. Why has the country's oldest party not been able to penetrate the Northeast at all? Why did the popular votes for this party plunge lower than last time? Is it back to play the role it was best suited -- as the country's most efficient and dreaded opposition party?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yingluck as defence minister too? Thanks, but no thanks.

It was first headlined in Matichon Daily early this morning. A few hours later, when reporters met her, Yingluck Shinawatra categorically denied the highly unlikely story: PM Yingluck tipped to be concurrently defence minister in her own Cabinet.

Nobody knows whose idea it was. But Matichon, quoting unidentified "sources" said some of Thaksin Shinawatra's Army Cadet Academy Class 10 classmates had suggested to him that Yingluck could probably be named defence minister too.

Why? "Because that could put a halt to the intense lobbying from various quarters" was the reason cited in the Matichon story.

Yingluck immediately poured cold water on the rumour, one of the many that have been bandied about in the political circles.

Earlier speculation had cited other potential candidates for the defence portfolios, including outgoing Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, current Supreme Commander Gen Songkitti Chakkarbat, Thaksin's classmate Air Chief Marshal Sumet Pohmani -- and even former Army Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda.

My advice is: Don't believe any of these rumours, most of which are nothing more than just trial balloons.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What the new PM should and shouldn't do...

The Nation has gathered experts in various fields to answer the vital question for the premier-designate Yingluck Shinawatra: What she should do and she should try to avoid at all cost.

Here are the proposed DON'Ts:

1. Bring back the rice pledging scheme for paddy rice of up to Bt20,000 per tonne.
2. Increase the minimum wage for skilled labourers to Bt300 per day and the monthly salary for new graduates to Bt15,000 on Jan 2012.
3. Reduce corporate tax from 30 to 23%.
4. Provide tablet computers to every student from Prathom 1 up.
5. Build a land bridge to ensure long-term energy supply.

And the proposed DOs:

1. Provide credit cards to farmers.
2. Develop the logistics system, focusing on high-speed trains and double-track rail.
3. Revamp energy pricing.

But then, those were the election campaign promises, weren't they? How they get out of that dilemma is the responsibility of politicians who use populist policies to win votes, knowing very well that they can't be implemented in real life.

Over to you, Madame.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Is the Yingluck Cabinet conceived in Dubai or a real local product?

Is it going to be a Dubai-conceived Cabinet directed by her brother? Or is it, as Yingluck Shinawatra insists, a locally bred Council of Ministers?

Or perhaps, it could turn out to be a government born out of negotiations in Hong Kong, because some Pheu Thai MPs are spreading the rumours that they are flying to the island to meet Thaksin to discuss the formation of the Yingluck Cabinet.

Yingluck denies the rumours. She is the premier-designate and she is in charge. Would her brother help her bridge that credibility gap?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Yingluck 's balancing act on red shirts in her Cabinet

Premier-elect Yingluck Shinawatr knows she has to tread very carefully. Would she include red-shirt leaders in her new Cabinet?

Earlier this week, she was emphatic that there won't be red-shirt members in her Council of Ministers.

Sanoh Tienthong, a senior member of Pheu Thai Party, came out strongly to insist that red-shirt leaders shouldn't be in the new Cabinet because that would send a wrong message to the public.

But a member of red-shirts, Kohkaew Pikulthong, immediately retorted that Jatuporn Prompan should be made interior minister and Nattawut Saikeau must be named minister in charge of media. That's because Pheu Thai Party owes its electoral success to the red shirts.

Today, Yingluck changed tack. She said red-shirt leaders won't be automatically barred from her new Cabinet. "We will decide on Cabinet members based on their merits," she said.

Obviously, the phone lines between Bangkok and Dubai must have been buzzing non-stop these days. And don't be surprised if the Bangkok-Dubai air traffic is highly congested too.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Move forward, heal divisions

Foreign Secretary William Hague has spoken following elections in Thailand on 3 July.
Speaking today the Foreign Secretary said:

“I congratulate the people of Thailand for exercising their democratic right to vote in yesterday’s general election. As a long-standing friend of the Kingdom, the UK very much hopes that the new government, once formed, will help Thailand to move forward and heal the divisions in society. It is vital that fundamental rights and freedoms are cherished, and people throughout the country benefit from economic growth. The UK firmly believes that a democratically elected government with the backing of the people can and should help the country develop in this direction.”

Monday, July 4, 2011

Yingluck will need more than just luck...

Thaksin Shinawatra told his "clone" Yingluck Shinawatra, on the verge of becoming the first female prime minister of Thailand, during their television meet-up last night: "You are going to have to work very hard from now on."

There is no doubt about that statement. The problem is that most people will still think that Thaksin will be the "real premier" while Yingluck takes over the role as prime minister -- unless she can prove with action that she can be her real self.

Thaksin was all over the Thai media in his phone-in from Dubai on Election Night answering all the questions that a would-be premier would be fielding while Yingluck was extra cautious in her public statements.

Thaksin admitted that it wouldn't be easy for him to come home soon. "If my return is a problem, I would stay away," he said. But then, he didn't rule it all out. Yingluck has said her government wouldn't be discussing an amnesty bill any time soon.

Yes, as Thaksin said,it will be "lots of hard work" for his sister. However you look at it, though, Yingluck is still a striking political phenomenon: She was named as No 1 on Pheu Thai's party list only six weeks ago. She had no real political experience before then. She will become the first female prime minister of Thailand. She will probably be the youngest prime minister in the world!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Two front pages on Page One

Call it "free, fair and equal treatment" by The Nation.