Friday, September 30, 2011

Which part of history do you want to delete?

Despite the promise of a more inclusive government after Pheu Thai Party’s overwhelming victory in the election, national reconciliation doesn’t seem to be at hand.
Bipartisanship isn’t going to be the order of the day. Political appointments as rewards for “services rendered” and reshuffling of government officials that is based on personal loyalty rather than meritocracy may in fact make any talk of conciliatory attempts less credible.
Extreme proposals from both sides of the fence could in fact make things worse. Even a sweeping amnesty for both the reds and yellow shirts won’t reduce mutual suspicion.
Suspicion that every move by the government and its supporters is aimed at helping absolve Thaksin Shinawatra from guilt will intensify the conflict.
The controversial proposal from a group of seven academics of Thammasat University’s Law Faculty to “go back to Square One” by nullifying the Sept 19, 2006 coup and all its subsequent actions is a case in point.
The academics insist with great determination that they are simply campaigning for “people’s democracy” and that their move is in no way related to Thaksin.
But critics are quick to point out that the very idea of riding the “time machine” to return to the pre-coup situation and to consider everything related to the putsch null and void has inevitably revived the split in society yet again.
The proposal’s very brief concept is to reject the coup as illegal and therefore legal actions should be taken to arrive at the conclusion that the coup never happened. And there were no valid subsequent laws to legitimize it.
The pro-government elements welcomed the proposal almost immediately. They suggested that all the agencies set up by the coup leaders should be retroactively revoked, including the committee that decided to seize Thaksin’s assets.
That would automatically mean that all the verdicts by the Constitutional Court and Criminal Court for Political Position Holders against Thaksin and those concerned must necessarily be cancelled.
Those against the idea jumped on the proposal with a vengeance. They argued that the coup, whether they like it or not, was considered, as had been Thailand’s political tradition all along, legalised once a new constitution was drawn up, passed by the legislative body and even went through a public referendum.
They also contended that if the 2006 coup was to be declared null and void, what about the coups before that one? And if one were to take that line of argument to its logical and legalistic conclusion, the recent election that put Yingluck Shinawatra in the prime minister’s seat would also be considered unconstitutional. That could really turn into a real political mess.
In a sense though the “extreme” proposal from the “Seven Wise Men” does have its legal logic. If coup was illegal, umdemocratic and set a bad example for military officers with political ambition, then the latest act of forceful takeover must be dealt with in such a dramatic manner that no armed elements would ever dare think of staging another military takeover against a popularly elected government ever again.
But then, one can also argue that you just can’t turn the clock back and wave a magic wand to make bad things disappear from the history of the country just like that. The coup after all did take place. Bad things did happen. And if another group of people assumes power, they could change things around, and order legal actions to be taken against those “illegal acts.” But they can’t issue laws to make things disappear from the pages of history.
In fact, since the coup leader is still alive and in fact serving as the leader of a political party, there must be legitimate ways to sue him, send him to court and in the process all the bad, illegal things could be exposed. For if we were to declare that nothing happened on Sept 19 five years ago, how can we then punish the people who staged that illegal coup -- if we were serious about wiping out a dirty chapter in the country’s political, that is?
Come to think of it, if we really possessed that magic wand and could go back in time to make certain things disappear from our past, I would rather use it (provided that we could only use it once) to declare that the five years of severe social conflicts didn’t happen at all.
A huge blank of that part of our history would be much preferable to a period covering half of decade of dangerous, calamitous confrontations.
If things were really that simple...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Casino? What casino?

Was Premier Yingluck Shinawatra caught by surprise when she read reports in the press this morning that the Government Lottery Bureau will propose reviving the casino project?

She said this was the first time she heard about it. And she was prompt to say that the concept of a multi-billion-baht "entertainment complex" to be located at Kula Ronghai Prairie in the Northeast "isn't on my government's agenda."

Why then did the bureau's chief, Mr Vanchai Surakul,make that public statement to reporters without having consulted the prime minister?

Nobody knows the answer. Perhaps, he is a quick thinker, a visionary who knows what former Premier Thaksin would like to see soon. After all, that's the controversial project that was first matched when Thaksin was premier. It never took off because of strong opposition from many quarters.

Or perhaps Vanchai was talking to Thaksin? Again, nobody knows for sure. It's not likely that a bureaucract, however well-connected and innovative, would raise this issue so soon -- just a month or so after the new government took office and amidst the frenzy of trying to work out how to implement the main election promises.

Now, the casino scheme wasn't even a Pheu Thai Party's election pledge. To float this hot and risky balloon is simply asking for more trouble.

Yes, Premier Yingluck has every reason to be puzzled over this "bright" but premature idea.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why can't Abhisit be Shadow PM?

Chai Rajawat's cartoon has his main character seeking wisdom from the "Sacred Shrine" again.

The Ghost is asked about Abhisit's decision to form a Shadow Cabinet to check up on Premier Yingluck's Cabinet.

"That's good. But Abhisit can't be the Shadow Prime Minister," declared the Know-All Ghost.


"That's because Thaksin has already taken up that post."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What about a soccer match between Yingluck Cabinet and Abhisit's Shadow Cabinet?

The red-shirt leaders say after the Thai-Cambodian soccer match in Phnom Penh yesterday, the next step would be to hold similar matches in other neighbouring countries such as Laos, Burma and probably Malaysia, to enhance good relations between the two countries.

That should prompt a more relevant question: Why not organize soccer matches in Thailand for the sake of improving relations between the conflicting parties? Obviously, that's a more urgent issue -- and if sports could bring neighbours closer together, why not use them for domestic reconciliation?

My proposal is therefore for the Yingluck Cabinet to challenge Abhisit's shadow Cabinet in a soccer match in a friendly and constructive game that could raise a good sum of money to help the flood victims.

Natural disasters have after all helped solve age-old conflicts in a number of other countries before. What about Thailand now?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The real PM? Super-coach? The party's real owner?

Thai Rath and Matichon ran a similar story reporting that Thaksin Shinawatra was on Skype joining a conference of Premier Yingluck's Cabinet yesterday at Pheu Thai Party's headquarters.

It wasn't just a "Hi!" kind of greeting. Thaksin spent about one hour, according to the reports, going into detail on what the ministers should be doing -- how they should handle the floods and what to do after the floods. He also told them to form committees to oversee the aid programmes for flood victims. He urged them to get experts to join their tasks, no matter which side they are on.

"You must be able to accomplish what you have promised to do," Thaksin said.

Of course, throughout all this, PM Yingluck was listening attentively.

It's not clear what role Thaksin was playing in that conference: The real prime minister? The party's owner? A PM's super-coach.

But then, does it really matter what you call him?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When home is just next door

The Phnom Penh Post's headline in its online edition says it all. HOme is where you can greet your supporters -- and where the home owner sides with you against those at home.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What did PM Yingluck tell her brother?

So, Premier Yingluck did get in touch with her brother Thaksin Shinawatra. Or that's why he told a group of red-shirt sympathisers who met him at a Phnom Penh hotel over the weekend.

This picture, published in Matichon daily this morning, confirmed that Thaksin had a series of meetings with his supporters from Thailand. But we have yet to see pictures showing his reported meetings with some prominent political figures from Bangkok and some well-known fugitives.

Thaksin did tell the supporters: "This morning, Prime Minister Poo (Yingluck) called me saying that she had not had enough sleep -- and that she was snowed under with work. She told me she was to be accompanied by the army chief to inspect the floods -- and that the military is offering good coopertion..."

The premier might have told Thai reporters that she wasn't aware of Thaksin's visit to Cambodia but she certainly knew how to call him on the phone.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Another meeting, another bear hug

Less than 24 hours after Thai Premier Yingluck Shinawatra left Phnom Penh following a one-day visit, her brother Thaksin flew into the Cambodian capital late last night. While Yingluck and her husband only had an official photo taken with Hun Sen and his wife, Thaksin got a big bear hug from Hun Sen to emphasize the closeness of their relationship.

While Yingluck's official visit lasted less than a day, Thaksin's unofficial stay will be much, much longer. He may stay until Sept 24 to attend the soccer match between the "Red Peace" team from Thailand (comprising mainly red-shirt members) and the Cambodian Cabinet team. If that's the case, Thaksin could well be in Cambodia for nearly 10 days, giving lectures about the world' economy and conducting other as yet undisclosed activities.

It is clear that the new foreign minister, Surapong Tovichakjaikul, won't be asking Cambodia to repatriate Thaksin back to Thailand. He said: "It's not the foreign ministry's duty to do that." That, of course, is a far cry from his predecessor, Kasit Piromya, who made it her personal mission to go hunting for Thaksin around the world.

Premier Yingluck's official stand on Thaksin's legal status remains ambivalent. Whether she agrees her with foreign minister or not isn't entirely clear either.

Dr Ukrit denies all possible suspicious motives in new role

Dr Ukrit Mongkolnavin, who has just been appointed by the Yingluck government to head a new "National Rule of Law Independent Commission," wants to make it clear that his 12-member panel won't touch any issue that is related to Thaksin Shinawatra.

The veteran academic-cum-lawyer-cum-politician, who turns 78 this year, of course realizes how sensitive his new posting could be, especially to those who immediately cast doubt on this move which could be seen to eclipse the work of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission headed by Dr Kanit na Nakhon.

Dr Ukrit was also quick to stress that is committee's work won't overlap that of Dr Kanit's. But it isn't clear what exactly would this new independent body will be doing apart from the general statement from th Cabinet that the panel will look into all legislative aspects to ensure that the rule of law is enforced whether in the executive, judicial or legislative branches. A very challenging tall order indeed!

Dr Ukrit realizes that critics will point to his close relations with Thaksin in the past. But he was quick to emphasize that he had decided to take up the offer "because the country has problems that need to be sorted out."

He will name the other 11 members of his commission, suggesting that politics won't be dictating his work. The former House Speaker is apparently trying very hard to impress upon all concerned that he intends to demonstrate how independent he is in carrying out this new task that has yet to be clarified to the public.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The rumours were good, the real news is bad

At first, there were reports that Cambodia will release Veera Somkuamkid and Ratri Pipatwongpaibul from Khmer jail when Thaksin Shinawatra flies into Phnom Penh as a token of friendship from Cambodian Premier Hun Sen to the new Thai government.

Then, there were further reports that the "release" could take place sooner -- tomorrow (Sept 15) when Premier Yingluck flies in.

But it was with great disappointment that many Thais must have felt when the official word from Phnom Penh just now said that all those were unfounded rumours. Cambodia has no intention of doing so and the two Thais will have to serve at least two-thirds of their jail term before amnesty could be sought.

The two Thais were sentenced to 8 years in jail for allegedly trespassing into military sensitive areas.

So, in the end, Hun Sen, despite his nice gesture towards Thaksin and Yingluck hasn't really conceded on any point for Thailand. We haven't heard that Yingluck can get any assurances during her one-day visit tomorrow from Cambodia over the Khao Phra Vihear issue. Nor is there anything clear about whether the various border issues will get any closer to resolving some long-standing problems.

Hun Sen's brand of diplomacy is unusual in the first place. He decides whether to be nice or not with personalities not governments. He chooses to side with a political party over another in a neighbouring country openly. But then, you can't blame him. The serious conflict within Thailand has simply delivered Thailand to Hun Sen on a platter.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why can't YIngluck meet her brother in Phnom Penh?

Premier Yingluck Shinawatra will be Phnom Penh on Sept 15. Her brother Thaksin will be there from Sept 16 until Sept 24.

Why can't they arrange to meet under the auspices of Cambodian Premier Hun Sen?

It's a locally sensitive issue, of course, If Yingluck, as PM, meets Thaksin, the fugitive wanted by the law-enforcement officials back home, she would have to have him arrested and sent home. Thaksin is ready to come home, but not as a convict. He wants to return home as a free man, either amnestied or a hero without any legal cases awaiting him.

If the premier meets the former premier with no legal action being taken, she could be accused of violating the famous Article 157 of the Criminal Act which punishes officials who "fail to perform their duties."

That's why Premier Yingluck told reporters yesterday that she knew nothing about Thaksin's visit to Cambodia at all. She isn't supposed to know anything about her brother's whereabouts. Legally, for now at least, she can't know and not do anything.

So, Thaksin will be Hun Sen's guest and will be speaking about Asean's economic future. Hun Sen told reporters that he won't be discussing with Thaksin the question of Thai-Cambodian joint exploration of gas and oil in the overlapping areas in the Gulf of Thailand because he will only raise the issue with the Thai government, and not Thaksin.

So, Hun Sen also knows where to draw the line between Yingluck and Thaksin, at least publicly anyway.

Then, there is the football match between Thailand's red shirts and Hun Sen's team on Sept 24.

Will Thaksin be there? In fact,it would be quite a scene to have Thaksin and Hun Sen in their full soccer gear kicking it up in Phnom Penh.

What a pity, PM Yingluck can't be there to cheer up her brother to beat Hun Sen's team. But there is nothing wrong for her to be there in spirit, anyway.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Anybody home?

The question that makes the headline in The Nation tomorrow (Monday, Sept 12) has probably been raised in a lot of people's minds in the past few weeks since Yingluck Shinawatra took over as prime minister as of Aug 8, this year.

She will have to show her leadership in a more convincing way or else she would be stuck with the image, real or imaginery, that she is taking orders from her elder brother Thaksin and is being overshadowed by Deputy Premier Chalerm Yoobamrung while the red-shirts are waiting in the wings.

In other words, Yingluck must demonstrate that she is the prime minister herself.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where is the annual military reshuffle list?

Where is the annual military reshuffle list? Has Premier Yingluck submitted it for royal approval? Or are last-minute negotiations still on?

Military affairs reporters are abuzz with questions on whether Thaksin Shinawatra, through PM Yingluck, has struck a compromise with Defence Minister Gen Yuthasak Sasiprapa over some important military appointments.

The main issue seems to be who's going to be the new permanent secretary of defence. According to reports, the minister wants Gen Witawas Rajatanant, the current No 2, while the PM has told him that Gen Satien Permtong-in, currently the chairman of the armed forces advisory board. The latter is known to be closer to Pheu Thai Party. Nobody knows whether an agreement has been struck.

There are also the questions about the defence minister not being too happy with the fact that he doesn't seem to have any authority when it comes to the military reshuffle. The 2008 Defence Act stipulates that a seven-member committee comprising mostly the top brass make decisions on who goes where in the armed forces. The defence minister may chair the panel but he doesn't have the final say.

The law was designed to prevent political interference in the military appointments. Now, Defence Minister Yuthasak feels that he is powerless. He has therefore let it be known that he will seek a legal interpretation from the Juridical Council on his real power in the scheme of things.

From reports I get, the defence minister was willing to go along with the proposed reshuffle lists from all the top brass but he insists that his choice of the new defence permanent secretary must be respected.

Now, Thaksin can't be too happy that he doesn't have a say in this matter too. He may be willing to compromise for the sake of not rocking the boat in the armed forces too soon but there are some obvious changes he wants to make to the military line-up. But things don't seem to have run all that smoothly.And PM Yingluck isn't saying where the final list is now.

The law says the list must be approved in its final form at least 15 days before the new fiscal year begins on Oct 1. That means the deadline falls on Monday or Tuesday.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Thawil: If the police chief takes my post, where do I go?

Thawil Pliensri,the secretary general of the National Security Council, suddenly found himself without a job when it was announced by Deputy PM Chalerm Yoobamrun that the national police chief, Police Gen Vichien Poj-posri, was to be made the NSC's secretary general.

But where was Thawil going then?

There was no answer to that obvious question. Chalerm might have solved the Vichien issue but he created a new problem with Thawil.

Thawil's post comes under another deputy premier, Police Gen Kovit Wattana, who apparently hadn't been consulted about Vichien's move.

Thawil told reporters then that if he was moved unfairly, he would appeal to the Administration Court and an official committee that hears complaints about unfair treatment among bureaucrats.

That could spark another huge problem. After all, it was Deputy PM Kovit, when he was police chief and was to be transferred to another post by the then PM, Gen Surayud Chulanont, who had appealed to the court and managed to get a verdict in his favour. That meant that the PM could not move Kovit without him consent. He hadn't done anything wrong and political reasons alone can't be used to move senior officials around.

Thawil was thinking of following his current boss' path.

PM Yingluck Shinawatra seems to have come to the realization that if Thawil decided to take that action, more confusion could follow because a long list of transfers is in the works and Thawil could set the ball rolling.

So, PM Yingluck now says she will talk to Thawil about the latter's future.Why didn't she assign Chalerm to put out the fire?

Apparently, Chalerm is better at creating a storm than to put one out!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Who really makes the decision?

You aren't sure who is really making the decision. Premier Yingluck Shinawatra says she has left it to Deputy Premier Chalerm Yoobamrung to decide who the new national police chief is going to be.

Chalerm, on the same day, insists that the prime minister will decide. He will only propose names.

As of the time of writing (2.30 pm of Sept 1), Chalerm has indicated that he would comply with the wish of Police Gen Vichien Poj-posri to be transferred from the post of national police chief to become secretary general of the National Security Council.

It was earlier reported that Chalerm had proposed to Vichien to become permanent secretary of the tourism and sports ministry -- a proposal rejected by Vichien.

Premier Yingluck was again asked about this story this morning. She would only say: "No, we haven't discussed the issue yet."

This probably is the management style of PM Yingluck: Outsourcing decision-making to the next in line.