Monday, October 31, 2011

Is this a scene from Thailand?

This isn't the kind of scenes you usually see in Thailand. But pictures of flood victims scrambling for food and supplies are becoming a common sight. It's not only depressing. It underscores how the crisis isn't being handled the way it should. Donations from the public from around the country have been pouring in. The serious problem is the distribution system is far from adequate.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

FROC is no frog. So, be prepared to relocate again!

So, finally, the government's Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC) decided yesterday to relocate from besieged Don Muang Airport to the Energy Complex where the Energy Ministry and Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT)are based after it was threatened by rising flood waters.

It came after lots of face-saving talk about not giving up to the inundation by Premier Yingluck and FROC's director, Justice Minister Police Gen Pracha Promnok, though. Energy Minister Pichai came to the government's rescue by "revealing" that the prime minister had in fact planned to make the Energy Complex an alternative headquarters for FROC in the first place although that "Plan B" was never disclosed to anybody until after the fact.

It was embarrassing, of course, for FORC's leaders to remain at Don Muang while its news spokesman, Thongthong Chandransu, had already urged everybody else in Bangkok to move out of their houses in the wake of the deteriorating flooding situation.

How, in other words, can FROC remain where it was while telling Bangkokians: Get out before it's too late!

Well, better late than never.

But then, I hope FROC has mapped out its "Plan C" because being on Vibhavadhi Rangsit Road isn't all that safe from the rising flood water either. Since no one in Bangkok can be sure of anything about the water levels in the next few days, FROC's leadership had better not making firm statement about "not moving anywhere anymore."

That could be the ultimate embarrassment.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The many moods of a stressed PM

Top brass get their feet wet

The top brass got their feet wet now that they have ordered soldiers to come all out to help flood victims. Latest news says the army has ordered 50,000 troops, 1,000 boats and 1,000 trucks to help in the evacuation of flood victims now that the Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC) has announced a major evacuation plan to move people to evacuation shelters in nine provinces.

This picture, tweeted by Post defence reporter Wassana Nanuan, shows Defence Minister Gen Yuthasak Sasiprapa and Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in a boat this morning to distribute necessities to affected residents in Bangyai, Nonthaburi province.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

They don't seem to want to work together, despite the worsening flooding

The central government and Bangkok administration continue to show they have yet to work in close consultation over the deteriorating flood situation.

Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra called a press conference just now -- and almost at the same time, FROC spokesman Thongthong Chandrangsu went on the air to announce preparations for a "worst-case scenario."

Sukhumbhand's warning was equally grim. He said water levels are expected to rise again tomrorow and Bangkok residents must remain vigilant. Thongthong delivered a dramatic scenario when he said people of Bangkok must organize themselves into communities and decide on "meeting points" where they can gather in case the inundation gets critical. They were told that they will be picked up by military trucks from the "meeting points" after which the Communications Ministry would deliver them to 9 provinces where evacuation centers are being set up.

When the two talked to the public at the same time but not from the same location, they obviously couldn't expect the people to be getting their messages simultaneously. I thought things were getting better between the central and Bangkok governments when earlier today representatives from FROC, Bangkok Administration and the Irrigation Department gave a joint press conference.

But a few hours later, things appeared to have come apart again.

And as long as they keep doing things their own ways, the public will stand to suffer.

Deluge can't cover up government's press clampdown

Almost surreptitiously, the Cabinet on Oct 18 approved a proposed amendment to a piece of legislation that is unquestionably aimed at imposing new control on press freedom. Earlier suspicions of a clampdown on the media performing their checks and balances against the new government have been confirmed, much sooner than expected.
The Pheu Thai Party had campaigned in the election on the platform of “genuine democracy.” It has decried “double standards and injustice.” The rallying cry was for the “grass-roots” people to have a real say in running the country. The “elite” and “privileged” people who were controlling the channels of communications were to be replaced by the “real voice of the people.”
If that theme was based on genuine intention and political conviction, the new government should have made it a top priority to demolish all the rules and regulations that stood in the way of the common people expressing their opinion in such a way that they could do away with controls and interference in the people’s freedom of expression.
The proposed amendment to the Printing Act of B.E. 2550 by the Cabinet sends signals in the opposite direction. If passed by parliament into law, the new law will give the National Police Chief the power to censor, close down and threaten the constitutional rights of a newspaper with impunity.

The proposed change will put Thailand back many decades in terms of promoting the rights of the people to scrutinize the work of the powerful and to unravel the corrupt practices of politicians and bureaucrats.
In some respects, it is even worse than the original notorious Printing Act of B.E. 2484 which was the hallmark of press restrictions under military dictatorships. No periodical renewal of a newspaper publishing license was mentioned. Under the new amendment, every publisher must apply for permission to have his license renewed every five years.
In other words, the media will have to operate under the frightening threat of non-renewal – in addition to the constant possibility of being censored, suspended or closed down for publishing a story that could be interpreted by the “press officer” as “undermining the Monarchy, national security and law and order or the good moral of the country.”
In other words, we are in the process of being returning to the time when the government could use the police chief to control and threaten any publication that doesn’t toe the official line, pure and simple.
The Thai media organizations had fought long and hard to shake off the shackles of political interference and press censorship. It was a hard-fought victory when a democratically elected government and parliament agree to end the dark history of censorship by replacing the 1941 (B.E. 2484) Printing Act with the 2007 (B.E. 2550) Printing Act.
The significance of that legislative change in 2007 was that for the first time, the need to seek permit from the government to publish opinion was abolished. In its place, publishers only have to register with the Fine Arts Department (instead of the Police Bureau) to pursue their profession. Permission was automatic and since the law came into force, there has been a flourishing of publications of a great diversity that has helped lay the foundation of democracy.
Now, the new government seems bent on reversing that trend, despite all the public statements made by the powers-that-be on promoting the “poor people’s rights” to cultivate what they have termed “real democracy.”
Any move to restrict, control and subvert the role of the press to serve as the people’s watchdog and gate-keeper runs counter to the Constitution, of course.
That much-feared “tyranny of the majority” may materialize sooner than we thought it was possible. But if history is any indication, the fight for press freedom, especially in this digital media landscape, will be extremely robust. Politicians can try to control people’s dissident voice only at their own peril.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

If you ask me, the governor wants us to get the hell out of Bangkok now!

If it's any consolation, Premier Yingluck has just come out to say that there is a 50:50 chance of the whole of inner Bangkok being flooded although Suvarnbhumi International Airport will be protected at all cost.

Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbhand's statements aren't all that different. He said he approved of the Cabinet's decision to make Oct 27-31 public holidays because Bangkok's population is around 10 million and this weekend will be quite "problematic."

"So, my advice is that Bangkokians should take advantage of the holidays to leave Bangkok for the provinces," he said last night.

In everyday language, if friends ask you what the governor meant, you could say:
"He wants us to get the hell out of Bangkok..."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Now you see him, now you don't

If you have been wondering why you haven't heard about Thaksin Shinawatra since the flood started a few weeks ago, stop worrying. He is present in a lot of ways...such as the "Hero" slogan in the T-shirt and signs saying: "With love and concern from Thaksin Shinawatra" mounted on trucks carrying public donations to flood victims.

Strange, though, that we haven't heard any call for him to come to the rescue of PM Yingluck.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Yingluck, Sukhumbandh together but are they on the same page?

PM Yingluck and Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand were out together today to inspect flooded areas in the capital. Does that mean they have patched up and will be on the same page in fighting the rising water levels? Don't bet on it.

The Bangkok governor late last night called a press conference to issue a warning to residents in six areas in northern Bangkok about rising waters that could become "critical." He should have appeared on one of the TV channels to deliver that important message. He didn't go on Channel 11 which has been used by the government's Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC) on a 24-hour basis. The channel at that particular time was airing a normal, taped feature that had nothing to do with the floods. Governor Sukhumbhand later made a "phone-in" on Thai PBS to get his message to a wider audience.

FROC did come up with a later announcement supporting the governor's concern but that was about it. So, when the PM and Governor went out together today, it was mostly for a photo-op exercise. They have yet to give a joint press conference to show the Thai people in general that they are really working together with a common strategy.

So far, not so good.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Business as Usual

This is what I call "Situation Normal, Business as Usual." And perhaps, only ordinary people, armed with a sense of inevitability, and the determination to overcome natural disasters, could overcome calamities much better than politicians who fear they have a lot more to lose than the rest of us.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Situation normal, all fouled up!

Premier Yingluck spent only 13.26 minutes on her 30-minute weekly radio programme this morning. And she was supposed to be addressing a country in crisis.

She warned Bangkokians to start moving things up at least one meter higher. The flooding, she said, could last four to six weeks. She has invoked her power under the natural disaster and mitigation act so that she could give instructions to get watergates to the north of the capital to open up so that the huge amount of runoff could be drained into the sea -- through parts of Bangkok.

But she didn't say how -- or which parts of Bangkok would be affected -- and for how long.

Her brief message therefore did not sooth any troubled soul. Most people want to know how she will pressure Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbahdn Patribatra into allowing parts of Bangkok to be flooded so that the severe inundation to the north of the capital could be eased and that the expected long period of sufferings could be shortened.

A few hours later, Flood Relief Operations Center (Froc) Director Police Gen Pracha Promnok went on television to declared: "The situation is under control." But he said the government wanted the private sector to donate large-sized pumps "because we are short of big pumps that could drain water from flooded areas."

How could the situation be under control if the all-powerful government can't even find enough water pumps?

A classic case of SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fouled UP)!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bangkok has come under direct attack!

Flood water from suburban Rangsit rushed into Klong Prapa this morning. That means Bangkok has come under direct attack. Bangkok is not safe anymore.

Areas on the outskirts of Bangkok such as Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani were infiltrated in full force yesterday. Water at the worst-hit area was as high as two meters or more.

Premier Yingluck Shinawatra was woken up in the middle of the night to join Police Gen Pracha Promnok, director of FROC, to rush to Klong Prapa, where tap water is produced for the whole of Bangkok and nearby areas, and admitted that things were getting worse.

Police Gen Pracha declarede: "We can't fight the huge volume of water anymore. Bangkok people must start moving things higher and ready for flooding."

Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra has warned that seven areas in Bangkok are vulnerable and residents should get ready for flooding.

Things will get worse before they get better.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The naked MP goes after the flood

Here comes Chuvit Kamolvisit, leader of the Love Thailand Party, who has gone at least half naked to help flood victims in Ayuttya province. People are asking where all the MPs are at this critical time when their voters badly need them.

Still unclear how much of a salary cut the government and opposition MPs will offer to contribute to the flood relief effort. But most people's representatives remain conspicuously absent from the scene of the deluge.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A hearty laugh and another 'I will quit politics' statement from her brother

This picture from Manager Daily this morning shows PM Yingluck having a hearty laugh with her niece, Pintongtae (Thaksin's daughter) who was accompanied by her husband-to-be Nattapong (wedding ceremony in December) when the couple went to the headquarters of the Flood Relief Operation Center yesterday to donate materials for flood victims.

No, she hadn't read about Thaksin's interview with the Bangkok Post which this morning quoted the former premier as saying that Yingluck is now the Prime Minister and "It has passed my generation already, so my generation should not return to politics."

Thaksin said he had been "misquoted" by some international news outlets that he would return to lead the country again.

"What I mean is that I am in debt to the Thai people and whatever advice I can offer to benefit Thais, I will give. But I will let my sister do her job and will stay away from management. I will not interfere," Thaksin was quoted as saying.

Thaksin also said "Yingluck represents me" and she will not retaliate or engage in verbal battles with anybody.

He said he was confident he could return home without facing jail time. "I will go back where I belong although I don't know when and how..."

The former premier said national reconciliation was not a "mission impossible" -- if the major parties -- Pheu Thai and the Democrats -- can agree on three elements:

"The first is to set clear rules for politics. Second is that they agree to play by the rules and the third one is that the bodies overseeing the rules must be neutral and fair..."

He didn't say who will set the rules and who appoint the "neutral bodies" though.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bangkok Governor's 'Listen to Me Only' statement may be aimed at many others

Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra repeatedly declared last night: "Please, just listen to me, and me alone."

He was of course referring to the flood situation in Bangkok. If he had just said it once or twice, I would have considered it a normal kind of statement. But when he said it again and again and adding: "It's my responsibility to save Bangkok. It's the Bangkok people's mandate for me to do that. It's a sacred mission for me...," I began to think he was having problems with the government's Flood Relief Center, headed by Police Gen Pracha Promnok.

A few hours earlier, Science Minister Plodprasob Suraswadi had placed the country in a near panic by declaring that the dike at nearby Pathumthani had collapsed and people in northern Bangkok should evacuated immediately.It turned out to be a false alarm.

The Bangkok governor's "Listen to Me Only" statement underscores perhaps the fact that his office and the central government's anti-flood operations aren't really working as one. Political observers would naturally point to the fact that the government is under Pheau Thai Party and the Bangkok government is under the Democrats.

But then, it must be pointed out that the governor did addd, in case anyone was entertaining political thoughts: "I am working on the flood crisis withouth any political consideration."

Then came Premier Yingluck who announced this morning that the Thai people should listen only to Police Gen Pracha -- and nobody else (Minister Plodprasob included?)

So, if you take their public announcements seriously, you would only listen to Police Gen Pracha for anything not related to Bangkok and only to M.R. Sukhumbhand if it's about flooding in the capital. And if you still get panicky, it's your own problem.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Under or above water, honesty is still the best policy

Some refreshing remarks from the Big Deluge: Science Minister Plodprasob Suraswadi has come out publicly to tell Premier Yingluck Shinawatra that she must "tell the truth" to the public about the serious flooding and that no matter how unpleasant the facts are, she must come forth with all that the government knows.

No doubt, honesty is the best policy. The only problem is:Does the government know ALL the facts in this fast-changing flooding situation though.

Plodprasob obviously practises what he preaches. He confessed that he and his officials had miscalculated the serious effects of the severe water flow from the North. "We failed to take into account the water that came charging in from the surface. We only looked at the water volumes from the river from the north. Now, we must re-evaluate the whole situation."

It was the minister who admitted a few days ago that the effort to build sandbag walls to fight the rising tide would be futile. Evacuation was to be the only practical solution.

It's a proven fact: No matter how hard you try, you can't beat nature.

What's a good soldier?

A new image-boosting public relations campaign in the form of this video clip from the Royal Thai Army: A good soldier can do many things. No coup please!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yingluck, Abhisit are really talking this time

A rare get-together. Premier Yingluck Shinawatra and Opposition Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva are being briefed by Justice Minister Pracha Promnok, director of the Flood Operations Centre at Don Muang.

Democrat leader Abhisit arrived at the centre earlier today to submit his recommendations to the government. PM Yingluck came out to receive him and led him to join the high-level team monitoring the anti-flood operations.

What's interesting is that this picture was apparently taken by Panthongtae "Oak" Shinawatra' Thaksin's son, who later posted it on his Facebook explaining how the two leaders were meeting to discuss joint efforts to help cope with the country's crisis.

Who says politicians don't appreciate what national reconciliation is all about? The only pity is it takes a national crisis to hit home the issue.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

MPs should contribute part of their salaries to help flood victims

Whose car is this?

Ayuthya: The worst hit.

Pheu Thai Party's spokesman Prompong Thepparit says he will propose to the party's meeting to ask MPs to voluntarily have their salaries cut to contribute to the fund to assist flood victims. If that's passed, he will submit the same proposal to the whole House so that all MPs will follow the same practice.

I asked people in Twitter about how much they think the contribution should be: It's anyway from 30-70% of their monthly salaries.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Surakiart in a new role as 'honest broker'

Surakiart Sathirathai, recently appointed an adviser to the Truth for Reconciliation Commission (TRC), doesn't believe that even if Thaksin Shinawatra and Gen Prem Tinsulanonda sit down and work out a compromise, Thailand's long-standing conflict could be brought to an end.

"The problem has gone much beyond that. Besides, that kind of a forum can't be organized either because a privy councillor can't get involved in politics in the first place," the former deputy premier told Matichon in an interview published today.

Surakiart believes though that a series of "unpublicized negotiations" could be held whereby five to six parties are represented: the yellow shirts, the red shirts, Pheu Thai Party, the Democrats, and the security side.

What about the "invisible hands?" Surakiart says if one talks about "invisible hands," there could be from many sides. "In fact, each party to the conflict all has its own invisible hands as well."

Yes, they will have to be included in the process, he says, stressing that some of the discussions may have to be done off the record.

What about the royal institition? Surakiarts believes privy councillors have nothing to do with politics.

There is even question about who he himself represents in this new peace-making role.
Surakiart reacted promptly to the question.

"This kind of questions shouldn't be raised anymore. People should stop following that line of thinking. I am not a new face in politics and I have a long record of academic work," he said.

Although his wife is related to Her Majesty the Queen, Surakiart says, "we never discuss politics. I have no connections."

Surakiart has obviously assumed a new role. He was once close to Thaksin. He also was seen to be close to the Abhisit government when he was made chairman of the advisory board of the Pheau Paendin Party. Today, he wears a new hat -- as an adviser to the national reconciliation body. Of course, he will well connected. And that probably is why he is proposing a new formula to make peace.

He knows the challenge is enormous though. "The problem in the past five to six years is that we haven't had a referee trusted by all the parties concerned. Everyone who has proposed a way out has been given a label. He or she has been inevitably branded as siding with one side or the other. Now, the Truth for Reconciliation Commission appears to be the most trusted body. That's why I feel more optimistic," Surakiart says.

He will have to prove that he can play the part of the "honest broker" effectively. That remains to be seen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

When Premier Yingluck turns this ad

Wow, Premier Yingluck as farmer looks very happy indeed. It's a half-page advertisement in the local newspapers this morning, Oct 7 to mark the beginning of the government's much-heralded Rice Mortgage Policy.

"Don't selll your rice if you don't get a good price. Come, mortgage your paddy stock with the government," declared the ad which urges people to report any corrupt practices in the process -- probably the weakest link in the programme which has come under criticism from several segments in society.

PM Yingluck herself hasn't said much about the project except to insist that it will go ahead. Bearing the brunt is Deputy PM Kittirat na Ranong who has sparred with all critics over the issue. He says he is confident all the past loopholes will be plugged and that all the possible problems raised by detractors will be addressed.

"Some people have tried to put pressure on the government, demanding a pledge that if the project doesn't work out, how would the government show responsibility. All I can say is that if it doesn't work, the government can't stay on," Kittirat declared on a few radio programmes in the past week.

Surely, the scheme will come under scrutiny every step of the way.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

PM's Twitter account hacker may even get govt job offer

A 20-year-old student of a well-known university appeared with ICT Minister Anudit Nakhothap in a press conference just now to confess that he was the hacker who had broken into Premier Yingluck Shinawatra's Twitter account on Sunday.

Ekawit Thongdiworakul,according to the minister,had committed the act out of "lack of foresight" and decided to give himself up. He wasn't arrested by authorities who had claimed earlier that they had "clues" to who the hacker was.

Interestingly enough,the suspect wasn't allowed to make any statement of his own during the press conference.

Panthongtae Shinawatra, Thaksin's son, meanwhile,was quoted in a Twitter message that the student had made a bad blunder without any ulterior motives. With such computer talent, he could probably help the government crack down on some questionable websites doing illegal things.

Who knows, this young hacker may have inadvertently stumbled onto a job even before he graduates.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

'Shadow PM' hard at work

In case you were wondering where Thaksin Shinawatra was as Premier Yingluck Shinawatra was frantically visiting flooded areas,stop speculating. He couldn't obviously "disappear" for too long.

Newspaper headlines this morning had him at least doing two things from somewhere out there yesterday. He made a phone call to try to settle a public dispute between one of his Pheu Thai MPs, Payab Panket, and his coalition partner Banharn Silpa-archa of Chat Thai Pattana Party, over the flooding situation.

Payab had led a group of local villagers to complain to the Irrigation Department accusing Banharn of having helped keep his Supanburi province from flooding, at the expense of other provinces nearby.

Banharn responded angrily by denying the accusation and wondering aloud why Pheu Thai's leaders had allowed at least one of their MPs to hurl such unfounded accusations against him.

Thaksin of course heard about the wrangle and promptly called the parties concerned to attempt at "damage control," according to Post Today.

Another headline said Thaksin also called in to make changes to a list of reshuffle of officials at the Education Minister although Education Minister Voravaj Apinyakul had made his first move-arounds for officials, Thai Post reported.

So, the "shadow prime minister" isn't too far away from where he considers to be trouble spots while the "official premier" is busy with her own problems.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

PM Yingluck's Twitter account hacked!

A lot of tweeple surfing Twitter messages this morning were surprised by some strongly-worded posts supposedly deliverd on @PouYingluck - Premier Yingluck's account on Twitter.

Wow! some real self-criticisms by the PM? Early soul-searching statements? A few of the remarks in the account were about how this government is mishandling the problems of the country.

Soon,the Twitter world was abuzz with questions: "Is the PM's Twitter account hacked?" or "Strange things are happening at the PM's Twitter account" and things along that line.

Within half an hour, the "PM's team" posted an urgent message, declaring that the prime minister's Twitter account has been hacked and that some of the messages posted this morning were fake.

Soon, Pantongtae Shinawatra, the PM's counsin (Thaksin's son) tweeted: "Some people with ill intentions against the country have hacked the prime minister's account on Twitter posting messages that are divisive..."

The PM was in Lopburi to inspect measures to help flood victims. She met angry villagers who have been badly affected by the damage done to Bangchomsri Water Gate.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Yingluck's first radio show: No drama, no blunder

It's her first time on radio. And there wasn't any major blunder. Premier Yingluck passed the test although she delivered no real new substance or any memorable remarks. Yes, she closely followed the script. And that at least ensured that she didn't make any statement she wasn't supposed to.

Her voice was broadcast on radio and also on Channel 11 which used a series of nice looking pictures of the premier to help audience glue to the TV set. That's more or less what her brother Thaksin did when he was premier. Unlike Samak Sundaravej, another ex-premier, who went live on television with great relish. He didn't need a script at all and obviously his good ratings were also guaranteed because the public was expecting him to hit out at somebody somewhere every week.

As for Somchai Wongsawasdi, another former premier, I can't really recall his television show. If there was any, it must have been rather unremarkable, so much so that I can't remember him giving a weekly talk. But then, he wasn't there very long, was he?

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the immediate past premier, took to television like a fish jumping into the canal. Not only didn't he need a script, Abhisit could articulate complicated issues in simple terms with apparent ease.

But then, eloquence on TV didn't guarantee his popularity in an election. Yingluck didn't have to engage in any debate with Abhisit and she won hands down.