Sunday, February 27, 2011

Let the hot debate begin!

After some hesitant moves, the opposition Pheau Thai Party is now ready for the big battle when it is announced today that ten Cabinet members will be targetted for the no-confidence debate that will last about five days, if the opposition has its way, that is.

Chances of toppling the Abhisit government are slim though since the government and its coalition partners appear well united when the vote comes. But if the censure debate, to be led by Mingkwan Saengsuwan, could produce some convincing evidence that's catastrophic to the government, some real impact could be felt -- and that may force Premier Abhisit to dissolve Parliament immediately after the debate.

The war of words will be interesting indeed, not in whether it can put Mingkwan into the premier's seat to replace Abhisit, but whether the opposition can come up with really hard proof to dent the government's credibility.

The Abhisit government certainly isn't fool-proof. And if the Pheau Thai MPs really do their home-work, they could unearth some real scandals indeed.

We look forward to the censure debate with great interest.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Adding moustache to Abhisit's face

A Manager photographer caught Pheau Thai MP Anusra Youngtrong from Samut Prakarn touching up Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva's picture on the cover of the government's "State of the Union" address with moustache and goatee as her political commentary.

Yesterday's House session was heated and emotion-packed, so much so that some MPs were exchanging obscenities over their accusations.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Red leaders out, yellow chiefs summoned in

With the release on bail of the seven red-shirt leaders, the political atmosphere should calm down. Or will it?

The court, in giving the greenlight to the requests for bail after eight months, laid down some tough conditions: the activists can't be involved in political activities that might be seen as instigating mobs.

Nattawut Saigua, one of the seven red leaders, declared that he will continue to campaign for compensation for the 91 protesters killed in April-May rallies.

"Let me spend a few days with my family. After that, I will be out there joining the red shirts again," he declared.

The yellow shirts remain on the streets. Some of their leaders have been summoned by police for violating the security law.

So, it's back to "situation normal, everything still confusing."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Try harder, Mingkwan!

Mingkwan Saengsuwan's maiden show as a debater on behalf of Pheau Thai Party earlier this week didn't impress some of his party members who gave him a "C" grade.

The former commerce minister himself insists he did fine during the debate on the Abhisit government's mid-year Budget session.

Who has the last laugh? None other than Chalerm Yoobamrung who had been saying all along that he should have been given the leading role in that debate.

But now that Mingkwan is leading the upcoming no-confidence debate (endorse by Thaksin Shinawatra himself, of course), the big test will be even more challenging.

Mingkwan will have to prove that he not only does his homework on the issues well but must also be able to produce the kind of rhetoric that Chalerm claims to have over him.

PM Abhisit, during the Budget debate, appeared to have been unperturbed by Mingkwan's questioning which didn't seem to have put a dent.

But who knows? Mingkwan, having used the first debate as a rehearsal, may surprise everybody with a first-rate performance in the House come the Big Debate.

I for one will be keeping a very close watch indeed.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Election deadline? Suthep says it's June. PM just smiles

If you believe Suthep Thuagsuban, the Democrat Party's secretary-general, PM Abhisit Vejjajiva will dissolve the House by June to call a new election.

And you want confirmation, the PM's chief election strategist Korbsak Sabhavasu would confirm that time-frame too.

In fact, he would even go further by saying that his party's election campaign was being readied for that deadline.

But when reporters met the PM today and the big question was posed to him, the answer was a smile. "It's done when it's done."

And this kind of response from someone who has repeatedly said he won't have any problem with calling a new election.

Perhaps, he doesn't know. Or maybe, he isn't confident. Or perhaps he is keeping it all up his sleeves.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Korbsak's game plan: Popular votes against number of MPs

Korbsak Sabhavasu is PM Abhisit Vejjajiva's close aide who has quit his post as the PM's secretary-general to lead the election campaign.

And if he uses ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra's name in the campaign to get his Democrat Party elected with a majority in the next polls, don't be surprised.

Asked by Matichon reporters on whether he is confident that his party could defeat Thaksin's Pheau Thai in the upcoming election, Korksak responded:

"Who's going to form the next government depends on who can mobilize more votes in the House. But the general feelings of the people is that if you vote for Pheau Thai, Thaksin may come back. That means problems won't end. That's why I say: Why not vote for the Democrats to end all problems...(laughter)"

Asked whether the party with the highest number of MPs should form the next government, Korsak came up with a new twist:

"Yes, that's the legitimate right. But then, it isn't easy. What if we don't consider the number of MPs in the House? What if we count the popular votes? One MP from a certain constituency might have won the seat with only 30,000 or so votes while another might have got over 100,000 votes? Therefore, the number of MPs voted in from constituencies may not be the real measure of the people's wishes..."

That's an indication of what the Democrat election strategists are using as their platform for returning to power after the election.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hun Sen insists it's war while Abhisit says it's only border incidents

The Phnom Penh Post's online edition highlighted this main story yesterday:

Prime Minister Hun Sen has accused Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of war crimes, saying Cambodia has to prepare a “long-term” strategy in its “struggle” with Thailand. Speaking at Chaktomuk Theatre today, Hun Sen described the recent clashes as a “war” necessitating the involvement of the United Nations Security Council.
“This is a real war. It is not a clash,” he said.

“This word has not been used for the call to the UNSC meeting; that’s why Cambodia has called for an urgent meeting.”

Both sides blame the other for the skirmishes, which erupted early on Friday and have claimed at least eight lives on both sides.

Hun Sen today thanked “all political parties and civil society” for their support of the government.

“Thailand is making this war, not Cambodia, and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva must take responsibility for these war crimes.

“The shelling at the temple and pagoda are one among the war crimes.

“We have to take long action, not just one or two days to finish it,” he said, citing the decades-long dispute over Preah Vihear temple.

“We have to make a long plan strategy to struggle with Thailand.

“To struggle with Thailand is not one day, one year, [but] many years.”

Hun Sen also echoed earlier government claims that Thailand deployed cluster bombs during the skirmishes.

“They launched a cluster bomb. Is that a clash? This is the real war, it exchanged many heavy artillery,” he said.

The government-run Cambodian Mine Action Centre released photos today of cluster munitions allegedly discovered in Kantuot commune, in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district.

CMAC director general Heng Ratana said his organisation was “really disappointed that these kinds of weapons were used in this conflict”, calling for international organisations to investigate the issue.

Speaking to a delegation of visiting parliamentarians at Sa Em village 27 kilometres from Preah Vihear today, RCAF deputy commander in chief General Hing Bunheang also alleged the use of the weapon.

“[Thailand] used 150mm, 105mm, 130mm and used BM [rockets] as well as cluster bombs,” he said.

“Our soldiers responded to them effectively.”

Thailand is known to hold stockpiles of cluster munitions, according to the advocacy group Cluster Munitions Coalition, which said last year that Bangkok had pledged that it would not use the weapons but had declined to sign the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions outlawing their use.

Thailand reportedly cited “challenges related to the destruction of its stockpiles” as its main obstacle to signing, the CMC said.

Cambodia also has yet to sign on to the Convention, though Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the Kingdom’s forces “do not use” the weapons.

“The cluster bomb is the bomb that the international community condemns,” he said.

Cluster bombs, launched from the ground or dropped from the air, split open before impact to scatter multiple bomblets over a wide area.

Many initially fail to explode and can lie hidden for decades, maiming civilians who inadvertently happen upon them.

US forces used cluster munitions during the bombing campaign in eastern Cambodia in the 1970s, rendering the Kingdom one of nations most heavily affected by the weapons.

Denise Coughlan, director of Jesuit Services, noted that Preah Vihear temple was not significantly affected by the American bombing campaign.

“If it does prove to be true, I deplore the humanitarian consequences that are going to be caused by the use of cluster bombs,” she said, adding that it might encourage the Kingdom to sign on to the international cluster munitions ban.

Colonel Veerachon Sukondhadhpatipak, deputy spokesman of the Royal Thai Army, denied the charge earlier this week, saying Thai troops had only deployed conventional artillery.

“This is just a normal one, not something against international law or standards. We completely deny the reports,” he told The Post.

Carl Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said cluster munitions were typically deployed over a large area as anti-infantry weapons.

“Usually they’re fired in barrages,” he said. “They land and they take out a whole football field.”

Thayer said that if true, Thailand’s use of cluster munitions would constitute “an outrageous escalation” of the conflict, though he cautioned against taking reports from the Cambodian government on the issue at face value.

“From 2008 to now, they’ve always tried to grandstand on this issue … and paint Thailand in the worst possible light, so I’d be initially suspicious,” he said.

Cambodian soldiers stationed close to Preah Vihear temple said there was no sign of fighting since early Monday, but the situation remained tense.

“We’re ready because we can’t trust the Thais any more,” said RCAF soldier Muong Van.

Ung Oeun, governor of Banteay Meanchey province, said Thai officials and military had requested a meeting with Cambodian officials tomorrow along the border in O’Chrou district’s O’Beichoan commune in order to avert the threat of further clashes.

“Even though the situation is calm, our armed forces are on high alert because we have no belief in the Thai military.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE, THET SAMBATH, SEBASTIAN STRANGIO AND REUTERS

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Nation's frontpage editorial this morning was entitled: "War Only Means Both Countries stand to lose"

And here it is for the record:

There are people in both Thailand and Cambodia who want their soldiers to go all the way. The problem is, even though this might bring the territorial dispute to a conclusion, it would only be for the short term. In 10 or even five years, when one side gets weaker or stronger, the conflict will flare up once again. That is absolutely certain, if force is used to settle this conflict.

Diplomacy can be painstakingly protracted or fruitlessly repetitive and its results can be unpredictable. One can also argue that years of negotiations, the setting up of committees or commissions and other diplomatic efforts have failed to prevent the ongoing
confrontation. Obviously, the "let's get this over with" mentality is thriving among many on either side of the border.

The question that nationalistic extremists in both countries, be they politicians, activists or just the man on the street, have to ask themselves is: Are "real" people better off now that tanks, artillery and rockets are reinforcing territorial claims? Politicians and activists advocating war should be able to at least point to a group or community and say: "There, those people feel happier at the moment, so the fight should go on."

War only fulfils the purposes of a few, but makes life miserable for countless others. Preah Vihear, proclaimed to be priceless, is nothing if villages around it are left in smouldering ashes. It's pointless for both countries to get the temple and destroy everything else - things such as Bt81-billion worth of yearly bilateral trade, Thailand's status as the third-largest foreign investor in Cambodia, the smiles at the border, the security that schoolchildren on both sides of the border had until recently.

Can diplomacy really draw a border? From dinosaurs to cavemen to ancient tribes to imperial rulers, boundaries have been marked through killings and intimidation. Preah Vihear, on the one hand, is just a place around which "real life" continues. On the other hand, it stands as one of the biggest challenges for both Thailand and Cambodia - daring them to break free from a glorious past so a new future can be built for people who really matter

Sunday, February 6, 2011

PAD wants Abhisit out...who does it want in?

Sondhi Limthongkul's People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) last night issued a statement telling Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva to: "Get out!" over his failure to meet the three demands submitted earlier by PAD.

Abhisit, appearing on his weekly TV show this morning, shot back: "What have I done wrong?"

The PM insisted that Thailand could not quit the World Heritage Committee or else the whole world would only hear Cambodia's one-sided views on the controversial Khao Phra Viharn Temple issue.

Abhisit also said the government could not possibly tear up the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with Cambodia "or else there will be more clashes along the border."

PAD's statement accused Abhisit of being too soft on Cambodia and that some vested interests were blocking the PM's actions.

Abhisit hit back: "I have no personal interests. If I had, I should not only be forced out of my position. I should be forced to leave the country too."

The PM didn't pose the obvious question, leaving it to his spokesman to ask later in the day:

"Who does PAD want to replace Abhisit? And how does that come about?"

It is not likely that PAD wants Thaksin Shinawatra's Pheau Thai Party to take over the government. If it doesn't want Abhisit, could it be Chalerm Yoonbamrung or Mingkwan Saengsuwan?

One yellow shirt protester held up a sign just as the PAD's statement was being announced: "Sondhi for PM!"

But then, Sondhi has always insisted that he has no political ambition.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Why reds love to watch yellow TV channel now

One red-shirt follower told me yesterday he had never had so much joy watching the yellow-shirts' ASTV these days.

I asked him why.

"For the first time, the yellow shirts have helped the red shirts wash the Abhisit government's dirty linens without us having to do the job ourselves," he said.

No, he wasn't suggesting that the yellow and red shirts are coming together to form a common front to topple the government just yet. He was simply thanking the yellow shirts for a job well done!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

'The Guy with Black Teeth' plotting a coup?

It doesn't matter how vehemently the army bosses have denied the coup rumour. Jatuporn Prompan, one of red-shirt leaders who has been making daily "disclosures" of the "coup plot" has been producing "new clues" every day.

Yesterday, he claimed tht during Jan 29-30, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was at Petchabun province,accompanied by two army officers who are in control of army units, and a representative from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), to plot the alleged coup.

Who's he? Jatuporn wouldn't name him except to say that this person has a "sharp face and black teeth."

Believe it or not, that description is enough to identify the man without any problem at all!