Monday, August 29, 2011

How the PM replaces the Police Chief is a tricky move

Every new prime minister wants his own national police chief. So, nobody should be surprised if Police Gen Vichien Pojphosr, the current National Police Chief,somehow has to move sideways in favour of his deputy, Police Gen Priewpan Damapong, who happens to be brother of Khunying Pojaman, Thaksin's ex-wife.

It's not a question of whether. It's when. And how.

Transfers of senior policemen, especially the No 1 police officer, have to be approved by a Police Commission. Although it's headed by the prime minister ex-officio, the commission comprises several other senior officials and "outside experts." The current police chief may not be politically the most favoured person for the post. But he hasn't done anything seriously wrong that could be "punished" with a sudden ouster.

PM Yingluck could "second" him to a Government House's post, citing his "valuable experience." But Vichien would still be officially holding the title of police chief. The PM could then appoint Police Gen Priewpan "acting police chief" until his retirement in one year.

The last time, Gen Surayudh Chulanond, as PM, tried to do this with Police Gen Kovit Watana (who is now deputy premier), he went to the Administrative Court and won the case against his "secondment."

Now,the only way to do it smoothly is for Police Gen Vichien himself to ask to be transferred or to quit voluntarily. That isn't going to happen too soon. Police Gen Vichien himself has insisted, even up to today, that he hasn't given any thought to giving up his post just yet.

He has to go somehow. But how and when and at what political cost are the main questions.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Now, it's Green Politics..neither red nor yellow

They call themselves the "Green Politics Group" with five main missions as an independent political grouping. They have split from the New Politics Party and won't say whether they will form a new political party.

Suriyasai Katasila, secretary general of New Politics Party, is the main "coordinator" of the new grouping. Others include Somran Rodpetch, Col Pairoj Niyompan, and Tospon Kaewtiwa. Conpicuously absent is Somsak Kosaiyasuk, the New Politics Party leader, who has broken up with this group of activists who were closely linked to Sondhi Limthongkul's People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) or the Yellow Shirts.

Suriyasai, in launching the Green Politics Group, said today that the grouping will aim to oppose attempts to undermine the monarchy, corruption in all forms, proposed move to amend the constitution to benefit certain groups of people and to push for progammes proposed by the National Reform Commission and to join hands with all local groups to create a knowledge base to effect reforms in all aspects.

It remains unclear how the new grouping will proceed from here, or whether it's related to the Yellow Shirts -- or whether it will end up forming another party.

One thing is clear though. The founders want to stay clear of New Politics Party and keep a proper distance from the Yellow Shirts' umbrella. Apart from that, things will still have to firm up to offer a clear picture of what it is all about.

Apparently, it calls itself "green" to distinguish itself from the red and the yellow shirts. How they will resist temptations by some people to link green to the military remains to be seen.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Yingluck says she will pass the test

She finally delivered his closing policy statement. And Premier Yingluck Shinawatra declared that she will, if given a chance, pass the test.

"It's like sitting in an exam. Nobody expects to get 100% scores. But I am sure I will pass every subject," she said just now after two-and-a-half days of debate which at times proved quite heated amidst the clashes between the govermnet and opposition MPs.

Yingluck didn't conclude with any new specifics in her policy. She insists that she would do her best to bring happiness to the people and that she would work towards national reconciliation. Yingluck also said when the Japanese government granted Thaksin a visa recently, "I wasn't even performing my duties as PM yet. Besides, it's the Japanese government that decided to give him the visa."

The premier remained vague on some of the most controversial issues. She said if the private sector faced any problems in complying with the government policy, the government would be ready to provide advice and assistance.

On the giving away of tablets to primary students, she said: "We want to open my learning opportunities for our children in a globalized world. We will be careful to monitor the use in such a way that would not let children use the tablets to play games only."

The policy debate didn't require a vote in the Parliament. There were some substantial exchange between former Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva and Chalerm Yoobamrung, the deputy premier, who took ont the role of speaking on behalf of the premier on some of the controversial issues.

Deputy Premier and Commerce Minister Kittirat na Ranong provided the gist of the explanation on the economic policies such as the Bt300 minimum wage, Bt15,000 monthly salary and rice price pledging scheme. But they were not exactly as promised during the election campaigns.

But then Chalerm insisted: "One can't assume that what was said as policies during the election campaigns couldn't be interpreted as promises of the new government."

How, in practice, will the Yingluck government wriggle out of each of the big promises remains to be seen.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Surapong admits he is the 'weakest link'

Foreign Minister Surapong Towijakchaikul has called himself the "weakest link" of the Yingluck Cabinet.

Of course, not everything is negative when you consider yourself in the worst possible position. You can only go up from here.

Surapong told Thai Post's Sunday interview today that he hadn't known about the foreign affairs portfolio being alloted to him until the last minute.

"That evening, the official announcement came at 9.00 pm. I hadn't believed that I would be made foreign minister. But around 5 to 6 in the evening,there began some talks about my being made foreign minister. That morning, some media already were speculating about that. I didn't believe it. So, when the official word came, I was shaken. My hairs stood on ends. But then, I was confident I could do the job because the party had given me the trust...."

Surapong said since he had belonged to the Democrat Party before, he would be targetted for all the attacks against this government. "No matter what I touch, I would come under attack," he said.

In other words, if he had had control over this political life, Surapong wouldn't have picked the foreign affairs portfolio.

But then politics is about sacrifice, right?

Friday, August 19, 2011

When the daily sparring starts, the honeymoon is threatened

Premier Yingluck Shinawatra tried her very best yesterday to control her emotion. She has been trying to field all the questions with her scripted responses. But there was no way any standard answer could cope with all the questions, especially if they refer to the every move of Thaksin Shinawatra.

The daily "ambush interviews" are getting tougher. The questions have become more direct. And follow-up questions get more demanding.

She was first asked what her government had not alerted the public prosecutor's office to coordinate with the Japanese government to hand over "fugitve" Thaksin now that the foreign minister apparently knows where the former premier was.

The PM responded:

"All these activities are for concerned officials to take action on and today I don't have the policy to oversee all these...or the policy to do anything special about former PM Thaksin. All these must be up to the normal procedures...I will not get involved...and let everything follow the rules on the principle of equality of justice for everybody..."

Another reporter followed up with the question..."but the government could be seen as being negligent on the issue..."

Yingluck refused to answer that question. For a moment, she even forgot to sport her usual smile. Instead, she turned around and headed for the waiting elevator.

Is the honeymoon over?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The art of saying not knowing what you know

It must really take a lot of courage and getting used to for Premier Yingluck Shinawatra to have to answer reporters' questions that relate to her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.

She isn't supposed to be getting instructions from him in how to run this government. She isn't supposed to do anything that could be construed as helping him. But then, she can't say she doesn't know what he is up to either because the press and her Cabinet members and her party's MPs have been in direct touch with him.
Again, even if she knows what he is actualy doing,she, as PM, can't make that known to the public either.

Today, reporters asked her whether she knew Thaksin was coming to Cambodia. Yingluck couldn't say she didn't know because everybody else had read the morning papers, seen the morning TV reports. So, she said: "Yes, I know that."

Does he represent her government on this trip?

Yingluck couldn't really say so because he isn't officially part of her government and Thaksin's legal staus in the country is still tricky.

So, she said: "No. He is perhaps on a private trip."

But everybody else was saying that Thaksin was to meet Cambodian PM Hun Sen and the question of joint petroleum exploration in the disputed area in the Gulf of Thailand might be raised.

How can he be on a private trip if he is supposed to be talking about such a public issue that involves the government's deliberations?

The question, of course, wasn't asked and the PM didn't have to respond.

It has been like this since the day she was named No 1 of Pheu Thai Party's list. And she has played along magnificantly.

Last evening, on Channel 3, anchor Sorayudh asked her: "How many of the Cabinet members did you pick by yourself?"

She replied: "All of them."

Perhaps, a lot of people may want to be the country's PM. But who would want to be in Yingluck's peculiar position?

Monday, August 15, 2011

If you don't see results in 6 months, get a new deputy PM!

The Yingluck government's policy statement is ready. It will be submitted to the Cabinet tomorrow. The thrust of the statement is divided into two parts: About 13 Immediate Measures and the longer-term policies based on Pheu Thai Party's election promises.

Of course, the most controverversial ones will include the 300-baht-minimum wage and 15,000-baht-monthly-salary as well as the distribution of free tablets to students starting from Primary 1.

Deputy Premier Kittirat na Ranong, who will in effect be in charge of the government's economic affairs, said within six months, at least the immediate policies will see some real results.

A reporter asked him whether he was sure of that time-line. Kittirat said, perhaps half jokingly:

"If not, they might have to find a new deputy premier."

So, both PM Yingluck and his deputy PM appear serious about the six-month deadline.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The puzzling PM and FM's statements about Thaksin's passport

I am really trying very hard to understand what PM Yingluck Shinawatra and Foreign Minister Surapong Towijakchaidul have said about Thaksin's Thai passport in the past few days. I still don't get it.

Today, the PM insisted that her government "has no policy" to return Thaksin the Thai passport. But then, she also added that she had given the direction to Foreign Ministry officials that any possible action in this regard must be in line with "the rule of law."

Foreign Minister Surapong has said he hasn't even started working physically at the ministry yet. He will commence work there on Aug 17, in accordance with advice from his astrologers.

He was therefore suggesting that if there was any initiative on the issue of Thaksin's Thai passport, it must have come from the officials themselves, and not at his instruction.

But then, he didn't say it was a bad idea. He said he would consider whether Thaksin had been "unfairly treated" by the previous government on this issue -- and whether it was a "political decision" then.

If you are confused like me, you should just assume that if the officials follow the PM's guideline, the "rule of law" will be the main consideration. But if the FM's stand is taken seriously by the officials, they would consider "political motives" -- both then an now -- as the No 1 issue.

If they stand by the "rule of law," they will have to take into account the fact that there are a few pending arrest warrants for Thaksin, not the least being the two-year jail sentence over the criminal verdict that he had violated the law over the purchase of the Rajda land.

How "political considerations" can remove judicial obstacles is very, very interesting indeed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

New FM Surapong is a man in great hurry

Thailand's new foreign minister, Surapong Towijakchaikul, is a man in great hurry indeed. One day after the Yingluck Cabinet was sworn in, he met Japanese ambassador Seiji Kojima to ask him to request Japanese authorities to issue a special entry permit to Thaksin Shinawatra.

Kyodo news agency said "multiple sources" confirmed that the Japanese government is apparently considering whether to have its Justice Ministry issue Thaksin the special visa.

We haven't heard from Surapong so far. But in the past few days since he has been made foreign minister, his responses to reporters' questions about whether to let Thaksin have his Thai passport back have been evasive, to say the least.

He didn't say No. He didn't say he would consult concerned authorities. He did say: "I have to consider whether Khun Thaksin has been fairly treated or not."

Thaksin is said to plan to visit Japan during Aug 22-28 in areas in Miyagi prefecture of northern Japan which were devastaed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. He may also deliver a lecture somewhere if he can make it to Japan.

Japan's immigration law says that a foreigner convicted of breaking a law and sentenced to imprisonment of one year or more will not be given permission to enter Japan.

But then, the law also makes an exception for those convicted for political offences.The justice minister has the final say in each individual case.

Premier Yingluck was asked by reporters yesterday about Thaksin's getting back his passport.

She was cautious in her reply: "I think we should let things run their proper course."

She has certainly learned the ropes of political language: saying something to say nothing.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New defence minister talks peace and reconciliation

Gen Yuthasak Sasiprapa, the new defence minister, is embarking on the reconciliation path. He says he will seek a meeting with "Pa" Prem Tinsulanonda, president of the Privy Council, ("My former bss") -- who has come under severe criticism of the red shirt leaders in the past years.

The new defence minister says he will sit down and talk to all the top brass to ensure their unity and to bridge the gap between the "Burapa Payak" and "Wong Thewan" factions in the army.

He also promises that there will be no reshuffling of senior military officers who have been perceived to be against the red shirts.

"I will make sure that justice is done to all parties concerned," Gen Yuthasak said.

His first challenge will be to approve the list of the annual military reshuffle which in due to be submitted to him in the next few weeks. The main question mark is whether Army Chief Gen Prayuth Em-ocha will be transferred from his post or not.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Surapong: Even he himself was surprised to be FM

Surapong Tohvijakchaikul, an MP from Chiang Mai, who is close to Thaksin Shinawatra, was himself surprised over the appointment as foreign minister.

He told a TV interviewer on Nation Channel last night soon after the official announcement of the Yingluck Cabinet was officially endorsed by a royal command that he was "very reluctant" about the new portfolio.

This morning, Surapong told reporters that he had known about the foreign affairs portfolio only a few hours before the official list was announced last night. "I had thought I might be a deputy finance minister," he said.

That immediately spurred speculation that Thaksin had put Surapong as foreign minister so that the latter could help overcome obstacles that have barred the former from travelling around the world. Surapong, observers sy, could help pave the way for the former premier to return to Thailand.

The Bangkok Post said foreign ministry officials voiced disappointment over the appointment. One official who asked to remain anonymous, was quoted as saying: "Only a few foreign ministry officials know about him. He has never held any ministerial post before."

Of course, you can't blame Surapong for that. He didn't ask for the portfolio. He admits he isn't prepared to take the job. Besides, if you ask me, he isn't supposed to be running foreign affairs either. He is there probably for certain specific missions. Perhaps, one should ask Prime Minister Yingluck about it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kittirat, Thirachai form key economic team for Yingluck

The Yingluck's Cabinet is out! Most of them are known close aides of former Premier Thaksin Shinawatr. No red-shirt core leaders in the line-up. No real "outsiders" as such. Gen Yuthasak Sasiprapa, the new defence minister, may fall in that category but then he is supposed to be in a position to link up with the military for the Yingluck government.

The two most outstanding ministers taking up economic posts: Kittirat na Ranong, who is both deputy premier and commerce minister, and Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala, the former secretary general of the Securities and Exchange Commission, is the new finance minister. It appears, therefore, that Kittirat, and not Thirachai,another "outsider," will head the economic team. Interestingly, Dr Olarn Chaipravat, a long-time economic adviser to Pheu Thai Party, doesn't hold a Cabinet post. Dr Vichit Surapongchai, Siam Commercial Bank's executive chairman, who was in negotiation earlier, pulled out when he did not get the agreement to form his own economic team.

A major surprise is the new foreign minister: Surapong Tohvichakchaikul, a Pheu Thai MP, who is known to have expressed his strong support for Thaksin, who has no prior experience in foreign affairs. Earlier speculation that at least two former Thai ambassadors close to the ex-premier were in the run was ruled out at the last minute.

Stay tuned. More comments on other Cabinet members are coming up.

Yingluck's lucky No 8

There is no doubt that No 8 is the lucky number for Yingluck Shinawatra who yesterday received the Royal Command to appoint her as the first female prime miniser of Thailand.

Yesterday was August 8, 2011. She became the country's 28th premier. Therefore,it was 8-8-28. And quite a few fortune-tellers suggested that if she follows the 8 formula in her work, she could continue to get lucky. Eight months or eight years...that's the question.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Only major overhaul can save Democrat Party

Abhisit Vejjajiva is back as the Democrat leader, with perhaps the most difficult mission in his political life: How to win back the trust of the majority of Thais who have somehow been convinced that the country's oldest political party isn't fit to run the nation anymore.

The Democrats haven't won a general election in 19 years. The reasons are clear and simple: The electorate simply doesn't trust that the Democrats could get things done. They have proved incapable of crisis management. And they aren't particularly good at managing during peace time either. Once they were elected because of their stand against dictatorship and corruption. Now, after two years running the country with Abhisit at the helm, that positive image has also been badly eroded. Now, opponents say the Democrats were hiding behind the military shield to run its business of governing the country -- with disastrous outcome.

The party that once stood for liberalism and freedom of expression has turned conservative and defensive. When Abhisit declared his "Nine Iron-Clad Rules" for his Cabinet to underline his policy against corruption and conflict of interests among his ministers, he appeared to try to revive the party's attempt to make integrity the priority of governance. But he failed miserably to live up to his pledge of keeping his Cabinet honest and accountable when some of his coalition partners were blatantly breaking the ground rules.

It was a clear miscalculation on Abhisit's part when he decided to lead his party to form a coalition with Bhumjaithai and Chat Thai Pattana. He thought he could rein them in with his public stand on political ethics. But when he could not build up popular support and failed to connect directly with the grass-roots populace, Abhisit painted himself into a corner -- a corner that forced him to compromise with unsavoury elements among his coalition partners and an uncomfortable alliance with the army.

Abhisit and his No 2, Suthep Thuagsuban, the party's secretary general and the most visible "king-maker" of the previous government, were never a happy pair to begin with. Their contrast in character was undeniable: Abhisit the rule-of-law,calm, considerate guy; Suthep the end-justifies-the-means fighter. But they were operating together on the public understanding that the prime minister somehow must be able to keep his deputy in check. Somewhere during the crisis of April-May, 2010, Suthep, together the top brass,obviously took charge, with or without the premier's full consent, and certain aspects of the operations to prevent the red-shirt protest from getting violent got badly out of control.

Once again, the Democrat Party, without a clear majority of its own, had to rely on other parties and the army to muddle through.

On the home front, Abhisit may have tried to expand the popular base of the Democrat Party by going "populist" in a number of ways to fend off the Pheu Thai Party's much more aggressive promises of popular platform. But he also faced criticism for not consulting enough party executives, especially the senior advisers who considered the party's youngest leader's self-confidence bordering at times on hubris and arrogance. Bhichai Rattakul, one of the former party leaders, made no secret of his attitude towards Abhisit when he told us: "Abhisit is smart, intelligent and honest. But he did not know how to use people. He was surrounded by a small group of people who gave him the wrong kind of information. He did not consult enough with senior advisers of the party. And even when the senior people offered him advice, he didn't seem to heed it."

The Democrat Party is due for a major overhaul if it is to regain sufficient public trust to prove that it isn't "the best opposition party in Thai politics...and nothing else." The Democrat Party's long-held rulea for promotion based of seniority of party executives doesn't fit the new political environment that badly needs new blood, new ideas and innovation that will break out of the current national malaise.

The country badly needs a new political model based on a renewed sense of public service of the new generation and sacrifice by the privileged to help lift the disadvantaged to a new level that will erase the growing chasm between the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the complacent privileged class and the frustrated working class.

Top on the priority of Abhisit's new term as the Democrat leader is perhaps to launch a full-scale, thorough investigation on why the Democrat Party has never won the hearts of the people in the Northeast, the poorest electorate. The traditional, simplistic conclusion that vote-buying was the only reason for this state of affairs just isn't good enough anymore. The red-shirt phenomenon underlines more serious problems than just money politics.

The country badly needs a new kind of politics that doesn't rely simply on populist policies that attract votes but can't really solve serious deep-rooted problmes of income dispartiy, corruption and subjucation of the poor and helpless to political dependency. If the Democrats can't turn over a new leaf to achieve this new challenge, it would certainly be destined for a prolonged winter of lost hope and betrayal for those who are desperately seeking an alternative to the current brand of politics.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Yingluck is voted Thailand's 28th PM 296:197

So it has come to pass. Yingluck Shinawatra, 44, today was voted as Thailand's 28th prime minister, becoming the country's first female premier. The House voted 296 against 197 abstentions and 3 against just before noon.

The real test has now begun for Thaksin's youngest sister who was named to Pheu Thai Party's party list only 49 days before the July 3 election in which she led the party to an overwhelming victory. She is expected to name her Cabinet as early as next week, thereby commencing a process that will put her under close scrutiny on whether she is really in command of the government and how she will manage her releations with her brother who is the de factor "owner" of the party.

We wish her luck.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Is the final word delivered in Bangkok or Dubai?

I suspect that some mysterious "sources within the Pheu Thai Party" are spreading rumours to get their own way without realizing that they are undermining the very foundation of Yingluck Shinawatra, the presumptive prime minister.

I say "mysterious" because several newspapers this morning ran almost identical stories about the discussions being held in Dubai about who should be in the new Cabinet that almost sounded like Yingluck has nothing to do with the new line-up at all, despite the fact that she has been insisting almost everyday that she and party leader Yongyuth Vichaidit have been empowered by the party's executive committee to make the final decisions.

But what you read in the papers suggest something else. The reports say that Thaksin's ex-wife Pojaman and her brother Bannapot as well as Thaksin's other sister Yaowapa Wongsawasdi (wife of former premier, Somchai), were huddling in Dubai over the composition of the new Cabinet.

The "leaked story" says that Thaksin would like some red-shirt leaders to be in the new Cabinet and that some representatives of business conglomerates should also be there. But, according to these mysterious sources again, Khunying Pojaman was against the idea because she would like the new line-up to reflect a sense of national reconciliation, so that it would be easier to pave the way for Thaksin's own return to Thailand.

As usual, these stories can't be verified. The only way to assess their credibility is whether there are denials from those mentioned in the stories.

As of this writing, 10.38 am of Thursday, August 4, there still isn't any comment from Dubai.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Jatuporn is an MP and free: I prefer to be a red shirt

Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan was endorsed as the new MP of Pheu Thai Party yesterday, and today, he was released on bail from prison, paving the way for him to play a full political role.

"Tu" Jatuporn immediately delivered a speech to the few hundred of red shirt supporters who went to receive him today. He didn't say whether he would be named to the Yingluck Cabinet. But he did declare: "If I have to choose between being an MP or a Cabinet member or a red shirt, I would choose to be a red shirt anytime."

It's unclear whether Yingluck, the premier-to-be, would actually decide to name a "red-less" Cabinet as has been speculated, or whether Jatuporn would be offered one of the numerous political positions.

Monday, August 1, 2011

No red shirts in Yingluck Cabinet?

Leaders of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)who were elected in the July election are now full-fledged MPs. From left, Worachai Hema, Prasit Chaisrisa, Nattawut Saikua, Korkaew Pikulthong, Wiphuthalaeng Pattanaphumthai, Payap Panket, and Weng Tojirakarn.

Red shirts are off, black jackets are in.

Will any of them be included in the Cabinet? If you believe the latest rumours, the new Cabinet line-up will be red-free. But you will have to see the real list before believing any of the speculation.

But the fact that Col Apiwan Viriyachai, a red-shirt hard-core member, decided to pull out of the race for the House speakership in favour of Somsak Kiatsuranond,might be one indication of that policy.

The "leaked" stories so far do not have any prominent red-shirt leader in the new Cabinet line-up. At least two vernacular newspapers today came up with a similtar story: Kittirat Na Ranong, who earlier was tipped to become foreign minister, may now take up the commerce portfolio and the new foreign minister may well be Vikrom Koompairoj, former Thai ambassador to London.

Nobody knows who is making the final decisions on who is being offered what ministerial post. But the Bangkok-Dubai phone lines remain as busy as ever.