Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Can't the PM even get ill in peace? That's the comment from one tweet soon after news broke this morning taht Premier Yingluck was resting at Rama 9 Hospital after she went there last night with a bad stomach, probably as a result of food poisoning, according to Government Spokesperson Thitima Chaisaeng.
Thai politics is under a pall of suspicion. Two weeks ago when the premier failed to chair the weekly Cabinet meeting, a royal pardon decree draft was discussed, sparking a controversial debate.
This time, as soon as she let it be known that she wouldn't be at the weekly Cabinet session, Twitter and Facebook were immediately flooded with questions such as: "Any suspicious bill again?"
Of course, the premier is entitled to falling ill at times, especially in the wake of the severe flooding. She has been quite stressed, working hard on flood fighting measures etc...
So, let us all give her a break. She should be able to have a running stomach without a public uproar!
Monday, November 28, 2011
The outcome of the censure vote at around 10.00 am today didnt' surprise anyone. The 273-188 vote was in favour of the target of the no-confidence debate, Police Gen Pracha Promnok, justice minister and director of Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC).
But opposition Democrat Party had, in submitting the motion, a more general objective: to underscore the Yingluck government's overall poor performance over the flood relief efforts. Revelations of political interference, misuse of donations, lack of coordination among official agencies concerned during yesterday's 14-hour debate (marred by protests by both sides) were damaging politically to the three-month-old government to a significant extent.
Pracha's an-eye-for-an-eye strategy by blaming the previous government under Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva for "conspiring" to hit the new government with an unusually huge volume of water from the two big dams didn't draw much support. In fact, Abhisit's counter-attacks were somehow more credible.
Pracha charged that Abhisit had deliberately left a huge amount of water in the two big dams, going into the general election with the plot to hit the new government under Pheu Thai Party with unprecedented inundation. "The Abhisit government knew that there would be a few big storms on the way. It also hatched a plan to store so much water that the new government would face a serious problem," Pracha said during the debate.
Abhisit wasted no time in hitting back. "That's a very ridiculous accusation. Is the government suggesting that we knew that there would be huge storms ahead. Is the government saying that the Democrat Party had planned to lose the election?"
The debate will put a dent in the government's credibility. The flood is still with us in many outlying provinces and parts of Bangkok. The recovery effort is still not well understood. Frustrated people are still tearing down Big Bags wall. Businessmen are still waiting for clear measures to help them rebuild their businesses.
A Cabinet reshuffle may be in the works to improve upon the government's image. Yesterday's censure debate may not have ousted the justice minister. But the prime minister certainly have been felt the growing pressure to do something about the performance issue.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Democrat MP Sathit Wongnontheuy shows a huge board of timeline of newspaper headlines on the flood situations to back up his onslaught against the government during the censure debate...
The no-confidence debate against Justice Minister Pracha Promnok, who is also director of FROC (Flood Relief Operations Center), that is still going on as I write this has all the trappings of a Sunday matinee.
The opposition Democrats were trying to find fault with Pracha's flood relief performance. Jurin Laksakavisit, who took party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva's place in taking the lead in launching the verbal attack,attempted to add another volley: Pracha the justice minister's role in the Cabinet's confidential session over the royal pardon bill.
That drew strong reaction from the government's Pheu Thai Party leaders, spearheaded by Deputy PM Chalerm Yoonbamrung who denied that there were any ulterior motives in the consideration of the bill. Pracha stood up to declare that he had done nothing wrong and appealed to the House Speaker to consider whether such a sensitive issue that involves His Majesty the King's discretion should be raised in the House.
The government and opposition MPs then plunged into attacks and counter-attacks over the flood issue. Both sides had their MPs interrupt the speakers by presenting their versions of the facts.
At one point, controversial Pheu Thai MP Karun Hosakul stood up to challenge Democrat MP Sirichoke Sobha: "I challenge Sirichoke to quit as MP if he tells lies. I would step down if I am found to have lied."
The marathon censure debate is to end before midnight so that a vote could be taken tomorrow.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Friday, November 25, 2011
This inundation “crisis” hasn’t created the reconciliation “opportunity.” On the other hand, the flooding may have in more ways than one deepened the conflict between the political factions in the country.
And for a day or two, the proposed pardon decree considered in a confidential session by the Cabinet last Tuesday in which Premier Yingluck Shinawatra was conspicuously absent threatened to neutralize all previous efforts at reconciliation. It wasn’t until former Premier Thaksin delivered a hand-written note from Dubai declaring his intention “to sacrifice my personal happiness in favour of national reconciliation” on Sunday that a looming new political confrontation was averted.
This state of thinly veiled showdown between those for and against Thaksin can’t be allowed to continue indefinitely if we were to return to any normalcy – and can really make post-crisis Thailand work as any civilized nation should.
The Truth Commission for National Reconciliation under Dr Kanit na Nakhon has been working quietly behind the scenes to bring about better understanding among the various factions within Thai society. It has so far laid the foundation of trust. It needs to get the facts of the violent incidents in the past years to the surface and, without pointing accusing fingers at any particular party, ensure that justice is done. It is also crucial that “transitional justice” is effectively implemented for the next step of reconciliation to be taken.
I see flickers of hope in the two flood-related committees appointed by Premier Yingluck to turn the natural disaster into a national recovery and reconciliation.
The two committees are: Strategic Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development (SCRF) headed by Dr Virabongsa Ramangkura and Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management (SCWRM) led by Dr Sumet Tantivejkul. The two panels comprise people of influence and reputation. They are supposed to be working on both the business of recovery and the tough task of planning for the future that would prevent this year’s major disaster from recurring.
But how could national reconstruction and future water resource management be taken seriously as “national strategies” that involve all segments of society if the country continues to be plagued by political divisiveness?
This could well be another rare window of opportunity for the two “wise men” to turn their non-political roles into some significant social contributions by reaching out to all groups of divergent political shades to get them to join in the nation-rebuilding effort.
There is little doubt that Yingluck was hoping that the appointments of the two reputable figures would strengthen the government’s anti-flood campaign but, more significantly, would also offer a major boost in political goodwill. Dr Virabongsa and Dr Sumet belong to no political factions and , as “experienced technocrats,” could enhance the premier’s credibility at a critical juncture.
The two can thus make a highly significant contribution to national reconciliation by appointing subcommittees that comprise people from all walks of life representing not only experts, business leaders but also the flood victims from various provinces whose views towards the powers-that-be are as diverse as the red-yellow divide that has plagued the country for the past several years.
The two panels have been promised non-interference by the political authorities and they are in a good position to bargain with a government that badly needs good, strong political props from non-political technocrats ready to risk their personal reputation by answering the “Help-Me-Please” calls from the premier.
If their mission isn’t confined to just helping the government tide over the flood, the two technocrats should seize this opportunity to assume the badly-needed role of “national reconciliator” by setting up broad-based working groups to brainstorm for ideas to cement efforts to rebuild Thai society in the post-crisis era.
It is sad but true. Without a real natural crisis, the political divide may never be bridged. Left to the politicians, one political crisis has only led to another without any hope of a real reconciliation in sight
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Premier Yingluck told her Cabinet yesterday to make sure that confidential discussions in the conference room must remain confidential. She regretted the fact that last Tuesday's Cabinet meeting's dicussion on the proposed Royal Pardon Bill which was supposed to be a secret had been leaked to the press.
How do I know that the premier told the Cabinet members not to reveal confidential topics in the Cabinet?
I read it in the newspapers this morning,of course.
Now, if the premier was absent from last week's Cabinet meeting, how did she know about the confidential discussion?
And how do you explain the fact that even when the prime minister told her Cabinet members not to disclose confidential remarks, it was still a well-known non-secret?
In other words, even the PM's instruction to her ministers not to leak confidential discussions was leaked!
Monday, November 21, 2011
Thaksin Shinawatra wrote the letter from Dubai urging his supporters to "forgive and forget" for the sake of the country and posterity.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Thaksin Shinawatra probably realizes that the prompt and strong reactions against his possible pardon being considred by his sister's government could boomrang badly. He despatched this letter this morning which was released by Pheau Thai Party's public relations department. The English-language text here is provided by the party's PR release.
20 November 2011
Dear Fellow Thai People,
As our country has been going through a crisis from the big flood, I am concerned and want our country and all Thai people to pass through this crisis quickly and that requires harmony and reconciliation in our country in order to overcome this natural disaster. I support all measures that will lead to national reconciliation and do not want to see any attempt that will sour the atmosphere and I am prepared to sacrifice my personal happiness even though I have not received justice during the last five years. I will be patient for the sake of the people.
As the Royal Decree which will provide for annual royal pardon is being proposed and as H.M. the King will become 84 years old this year, and as there has been rumor that my name will be included in the list of individuals to be proposed for royal pardon, I trust in the principle that the government will not do anything that will benefit me or any individual specifically. Moreover, any action to be taken during this period of time must be merely taken so as to bring national reconciliation to our country and to overcome the crisis due to national disaster from big flood.
As H.M. the King has been ill, we must certainly not make H.M. the King worried and I am confident that our Prime Minister shares my belief and intention.
With respect to Thai people who have supported and cared for me, please don't be disappointed as when the light of justice emerges, all will be settled as the country will not be under the state of conflict forever.
Finally,I call upon all parties who truly love Thailand to know the words forgive and forget by forgiving each other and forget the past in order to face new dimensions of tomorrow for the sake of our country and younger generations.
With Best Regards
Police Lt. Col. Thaksin Shinawatra
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Thaksin Shinawatra told foreign news agencies that he had no knowledge of a bid for a royal pardon for convicts that may apply to him.
Reuters asked him whether he thought he would be included, Thaksin was quoted as saying: "I don't know. I don't think so. No one knows, because it was a confidential meeeting. It's at the full discretion of His Majesty the King."
And Matichon daily this morning said Premier Yingluck plans to announce that Thaksin, her brother, would not be included in the list of about 30,000 convicts expected to be on the list of those who may be given royal pardon.
Opponents, of course, would wait until it's final before they lend any credence to the reports. Rumours remain rumours and no one believes anyone else under the atmosphere of high mutual suspicion.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
This will probably be one of the many articles in foreign news magazines on the new controversy over the possible pardon for Thaksin. The various analyses appear to reach a similar conclusion: Thailand's politics will hit another low point of confrontation yet again. We can certainly do without that especially in the midst of a devastating inundation. But then, politicians can't seem to stop stirring the pot at the wrong time for the wrong purpose.
Cabinet Secretary-General Ampon Kitti-ampon was supposed to keep it all confidential about the amnesty royal decree draft raised in the "secret session" of the Council of Ministers on Tuesday. And he did a great job at answering all the questions from reporters without revealing anything.
Q: Was the amnesty decree draft discussed in the secret Cabinet meeting?
Ampon: I don't know.
Q: Is it a custom to announce amnesty for prisoners every Dec 5?
Q: Was it just a discussion or was there an approval of the proposed decree?
Ampon: I don't know.
Q: Will there be a press conference to explain the issue?
Ampon: I don't know.
Q: Shouldn't this matter be made public?
Ampon: I don't know.
Of course, he did know the answers to all the questions. He should probably have said: "I know but I can't talk."
But he insisted he didn't know.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Did she deliberately stay the night in Singburi just to avoid yesterday's Cabinet meeting in Bangkok?
Premier Yingluck's aides said she had gone on a helicopter to Singburi with the intention of flying back to Bangkok Monday night for yesterday's weekly Cabinet's meeting.But she cancelled the flight back on grounds that the helicopter didn't have a night radar. But the army later said that the chopper was fine. It could have flown at night.
What was intriguing was that the premier had assigned Chalerm Yoobamrung, a deputy premier, to preside over the Cabinet meeting that, according to reports in most newspapers this morning, held a confidential session to pass a royal decree to hand down amnesty to convicts.
The amnesty decree draft stipulates that convicts who are at least 60 years old and have been sentenced to under three years in jail would be eligible.
More interesting than that, the draft does not bar convicts prosecuted for corruption from being granted the pardon. Neither does it require the convicts to at least partially serve a jail term before being eligible for the amnesty.
It was immediately clear to a lot of people that former premier Thaksin Shinawatra would be eligible. And that, naturally, created an immediate controversy all over the social media last night and the local newspapers this morning.
Reporters say all Cabinet members approached by newspeople this morning, including Chalerm, kept tight-lipped when asked about the hot story. Premier Yingluck was asked about that last evening. She would only say that she wasn't familiar witht the story. "Please ask Deputy Premier Chalerm about it." That's all she was willing to say.
Perhaps, the ongoing flood stories may be submerged by the amnesty decree report.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
The fiery confrontation last Friday between the Bangkok governor and the Irrigation Department chief at the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) perhaps sums up all the reasons why the anti-flood exercise has been in a mess we are in today all the way from the top down.
In a national crisis, they were arguing heatedly over where a written request for more water pumps had been misplaced – and who was to be blamed for that.
With Premier Yingluck Shinawatra at the head of the conference table, Irrigation Chief Chalit Damrongsak addressed Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra who was sitting across him. He said the governor had one day earlier told the press that the Irrigation Dept had not responded positively to the BMA’s request for water pumps.
“I have checked and haven’t been able to locate the official letter from BMA to the Irrigation Department. The governor’s statement could therefore be damaging to my department,” he said, in a matter-of-fact manner.
Governor Sukhumbhand immediately turned stern. He said he hadn’t said the Irrigation Department hadn’t responded. “I am still waiting, still waiting, though,” he repeated.
Premier Yingluck looked puzzled, embarrassed and confused. She said, without addressing anyone in particular, that all parties concerned should work together.
Director of Flood Relief Operations Centre (FROC), Police Gen Pracha Promnok, then chimed in to say that his office had not received any official written request from the governor’s office either.
The next day, Agriculture Minister Thira Wongsamut was quoted as saying that he had also looked into the matter and discovered that the BMA’s letter had in fact been delivered to the Interior Ministry, and not the Irrigation Department (which comes under the jurisdiction of his ministry).
“So, how can the Bangkok governor accuse the Irrigation Department of being uncooperative when he had sent the letter to the wrong place. Besides, even if the letter had got to the right place, we wouldn’t have enough water pumps to spare for BMA anyway. We are also short of pumps,” the minister said.
The arguments back and forth between the central government and Bangkok’s administration have at best been petty and irrelevant. The scene underscores the deplorable lack of cooperation despite the repeated assurances by both sides that they are “working closely together.”
After Friday’s incident, PM Yingluck admitted publicly for the first time: “We do have problems collaborating on technical operation and exchange of data.” Bangkok Governor, in a rare expression of agreement, confirmed: “We don’t have problems with long-term planning but we do have problems with short-term implementation.”
Conflicts aren’t confined to areas of anti-flood activity between the central government and Bangkok administration though. Within FROC, politicians of various shades clash over priorities and areas that should get aid first. There are also questions on whether Governor Sukhumbhand works in close tandem with his Democrat colleagues or not. He doesn’t seem to have worked out a coordination system with his own party leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, either.
The irony is glaring. The premier has invoked emergency powers under the Public Disaster Act that so that she could act decisively – and the first order was to get the governor to open up some sluice gates. The governor hit back by exercising his rights under the same law to instruct police to man the dike to prevent residents from tearing it down. Working at cross purposes seems to be the order of the day.
That’s why in the social media, people have been issuing warnings among themselves: “If the PM says it’s all safe, start packing. If the governor issues an alert, just flee!”
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Premier Yingluck rides the bus today on her way to distribute relief materials to flood victims after insisting that she won't resign despite calls from certain quarters that she should quit to accept responsiblity for the way the flood relief effort is being handled.
"I won't quit. The people have elected me to do the job. I can't abandon them," she declared, adding that crying isn't a sign of weakness. "Crying is about sharing the feeling of suffering with the flood victims," she said.
Strange though it may sound, a group of senators have come out against the premier's resigning "because she has to say on to take responsibility for what is happening."
So, whether you want her to stay on or not, she just can't call it a day...just yet.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Virabongsa Ramangkura, the man for all seasons, is back. This time he has been named chairman of the Strategic Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development (SCRF) to help the government devise plans to rebuild the country after the floods.
How did he get lured back into an active role such as this one?
"I had no hesitation at all. Once the prime minister asked me, I accepted immediately because not accepting would mean I am without a heart and I wouldn't be able to sleep at night," he says.
Virabongsa had earlier been tipped to be a Cabinet member under Premier Yingluck. The deal didn't go through for some unknown reasons. But he was always waiting in the wings, ready for an advisory role such as this one.
"I am going to meet the Japanese ambassador to ask him to arrange for me to visit Japan so that I can ask Japanese business leaders on what they want us to do. Japan has been a good friend all along. During the tomyamkung financial crisis, Japan was the only big country that didn't hammer us," the former finance minister said.
Interestingly enough, Virabongsa will have two deputy premiers and finance minister under him in the committee.
Isn't that a big unconventional? "Well, the premier told me tradition is there to be broken anyway," he responded.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Budhist monks are out in full force these days to help fight the rising floods. A few thousand temples have been submerged and monks in remote areas have suffered from the lack of daily food because local residents haven't been able to do their
daily rounds o alms-giving to monks after floods have hit many provinces.
Here, a group of monks from Dhammakaya Temple are performing their non-religious duty in relieving floods on Klong Luang Road.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
With tears in her eyes, Premier Yingluck Shinawatra met Nakhon Sawan residents yesterday to declare that she won't give up fighting floods, no matter how challenging the mission.
This, of course, wasn't the first time that the prime minister showed the soft side of Thailand's first lady premier. Her supporters say it's a sign of her passion and devotion to the people. Critics say tears don't solve problems, only well-planned execution does.
She confessed on her weekly radio programme yesterday: "I admit it's a very tough job. But I won't give up."
(Picture by Thai Rath)
Saturday, November 5, 2011
Former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra has apparently told his daugher "Aim" Pingtongta
that he won't be able to come back to Thailand to join her wedding scheduled for
In her latest tweet today, Pintongta wrote: "Although I hadn't expected Dad to come
to my wedding, hearing from him: "Aim, Dad won't be able to come to your weddin" was
nevertheless very disheartening."
She had on Nov 1 tweeted: "Ten days from now will be my Thai-style wedding ceremony. But my house is under 1.5 metres of water. Don't know where to hold the ceremony...yet..."
Friday, November 4, 2011
This bold sign says a lot about the mood of people, especially those whose houses have been submerged under water.
Politicians have been putting their name tags on donations from the publid for the flood victims and pictures of those ugly acts have been posted all over the social media. None of the politicians mentioned has come out to apologize for their shameful acts so far.
In various zoos, signs go up asking people "Please don't feed the animals." But this
sign urges people to treat politicians in a different way.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Premier Yingluck has insisted that her approach to the ongoing severe flood disaster is “politics-free.” But there are no genuine signs of any real non-partisan efforts to overcome the country’s worst natural disaster so far.
Besides, the government’s style of crisis (mis)management has alienated most flood victims who couldn’t rely on timely information and guidance from the Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC) from Day One of the inundation.
FROC has failed miserably in crisis communications. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. The central government represented by FROC and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) have been at loggerheads despite their repeated public statements to the contrary.
Politicians have been rubbing shoulders and shouting orders at the FROC headquarters. They all had their underlings (mostly bureaucrats) lobbying for their own priorities which were to do everything possible to prevent their constituencies from getting wet.
FROC’s director, Police Gen Pracha Promnok, is justice minister who belongs to a small political party in the coalition. Most of the Pheu Thai Cabinet members, MPs and their advisers do not feel obliged to follow his instructions. Pracha himself isn’t known to have managed any crisis, big or small, before. And he could hardly expect Premier Yingluck Shinawatra to be by his side, making sure everybody follow the director’s orders. She has her own problems exercising control over her own party.
If things get messy at times, an efficient PR operations that communicate with the public on a timely and convincing manner might have saved the day. That wasn’t to be the case. Two spokesmen – also totally unprepared for such a critical campaign where credibility is the key – were put in charge of the telling the people what was happening.
They could have managed to muddle through had the decision-makers been clear and professional about what they wanted to tell an anxious, skeptical and scared public. That again was sorely missing. Nobody was sure who was in charge of FROC but it was clear from accounts leaked by insiders that the management structure was, to say the least, chaotic.
To be sure, there was no lack of experts on floods and water at the operations center. But their analyses and proposals sidelined by politicians who couldn’t agree on the course of action and were shouting conflicting instructions to the officials who were supposed to be responding to a rapidly worsening flooding situation in provinces north of Bangkok.
There was little doubt therefore that the two spokesmen, whose junior ranks carried no weight whatsoever in the government’s hierarchy, were making fools of themselves on television many times a day. They were saying the situation “is well under control” when in fact they didn’t really know what was happening behind the scenes.
One day, FROC’s Director Pracha read out a long report, ending by declaring that the flood situation was under full control of the government, adding somewhat wistfully: “But we do need lots of large-sized water pumps and I hereby ask the private sector to donate them to help in draining water.”
Things should have been the other way round, of course. One would have thought that if you were short of flood-fighting equipment, the first place to seek help would be the government. Now, the seniormost guy in the country’s top flood-relief agency was asking you to help provide them with water pump. And we were supposed to be in a real crisis.
The gravest failure in crisis communications was probably in the inability to help residents on different sides of the embankments to avoid clashes resulting in barriers to be torn down by angry people who felt they were at the wrong end of the problem. FROC was supposed to be the agency to mediate among the conflicting parties. Instead, some of the government MPs were engineering the confrontations themselves.
FROC has replaced the spokesman. Premier Yingluck says she is inviting Opposition leader Abhisit to join her in the flood fight. Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbhand is still giving his press conference in parallel with FROC’s. Confusion grows.
As I write this, the FROC’s spokesman was saying that government officials are to return to work on Tuesday after a five-day holiday to cope with the rising floods. But the Bangkok governor just announced that Bangkoks’s Talingchan and Laksi were now designated danger zones and everybody had to be evacuated.
One university lecturer just tweeted: “The central government wants us to go back to work. The Bangkok governor tells us to evacuate. Can’t they discuss it and agree on something and tell us what it is all about?”
Situation normal, all fouled up?
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
It's war for Bangkok Governor M.R.Sukhumbhand who last night invoked his special powers under the Disaster Mitigation Act to order the Bangkok's Metropolitan Police Chief to move in to stop local residents from destroying the water sluice at Klong Samwa.
He declared: "I can't trust the police unit that has been guarding the spot anymore. I need to exercise my legal power to order the capital's police chief to send his people to make sure nobody will damage the embankment because if it comes down heavy floods will hit Ramkhamhaeng and Ram-indra areas."
It was the toughest statement made so far by the governor who has obviously been at loggerheads with the central government over how to cope with the rising flood water levels in Bangkok.
"I don't have to seek the prime minister's prior approval. I have the rights to order police to do the job. I am not seeking cooperation. I am giving orders legitimately," he declared, after having ordered the evacuation of yet another area in the city, this time it's Bangkhen.
Obviously, for him, there was no pointing in hiding the fact that he and the government don't see eye to eye -- and that he had to resort to his own power to show the Bangkokians that he can take tough action that the premier has refused to do so far.
Will matters get worse for the inundated capital. We shall know in a couple of days. But I am sure it will get worse before it could get any better.
I thought Thailand was ready for a huge remake when Energy Minister Pichai Narittapan told reporters two days ago that a meeting chaired by Premier Yingluck Shinawatra had agreed to spend about Bt900,000m to rebuild the country. The mega project was to be entitled: "New Thailand."
Wow, I told myself, this will fix every problem we can ever have in five years.
But both the PM and the minister disappointed be tremendously when they came out yesterday to pour cold water on their own scheme.
Premier Yingluck said: "The term New Thailand was just a play on words. Nothing serious."
Minister Pichai further killed my enthusiasm by saying: "New Thailand was just a gimmick."
Get real, please, my dear leaders.