Thai Politics Updates – June 2011
Thai-Cambodian relations Besides the general elections coming up, this month‘s public attention was focused on the UNESCO World Heritage meeting, held from June 19 to 29 in Paris. The Thai team, led by Minister of the Environment and party-list candidate Suwit Kunkitti, faced a tough challenge in Paris. The UNESCO Committee accepted, after many rewritings by both Thailand and Cambodia, a management plan for the temple that was not in conformity with the expectations of the Thai government. While the People‘s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) rallied in front of the UNESCO office in Sukhumvit Road on the 22nd of June to call on UNESCO‘s World Heritage Committee to cancel the ―World Heritage Status‖ of Preah Vihearn Temple and to postpone the deliberation on the Cambodian Preah Vihearn Management Plan. Thailand threatened to withdraw from the Unesco World Heritage Convention if the World Heritage Committee accepted a draft agreement on issues regarding the Preah Vihear management plan. According to Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, the agreement would put Thailand at risk of losing its territory. The next day, Suwit declared that Thailand will withdraw from the World Heritage Convention after the World Heritage Center decided to put Cambodia‘s Preah Vihear management plan on the agenda of the next day‘s World Heritage Committee meeting in Paris. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva subsequently defended Suwit‘s decision. Reportedly, phrasing in the plan deemed by Thailand as objectionable was removed after Suwit and the delegation walked out of the meeting, but Abhisit said that decision will still stand. Observers have pointed out that the convention‘s stipulations on withdrawal specify a lengthy procedure for a country to leave including a written declaration and a 12-month wait; Abhisit added that it would be up to the next government whether to follow up procedures for formally withdrawing from the World Heritage Convention. While the Pheua Thai party strongly criticized the government‘s decision, the PAD praised Abhisit‘s and Suwit‘s move. The PAD ended its rally on the last day of the month, saying its main purpose, namely the denial of the Cambodian Preah Vihear temple management plan, was achieved.
Electoral campaign Except the UNESCO meeting in Paris at the end of the month, no other news than electionrelated made it to newspapers headlines this month. The number of TV political shows exploded. Hundreds and hundreds of billboards blossomed on every street, on every traffic lights and tall buildings. Political campaigning by most parties was really intense. Major political meetings were held in Bangkok and other cities, bringing together party-list candidates, constituency MPs and thousands of supporters. One of the major polarizing issues in the electoral campaign was the positioning of political parties with regards to last year‘s violent incidents. As shown on this huge billboard along the highway in Bangkok,
―On the 3rd of July, go to vote, and don‘t let evil people govern the country. Don‘t choose …people…who burned down the country. Don‘t choose… the clique of those…offending the monarchy‖ Siam Sammakki Group
~3~ Zoom on main parties’ billboards and key advertised policies With the streets of Thailand covered with electoral billboards displaying easy political phrases and announcing appealing policies, many observers of Thai politics considered the campaign as ‗populist‘-driven. Here is an overview of key advertised policies of six core political parties. 1. Pheua Thai (Yingluck Shinawatra)
“The Pheua Thai party is ready to govern the country. Please allow us to think new and act new for all Thais…one more time” Social Welfare and Labour policies - increase of the minimum wage to 300 baht per day in Bangkok [Bangkok not specified in the campaign] - raise starting salary of Bachelor degree holders from 13,000 to 15,000 -tax refund for purchase of first car and first house - 30-baht healthcare scheme (continuation of Thaksin‘s policy) - increase civil servants‘ pay - build low-rent condominiums at each MRT/BTS station - set up a development fund for women (100 million THB per province) - increase retirement pension: to 600 THB for people aged 60 to 69, 700 THB for people aged 70 to 79, 800 THB for people aged 80 to 89, 1,000 THB for people aged 90 onwards. Technology - Free Wifi in all villages Education - laptop for each child One PC TABLET PER CHILD
~4~ Agriculture - credit cards for farmers (to buy fertilizer and seed) - rice mortgage at 15,000-20,000 baht per tonne - improvement of irrigation networks - suspension of farmerâ€˜s debts (for debts less than 500,00 THB for no shorter than 3 years) Transport - high-speed electric train development linking Southern China to northeastern Thailand - 10 MRT/BTS routes (ticket at 20 baht) - high-speed train route to Korat, Rayong and Chanthaburi - expand the Airport link to Pattaya Public finances - increase by 25 percent local administration budget - increase village fund by 1 million THB per district - decrease corporate income tax from 30 percent to 23 percent Security - 12-month drug suppression program Foreign policy - Visa exemption for foreigners from Western countries and Japan - Restore diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia Energy and the environment - No nuclear energy - Build a dam to prevent flooding in Bangkok
2. Chartthaipattana Pheua Pendin (Prapan Limpapan)
„Let‟s end polarization. Let‟s disintegrate colour politics. For Harmony among all Thais” Decentralization - Increase revenue-raising means of local administrative bodies by 3 percent each year so that it reaches 35 percent Transports - Build 5 lines of motorway in the 5 regions of Thailand - Expand train routes and high-speed trains linking all regions - Build 12 MRT and BTS lines in Bangkok and create a joint transportation ticketing system including MRT, BTS, boat, bus, at 40 THB per day Labour and social welfare - Double Social Insurance benefits - raise the minimum wage to 350 THB within 3 years - Social Security for agricultural sector - Retirement scheme for volunteer associations 1,200 THB per month - ―Harmony/reconciliation‖ village fund 500,000 THB per village - Align civil servants‘ pay on the private sector rate - Double pensions for the elderly and disabled - Build retirement houses for the elderly all over the country - No corporate income tax for the 5 first working years - Oil Price control : benzene no higher than 35 THB and diesel no higher than 30 THB
~6~ Education - Development funds for schools (2 million THB per district) - Village Development fund for the youth (100,000 THB per village) - Budget 10,000 million THB for teachers - Free education until Bachelorâ€˜s level Agriculture - Set up a fund to guarantee crops price stability - Hold, reduce or cancel farmersâ€˜ debts - Create a system of natural disaster insurance - Free distribution of seeds - Create cooperative banks Foreign policy - Preparations for the entry into the Asean Community Tourism and sports - Build Mini sports complex in each district of the country - Make Thai football enter the international football scene - Set 10,000 million THB to develop sports - Work towards the hosting of international sports events and activities in Thai touristic cities - Develop new touristic sites nationwide such as a Dino Park - Establish an insurance for tourists Energy and environment - Gas NGV in all regions - Ethanol biodiesel and E85 - Renewable energy
~7~ 5. Rak Prathet Thai (Chuwit Kamolvisit)
â€œFed up with politics ? butâ€Ś must go to vote Let me be the opposition against corruptionâ€? Chuwit Kamolvisit, whose main electorate consist of urban university students, announced his objective not to be in the government to promote policies but in the opposition to monitor the work of the government and coalition parties. The owner of successful massage parlours near Ratchadaphisek road vowed to combat corruption in the State.
~8~ 10. Democrat Party (Abhisit Vejjajiya)
“Choose the Democrat Party! Extinguish our country‟s fire and say no to violence”
- Social Welfare and Labour policy - Fix diesel oil price 30 THB/liter - Free health care (budget 130,000 million THB / year) - Free electricity for people using less than 90 units a month - Special loans for home purchase: no interest for two years - Raise the salary of teachers, kamnan, village heads and policemen - increase by 5 percent civil servants‘ salaries - extend the social security system to 24 million informal workers - give salaries to village health volunteers - increase development funds Education - 15-year free education until matayom 6 (including books, uniform, and activities) - Develop 19,000 Child care centers Agriculture - Issue community deeds on State land - Set up Special Economic Zones for production, processing and marketing of agricultural products - Expand the irrigation system Security - Drug suppression program by - Cut mobile phone signal in Thai prisons - Severe jail sentences for drug dealers - Increase by 2,500 the number of special forces in charge of drugs suppression - Increase the number of CCTV cameras by 200,000 in Bangkok Transports
~9~ - build 12 lines of MRT/BTS on 509 km linking Bangkok to Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan within 5 years - develop Bang Sue stations and Makkasan stations as departure points of high-speed trains - improve quality and security of buses - transports free for the elderly, school students, and the disabled - create a unique ticketing system for all transportation modes in Bangkok including boats, buses and MRT/BTS
16. Bhumjaithai (Chawrat Chanwirakul) “Announces and then acts accordingly” “dares to do it for Thais”
“In this country there shouldn‟t be unemployment” Public finances - VAT Tax reduction by 2 percent (so only 5 percent remaining) - Build workplaces for one million people including motorcycle taxi drivers, minivan drivers and streetvendors Transports - Build dust-free roads Social welfare and Labour policy - Establish a Social Security Fund for volunteers such as defence volunteers etc. - Create an employment fund for one million jobs - workplace allocation for one million informal workers Agriculture - rice price guarantee at 20,000 THB a tonne - rubber plantations in the North and Isan - set up an agricultural product price stability fund - improvement of irrigation networks
~ 10 ~ Tourism and sports - Fund for development of new tourist sites (100 million THB per province per year) - Create a training sports center of excellence
21. Chartthaipattana (Chumpon Silpa-Acha)
“Advance reconciliation” Public participation - Revision of the Constitution to strengthen people‘s participation - Write a national development strategy in a participatory manner‘‘ Public finances - Improve the taxation system to make it fair and still competitive at the international level Social Welfare and Labour Policy - Double Thai people‘s wages within 5 years by stimulating the economy in the field of construction and the automobile industry through credit allocation for home purchases with fixed interest rate of 1 percent during 10 years, as for the first car purchase of less than 100,000 THB a 100,000 reduction - provide a 1,000 THB monthly salary for village volunteer social workers - increase the pension of the elderly and disabled from 500THB per month to 1,000 THB per month - Debt interest reduction - Support OTOP (One Tambon One Product) Transports - Develop high-speed train routes linking Bangkok to Chiang Mai Nakhon Ratchasima, Rayong, Hua Hin Hat Yai and other large cities
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Security - Drug suppression program Technology - Set-up a TV Channel dedicated to agriculture Agriculture - Extend the irrigation system network - Rice price guarantee at 15,000 THB a tonne for paddy rice and 20,000 THB a tone for jasmine rice - support investment in the agricultural sector with a free interest rate for the first year - enact the law on the agricultural‘s assembly/council - extend the electricity network for agricultural purposes Foreign policies - Prepare the entry into the Asean Economic Community 2558 - The “vote-no campaign” The People‘s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) engaged in a very controversial ‗vote-no campaign‖. They called on Thai people to go to vote but tick the last box on the ballot paper, the ―vote-no box‖. To support their campaign, they used yellow billboards featuring a variety of animals, including buffalos, monkeys and monitor lizards, dressed in human suits and ties, with the message ―don‘t let animals into parliament‖. While Pheua Thai claimed that portraying politicians as animals runs counter to democracy, associations for the protection of animals also expressed the outrageous character of the billboards.
“Don‟t let animals into the Parliament. Vote “no”. Go to vote and tick the “vote blank ”box”
~ 12 ~ The Election Commission ruled on 8 or 9 June that considering the billboards and eventually oredering their removal was part of the competence of the Election Commission. However, in the end, the billboards were not removed. Debates on policy platforms TV programs in June were literally colonized by political science academics, party-list and constituency candidates debates. Media coverage of the elections was very comprehensive. Nevertheless the much-awaited debate between Abhisit and Yingluck did not occur. One of the most noticeable policy-based confrontation between the candidates was organized on the 23rd of June by Sripathum University's Policy Watch Centre and the People's Network for Election Thailand at Sripathum University in Bang Khen district. The six main parties were asked to discuss their policies on the economy, society, education, security and politics. although most of the allocated time was dedicated to the issue of the amnesty which Pheu Thai had proposed. Were participating the Pheu Thai party, represented by its leader Yongyuth Wichaidit, Matubhum party, represented by its leader and former coup-maker Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, Chartthaipattana by its party-list candidate Piyaphan Champasud, Chart Pattana Puea Pandin's party by its economic team chief Goanpote Aswinvijit and Bhumjaithai party by its spokesman Suphachai Jaisamut.
Amnesty and the possible return of Thaksin Shinawatra The network of people against an amnesty to clear former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of corruption on the 21st of June filed a petition with the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) against Yingluck Shinawatra, the No 1 Pheu Thai party list candidate. The petition, signed by 4,100 people from across the country, was submitted by Kaewsun Atibhodhi, a member of the disbanded (and junta-appointed) Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC), and Tul Sitthisomwong, leader of the anti red-shirt network.. On the very same day, the People‘s Alliance for Democracy submitted a petition to the Election Commission seeking the dissolution of the Pheua Thai Party for being technically directed by Thaksin Shinawatra who is under a five-year political ban. The PAD, the instigators of the ―Vote-no‖ campaign, submitted hundreds of pieces of evidence – the first being the Pheua Thai Party‘s slogan ―Thaksin thinks, Pheua Thai acts‖ (―Thaksin kit, Pheua Thai tham‖) vowing to do the same for any political party that is de facto directed by a banned politician—it did not file any other such complaints.
~ 13 ~
â€œThaksin thinks, Pheua Thai actsâ€?
With the notable exception of newly formed political parties and the oldest one the Democrat Party, most significant parties in Thailand are directed by banned politicians under the name of someone else, usually a close relative. In this context, the idea of an amnesty sounds appealing to many actors in Thai politics, including red and yellow protesters, coup-makers, members of the security forces responsible for the death of protesters, and previously banned politicians including Thaksin Shinawatra and Newin Chidchob. The first idea pushed forward by the Pheua Thai Party was to prepare an amnesty law to be submitted to the people by means of a referendum. However, this idea came under much criticism and was never made an official policy of the Pheua Thai. The party however appointed Mr. Chalerm Yubamrung, PhD in Public Law to draft such a law. The Democrat Party, on the other hand, rejected the idea of an amnesty from the very beginning.
~ 14 ~
“I am going to work for all Thais but I won‟t clear anyone of past wrongdoings” (Abhisit Vejjajiya) A third party, the Charttthaipattana, tried to build itself an image of reconciliation‘s champion, suggesting that in case of victory, either its adviser Maj Gen Sanan Kachornprasart or the party leader Chumpol Silpa-archa could become prime minister for reconciliation.
~ 15 ~
â€œTurning the conflict into reconciliation: I can do itâ€? (Sanan Kachornprasart)
Advance voting Advance voting, held for people working outside of their residence constituency or who are unable to vote on the election day proper, was organized on the 26th of June. Of the total 47 million eligible voters in Thailand, 2.6 million registered for advance voting. No violence was reported, but the vote caused major traffic jams and people who could not make it before the closing time, 3 pm, because of traffic jams, voiced their disappointment on TV. More unfortunate are the people whose name has been dropped from the list of advance voters because they did not re-register for advance voting this year. The guidelines given by the Election Commission about advance voting registration did not reach out to the people and some confusion clouted the entire process with members of the Election Commission contradicting one anotherâ€˜s explanation of the rules. In sum, the turnout was not as much as expected, for instance in Bangkok it was reported that less than 60% of voters from the provinces who registered to vote in advance in Bangkok actually turned out. Monitoring of the elections Embassies and international NGOs tasked to monitor the upcoming elections, started to prepare for it. The international NGO Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), based in Bangkok, deployed 60 observers nationwide. Some 24 of them arrived in Thailand as early as June 7. Issues that observers are particularly going to look at are impartiality, colour-coded politics, violence and vote-buying.
~ 16 ~ Polls The majority of polls forecast a triumphant electoral victory of Yingluck. Party-list number 1 candidate and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiya has vowed to step down if his party wins significantly less than the 165 seats it captured in the last election in 2007. In mid June, as polls repeatedly showed majority and even increasing support for Pheu Thai, the Democrats appeared to change their campaign strategy—initially they had emphasized Democrat policy and promises, but then they switched to focusing on recent political unrest, particularly the ―burning of Bangkok‖ in May 2010, and the involvement of redshirt figures who had been registered as Pheu Thai party list candidates. The Democrats increasingly portrayed the election as a battle to stop Pheu Thai from causing further harm and instability to the country by bringing Thaksin Shinawatra back, absolving him of wrongdoing, and returning money seized from him, which they would surely do as quickly as they could if they were to win. Post-election scenarios : Pheua Thai and th e military The army made its voice heard throughout the electoral campaign period. The army chief Prayuth An-Ocha said in an approximately 30-minute interview broadcasted on TV channels 5 and 7 (both run by the military) on June 14 that the kingdom's 40 million eligible voters should come out in force to exercise their rights. ". He implored people not to vote for bad, immoral politicians, but not to use the ―no vote‖ option either; instead, go vote for good people. Voters should use their good judgement to choose the best candidates to run the country efficiently," he said. "If you allow the election [results] to be the same as before, you will not get anything new and you will not see any improvement from this election." (Bangkok Post, 15/06) This televised speech was much discussed in the media and most political party leaders had to comment on it . Yingluck Shinawatra replied the next day ―There was nothing wrong with the comments made by army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha on Channel 7 and Channel 5 yesterday as he had just explained the army‘s standpoint on the July 3 election‖ and reassured that in case of a Pheua Thai‘s victory, the army and army chief Prayuth will remain ―untouched‖.Her request for a meeting with the Army Chief was nevertheless rejected. Rallies The yellow-shirt rally on Makkawan Bridge on Ratchadamnoen Nok Road was attacked on the 2nd of June, injuring three people, one seriously. Electoral violence According to Thai police accounts, more than 200 candidates have asked for police protection in the electoral campaign. More than 400 officers were assigned to candidate‘s protection nationwide. Some constituencies proved to be more prone to electoral violence than others. Were placed on a special watch list the following provinces: Narathiwat, Nakhon Sawan and Chiang Rai.
~ 17 ~ considered the most dangerous ones, followed by Bangkok, Khon Kaen, Chon Buri, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Buri Ram, Roi Et, Samut Prakan, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, Ratchaburi, Phuket and Mae Hong Son. In Bangkok, 12 constituencies are on the special watch list, including Laksi, Don Muang, Sai Mai, Bang Khen, Klong Sam Wa, Nong Chok, Bang Khunthian, Bang Bon, Nong Khaem and Thawi Watthana. On the 16th, a second political canvasser (hua khanen) was murdered. After the death of former Pheua Thai MP Pracha Prasopdee, in Samut Prakan last month (10th of May), the Bhumjaithai canvasser Suban Chiraphanwanit and President of the Lopburi Provincial Administration Organisation was shot dead in the very touristic Khao San Road in central Bangkok. A third canvasser, for the Pheua Thai party this time, Suban Chiraphanwanit, was shot dead on the 18th of June in Ayuthaya. On the 19th a M-26 grenade was found near the house of a Bhumjaithai canvasser. The same day, Sophon Songkaew, a key Pheu Thai canvasser was gunned down in Saraburi. The next day, a canvasser for the Democrat Party, Sophon Songkaew, was shot dead in Yala. Quick investigations and arrests followed the wave of election-related violence. On the 22nd of June, the Samut Prakarn Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the suspected murdered of former PheuaThai MP Pracha Prasopdee, Sirapong or Somboon Archadej. He is also suspected to have a connection to the killing of Bhumjaithai canvasser. Two men were later arrested and detained in this criminal case. On June 27, another Bhumjaithai canvasser was shot dead in Ratchaburi province. He was also a TAO chairman. Electoral violence primarily directed towards political party canvassers is common in the lead-up to general elections in Thailand. The United Nations Development Program meanwhile released a study report on Understanding Electoral Violence in Asia, published on June the 30th. It called the various parties to abide by a ―Code of Conduct for the General Election 2011‖
Court cases - Red-shirts On June 2, 17 UDD core members were summoned to hear lèse-majesté charges. Of the 17, 9 are candidates for the July 3 election and 8 are core UDD members. They are accused of insulting the monarchy during a rally held to mark the first anniversary of last year's April 10 crackdown on the red-shirts. The 17 are Thida, Weng, Natthawut Saikua, Korkaew Pikulthong, Karun Hosakul, Yossawaris Chuklom, Wuphuthalaeng Pattanaphumthai, Veerakarn Musikhapong, Chinnawat Haboonpat, Wichian Khaokham, Suporn Atthawong, Kwanchai Sarakham, Prasit
~ 18 ~ Chaisisa, Laddawan Wongsriwong, Somchai Paiboon, Payap Panket, Jatuporn Prompan and Nisit Sinthuprai. Two of them, Jatuporn Prompan and Nisit Sinthuprai are being detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison after their bail was revoked by the Criminal Court on May 12 for breach of their bail conditions, namely to refrain from inciting unrest and getting involved in political activities. However both of them, charged with terrorism in connection with last year‘s AprilMay riots, took part in the red-shirts April 10 rally and made speeches deemed offensive to the monarchy. None of them will be able to vote in the upcoming election. Thus, they should be declared ineligible, according to the Political Party Act 2007, which states that exercising one‘s right to vote is a mandatory condition for being allowed to stand for election. If the cases of these two core red-shirts leaders are very much publicized and addressed at red-shirt rallies and get a lot of media coverage, the judiciary procedures in which other nonVIP red-shirts are embattled since last year‘s crackdown did not get much attention over the last year. In Ubon Ratchathani, at the occasion of a visit by the soon-to-become Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the plight of many red-shirts supporters behind bars or fighting their cases in relation to last year‘s protests was unveiled. Twenty of them were denied bail the day when Yinglusck came to campaign in the province, what triggered a bit of media coverage. The strong linkage between the red-shirts and the Pheua Thai party can be illustrated by the financial support and legal assistance that the party provides to the political movement. Still in connection with last year‘s riots, two red-shirts were sentenced to a six-year jail term on the 27th of June for carrying explosives and liquor on the 17th of May near Ratchaprasong.
Southern insurgency Daily violence in the three southernmost provinces continued unabated throughout the month of June. On the 1st of June, in Yala, a district chief and a defense volunteer were killed in a bomb explosion. Another attack in Yala procvince took place on June the 22nd. A former assistant to a a village headman was killed. The previous day someone else was shot dead in Raman district.
~ 19 ~
Foreign Business Act The Commerce Ministry is reportedly considering seeking to amend the Foreign Business Act provisions concerning foreign shareholdings in companies; Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Polabutr reportedly complained that the law currently focuses on factual figures rather than the sense of ultimate ownership. The matter came to prominence recently when TrueMove filed a complaint with Crime Suppression Division that foreign-owned DTAC was operating in violation of the law. TrueMove filed complaints with the National Telecommunication Commission, the Crime Suppression Division, and the Business Development Department, accusing DTAC of violating the Foreign Business Act, Article 8 of the Telecom Business Act, and Article 84 (1) of the Constitution by being foreign-owned (the latter accusation may be somewhat of a stretch, as Article 84 (1) asserts that the state should not engage in enterprise in competition with the private sector, which TrueMove argues should also apply to foreign enterprises competing with Thai businesses). DTAC insists that its shareholding structure complies with Thai law. Acting Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlabutrâ€˜s has ordered that the DTAC be pursued for violating the Foreign Business Act by exceeding the 49 percent limit of foreign shareholding; he made the order after an investigative committee concluded that seven Thai juristic entities that hold DTAC shares were registered through the use of nominees. The director-general of the Business Development Department, under the Commerce Ministry, however, is reportedly defying Alongkornâ€˜s order, calling the instruction an illegitimate direct political intervention. BDD director-general Banyong Limprayoonwong said that Alongkorn has no authority or obligation to force the BDD to accuse a company of being foreign-owned.
Car crash scandal New developments occurred in the high-profile criminal case involving a 17-year old girl crashing a car into a public minivan killing nine people in December last year. The Juvenile and Family Court prosecutor announced on the third week of June that he will file charges of reckless driving causing deaths and injuries and using a mobile phone behind the wheel against the 17-year old girl who was involved in a fatal expressway accident last December 27.