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11. TPO- November 2011

In November, the two main issues on top of the public debate were (1) lessons to be learnt from the flood experience and (2) the royal pardon to be granted on the anniversary of His Majesty the King on December the 5th. The issue of the article 112 of the Criminal Code, or lèse-majesté law, brought on the table of political reform by a group of Thammasat law lecturers and revived by a 20-year-jail sentence handed to a 61-year old (3) and the need to build a reconciliation process (4) also gained increased momentum this month.

I.

Foreign affairs

Visit of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Bangkok on November 16. They met with Yingluck Shinawatra and also visited flood-hit areas and refugee centers for flood victims. A sentence Ban Ki-Moon said in Thailand was echoed everywhere in Thailand “I have emphasised the importance of learning lessons from this mega flooding".

At the occasion of these high-profile visits, Jatuporn Prompan, core member of the UDD and Pheua Thai MP, also jailed for his involvement in the protests, wrote a letter he submitted to the UN chief. The letter asked the UN chief to ensure justice for 91 people who died during the red-shirt protests last year and the more than 2,000 others injured during the military crackdown in April and May by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

II.

Domestic politics

Reshuffle The reshuffle of people and allocation of political positions that traditionally follow any government change unfolded this month with the reshuffle of provincial governors and other Ministry of Interior officials. On November the 15th, 34 transfers were approved.

Reconciliation – Amnesty On 15 November the Cabinet approved a decree on royal amnesty for convicts. Each year, for the celebration of the anniversary of His Majesty the King, on December 5, massive royal pardons are granted. This custom has been in place for a long time, and such pardons are granted on royal birthdays and other such occasions, with large pardons on


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especially auspicious occasions. This tradition has become part of the administration of prisons, as a way to lighten sentences that are comparatively very long in Thailand. The Cabinet meeting was chaired by Chalerm Yubamrung, a strong and fierce proponent of an amnesty for Thaksin Shinawatra, because Yingluck was said to be stuck in the provinces due to lack of available helicopters to get her back to Bangkok in time. This situation was widely commented upon by analysts, and criticized by the opposition as an attempt to let the Cabinet draft a law, without the presence of Yingluck, to whitewash Thaksin Shinawatra and allow him to come back to Thailand as a free man. This incident was depicted in some media as a set-up, citing evidence that Yingluck was prepared to spend the night out of Bangkok (i.e clothes to get changed). Among voiced concerns were the one that the return of Thaksin would again push people into the streets and set in motion yet another round of violence. Sonthi Limthongkul, a core member of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) even said that “The draft royal decree seeking amnesty for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is intended to break the rule of law and apply pressure on His Majesty the King,”. (Bangkok Post, 16/11/11) He threatened to take action on that matter. In the first stage, the amnesty was supposed to apply to people aged over 60 sentenced to three or fewer years imprisonment. This would then apply to Thaksin. However, according to the regulations on royal pardon, pardoned people should have spent at least some time in prison. Also, according to the opposition, certain crimes are not eligible for royal pardon: they are drugs and corruption cases. The opposition claimed that the fact that Yingluck was not there at the Cabinet meeting was intentional, so that she does not take the blame for trying to craft a decree to help her older brother. Besides the Democrat party and the PAD, other groups voiced their firm opposition to that decree. Among them, the Network of Volunteer Citizens to Protect the Land submitted a petition to the Office of the Council of State against the draft royal decree for King's Birthday pardons on November 17. Academics also joined the anti-amnesty movement. On November 17, 88 lecturers from seven universities signed a letter opposing the decree. They included professors from Mae Fah Luang University, Sukhothai Thammathirat University, Thammasat University, Prince of Songkla University, the National Institute of Development Administration, Chulalongkorn University and Srinakharinwirot University.

In response to this barrage of protests, Chalerm Yubamrung, deputy prime minister said that the amnesty would not benefit only one person but about 26,000 convicts. Later, Thaksin himself issued a handwritten statement saying he would not accept any benefit from such an amnesty because of his desire to see reconciliation in Thailand. “To get the country out of this crisis, (including both flood and political crisis?) unity and reconciliation among Thai people are needed” Finally, the name of Thaksin was not included in the list of convicts presented for royal pardon to the King. However, the government never denied that one of its goals was to find a way to bring Thaksin back home.


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For instance, Chalerm Yubamrung admitted Thaksin may not be able to return this year and added that other cases are still pending against him. Therefore, it serves little purpose for the government to push for a royal pardon for Thaksin at this stage. He said he is waiting for the right time to push for the amnesty law. He said he had to go ahead with a bid to bring Thaksin back home at some point, as he had made a promise to do so during election campaigns. This all amnesty/not amnesty issue showed that even in November 2011, under a Pheu Thailed government, Thaksin’s return still had the potential to create heated conflict. Thaksin reportedly said at a press conference in South Korea "So I would not go back home until the reconciliation really happens," (,23/16/11, Channel News Asia)

Reconciliation- Set up of a panel On November 17, the House of Representatives set up a parliamentary committee to study ways to bring about national reconciliation in Thailand. The committee is chaired by Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Mathuphum party leader and MP, and the leader of the coup d’etat that ousted Tkasin on September 19, 2006. Members of the House panel include Gen Sonthi; secretary general of the National Security Council Pol Gen Wichean Potephosree; Khattiya Sawasdipol, daughter of the late Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol; and Natthawut Saikua, a Pheu Thai list MP and co-leader of the red-shirt United front for Democracy against Dictatorship and former TV presenter.

Reconciliation: Investigation into the deaths during last year’s crackdown Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung had transferred the responsibility of the probe into last year’s death from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to the Metropolitan Police Bureau. The DSI had concluded that for 16 cases, the deaths were caused by state officials’ bullets. The Police Metropolitan Bureau achieved some progress this month and reportedly forwarded some of its findings to prosecutors. Never in Thai history has a case involving responsibility of the army progressed that far. The imminence of the announcement of the Police Metropolitan Bureau, expected for early December, was the focus of much interest. In any case, the findings will then be transferred to the DSI, under the direction of the same Tharit Pengdit who handled the first attempt at truth-finding.

Court cases: red-shirts Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, a core member of the June 24 Democracy Group and supporter of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), was denied bail on the 1st of November. Court cases are still the major daily mobilization motive for the red-shirts. On November 24, Thida Thavornseth submitted a petition to the Justice Minister Pracha Promnok expressing four demands:


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(1) acknowledge that all detained political crime suspects are entitled to bail by the Rights and Liberties Protection Department. (2) if a political crime suspect has not been bailed, they should be held in an appropriate prison and receive different treatment from general criminals. (3) delay any verdicts as the country is still in political transition and the rule of law is not firmly established. (4) reconsider charges against political prisoners that might have been too excessive. Ms Thida also called on the Rights and Liberties Protection Department to examine differences between the Corrections Department and the UDD with regards the number of detained red-shirt supporters eligible for bail. The UDD has 101 names compared to 70 on the Corrections Department list. Freedom of expression The draft legislation to amend the Printing Act of 2007 was withdrawn after the Council of State advised it would be in breach of Section 45 of the constitution. The cabinet then asked the Culture Ministry to withdraw the bill from the House of Representatives for further review. The amendment, approved on October 18, would have made the national police chief head the censorship board, a move criticized as empowering the government to take control of the media. Lèse majesté Unlike previous lèse majesté cases involving Thai anonymous nationals, the verdict in the case of Ampon Tangnoppakul was not handed down unnoticed. He was sentenced on Nov 23 to 20 years in jail for sending four text messages disparaging Her Majesty the Queen to the personal secretary of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in May 2010, as the government was cracking down on red-shirts in Bangkok. Mr. Ampon could not prove his claim that he did not know how to use a cellphone. Social critics, human rights defenders and progressive students questioned the court for not following the principal of presumption of innocence. Instead of relying on the plaintiff proving wrongdoing by the defendant, the verdict found the defendant could not prove his innocence.

Budget The House of Representatives on the 10th of November passed the first reading of 2012 fiscal Budget Bill proposed by the government in a 237 to 2 vote, with 177 abstentions. The parliamentary session ended on November 29.


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III.

Floods

By the beginning of the month, floodwaters from the northern runoffs had reached the Lat Prao intersection, in Viphavadi Rangsit Road, directly threatening the Chatuchak market. They almost reached the FROC, relocated from inundated Don Muang to the Energy Complex building of the Energy Ministry. It started to recede in other provinces and by the end of the month, the situation went (almost) back to normal in the capital. As the waters gradually receded, attention turned to post-flood rehabilitation efforts.

Floods- the “Big Bags” issue What became known as the Don Muang “big bags” incident hit the headlines all month through. The 2.5-tonne bags were placed to prevent floodwaters from Don Muang to from flowing down Viphavadi-Rangsit road to inundate inner Bangkok. But these big bags also prevented water from draining out of the Don Muang area, which remained flooded up to two and a half meters in places for a month. Hundreds of angry residents started to remove these big bags and to protest against the policy not to release the water. The governor was quoted as saying that "The Don Muang residents don't want to remove all the big bags. They only want some of them removed to relieve their hardship. They don't want inner Bangkok to be flooded and they are ready to sacrifice for the majority of the people in Bangkok," (Bangkok Post, 14/11/12) According to media reports, city authorities and 20 flood-hit communities in Don Muang finally came to a three-point agreement on the 'big bag' barrier problem, 1. If the flood level in Bangkok recedes and the removal of big bags has no impact on other areas of the capital, residents of Don Muang want the present gap in the sandbag wall to remain open. 2. If the opening of the big bag barrier causes flooding in inner Bangkok, authorities can close the gap and build a dyke to control the amount of water being released, and to drain wastewater in Don Muang.

3. If the big bag issue could not be settled, a joint committee should be set up by the BMA and the Don Muang people to work out the problem. Don Muang residents later issued six demands that were to be accepted by the FROC in the last week of November. Demands are summarized below 1) Froc must install 30 additional pumps to drain the runoff from Khlong Prem Prachakorn to Khlong Rangsit and further to the Chao Phraya River.

2) Froc must rapidly remove garbage and other things obstructing the draining efforts. 3) It must rapidly build "big bags" floodwalls on the banks of Rangsit canal to prevent the runoff from overflowing onto Vibhavadi Rangsit Road.


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4) The floodwalls on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road must be removed and the highway opened for traffic. 5) Froc should implement additional measures to rapidly drain the runoff from the eastern part of Bangkok.

6) Froc should come up with clear-cut remedies to assist the flooded communities outside the big bag floodwalls.

Floods- relocation of the city Following the flooding, the idea of relocating the capital city Bangkok to another area less prone to flooding, an idea which had floated for quite a few years now, resurfaced during the floods. Twenty MPs of the ruling Pheu Thai Party asked for an urgent debate the set up of a committee to study the possible relocation of the capital to another province less prone to flooding. The 20 MPs were led by Sathaporn Maneerat of Lamphun province. According to the motion, Bangkok is sinking about 20cm per year. Together with global warming and higher sea tides, Bangkok could be submerged. Therefore, the capital should be relocated from Bangkok to a more suitable province, which may be Nakhon Nayok, close to the Suvanaphum airport, Phetchabun, or elsewhere.

Floods – accusations of current and former government’s mismanagement An ABAC poll revealed that the majority or 80.3 per cent of the people polled believe politicians were involved in corrupt practice in connection with the distribution of flood relief supplies to flood-hit victims. Suriyasai Katasila, a yellow-shirt core activist, asked the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate the government for alleged mismanagement of the flood crisis. Meanwhile, former senator Ruangkrai Leekitwattana has filed a petition with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) asking it to investigate former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for alleged negligence and mismanagement of water resources at the Bhumibol and Sirikit dams, right before the July 3 election. A censure debate against FROC operations director Justice Minister Pracha Promnok for his mismanagement of the flood crisis, was launched by the opposition on November 27. The opposition accused him and FROC of mismanagement and corruption in the procurement of relief supplies, with the attackers dwelling on why a local MP rather than some FROC official signed to procure mosquito netting. Government MPs countered by accusing the Democrats of various levels of wrongdoing from ineptness to deliberate attempts to use their closing days in office to make likely flood problems worse so the next (Pheu Thai) government would have difficulties. (Somewhat more interestingly, outside parliament maverick opposition MP Chuwit Kamolvisit made accusations before the press about Banharn Silpa Archa exercising illegitimate authority in his province to protect it from flooding even though this aggravated the situation downstream--the Democrats as opposition


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leader would not allocate parliament time for Chuwit to air his accusation.) Pracha survived the debate with the support government and coalition MPs--Democrats and Bhumjaithai voted against him but lacked the numbers to impeach. He received 273 votes of support, with 188 against, five abstentions and 15 no-votes.

Floods- Death toll and economic damage According to the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department, a total of 562 people were confirmed dead in the floods. Damage is high, not only in monetary terms (estimated at billions of baht) but also in political terms, the flood management with no doubt affecting the credibility of the government. All 77 provinces of Thailand were affected either directly or indirectly and in total 36 out of 50 districts in the capital city were also submerged. Hundreds of thousands of people were left unemployed and many displaced to refugee centers, for stays up to a month. With damage to industry, tourism and agriculture, the Thai Chamber of Commerce estimates the total flood costs will be around $11bn. A total of seven industrial estates and parks in central Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani provinces were inundated, causing initial loss of about $3.3 billion.

Policy response: (1) Water management Following the spectacular cooperation problems in the flood crisis, the Pheua Thai government set up a Strategic Committee for Water Management, comprising 24 water experts from various agencies. A multi-billion-baht project to create a ''flood route'' to speed up water drainage to the sea was proposed as a measure to prevent crisis as severe as this one from happening again. According to the Bangkok Post, the proposed flood route would be about 300 kilometres long and lined by concrete walls about 1-2 metres high. It will start in Nakhon Sawan province, passing through the central provinces and down to Samut Prakan or Samut Sakhon provinces. It will serve as an extra waterway to carry water down to the sea during the wet season, Suphot Tovichakchaikul, deputy permanent secretary for natural resources and the environment, is the initiator of this project. If implemented,it will affect many communities with expropriations tempered by compensation payouts, .

Policy response: (2) Compensation scheme The government announced a compensation scheme for households affected by floods, a mere 5,000 THB per household. It was considered by many victims to be “not sufficient� to make up for the real damage, given the fact that many were not being given a warning early enough to save their properties. Factories were not given any additional amount.

November2011  

November2011

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