Here come the judges
The Nation - 29 April 2006
Political cultures don't evolve at an even pace. They
amble along most of the time then change rapidly in periods of exceptional
stress. For Thailand this is such a period.
There's no cause
for surprise or dismay. Over the last generation the economy has
quintupled in size, borders have come down, the social profile has been
transformed, aspirations have multiplied and new conflicts have emerged.
The political culture is stumbling to catch up.
This week the
judiciary was summoned to play a greater role in the political life of the
nation. His Majesty the King said: "Supreme Court judges have the right to
talk to other courts, the Constitution and administrative courts. There is
nothing to forbid this. The Supreme Court has the right to speak out, to
make rulings. Thus I request you consider matters and consult with other
judges, with the Administrative Court, about what should be done."
Up to now the
courts have played a very limited role in Thai politics compared with
other democracies. There are no precedent-setting judgements punctuating
Thailand's political history. Prior to the last few days most people would
not have known the name or face of a single senior judge.
Constitution was supposed to be framed around the principle of the
separation of the three major powers, executive, legislative and
judiciary, but the charter concentrated heavily on the first two of these.
For providing checks and balances on the executive, the charter did not
look to the existing judiciary but rather set up a raft of new
"independent bodies", including a Constitution Court outside the
mainstream judiciary. The charter seemed to confirm the judiciary's
exclusion from a political role.
In the main
academic study of the 1997 Constitution ("Reforming Thai Politics", edited
by Duncan McCargo), the judiciary does not merit an entry in the index.
The new administrative courts are mentioned only once in the study,
without comment or analysis. They were not rated as a significant part of
importance of the judiciary is a result of what has happened since.
became far too powerful. Thai Rak Thai's election victory and acquisition
of minor parties reduced the legislature to a purely decorative role.
Thaksin argued that an executive legitimised by election was supreme and
the independent bodies had no right to impose checks and balances: "It's
strange that a leader who was voted in by 19 million people has to bow to
organisations composed only of appointed commissioners and judges, whom
people do not have a chance to choose."
The key weakness
of the Constitution proved to be the fantasy that an apolitical Senate
would appoint members of "independent bodies" who were truly independent
enough to act as checks on the executive. It took around a year to
organise a government majority in the Senate through money and patronage.
This majority has been maintained and probably strengthened in the new
Senate by investing up front in the local networks that manage elections.
The checks were cancelled and the balances overturned.
We have seen the
consequences in the Election Commission's conduct of the recent poll. It
destroyed the principle of the secret ballot, connived in wholesale fraud
over candidacies, handed down rulings that effectively legitimised
vote-buying and repeatedly broke its own rules and regulations. In the
service of the executive, this body has undermined all the principles for
which an independent commission was created.
People have not
automatically turned to the judiciary as a counterweight to the overly
powerful executive, simply because there is no such tradition from the
past. Rather the exact opposite happened. The overly powerful executive
tried to recruit the judiciary to crush attempts to monitor and criticise
the executive's actions. This resulted in the epidemic of defamation suits
that broke out last year and the rash of lese-majeste suits in recent
political role of the judiciary had begun to change even before the royal
summons. Most attempts to use the courts to harass and intimidate critics
have failed. Judges have quietly rejected many of the defamation actions.
In the high-profile case of Shin Corp against Supinya Klangnarong, the
judges not only threw out the case but also wrote an eloquent and
precedent-setting ruling upholding the principles of free speech and the
public right to criticism.
has been the role of the administrative courts. These were created under
the 1997 Constitution but with a major difference from the "independent
bodies". They are part of the mainstream judiciary, with only some minor
special features. The commission overseeing the appointments of
administrative judges has three members appointed by the legislature, but
the other 10 are judges elected by their peers.
This makes the
administrative courts free from the political-patronage networks that have
ensnared the 1997 Constitution's "independent bodies". The administrative
courts have used this independence to hand down several bold rulings. They
have taken decisions on grounds of "public interest", most strikingly in
the case involving Egat privatisation.
courts shied away from such rulings, hiding behind the idea they could
decide only in favour of directly injured parties. This was a major reason
the courts did not have the same impact in Thai politics as in other
democratic systems. That is now changing.
amendment of the Constitution should take the judiciary more seriously as
a way to balance the executive, but if the political role of the judiciary
is set to expand, there is a need for internal changes. The judiciary was
not subject to the reforming impulse of the 1990s. The courts are
overloaded. Procedures are primitive. Legal education is narrow.
will be strengthened if the courts play a bigger role as upholders of the
rule of law in the political jungle. This could be a major outcome of the
current crisis, but the judiciary will have to reform itself to perform
this role well.
Chang Noi - The
Thaksin's incredible farewell
Persuading Thailand's strongman to let go of political
power won't be easy despite this week's messy election. Peter
Alford reports from Bangkok
IS he really gone? On Tuesday night, Thaksin Shinawatra
told the nation he would resign as Thailand's Prime Minister as soon
as a new leader was in place. But even that was too long a wait to
shake off the dust of Government House.
Thaksin walked out of the prime minister's office the next day,
telling his colleagues not to expect him back. He embraced distraught
supporters outside the ruling Thai Rak Thai party headquarters.
He remains acting Prime Minister but in form alone, Foreign
Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said after Thaksin's last cabinet
meeting. A new cabinet would be submitted to King Bhumibol Adulyadej
in May, but Thaksin's name would not be on the list.
"At that moment he will be completely out of the Government,"
Kantathi tells Inquirer.
Several of Thaksin's closest colleagues, including Agriculture
Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan and government spokesman Surapong
Suebwonglee, burst into tears when Thaksin told cabinet on Wednesday
morning it was goodbye time.
Why then, after such a leave-taking, do so many Thais doubt they've
seen the last of the strongman who contrived to be the best-loved as
well as one of the most loathed leaders in modern Thailand's history?
Because he will continue leading a party that is likely to have at
least 400 MPs out of 500 in the new parliament. Because Thai Rak Thai
is his creation, as are many of its policies.
Because for five years he has enjoyed the awesome authority and
commercial synergies that came from being a domineering PM as well as
one of the kingdom's richest men.
Because many Thais genuinely love the man and in last Sunday's snap
election majorities in the populous and poor northeast and the north
demonstrated overwhelmingly they still want him as leader.
This is not a man for quiet retirement, argues former senior
senator Kraisak Choonhavan, son of the last prime minister to be
overthrown by the Thai army.
"This guy is probably the toughest case of one of the worst kinds
of politicians we have had in Thailand's modern history."
Like many who tried to use constitutional means to curb him,
Kraisak thinks the job of disentangling Thaksin from power has barely
started. "Our constitution was not written with a person such as
Thaksin in mind."
But when the "people's constitution" was passed in 1997 with the
express purpose of curbing political abuses of power, many people
thought it would do precisely the opposite. Drafted into General
Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's last cabinet, the Shin Corp tycoon made
acceptance of the new charter a condition of joining.
Major-General Chamlong Srimuang, as deputy prime minister in 1994,
asked the unelected Thaksin to be foreign minister. Chamlong was
impressed by Thaksin's brains, directness and particularly his ideas
for using economic and social policies to lift up the poor.
Chamlong in 2001 accepted a job as adviser to the new PM, but he
grew doubtful and then angry during Thaksin's second term. In January,
after the fateful Shin Corp sale, Chamlong led his "Dharma army" into
the People's Alliance for Democracy campaign against his former
protege. It was a moral duty, he said. "And I think there is a need
for me to criticise his faults because I am the one who took him into
Modern Thailand has had headstrong leaders and clever leaders, but
they were rarely the same person. It has had prime ministers who
became astonishingly rich in office but never before one who arrived
in power as a super-tycoon. No elected Thai prime minister before
Thaksin in 2001 had obtained a single-party majority or completed a
four-year term. Then, in February last year he won an unprecedented
377-123 parliamentary majority. Thaksin's first term was a dynamic
contrast to the exhausted Democrats, who'd steered Thailand back from
the 1997-98 regional financial crisis.
He began stimulating the domestic economy to reduce Thailand's
excessive, dangerous reliance on export industries. For the poor, he
implemented the long-promised "Bt30 health scheme" (no consultation or
treatment in the public system to cost more than 30 baht, about $2)
and village funds channelling cash directly into rural communities.
He embraced globalisation, multilaterally through the World Trade
Organisation as well as in a regional agreement and with a slew of
bilateral free trade agreements. He signed his first FTA with John
Howard in Canberra in 2004. But there was always the dark,
There was the seventh-month "war on drugs" in 2003 in which the
police slaughtered more than 2200 actual and accused traffickers.
There was the botched security policy in the southern provinces that
helped re-ignite a violent Muslim insurgency.
And there was always Shin Corp.
The computer company Thaksin started while still a police colonel
morphed into a telecommunications group in 1990.
He won a sole concession to build and operate a state-of-the-art
900MHz mobile phone network, paying in return heavy concession fees to
the government. He also got a 30-year exclusive licence to operate a
commercial satellite service.
The deals epitomised the Thaksin method: build new-generation
businesses as close to government and as protected from competition as
possible. By 2001, Shin Corp was dominant in handphones, private
television, internet services and satellite services.
But Thaksin's previous attempt to juggle Shin Corp and his
political ambitions had returned to haunt him. The National
Counter-Corruption Commission indicted him on corruption charges for
hiding part of his Shin Corp wealth in his ministerial asset
statements for 1997.
In January 2001, while Thaksin was awaiting parliamentary
confirmation, the Constitutional Court voted to accept the NCCC
indictment. Thais gasped - mostly in horror - as the unprecedentedly
popular new PM faced a five-year political ban. Seven months later
many gasped again when the court voted 8-7 to acquit, though even
Thaksin had made preparations for a "holiday from politics".
"The behaviour of the Constitutional Court was the most serious
mistake that Thai politics suffered," says Kanin Boonsuwan, one of the
constitution drafters who is now a candidate for this month's Senate
election. "Five years ago, I argued the proposition that we must
choose between the person and the system. We chose the person and we
lost the system."
From then on, conflict-of-interest considerations were elbowed
aside, along with the efforts of a minority of senators, often led by
Kraisak, to bring the Thaksin ministry to book. The watchdog
authorities quailed and began, in some cases, behaving coarsely
Last year the National Constitution Commission became practically
defunct, after all nine commissioners were removed for illegally
voting themselves a big pay rise.
Before he became PM, Thaksin had put his Shin Corp interests at
arm's length and they were officially controlled by his wife, Pojaman,
son Panthongtae, first daughter Praethongtharn, and members of
Pojaman's Damapong family. But Shin Corp kept up its dealings with the
The Board of Investment gave an established Shin Corp satellite
affiliate, IP Star, an eight-year tax holiday on offshore earnings and
imported equipment. The value of this treatment, usually available
only to new businesses the government wanted to foster, was estimated
at 16.4 billion baht.
In late 2003 a regional budget airline took off from Bangkok, aided
by the Thai Government's removal of floor price restrictions on
tickets, grant of cheap landing rights and the receipt of several
lucrative routes from state-owned carrier Thai Airways. The new
player, Air Asia Aviation, was 51 per cent owned by Shin Corp.
So it came to pass that on January 23 this year the Shinawatra and
Damapong sold their combined 49.6 per cent stake in Shin Corp to
Temasek Holdings for 73.3 billion baht. The Singapore Government
investment company then moved to take full control.
The sale was preceded by a flurry of transactions, in some cases
involving a tax haven company, Ample Rich, that since 1999 had been
one means of keeping Thaksin's family legally separate from large
blocks of Shin Corp shares. Panthongtae and Thaksin's youngest
daughter Pinthongtha bought shares from Ample Rich at 1 baht apiece
that would be sold three days later to Temasek at 49baht).
Days before the deal, a legislative amendment lifting the permitted
level of foreign ownership in Thai telecom companies was gazetted.
Mysterious Singapore-controlled but nominally Thai-owned companies
emerged with Shin Corp shareholdings to help Temasek keep just below
the general 49 per cent foreign investment ceiling.
The families' sell-out was completed on the sharemarket to legally
avoid capital gains tax. The Stock Exchange of Thailand pronounced
itself generally satisfied with the peculiar way control changed in
one of Thailand's most important companies. An investment arm of the
Singapore Government had acquired a group of strategic Thai businesses
stuffed with valuable government concessions, licences and
It was his children's idea, Thaksin said blithely. They thought the
sale would finally rid him of those conflict-of-interest smears.
"The kids would like their dad to devote himself completely to
politics. The kids know their dad is working and they want Dad to do
his best at work."
Unfortunately for Dad, the plan had come to fruition at a juncture
when many Bangkokians were thinking they'd just about had a gutful of
It was a further mistake for the Prime Minister to try to clear the
air with a snap election that, in part because of the opposition
parties' boycott, immediately became a referendum: Thaksin or "Thaksin
get out". It detonated an explosion that blew Thaksin off his perch
The critical question now is whether a man with such a hunger for
control can step back from public life when the rest of the apparatus
of influence he constructed remains in place? Can those institutions
that so blatantly failed to curb him during his prime ministership now
The first test comes on April 19 with the election of a new Senate,
which is supposed to be free of party or government interests and to
protect the independence of statutory bodies such as the
Constitutional Court and the NCCC.
The last Senate became so spineless that when one respected member
accused another of offering a large bribe, the presiding officers
refused even to investigate.
Kraisak, who has just finished his six-year Senate term, is glum.
"Out of 200 people in the old Senate, maybe 40 were reliable and
independent. From the nominations for this election, wives of
politicians and the like, I would say next time it will be no more
than 10per cent. Thaksin may resign, yes, but our work has only just
EDITORIAL THE NATION - 28 March 2006
Titanic struggle to save democracy
Prem's casting of an advance ballot is symbolically
significant but shouldn't be seen as discouraging
No one says achieving fuller democracy is going to be easy. Thailand's
political system appeared to be at its most volatile deadlock yesterday,
and disturbance looks set to escalate. TV footage showing Privy Council
President Prem Tinsulanonda casting an advance vote for the April 2 snap
election all but eliminated chances of a royal intervention in the present
political crisis, at least for the time being.
controversial election, it seems, will go ahead despite lingering
questions and looming uncertainties. It may be hard for the People's
Alliance for Democracy to accept, but Prem was sending a message: the time
is not right for a royally appointed prime minister, unless something
really, really bad happens.
is already bad, but apparently the Privy Council, reported to have
informed His Majesty the King of the PAD's petition for a royal appointee
to lead Thailand temporarily through this turmoil, believes it is still
within democracy's self-correcting mechanisms to straighten things out. An
election, a fundamental process of democracy, is under way and there is no
way any kind of interference, no matter how well intentioned, can escape
serious scrutiny and criticism.
Most of all,
ballot-box democracy is based on the one-man-one-vote principle. The PAD
may have been equipped with all the voices that "matter", but Thaksin
Shinawatra, somewhat ironically, is using one of democracy's key features
to his best advantage. With continued strong backing from poor people, he
managed to keep all opinion leaders in the land and the disillusioned
middle class at bay. It's like he is saying: "If you think you are
democratic, how can you ignore the voices of the likes of taxi
motorcyclists and farmers who support me?"
The dilemma is
highly complicated. Thaksin's charismatic appeal has changed a decades-old
pattern of Thai politics: the grass roots elected governments, and the
middle class overthrew them. But not this time - or at least not yet.
If the Privy
Council has really decided against a royal intervention, which many
experts believe is allowable under Article 7 of the Constitution, its
move, though lamentable as far as the PAD is concerned, is understandable.
What constitutes a "political crisis" that warrants invocation of Article
7? Corruption? Every government is corrupt, more or less. Dictatorship?
Thaksin has just called a snap election.
what Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has to say about this has not been
widely publicised. At his party's rally at Sanam Luang on Friday, the
young politician hit the nail on the head when he took pains to explain
why trying to stop Thaksin is not stopping democracy. According to Abhisit,
there are times when a man's power can outgrow the system, and that's what
is happening in this Kingdom. Democracy, he insisted, is not just about
elections, but also about good checks and balances, which have been all
but wiped out by an elected leader.
Thais are facing
a virtually unbreakable paradox. How can we salvage democracy if
attempting to get rid of its alleged destroyer is perceived as rolling
back the nation's democratic progress? It can be that complicated, or it
can be this simple: Thaksin is not democracy. Abhisit points out that he's
just a man who is rich, powerful and smart enough to exploit our fledgling
but flawed system. Strong democratic principles and effective checks and
balances would end Thaksin's career at the first scrutiny, when he was
found to have stashed huge chunks of his assets in servants' and secret
accounts and failed to report them to the anti-graft agency.
Looking at the
bright side, the Privy Council, if it has made up its mind, is giving
democracy one last chance to heal itself. After all, the system is not
just about the election. The large numbers of people gathering around
Government House yesterday and over the past few days are also an
essential part of democracy. Maybe the uprising against Thaksin is a sign
that "real" democracy is struggling to shake itself free from misrule and
exploitation. All we can do is hope the process is not too violent or
13 March 2006
At 8pm on Sunday
night Thailand's TV Pool (which ensures that for state events all Thai tv
networks carry the same footage simultaneously) broadcast His Majesty the
King's mediation in the political turbulence of May 1992.
lasted for 8 minutes. The day after the 1992 meeting and broadcast the
then Thai Prime Minister resigned.
On February 4
this year caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin suggested in his radio address
to the nation that he would only step aside if HM King "whispered to me
that it's time to go."
Was last night
that whisper? Or was it a wish that tomorrow's major protest is carried
out peacefully? Or indeed as Thaksin's supporters suggest, was it simply a
request for all sides to seek mediation.
The TV Pool
anchorman gave the strongest indication in his introduction when he said
that the Royal audience from 1992 was being replayed with particular
regard to the current political situation.
7 March 2006
The woes and
confusion of this Thai political stalemate are all too evident in the
conflicting interpretation of two ABAC polls at the weekend.
In the Bangkok
Post the ABAC survey said quit.
In the Thai News
Agency Abac survey there was strong support for Thaksin not to quit.
Thailand - write the story first; or make sure you ask the right question
of the right people. In the end both polls are completely meaningless.
Waht is amazing is that the same polling organisation can be manipulated
to produce two totally different results at exactly the same time to suit
whoever has commissioned them.
Nearly half the people in greater Bangkok questioned in the
latest Abac Poll survey want caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
to resign to end the political stalemate.
The Abac Poll centre of the Assumption University surveyed 2,175
eligible voters in greater Bangkok yesterday and found that 48.2% wanted
the prime minister's resignation to end the political turmoil, 35.5%
wanted him to stay and 16.3% did not offer their views. Three other
surveys in early February found 14-15% of the respondents wanted Mr
Thaksin to quit. The percentage rose to 39.1% in a survey on March 1, and
to 48.2% yesterday."
Thaksin should stay
(TNA) - A new public opinion poll by the Abac Poll Centre provides strong
support for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to resist calls to resign,
and remain as leader of the Thai Rak Thai Party.
The poll, conducted on Saturday among 1,284 people 18 and over, in and
around Bangkok, found 47.5% believed Mr Thaksin should not end his
political career - while 28.9% said he should."
Bangkok Post Editorial - 7 March
Thaksin must get serious. The country, and particularly
Bangkok, paused for an anxious moment again on Sunday night and early
yesterday. Yet another major demonstration was on, yet another late-night
march, and with passions and tension running high. Once again, the tens of
thousands of protesters demanding the political scalp of Prime Minister
Thaksin Shinawatra concluded a peaceful rally. But much of the credit has
to go to the hard-working security agencies, in particular the police.
They were out in force on Sunday, and all night as well, mostly unarmed
and always assuring the safety of both the demonstrators and bystanders.
Unfortunately, professional performance by the police is not moving the
political problem towards a solution. Premier Thaksin has taken to
countering the huge rallies of his opponents with large crowds of his own.
Like all prime ministers of the past, as well as the dictators, Mr
Thaksin and his supporters have been able to draw crowds of supporters,
although many believe the numbers swell because people are paid to attend.
That may be true, but it is already clear that the prime minister is not
about to give in to the singular demand of his opponents and resign. In
his Chiang Mai speech last Saturday, the premier rubbed it in. In the
recent past, he claimed, prime ministers have given in to the demands of
the mob, "But I won't."
That sort of brusque dismissal of his opponents is precisely what has
landed Mr Thaksin and the nation in its current, terribly divisive state.
In some five years in power, the premier has never considered the views of
those who honestly disagree with him. Instead, he has waved away contrary
thoughts and opinions. Those who voted for him would receive the rewards,
the others could wait. He has become one of the worst dividers in the
admittedly brief history of Thai democracy. Most politicians echo their
constituents' calls for talks, negotiations, and a middle ground when one
is available. For Mr Thaksin, every issue has been a matter of his way or
The premier believes that by obeying the law, he can return to power.
But even many of his strongest supporters in the provinces have openly
questioned the confrontational approach. Mr Thaksin opened his election
campaign at Sanam Luang last Friday _ technically, of course he was just
communing with voters _ with some promises. Some were impressive. He will
not serve unless he and his Thai Rak Thai party receive more than 50% of
the vote on April 2. He is willing to delay the election. He begged the
opposition to field candidates. He will begin a process of political
reform and constitutional amendments, resign within a year and hold
Seldom has talk been so cheap. Mr Thaksin's promises to the friendly
Sanam Luang crowd are as full of air as any other trial balloon. For one
thing, if he were to receive less than half the votes in the next
election, he would have no authority to serve. But no one has been able to
figure out just what political reforms he is committing to. Indeed, since
the main defence of his current conduct is that he has acted legally in
his share sale and dissolution of the Lower House, why would he support
any changes to the law or the Constitution?
Mr Thaksin will receive little trust until he comes clean on this. It
is one thing to make lightweight bombast to a cheering election rally. It
is another to sit down with hard-talking academics, newsmen or a religious
council and swear to follow an actual reform plan. But if Mr Thaksin wants
respect and credibility, this is exactly what he must do.
The danger is that Mr Thaksin has lost too much respect to recover with
a serious reform plan. His promise to appoint a committee is empty
rhetoric. The begging for an end to the opposition's election boycott is
just crocodile tears. The CEO owes his stakeholders a concrete plan, and
he must back it up with a traditional Thai oath. The alternative seems to
be continuous discord, with opponents calling for the head of a prime
minister trying to bluster his way through a crisis.
Mar 2nd 2006 | BANGKOK
From The Economist print edition
minister meets implacable opposition
DETERMINED to cling
to power despite a growing clamour for his resignation, Thailand's prime
minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has made a series of tactical retreats.
First, in January, he sold his family's media and telecoms empire, Shin
Corp, to a Singapore government agency, hoping to blunt the opposition's
main line of attack—that he was abusing his powers to benefit his
businesses. But when it emerged that the Thaksin clan had exploited legal
loopholes to avoid tax on the $1.9 billion they raked in from the sale,
the calls for him to go only got louder. So he called a snap general
election for April 2nd—three years early—arguing that his critics were an
unrepresentative bunch and that the Thai people as a whole should be his
But his opponents
are proving as implacable as Mr Thaksin is immovable. The three main
opposition parties announced on February 27th that they would boycott the
elections—which they would probably lose, given Mr Thaksin's continued
support among poorer, rural Thais. A few hours later at a rally in central
Bangkok, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD),
a supposedly grassroots anti-Thaksin movement backed by business and
political barons who have fallen out with the prime minister, issued an
ultimatum: if Mr Thaksin did not quit altogether by Sunday (March 5th), it
would step up its protests, a move that could lead to blood on the
streets. Mr Thaksin countered by announcing a rally of his own supporters,
to be held in Bangkok on Friday, heightening the danger of violence.
position has been weakened, and PAD's strengthened,
by the defection of the prime minister's former mentor, Chamlong Srimuang,
an ascetic ex-general and Buddhist sect leader. He was one of the driving
forces behind the bloody but ultimately successful 1992 popular uprising
that brought down the then military government. He promises his “Dharma
army” of monks and nuns will not start any trouble but his reassurances
are not wholly reassuring. There has been talk of a possible military
coup, but the commander of the armed forces insists that his men will
bloodshed—whoever starts it—may very well be blamed on Mr Thaksin. If so,
it might make his downfall inevitable, just as street violence brought
down the government in 1992 and, before that, in 1973. So, on February
28th, the prime minister gave ground once again. He said he was prepared
to postpone the election if the three opposition parties wanted that; and
he offered to discuss their demand that his Thai Rak Thai party sign a
pact with them, pledging to create a “neutral” panel of experts to draft
constitutional changes (the opposition has been vague on just what changes
The opposition had
used Mr Thaksin's initial refusal to sign such a pact as their excuse for
boycotting the elections. However, Korn Chatikavanij, the deputy leader of
the Democrats, the largest of the opposition parties, says the prime
minister's change of mind has come too late and there is now nothing,
short of Mr Thaksin's resignation, that would persuade them to call off
the boycott. It is better, Mr Korn argues, to stay out of a political
process that the prime minister has “corrupted and warped”.
Thai voters, and
the outside world, may think rather that the boycott amounts to a
dereliction of the opposition's duty to take part in the democratic
process. If the election goes ahead, Mr Thaksin will gain an even bigger
majority than he has now, and will have to contend only with the few tiny
parties that are not joining the boycott. But Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a
political analyst who notes that the opposition parties have enough money
to fight only one election campaign, reckons they may be saving up for yet
another election. This one might come soon, after the protesters have
finally forced Mr Thaksin out. If the Democrats and their allies do
eventually gain power, they can hardly complain if a time comes when
violent, unrepresentative mobs one day try to force them out of office.
Editorial - London Financial Times - Published:
March 3 2006 02:00
less than a month ago, it seemed a fair bet that Thaksin Shinawatra,
Thailand's embattled prime minister, would ride out the political storm
over his and his family's financial dealings. That looks less certain now.
Tactical misjudgments, sustained attack by a re-energised opposition and
mounting popular anger have left him cornered and fighting for his
The uproar is
about far more than his family's failure to pay tax on the $1.9bn sale of
its stake in the telecoms company he founded. The incident has ignited
smouldering resentment at Mr Thaksin's style and methods of government,
plunging the nation into political flux. Resolving the crisis is the
biggest test yet for Thailand's young and still fragile democratic system.
minister has sought to regain the initiative by calling a snap election.
His opponents insist he must first accept constitutional reforms to make
him more accountable. He has rejected the demands, prompting opposition
parties to say they will boycott the polls - a step that, under Thai law,
could invalidate the result.
The ethics of a
boycott by parties that claim to stand for constitutional propriety are
questionable. Their move also smacks of opportunism, because Mr Thaksin's
rural support virtually guarantees his re-election. However, they have put
him on the spot. For that, he ultimately bears much blame.
against him is not that he gained power by unfair means, but has exercised
it arrogantly and autocratically. He has used his electoral mandate, not
to build consensus, but to impose authoritarian rule and to bludgeon
opponents into submission. He has weakened the apparatus of the state by
stacking supposedly independent institutions with yes-men and even placing
senate members on retainers. Admittedly, in Thailand's cronyistic
political culture, there have been many willing recruits. But a more
enlightened leader would have sought to strengthen the country's frail
institutions, rather than bend them to his own purposes.
should make it obvious, even to Mr Thaksin, that he must change course if
he is to restore his political legitimacy. As a minimum, he should commit
himself to implementing the opposition's main demands for constitutional
amendments - particularly to subject him to proper parliamentary scrutiny
and to require that key appointments to state bodies be made impartially.
needs a leader with a different style, who recognises that, in properly
functioning democracies, he has a responsibility to govern in the
interests of all the people, not carte blanche to rule by personal whim.
It is not yet clear whether a chastened Mr Thaksin can or will mend his
ways - or whether another leader is required to do the job. But either
way, the current deadlock must be broken swiftly. The country cannot
afford, politically or economically, for it to drag on for long.
It's all over, Prime Minister Thaksin
Time for the super CEO to call it a day - for the
sake of the company
The Nation - front page comment. 2 April 2006
This is not the time to debate whether you should have paid taxes. Or what
you set up Ample Rich for. Or whether the election boycott is right or
wrong. Or whether you have given the country more or less than what you
have taken from her. We've gone way past such matters. With the nation on
the brink of violent confrontation, this is the time to think, with a
clear conscience and true patriotism, about what you should do next and
It's over, Mr Prime Minister. If you insist it is not,
there will only be dire consequences, and not for any particular
individual but our whole country. "Thak-sinomics" and Thailand have gone
as far as they can. There are some good legacies after five years, but the
fact that two major social forces are set to collide is the best testimony
that your system does not suit the entire nation. You were a great CEO, so
you should know better than anyone what should be done if a firm's
employees are split and at each other's throat.
Yes, it's bottom-line time. A good CEO wouldn't dwell on
which side he is on, but only how to save the company. And if the CEO knew
it was him who caused the detrimental divide, what would he do? Should he
persist on proving that he's right and set both camps on a war-path, and
endanger the entire firm? Or should he make the biggest sacrifice by
stepping aside and seeing how things go without him?
The nation is in turmoil, and this is totally because
one group believes you are a liability, and the other thinks you are an
asset. We don't need to list here who are on which side, but it's so
obvious that those who are against you are not a one-dimensional movement
driven by malicious political purposes. It consists of several social
spheres which are unanimous, solid, sophisticated and believe they have
good reasons to reject your rule. And until they see the end of your era
these forces won't stop their campaign.
What will Thailand's CEO do? The bottom line is no
longer his own survival. The country faces a serious threat of political
violence that could severely hamper progress. Major policies are now in
limbo because the other side does not trust you. Urgent reform is
impossible while the other side considers you the root cause of the
present political crisis. The economy will be held hostage by never-ending
It's time you made that ultimate sacrifice, the one
every leader who loves his country is supposed to make. Never mind that
you have been accused of thinking about yourself and serving just
yourself. There's still time for you to show that you are a leader who
really cares - and be remembered that way.
Thaksin is doomed, say diplomats
Daniel Ten Kate - ThaiDay Online
1 March 2006
It is highly unlikely that caretaker Prime Minister
Thaksin Shinawatra will reemerge as the country’s leader, foreign
diplomats said yesterday, while acknowledging that the outcome of the
political crisis was difficult to predict.
“I don’t see any exit strategy that enables Thaksin to continue as prime
minister,” said a European diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We understand the opposition’s right to boycott the election, as well as
the prime minister’s view that he is playing by the rules. But, on a
practical level, the crisis has passed the point of no return, and the
general feeling is that the prime minister will have to leave soon.”
Though Thaksin’s position appears untenable, some foreign observers
caution that predictions are useless as Thai politics always contains an
element of surprise. Nonetheless, the conflict appears to have no obvious
solution, and a prolonged debacle could further undermine the country’s
fledging democratic institutions and deter investment in the country and
“What’s happening now in two ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian
Nations) countries, Thailand and the Philippines, is not looking good for
investment in the region as a whole,” an ASEAN diplomat said yesterday.
“When investors look at Southeast Asia, they look at the entire region.
They don’t make a distinction between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, so
this could hurt all the ASEAN countries.”
While the conflict may be complicated, diplomats were quick to say that
neither side was right or wrong. Thaksin has legitimate claims to being a
democratically elected leader, while the opposition is within its rights
to boycott the election.
“Thaksin is caught between a rock and a hard place,” a Western diplomat
said. “On the face of it, going to the people for a mandate is not a
terribly unattractive way to solve the problem. But then again, the new
institutions are not working the way they were intended to under the 1997
Constitution. Even so, in the West it would probably require more
substantive allegations to cause the fall of a government.”
Violence can never be ruled out, the diplomats said, but the possibility
of it occuring is much less likely than a decade ago. Most of the
speculation is because past crises have involved bloodshed, which is not
necessarily a proper bellwether for the current stalemate.
If the election takes place in accordance with the Constitution, the
international community will have to accept it. And as long as the
opposition plays within the rules, the boycott is perfectly democratic.
As Thaksin’s current problems stem from his family’s 73.3-billion-baht
sale of its Shin Corp stake to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, some
diplomats fear that the conflict may result in anti-foreigner sentiment.
At many of the rallies held by the People’s Alliance for Democracy,
speakers have accused Thaksin of “selling off” the country to foreigners.
Moreover, as the crisis focuses so much on so-called ‘moral legitimacy’
and raises the prospect of palace intervention, some diplomats worry that
a new wave of nationalism will sweep the country. Thais may reject
comparisons with Western democratic systems and hail their own traditions
under the country’s constitutional monarchy.
“The crisis may cause Thais to become nationalistic and
introspective,” said a foreign diplomat. “With the concept of ‘moral
legitimacy’ comes a certain concept of ‘Thainess,’ and they may tell
foreigners to butt out by saying: ‘How dare you judge us?’ That attitude
may prevail in the future.”
Or maybe two elections in 180 days
1 March 2006
The Nation newspaper is reporting that caretaker Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will announce on Friday that the new House
would spend 180 days to amend the Constitution after which another snap
election will be held.
A high-ranking source from the Thai Rak Thai Party told
the Nation that Thaksin would make the announcement during the rally at
Sanam Luang which the Thai Rak Thai would hold to show of support for the
embattled prime minister.
"The prime minister will make it as a pre-poll promise
to have the Constitution amended within 180 days after the election," the
source said. "Then, he will dissolve the House and call a snap election
under the rules of the amended Constitution. The announcement will be a
The question is how can it be a second snap election if
you announce it 180 days in advanec
Yes - there
will be a boycott
27 February 2006
This will be a very strange election - or there will be
no election. Thailand's three
main opposition parties will boycott a snap election called by Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for April 2, and have refused to attend a
meeting they demanded with the premier tonight.
While Thaksin had agreed to meet the leaders of
Thailand's opposition Democrat, Chart Thai and Muan Chon parties tonight,
he had indicated he would not sign an agreement to change the constitution
as they had demanded.
opposition boycott election?
The three Opposition parties failed on 25 February to
agree unanimously on a proposal to boycott the April 2 snap election, but
will hold another press conference to reveal their latest position after
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a press
briefing the parties will jointly discuss means and ways to counter what
he branded the illegitimate House dissolution by Prime Minister Thaksin
House Dissolved: Thai Election set for 2 April 2006
24 February 2006
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced a House
dissolution on Friday evening after being granted an audience with His Majesty
the King. Thaksin entered the Chitralada Palace at 5 pm to be granted the
audience and left the palace shortly before 6 pm.
The prime minister then went to the Thai Rak Thai party head office and told
reporters there that he had received a royal command to dissolve the House of
The prime minister make the formal announcement of the House dissolution at
8.30pm on nationwide TV. What is telling is that Thaksin has felt the need to
call an election at this time. Thaksin won a landslide majority at Thailand's
general elections on 6 February 2005. Thaksin's party, Thai Rak Thai ('Thais
Love Thais'), took 377 seats, nearly four-fifths of the seats in the House of
Representatives. His working majority is huge and a vote of no confidence is a
waste of breath.
Government House is reported as saying that Thaksin wants the snap election to
be held as soon as possible on either on April 2 or April 9 (not April 1st as
one wit has already suggested).
The snap election could be the most effective option for Thaksin and his Thai
Rak Thai Party to survive the current wave of opposition. Firstly no dissident
TRT members will be able to elope to another party and stand for election with
another party; the constitution requires 90 day membership of a political party
before an election. So potential defectors will need to stay loyal to remain in
parliament and in power
TRT is also likely to maintain and fund its strong support
from voters in rural Thailand. Yet TRT may win no seats in Bangkok; which is the
economic heart of Bangkok. It is a strange system where the government of the
nation is not elected by the people who are at the heart of Thailand's economic
What Thaksin will do is unclear. Will he remain as leader. Can
he be a three term Prime Minister. He is already Thailand's first two term Prime
Thaksin had yesterday rejected a rumour he would dissolve the
House of Representatives and call a snap election by May. 24 hours is a long
time in politics.
Most importantly of all; the bars will all be closed the night
before and the night of election day so that we may all vote wisely and soberly!