Saturday, 6 August 2011

Yingluck confirmed as Thailand's first female PM

BANGKOK, August 5, 2011 (AFP) - Yingluck Shinawatra was confirmed as Thailand's first female prime minister on Friday, faced with the daunting challenge of bringing stability to the kingdom after five years of political turmoil.

Yingluck, sister of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, retained an air of calm confidence after she won a parliamentary vote to become premier with the support of 296 members of the lower house out of a potential 500.

The country's 28th prime minister, who was catapulted from relative obscurity to election victory by her older brother's support, can expect royal endorsement within days to formalise her position.

"I am excited to start work," she told reporters after the vote. "People will judge whether my work satisfies them and meets their expectations or not."

Yingluck's Puea Thai party and its partners command a three-fifths parliamentary majority after a resounding victory in the July 3 election over the pro-establishment Democrats.

The 44-year-old surprised observers with her assured campaign style and she has since consolidated her parliamentary dominance by forming a six-party coalition that accounts for 300 of the legislature's 500 seats.

Yingluck, described by her brother as his "clone", on Friday again rejected suggestions that Thaksin, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, is controlling her party from afar.

Asked if she was in contact with her brother, she replied: "No, I am not talking to anyone."

Thailand has seen a period of instability since Thaksin, the only prime minister in the country's history to win a second term, was removed from power in a 2006 military coup backed by Thai elites.

A group of around a hundred of his "Red Shirt" supporters gathered outside the parliament building ahead of the vote on Friday morning, many wearing their signature coloured tops bearing pictures of Yingluck's face.

Yingluck is expected to face pressure from the mainly poor and working class Reds, many of whom support Thaksin for his populist policies during his 2001-2006 rule.

The movement, which has key representatives in Yingluck's party, will expect justice over its April and May rallies last year that ended with a military assault and more than 90 people dead.

Analysts believe a key test for the fresh-faced political newcomer will simply be whether she can hang on to power in a country where the removal of leaders is commonplace.

Thailand has seen 18 actual or attempted military coups since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 and only one prime minister in that time has served a full four-year term -- Thaksin.

"We are still in the middle of a very big conflict in the country with very different ideas about what government should be, and what it should be doing," said Thai political analyst Chris Baker.

Baker said her parliamentary majority -- along with the weakened state of the nationalist and anti-Thaksin "Yellow Shirt" protest movement and a lack of public support for the army -- will give Yingluck "breathing room".

Vote-grabbing promises, such as a minimum wage hike and higher rice prices for farmers, were a nod to Thailand's less economically fortunate, but the Bank of Thailand warning they could stoke inflation.

Yingluck, who said she would work on finalising her cabinet over the weekend, said her first thought would be the poorer in society.
"Our first priority is to solve the high cost of living for people," she said.

Boys on the side

Yingluck joins elite club of female leaders; vote ends her luxury of silence on key issues; first challenge will be to prove her independence

They always come by accident. Corazon Aquino, Benazir Bhutto, Sirimavo Bandaranaike or even Aung San Suu Kyi - you name it. Female leaders rise to power (or folklore in Suu Kyi's case) rarely in normal circumstances. Something bad needs to happen to their loved ones to act as an unlikely but effective catapult.
Yingluck Shinawatra joined the exclusive club yesterday and immediately stood out thanks to her unique character. The aforementioned ladies were combative one way or the other. They adapted to politics quickly and became a rallying cry largely on their own. None was bad-looking, although none can throw away the political hat and immediately start a new career as a cover girl.
Thailand's first female prime minister is young, pretty, fashionable and a bit shy. She virtually cat-walked her way through the election campaign, perhaps talking less than her big brother did from exile over the past two months. But that's probably the point. Yingluck's biggest political asset, at least for now, is that she seems non-confrontational by almost all accounts.
Whether her family name - the only thing confrontational about her - will destabilise her government and cut short a fairy-tale political journey remains to be seen. But her "Shinawatra" surname is a big deal, something so controversial it has all but overshadowed her being a woman, young and virtually clueless about politics.
We have heard different stories concerning her business profession. Admirers talked about a decisive boardroom executive who was "soft on the outside but tough within", who listened to various thoughts before making her own decisions. Given the Shin Corp empire's standing before the political hurricane blew it away, it would be hard to argue against Yingluck's pre-politics record.
Detractors quipped that it was harder to fail than to succeed at Shin Corp when it was at the peak of its business and political dominance. Yingluck, they claimed, could practically sleepwalk through management and still grab top executive awards.
Arguably, the same could be said about her dreamlike election campaign. But again, there are two ways to look at it. Either she was helped by big forces already in great momentum and all she had to do was wave and smile, or her non-provocative waves and smiles helped put Pheu Thai back in power today. Would it have been this smooth with Pracha Promnok or Mingkwan Saengsuwan? It's a question worth pondering, but they are men, to begin with.
The good news is, Yingluck obviously has strong political assets. A humble, female character in the spotlight against the backdrop of cut-throat politics threw enemies and rivals off guard. Pracha or Mingkwan would have been left nearly dead by the "amnesty" issue, whether Pheu Thai had won the election or not.
The bad news is, assets and liabilities switch sides all the time in politics. As a prime ministerial candidate and political newcomer, Yingluck got away with her silence on important issues. That luxury evaporated yesterday. Her being a woman may have been a factor in Pheu Thai's triumph, but, as Sudarat Keyuraphan, a foremost female politician, told The Nation, the political line between love and jealousy or hatred is very thin.
Sudarat was there before, and knew that politics would first pretend to embrace a promising female newcomer, only to take her down on issues that men would easily survive. Family problems, for example, are a non-issue for male politicians, but they could be amplified and kill their female counterparts. "Society looks as though it's ready (for female political leaders), but truth is we have to watch out much more than the boys do," Sudarat said. "I've lost count how many scandals they tried to link me with."
Yingluck's first challenge is to prove her independence, and this is not a feminist phrase. Too much shadow of her big brother and her dream political journey can easily turn into a nightmare. As Thailand's first woman leader, she will come under close watch, whether that's fair or not. But as Thailand's first woman leader who is Thaksin Shinawatra's sister, scrutiny will duly come.
Politics' first date with Yingluck has concluded successfully. July 3 meant she passed the test and yesterday meant an appointment was made for the sake of a long-term relationship. A timid, attractive female politician has taken the centre stage. The first thing she must be aware of is that this is a place where boys won't stay on the side too long, her big brother included.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Army Chief Denies Talks with Thaksin

The army chief says he has never contacted ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra to lobby him over the nomination of the new defense minister.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha insisted he has never talked with ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra or any party about the appointment of General Yutthasak Sasiprapa as defense minister.

Prayuth said the selection of the defense minister depends on the government’s decision and the army has no power to bargain.

He said both outgoing Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan and former army chief General Anupong Paochinda are eligible candidates for the post.

He added the rumor that Thaksin will use the defense minister post to bargain for his return to the country without being jailed is impossible given the matter must proceed under the law.

The general suggested the next defense minister should be capable, experienced and well abreast of the current situation.

He maintained he will discuss the nomination for the post only with the people who can make a decision about it.

Prayuth went on to say he is ready to meet Pheu Thai’s prospective premier Yingluck Shinawatra as he has said he can talk with any party after the election and all MP-elects are endorsed by the Election Commission

He said criticism against Yingluck's administration should be made after it is given some time to work.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Swedish national nabbed on 20 million krona fraud case

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BANGKOK, Aug 4 – Thailand’s immigration police on Thursday arrested a Swedish man who has been hiding in the kingdom for nine years after eluding warrants in Scandinavian countries on 20 million krona fraud case.

Carl-Gustav Alexander Tartagni was arrested in Prachuab Khiri Khan's seaside resort of Hua Hin after concerned agencies in Scandinavian countries sought cooperation from Thai police to arrest him.

The Swedish national is a wanted suspect charged with conspired with bank officials in Sweden to hack the banking system, changing purchase orders of bank clients' accounts and transfering their money into his own bank account, causing damage to several companies in Scandinavian countries, valued at 20 million krona or about Bt100 million.

Mr Tartagni fled to Thailand nine years ago and has no permanent job here.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

City Braces for Possible Floods

People along the Chao Phraya River are taking precautions to protect themselves and belongings from possible flash floods while the Drainage and Sewerage Department director insists that the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is capable of handling the flood situation.

Experts have predicted that the huge amounts of water are going to swamp Bangkok after storm Nok Ten has swept past the country.

Consequently, people along the Chao Phraya River are rushing to move their possessions to higher grounds.

People are becoming concerned as the water level have risen dramatically.

Meanwhile, Drainage and Sewerage Department Director Sanya Shenimitra said that overall, there is nothing to be worried about as the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has already taken precautionary measures, including distributing three million sandbags that will be stacked up to make flood walls.

He expressed confidence that Bangkok would not be severely affected by the swelling river flow.

However, he warned people in many communities along the river to brace for possible inundation.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Jatuporn, Nisit released on bail

The Criminal Court on Tuesday approved bail applications and granted the temporary release for Pheu Thai MP Jatuporn Promphan and red-shirt leader Nisit Sinthuprai.

The bail took place one day after the Election Commission endorsed Jatuporn's MP status following the July 3 vote.

The bond was set at Bt600,000 each. And the bail was granted along with the ban for travelling abroad withough a prior approval.

Before the bail hearing, Jatuporn donated Bt17,000 to free the cattle destined for slaughterhouse.

Defence lawyer Winyat Chatmontri said the defence opted to seek bail in lieu of citing parliamentary immunity because the temporary release would have no time limit while the immunity would last only 120 days as per the House session.

Jatuporn and Nisit was under remand since May on ground for violating their bail condidions in connection with the Apirl 2 rally. Nisit walked into his remand cell for a second time since the last year's riots. Jatuporn was in custody for the first time since he previously cited MP status from the last general election for his release.

For Nisit's second release, the defence argued that his wife was just elected MP, hence there was no reason to suspect risk for fleeing.

Monday, 1 August 2011

New minister must put the country first

Our next foreign minister must be free of party and personal agendas

It used to be called a "Grade C" ministry over a decade ago because no political party really wanted it, due to its small budget when compared to other ministries such as Interior or Agriculture.

But as Thailand and Asean shifted gear in the international forum, trying to move its diplomacy up a notch, the ministry became a more attractive place.

During Thaksin Shinawatra's first term in office, some bigwigs in the Thak Rak Thai Party membership were squabbling over it. But in the end Thaksin gave it to Surakiart Sathirathai, a legal academic who would use the ministry to enhance Thaksin and Thailand's international standing. What was good for Thaksin was good for the country - at least that was the impression generated by the TRT foreign policy camp.

Four years later, Surakiart was kicked upstairs to the post of deputy prime minister. Replacing him was Kantathi Suphamongkhon, one of the founders of the Thai Rak Thai Party. His problem was that he couldn't get out of Surakiart's shadow. Part of the reason was that Surakiart wouldn't let him.

To make matters worse, Kantathi had to make this journey in the hope of getting Surakiart elected to the UN top post, which eventually went to South Korea's Ban Ki-moon. Of course, the whole idea was to satisfy Thaksin's quirky ambition to be respected internationally. Anybody remember the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, or ACD? It sometimes appeared in Asean communiques, probably out of sympathy for the long hours that Thai diplomats put into making this forum, which everybody knew would never amount to much from the beginning.

Unfortunately, Thaksin didn't understand that an international forum doesn't make a man. There is no shortcut to international stardom. He went even further by nominating Surakiart to be the UN secretary-general to replace the outgoing Kofi Annan.

But then there was the famous telex from the then Thai ambassador to Washington, Kasit Piromya. He basically told Thaksin that Surakiart, in the eyes of US President George W Bush was not a "brand name" and that he was "unmarketable" in the areas of human rights, democracy and leadership. Being one of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council, the US had veto power over the post.

Kasit eventually became Thai Foreign Minister under the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration and he made it his top priority to chase down Thaksin, now a fugitive on the run and looking for sympathy from the global community.

But what goes around tends to come around. Kasit made enemies out of Thaksin's supporters when he went on the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) stage and condemned Thaksin's governance, and called the fugitive premier's friend, Cambodian PM Hun Sen, a thug, for scolding Bangkok and dictating terms to Thailand on border security.

Hun Sen hit back and troops from the two countries clashed along the border on several occasions.

But as the Foreign Ministry graduated from grade "C" to a "class A" ministry, government after government used this ministry to enhance their name and political agenda. It never really occurred to them that what's good for their party agenda may not necessarily be good for the country.

This point was clearly demonstrated during the Thaksin administration. The Democrats also paid the price for appointing outspoken Kasit to the Foreign Ministry post as Thai-Cambodian relations took a nosedive. Hun Sen never forgave him.

Bad taste and the wrong choice of words may not be a crime - but they aren't diplomatic.

Time for a wise choice

The incoming foreign minister will face a number of difficult challenges, including whether to comply with an order by the International Court of Justice to withdraw troops from the court imposed "demilitarised zone" at the border adjacent to the ancient Hindu temple of Preah Vihear.

Can the Pheu Thai government convince the Army to go along after they repeatedly said no to the idea of foreign intervention? Surely Thaksin's camp wants to be on good terms with the country's top brass. However, it's one thing to be on good terms, but it's entirely another to let the military dictate foreign policy for the government. Let's hope the incoming administration headed by Yingluck, Thaksin's little sister, has more guts than the previous government in putting the Army in its proper place.

Let's also hope that the incoming administration and foreign minister understand that national interest is not necessarily the interest of the party and its heavyweights.