Monthly Archives: May 2012

Self-Promotion: New WSJ Southeast Asia Real Time Story on Scuffle in Thai Parliament

The story is here, and begins:

Thailand boosters may have hoped the World Economic Forum on East Asia now under way in Bangkok would be a chance for the country to put its best face forward after years of political unrest and last year’s devastating floods.

Instead, visitors on Thursday awoke to news of a bizarre scuffle in Parliament that only served to remind people of how far Thailand has to go to resolve its deep political divisions.

The piece includes some embedded videos of yesterday’s events. Worth checking out.

UPDATE: The story has been updated to include today’s happenings.

AOT Expanding Suvarnabhumi by One Third

2012 05 30 suvarnabhumi

As if there weren’t enough happening here in Thailand at the moment…

Here’s an announcement that will be welcome news to travelers:

The AOT says it’s expanding Suvarnabhumi international airport by one third.

Reuters reports:

Airports of Thailand Pcl is to spend about $1.9 billion over the next five years to expand capacity at Bangkok’s overcrowded Suvarnabhumi airport by a third, its president said on Wednesday.

AOT AOT.BK, which runs the country’s six main airports, aims to boost capacity at Suvarnabhumi by 15 million to serve up to 60 million passengers in 2017, Anirut Thanomkulbutra told reporters.

The $4 billion airport, which opened in September 2006 on what was once flooded marshland known as “cobra swamp”, is expected to serve about 51 million passengers in AOT’s fiscal year ending in September 2012, up from 48 million a year earlier and above annual capacity put at 45 million now, Anirut said.

Construction is due to begin in 2015.

The Nation has more details.

For what it’s worth: I understand that Suvarnabhumi’s immigration system has been streamlined recently, and that lines are much shorter now.

(Image: Wikipedia.)

Suspended Sentence for Chiranuch “Jiew” Premchaiporn

The AP says:

A Thai court sentenced a local webmaster Wednesday to an eight-month suspended sentence for failing to act quickly enough to remove Internet posts deemed insulting to country’s royalty.

The ruling showed leniency against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who faced up to 20 years in prison for 10 comments posted on her Prachatai website, but still sends the message that Internet content in Thailand must be self-censored.

Elsewhere, @Saksith has more details in his live-blog of the verdict.

UPDATE: The New York Times has a story headlined “Google and Rights Groups Condemn Thai Court’s Conviction of a Webmaster.” It says:

Google and human rights groups reacted strongly on Wednesday to a Thai court’s decision to convict the webmaster of an Internet message board for comments posted by users that insulted the Thai royal family.

Courts in Thailand have with increasing frequency jailed people convicted of lèse-majesté, as royal insults are known. But the verdict on Wednesday was different: Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who was sentenced to a suspended one-year prison term, was not the author of the offending comments. She managed the Web site that hosted them.

Taj Meadows, a spokesman for Google, said in an e-mailed statement that the verdict was “a serious threat to the future of the Internet in Thailand.

“Telephone companies are not penalized for things people say on the phone and responsible Web site owners should not be punished for comments users post on their sites — but Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act is being used to do just that,” Mr. Meadows said.

The Computer Crimes Act is controversial in Thailand partly because it was enacted by an unelected government installed after the military coup in 2006. The act also has a far-reaching extraterritorial feature built in: an American citizen was sentenced to two and a half years in prison last year for uploading from his computer in the United States a translation of a book banned in Thailand. He was arrested during a visit to Thailand.

There’s also an updated AP story. And coverage from VOA, Reuters, and more.

Aung San Suu Kyi Arrives in Thailand

First post about one of the many happenings this week:

Aung San Suu Kyi arrived here in Bangkok last night on her first trip outside Myanmar in 24 years.

The AP has the backstory:

For 24 years, Aung San Suu Kyi was either under house arrest or too fearful that if she left Myanmar, the government would never let her return.

Now, in a sign of how much life there has changed, the democracy activist and long-time political prisoner is resuming world travels, arriving Tuesday night in neighboring Thailand after an 85-minute flight from her homeland.

In a story headlined “Amid Disorganization, Aung San Suu Kyi Visits Thailand,” The New York Times reports:

“We’ll have to play it by ear, I guess,” said Thani Thongphakdi, a spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry.

He was referring to the visit of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s democracy movement and a newly elected member of Parliament who arrived in Thailand on Tuesday. Ignoring a row of photographers awaiting her, she left the airport quickly without commenting.

A trip outside Myanmar is a personal milestone for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi — her first journey abroad in 24 years. But planning it appears to have been an afterthought. For example, no one from her office contacted the Thai Foreign Ministry, which normally coordinates such high-profile visits. “As far as I know, we have not been approached by her team,” Mr. Thani said a few hours before she was to land.

The Wall Street Journal says:

During her visit to Thailand, Ms. Suu Kyi will encounter the economic transformation that has changed the face of Bangkok and much of the rest of Southeast Asia during her time in Myanmar, also known as Burma. While Thailand and other neighboring countries have ratcheted up decades of rapid growth, Myanmar remains an impoverished backwater, cut off for years by strict sanctions from the U.S. and European Union and beset by power outages and crumbling infrastructure.

And:

Global business leaders gathering in Bangkok for the World Economic Form meetings will likely seek assurances from Ms. Suu Kyi about doing business in the country and attempt to learn more about what kind of policy agenda she might pursue in Myanmar’s Parliament.

This morning Suu Kyi spoke to a large gathering of migrant workers from Myanmar in Samut Sakhon, outside Bangkok.

For images and text dispatches, see Tweets from Anasuya, Zoe Daniel, and Jonah Fisher.

Particularly memorable is this image, snapped by Zoe:

2012 05 30 assk samut sakhon

(All emphasis mine.)

(Image: Zoe Daniel, on Twitter.)

Self-Promotion: New WSJ Southeast Asia Real Time Story on Return of Banned Thai Politicians

The story is here, and begins:

A five-year ban on 111 Thai politicians linked to exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is set to expire Wednesday. The potential effect that the legislators’ return could have on the government of Mr. Thaksin’s younger sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, remains unclear.

Thailand News: The Week Ahead

2012 05 29 assk

There’s lots on tap here in Thailand over the next few days:

  1. Aung San Suu Kyi arrives in Bangkok tonight on what will be her first international trip in 24 years. Reuters has a scene-setter. Suu Kyi will be speaking at the World Economic Forum on East Asia, which runs from tomorrow (Wed.) through Friday. Here’s the gathering’s program of events (PDF file).
  2. A verdict is due tomorrow (Wed.) in the lèse-majesté case against Chiranuch “Jiew” Premchaiporn. Al Jazeera has a video report on her case and the lèse-majesté issue. Chiranuch faces 20 years in jail.
  3. The yellow shirts‘ People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), according to The Bangkok Post, will rally tomorrow (Wed.) against the government’s reconciliation bill. The Post says: “The government is confident that this week’s World Economic Forum on East Asia will proceed smoothly despite the spectre of mass street protests…” (For the record, it is unclear how many supporters might turn out for this rally.)
  4. Also tomorrow (Wed.), a five-year ban on 111 ex-Thai Rak Thai politicians expires. Al Jazeera has a story. More on the subject in my next post.
  5. And finally, there’s this: The Bangkok Post says Thailand’s intellectual property department “will submit a letter to the US ambassador in Bangkok voicing its concern over pop princess Lady Gaga’s tweet about buying a fake Rolex in the city.”

Stay tuned…

(Image: Reuters.)

Thai King to Travel to Ayutthaya

The AP reports this afternoon:

Thousands of Thais lined roads in Bangkok and near the historic capital Ayutthaya on Friday to see the country’s 84-year-old monarch on his first trip outside the capital in almost three years.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej actively worked for decades on behalf of the country’s poor but has almost disappeared from public life since he was hospitalized in September 2009 for what the palace called a lung inflammation.

Since then he has had a variety of ailments and has lived in a royal wing of Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital, leaving only on rare occasions and always in a wheelchair.

The Bangkok Post has a story and photos of the crowds.

(All emphasis mine.)

UPDATE, May 27: The New York Times ran a story Friday about the trip.

Lady Gaga Arrives in Bangkok

2012 05 24 lady gaga bkk

Take note: One of the world’s biggest pop stars has arrived in the Thai capital.

Above is a snapshot of today’s Bangkok Post front page.

The Post reports:

Lady Gaga arrived at Don Mueang airport in her private jet late Wednesday, and was greeted by a large crowd of fans before her Friday evening concert in Bangkok.

She immediately tweeted:

“I just landed in Bangkok, baby! Ready for 50,000 screaming Thai monsters. I wanna get lost in a lady market and buy fake Rolex.”

There’s also a video clip of her arrival, embedded above and on YouTube here.

Regarding the singer’s choice of attire, @Binderdonedat riffed thusly:

(Style mavens and hard core Gaga fans can see more photos of her outfit here.)

(All emphasis mine.)

Thai Airways President Fired: News Round-Up

2012 05 23 thai airways piyavasti

Here are a few stories about the firing Monday of Piyasvasti Amranand, head of the country’s flag carrier, Thai Airways.

The official MCOT reports:

The board of directors of Thailand’s national flag carrier Thai Airways International (THAI) on Monday terminated the employment contract of President Piyasvasti Amranand, a decision which stirred outrage among the company’s labour union members.

The THAI board resolved with 12 out of 13 members voting to end the employment contract of Mr Piyasvasti, effective next month and that he will be compensated with six months of his current salary, altogether estimated at Bt6 million.

Citing communication problems as the main reason to sack Mr Piyasvasti, board chairman Ampon Kittiampon explained that the panel made its decision although Mr Piyasvasti had passed his performance assessment with a high score.

Reuters says:

The board of Thai Airways International Pcl sacked its president because of disagreements over strategy, a move that could derail the flag carrier’s attempts to return to profit and which is being questioned by its labour union.

Piyasvasti Amranand, a former energy minister, became president in October 2009 when the opposition Democrat party was in power. He has shaken up the airline and launched cost-cutting measures, including reductions in the salaries of senior executives. Thai Airways is 51 percent owned by the Finance Ministry.

Bloomberg reports:

Thai Airways International Pcl (THAI) Chief Executive Officer Piyasvasti Amranand thought his annual review went well. That didn’t stop the board from firing him.

“I just want the board to explain the reason,” Piyasvasti said at a media briefing yesterday. “It’s ambiguous. The performance of the company during my term has improved in every aspect and I passed the evaluation at 86 percent.”

The board of Thailand’s biggest airline cited a breakdown in communications with Piyasvasti for terminating his contract after three years. Piyasvasti oversaw a fleet modernization and cost cuts in 2009 that helped Thai Air rebound from its largest ever loss the year before to a record profit in 2010. The carrier slipped to another loss last year as fuel costs surged.

Communication problems between Piyasvasti and the board were hampering the company’s effort to meet a profit target of 6 billion baht ($192 million) to 7 billion baht this year, Chairman Ampon Kittiampon said yesterday. Ampon confirmed that Piyasvasti passed the company’s annual performance evaluation.

And:

“The reasons that the board gave, that I have communication problems and differences of opinion with the board, are so strange,” said Piyasvasti, a former energy minister. “I am not that surprised, because the current political environment is like this.”

Elsewhere, BP asks:

Was the removal of the Thai Airways President political?

BP notes that Piyavasti’s wife, according to local media reports, is Anik Amranand:

She serves on the Board of Directors of the Democrat Party and has been an Abhisit adviser. From her parliamentary profile:

Advisor to the Leader of the Opposition (2005-2006)
Expert to the Member of the House of Representatives (2008)
Member of the Advisory Council for Democrat Party (since 2008)
Member of the House of Representatives, Democrat Party, Proportional Representatives, Changwat Cluster 6

BP: She became an MP at the 2011 election, but as you see she has been working officially for the Democrats for a while. This is her prerogative and BP is not suggesting any conflict of interest, but he was appointed by the previous government and his wife is a Democrat MP who has acted as an advisor to Abhisit. Are these not relevant? Heavens above, if the situation was reversed we would have congratulatory stories of a Puea Thai crony being removed after losing over 10 billion Baht last year,* but BP finds it odd in stories about whether he was removed for political reasons that there is no mention of his wife…..

[UPDATE: The answer to the question in the headline is a ‘yes’]

*Obvious factors of the loss are the high oil prices + bad economy so not necessarily down to him, but if he had been making record profits year after year then it would have made it difficult to sack him. He wasn’t though….

(All emphasis mine.)

(Image: MCOT.)