Monthly Archives: July 2012

Thitinan Pongsudhirak on the ASEAN Cambodia Meeting

2012 07 27 asean map

Thitinan Pongsudhirak has in an op-ed in today’s Bangkok Post about the recent ASEAN meeting in Cambodia. He says:

The post-mortems of the failure by Asean to agree on a hitherto routine joint statement after their 45th Ministerial Meeting are coming in thick and heavy. Recriminations and acrimony are crisscrossing the region, the shockwaves being felt and analysed across the Pacific and to the Atlantic.

The annual ministerial joint communiques are as old as Asean itself. Its unprecedented absence is thus a serious setback for the 10-member organisation, a crucial blow to its credibility and coherence in the lead-up to its much-vaunted Asean Community by 2015. While the diplomatic damage incurred in Phnom Penh will be glossed over in Asean capitals, serious and effective efforts beyond damage-control are needed before the Asean summit and its related top-level meetings with other major partners are held in November.

What transpired in the Cambodian capital on July 13 is still not completely clear and confirmed. But it is widely accepted that Asean’s inability to stand jointly on even a diluted position was attributable to Cambodia’s disagreement with the Philippines and Vietnam. As the rotating chair of Asean for 2012, Cambodia refused to include specific references to the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, which is being hotly disputed by the Philippines and China. Vietnam also wanted to include wording on its right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as sanctioned by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. In other words, both Manila and Hanoi have rejected and challenged Beijing’s claims over practically the entire South China Sea, through which more than half of global shipping passes. Apart from the Philippines and Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also are Asean claimants of parts of the sea vis-a-vis China.

Thitinan says ASEAN’s “regional mix” is structurally different from the recent past” for at least three reasons:

1.

…First, China’s posture is much more assertive and less hedged, as evident on South China Sea issues and beyond…

2.

Second, the US is more engaged as opposed to the previous decade. Its rebalancing means certain Asean members can rely on the US’s new posture to hedge and leverage vis-a-vis China…

3.

Third, Asean’s internal coherence is not what it used to be

Worth a read.

Elsewhere, The Wall Street Journal‘s Southeast Asia Real Time had a story last week on the fallout from the meeting.

(Image: Wikipedia.)

Thailand Police Chief Visits Thaksin in Hong Kong

Here’s a reminder — as if any were needed — of how influential (and controversial) Thaksin Shinawatra remains here in Thailand.

Apparently national police chief Priewpan Damapong recently paid a visit to the exiled former prime minister in Hong Kong. Priewpan was reportedly on holiday and wanted to visit Thaksin — his ex-brother-in-law — on the ousted PM’s birthday.

Priewpan is now taking heat for the one-day trip, with Thaksin critics saying the visit was unethical — and that Priewpan should have arrested Thaksin.

The Bangkok Post reports today:

National police chief Priewpan Damapong has come under fire after leaving the country to meet fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Hong Kong.

Anti-Thaksin critics said Pol Gen Priewpan either breached the law or seriously violated professional ethics in failing to arrest the former leader.

As national police chief, Pol Gen Priewpan had to arrest Thaksin when he met him, they claimed.

Thaksin is in self-imposed exile to escape a two-year prison term for helping his wife purchase a plot of state land in Bangkok during his stint as premier.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung Wednesday responded to the criticism saying he did not think Pol Gen Priewpan violated any law by meeting his former brother-in-law, who is celebrating his 63rd birthday in Hong Kong today.

“Why was it inappropriate?” Mr Chalerm shot back when asked to comment by reporters.

He said Pol Gen Priewpan had taken leave to travel to Hong Kong, and could not be considered to have failed to perform his duty because the national police chief had no duties to perform overseas.

Our laws do not apply in Hong Kong,” Mr Chalerm said.

There’s more from The Nation.

Yellow Shirts Say They’ll Rally If Amnesty Bill Not Withdrawn

There are stories on this news today from The Bangkok Post:

The yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has warned the government that it will stage a mass rally if the reconciliation bills are not withdrawn when the parliament reconvenes on Aug 1.

…as well as The Nation:

The People’s Alliance for Democracy Tuesday called on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Parliament President Somsak Kiatsuranon to withdraw the contentious reconciliation bills to ease the political tensions.

“If the bills are still on the agenda for the next Parliament session convening on August 1, PAD will stage a rally,” PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said after a meeting of the group’s leaders.

…and MCOT:

Yellow Shirt activists of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) threatened Tuesday to rally unless the reconciliation bills currently before Parliament are withdrawn within seven days.

Fabio Polenghi Inquest Begins

The AP reported yesterday:

An inquest began Monday into the death of an Italian photographer killed two years ago as troops quashed a protest by anti-government “Red Shirts” who had occupied a central Bangkok intersection for several weeks.

The sister of slain photojournalist Fabio Polenghi was one of two witnesses to testify in the effort to see who was responsible for the killing on May 19, 2010. Elisabetta Polenghi has visited Thailand several times since her brother’s death to try to secure justice.

Polenghi was shot as he tried to take pictures of the army’s assault on the encampment of Red Shirts, who wanted then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down. At least 91 people were killed during two months of political violence that swept through the Thai capital. They included two journalists, Polenghi and Reuters cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto.

And:

Several investigations, including some by police, determined that many victims were probably killed by soldiers, but no definitive legal findings have been made. Separate public and private investigations into the deaths of the journalists found that evidence suggested they were killed by government forces, but they were not conclusive.

Meanwhile, AFP has a story saying a police official told the inquest he thinks Polenghi was hit by gunfire from the army:

Government troops are believed to have shot an Italian photographer who was killed during mass opposition street protests in 2010 in Bangkok, police told an official inquest in Thailand on Monday.

Police Colonel Suebsak Pansura, who is heading a team investigating the case, said they had questioned 47 witnesses and experts over the death of Fabio Polenghi and gathered evidence to submit to prosecutors.

“The conclusion found that the cause of his death was believed to have been a gunshot from the authorities on duty,” he told Bangkok’s Criminal Court on the opening day of the inquest.

Thein Sein in Thailand

Bloomberg says:

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said her government was committed to seeing “concrete progress” in the development of the $8.6 billion Dawei port and industrial zone in neighboring Myanmar.

Thailand and Myanmar agreed to hold ministerial-level meetings starting next month to push forward with the project, Yingluck told reporters in a joint briefing with Myanmar President Thein Sein today in Bangkok.

Developer Italian-Thai Development Pcl (ITD) has found it difficult to secure funds for the project at Dawei, which sits about 350 kilometers (219 miles) west of Bangkok. The company is courting Japan to secure $12.5 billion in loan agreements this year to build the port, roads, power plants and a railway, Chairman Premchai Karnasuta said on Dec. 26.

And:

Thein Sein arrived yesterday for a three-day trip and visited Laem Chabang port, near Thailand’s biggest industrial zone that companies such as Ford Motor Co. (F) (F) and Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) use as a production base. Thailand and Myanmar plan to link Laem Chabang with Dawei, and may open three more permanent checkpoints on their shared border, Yingluck said.

There’s also a story today from The Bangkok Post. And the AP had a piece yesterday.

Bangkok Street Life Inventions: Garbage Bag Poncho and Frond-Fashioned Napping Shade

I wanted to share two photos I snapped recently. They both demonstrate interesting Bangkok street life improvisations.

First: It’s the middle of rainy season here, so what do you do when you’re caught in an evening downpour without an umbrella?

Simple — make a poncho (with a cutout for your face) out of a plastic bag:

2012 07 17 bangkok rain jacket

And second: What do you do if you’re a motorcycle taxi driver and your favorite hammock is getting too much mid-day sun?

Simple — fashion a shade out of some fronds and affix it to the over-hanging electrical wires:

2012 07 17 bangkok hammock shade

Problems solved.

Bloomberg on Thailand’s Constitutional Court Ruling — and What Comes Next

Bloomberg has a comprehensive story on the Constitutional Court verdict (previous posts on this topic are here and here and here):

Thailand’s political calm hangs in the balance as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s ruling party decides whether to defy the nation’s highest court and proceed with an overhaul of a military-influenced constitution.

The Constitutional Court on July 13 called for a referendum before rewriting the charter ratified after a 2006 coup that ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother. Lawmakers “must take responsibility for their next move” if they proceed with a vote to redraft the constitution, court spokesman Pimon Thammaphitakphong told reporters.

Moving forward without a nationwide vote could “invite more explosive protests from the other side,” Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a political science lecturer at Thammasat University in Bangkok, said by phone. “Tensions remain high and this will be the situation for months and years to come.”

And:

The court’s insistence that a nationwide vote is required before rewriting the charter amounts to a threat against the government and parliament because the judiciary is asserting powers that aren’t granted in the constitution, according to Kanin Boonsuwan, a law lecturer at Chulalongkorn University who submitted testimony in favor of the amendment.

“If the government and parliament yield to this threat, it means this country is not democratic,” Kanin said. “Next time there is no need to have an election. Just let the court be the ruling party.”

And:

The Constitutional Court’s intervention in parliamentary affairs sets “a very dangerous precedent” that could lead to a “more explosive crisis” in the future, according to Chris Baker, a Bangkok-based political analyst and historian who has co-authored several books on Thailand.

“This whole incident has probably shown that Thaksin cannot return too soon,” he said. “This is just a small step in a long process.”

Thailand Constitution Court Verdict: Pheu Thai Not Dissolved; Complaints Against Govt Thrown Out*

Thailand’s Constitution Court ruled today that the charter amendment bill doesn’t represent an attempt to overthrow the country’s monarchy.

The Pheu Thai party is not dissolved.

*However, the court apparently says amending the entire constitution would require a referendum. Parliament can amend articles individually, though.

The AP, in a story, calls it a “compromise verdict.”

There are brief stories from The Bangkok Post and The Nation, with more to come, I’m sure.

Follow Bangkok Pundit on Twitter for more info and analysis.

Thailand Constitutional Court Verdict: Some Scene-Setters

Here are a few scene-setting stories to contemplate as we await the Thai Constitution Court verdict I mentioned yesterday.

In an AFP story, Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak says:

Thailand expert Thitinan Pongsudhirak, of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said there had been a “systematic effort to undermine and subvert democratic institutions” in recent years.

“In previous judicial dissolutions, the grounds were questionable but less bogus. This time… the verdict is rooted in presumptions about the future which has not happened,” he said.

There will be a severe backlash if we see yet another repeat of the usurpation of electoral rule and this time the court is in a much weaker position.”

Thitinan also has an opinion piece in today’s Bangkok Post. Some key lines:

Thailand’s problem is that those who keep winning elections are not allowed to rule, whereas others who ultimately call the shots cannot win elections.

And:

In some ways, Thailand’s holding pattern is rooted in what can be described as a royalist lockdown. All Thais have lived under this reign. Its most glorious years transpired during the Cold War, when communism was kept at bay and economic development was achieved.

In the early 21st century, the monarchy is challenged by electoral rule with its unscrupulous politicians and political parties as a source of legitimacy. Thais used to be just loyal subjects but more and more of them also now feel like informed citizens with a stake in and access to the political system. The Thai dilemma is how to amalgamate and synchronise the monarchy-centred political order with the imperatives of democratic rule in an acceptable constitution.

There are also stories about the upcoming verdict from Reuters and the BBC.

Stay tuned.