Thai politics

Notes from Abhisit’s FCCT Talk Last Night

Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva spoke at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand last night. (Details on the event are on the FCCT site here.)

Embedded below and collected here are my Tweets from the evening, in reverse chronological order.

As I’ve noted following Abhisit’s remarks at previous FCCT events, he is a highly adept politician, at least by Western standards: He stays on message, he uses his wit to good effect, he speaks excellent English, and he has a deep knowledge of policy issues.

Overall, my feeling was that the audience of non-journalists — Thais and foreigners alike — were fairly receptive to his remarks.

Abhisit received some cheers for a few of his statements, and though I heard some rumblings of discontent among some in attendance, the environment was not at all hostile.

(Of course, that may have to do with the fact that the non-media audience was self-selecting: His supporters are more likely to turn out to hear him speak, perhaps, than his detractors.)

To summarize a few notable elements of Abhisit’s remarks:

  • He argued that his administration focused on economic issues and aimed to restore “some normalcy” to Thai politics.
  • He said Yingluck’s government is forsaking economic development and focusing on amnesty for Thaksin, and that such amnesty will only create more divisions in Thai society.
  • Regarding exiled former PM Thaksin’s potential return, he said that if Thaksin comes back and serves even a short sentence but is pardoned legally, “we’re fine with that.”
  • Abhisit was asked if he felt any personal responsibility for the 2010 violence. He said, before elaborating, “we are all responsible in some way or another.”

Thai politics

Notes from Thai PM Yingluck’s FCCT Speech

2012 03 27 yingluck fcct

Somewhat belatedly — but as promised! — here are my notes from the remarks Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra made to journalists and others at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) dinner here in Bangkok on Fri., March 23.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of what she said — see the links to news reports below for that — but rather my observations from the evening that stand out, several days on.

  • First, a note on language: Yingluck choose to give the speech in English. As others have observed, she is a conversational English speaker, but she is not as fluent as her older brother, the exiled, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. And of course, her English is not nearly as smooth as her predecessor, the British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva.

    This meant that Yingluck’s speech lacked, perhaps, some of the nuance and technical details that it might have contained had she had delivered it in Thai, with an interpreter there to provide her remarks in English. (There was, however, an interpreter near the stage who helped her make sense of some of the more complex questions from journalists.)

  • I heard one member of the audience refer to Yingluck as being “coquettish.” I wouldn’t go that far, but she did seem to make every effort to be charming. She smiled frequently and appeared to be quite humble. And, before beginning her speech, she asked the audience to “please be kind to me, na kap ka,” simultaneously claspping her hands together in a wai and bowing. (Corrected March 28. Thanks to a commenter for pointing out the error.)

    Later, when one journalist asked a somewhat complicated question about whether she and Thaksin were playing a “double game” in which they pitted various establishment factions against one another, she responded by saying she didn’t really understand the question. But, she added, grinning: “…I never play games.” This produced some laugher from the audience.

  • Asked why, following last year’s floods and the upcoming minimum wage hike, multinational companies should continue to invest in Thailand, Yingluck said that investors will continue to recognize Thailand’s long-term business potential, as well as its location in the middle of Southeast Asia.

  • I spoke with some people who noted that some of Yingluck’s answers seemed somewhat vague or lacking in specifics. But these same observers said they felt that most professional politicians are focused on evading hard-hitting questions and sticking to their talking points.

  • In his first FCCT speech, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was asked about his musical tastes. He noted that he liked hard rock bands like The Killers, Oasis, and Metallica, among others.

    So, on a lighter note, when asked what kind of music is on her iPod, Yingluck declined to note specific artists. But she did say, with pride, that she has some 5,000 songs on her device. She prefers “easy listening” music, she said.

  • Ultimately, my sense was that PM Yingluck’s performance was unlikely to sway most audience members’ opinions of her. Those who already disliked her were probably not won over by her grace or good humor.

    Similarly, those who already like her were probably not put off by any of her perceived shortcomings.

Elsewhere, you can find stories recapping the speech in more detail from AFP, The Nation, and the Bangkok Post.

For the record, my previous FCCT PM speech round-ups are here (2011, Abhisit); here (2010, Abhisit); and here (2009, Abhisit).

(Image: The Nation.)

Thai politics

Thai PM Yingluck’s FCCT Speech Tonight: Stay Tuned

A quick heads up that just as I did last year and in 2010 and 2009, I’ll be posting some notes from the annual prime minister’s speech to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT).

PM Yingluck will address journalists and others at Bangkok’s InterContinental hotel this evening. More details on the event are on the FCCT site.

I may be posting one or two snippets on Twitter, but regardless I’ll aim to put together a longer blog post that I’ll put up later.

All that by way of saying: stay tuned.

Thai politics

Notes from Commerce Minister Kittiratt’s FCCT Talk

Last night Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong gave a talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) on the country’s economy following the floods.

The FCCT site has more info on Kittiratt and provides some background information on the talk.

Below is what I tweeted last night. I have no additional observations to share at this time, but I thought these short notes — though perhaps none of them are surprising — may be interesting to those who follow Thai economic matters.

These are in reverse chronological order.

  • 2. Kittiratt: wouldn’t mind if Thaksin chooses to “not to come back to Thailand for a while,” but he cld help w/ investor confidence.
  • 1. Comm. Min. Kittiratt says former PM Thaksin has no official role in helping restore foreign investors’ confidence.
  • Commerce Min. Kittiratt at @fccthai: government has no plan to change rice pledging scheme.
  • 2. Was once manager of Thai national soccer team. Stadium never full til played Myanmar. Thailand scored and place was quiet, he says.
  • 1. Kittiratt says official figure for foreign workers must be higher than stated 1.9 million. He thinks it’s higher than 5 million.
  • Er, make that: Kittirat says Thai economy is too export dependent. Should rebalance and stimulate domestic demand, he says.
  • Kittirat: Thailand too exports. Jokes that he’d like to rename Dept. of Export Promotion the Dept. of International Trade Promotion.
  • At @Fccthai for Thai Dep. PM/Commerce Minister Kittirat Na-Ranong talk on Thai economy. Will tweet any interesting tidbits.

(All emphasis mine.)

Thai politics Thailand

Notes from Thai PM Abhisit’s FCCT speech

2011 03 22 abhisit

As promised, here are some quotes from Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s annual Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand speech last night.

But first, a few general observations. This has been been noted many times before, but I just want to reiterate: Abhisit is quite a skillful politician. He is a highly articulate English speaker, making him well-equipped to deal with the foreign media; he stays on message; he remains calm and is not easily provoked; and he is gifted at using humor to take the sting out of difficult questions and engender sympathy with his audience.

In his speech, Abhisit seemed to focus on pocketbook issues: The country’s economy is improving, he said. His administration wants to focus on stability. And the “silent majority” of Thais feel their voices have been drowned out by noisy red shirt demonstrators.

The crowd — journalists, diplomats, members of the business community, etc. — seemed fairly receptive of the speech, and the few times he received serious needling from reporters, the crowd seemed mostly on the PM’s side.

In roughly the order that he touched on these subjects in his speech and in the subsequent Q&A, here are some snippets:

On his future:

“Maybe you’ll be wondering if I’ll be here next year. I’m wondering, too.”

On his tenure:

“The point I’d like to make tonight is that it’s time for Thailand to move forward. We’ve improved so much over the last two years during my tenure, and a few years before that we were in turbulence and (had) political challenges. But at least over the last couple of years, there has been a government focused on moving the country forward.”

On the economy:

“It’s not just about the macroeconomic numbers that you see today,” such as a move from a contraction in the economy to growth. Tourists and export numbers are improving, and “we have been able to keep fiscal and monetary stability despite the scale of the financial crisis that hit the global economy.” The debt to GDP ratio is good, and unemployment is low.

But “the Thai people still deserve more, and despite the fact that we’ve moved on from the economic crisis, Thai people face new challenges like rising prices, and the cost of living is going up.”

“We recognize that the number one problem now is to help people fight high prices.”

On education:

The government is focusing on “free basic education for 15 years, so that families are now comfortable about having their kids in school.”

Questions for voters and the timing of new election (June or July):

“Do you want to move forward with the policies that we have initiated and will build on, or do they want to stay in this cycle of conflict and violence? Do they want a government that will continue to put their interests first, or do they want people who are still tied to one person’s interests and wouldn’t allow the country and the Thai people to move beyond (it)? That’s the choice that will be facing the Thai electorate in the end of June or at the latest the end of July.”

Elections “will be an opportunity for the silent majority to be heard…for the majority of Thais, a lot of them feel their voices have been ignored” while demonstrators have been noisy.

“I hope that by the time next year’s FCCT dinner arrives, I shall be here to report further progress on delivering the people’s policies…”

On his legacy:

“I hope that these last two years…the government (will be seen as having) steered the economy through crisis, allowed the political institutions to work again since they were in paralysis…and most significantly…to create greater security and welfare for the Thai people.”

On the strengthening baht:

“We don’t have a baht problem, we have a dollar problem.” “All regional currencies have appreciated,” as well.

On his citizenship — and football:

“It was never a secret” that he is a British citizen. “I was born in Newcastle,” he said, and he is a Newcastle football supporter. He’s never had “divided loyalties” between the UK and Thailand. “The people who are questioning my nationality are not doing so because they are suspicious of my (citizenship or loyalties), they just want to take me to the ICC.”

“In fact,” he said, “I recall that the former British ambassador was very disappointed to learn that during the World Cup I supported Argentina.”

He also discussed Thailand-Myanmar relations, the Rohingya issue, and tourism in Phuket. But these passages stand out, for me, as being the most memorable.

Thai politics Thailand

Thai PM Abhisit’s FCCT dinner tonight

Tonight is the annual prime minister’s dinner with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT). Details on the event are here.

Just as I did last year and the year before, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the evening. Stay tuned…

Thai politics Thailand

Social media and Thailand’s red shirt protests

Note: This post contains a story I wrote for the fall, 2010 issue of Dateline, the magazine of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. I am reproducing the article here with the club’s permission. I have added images and links to various Web sites, but the text remains the same.

Social media and Thailand’s red shirt protests
By Newley Purnell

While covering Bangkok’s anti-government red shirt protests during April and May, Associated Press journalist Thanyarat Doksone read a report on Twitter from a Thai radio station saying that the demonstrations had spread to the Asoke area of the Thai capital. 


She was in a different part of town, so the Lampang native typed a message to her own “followers” on the microblogging service to see if any of them could confirm the development. But it turned out not to be true. One of her followers was in the area, noted that all was quiet — and even posted an image to prove that there was no unrest of note.  

The episode underlines a changing communications ecosystem: As in other countries where news is breaking, tech-savvy residents in Thailand used a variety of outlets to stay abreast of the rapidly developing events during the red shirt demonstrations.  

As in years past, people who wanted to follow the unrest could read newspaper reports, watch the events on TV, listen to the radio, and speak with friends and family. But this spring, unlike during previous bouts of political instability, Thailand residents increasingly took advantage of social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to share and collect information about what was happening around them. 

Twitter’s world-wide rise has been rapid. When ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown in a military coup in 2006, Twitter’s three founders in the U.S. had just launched the service. Now, four years later, the company says the site receives 190 million visitors per month, and an astounding 65 million Twitter messages, or tweets, are sent out every day.


Prominent figures in Thailand who have Twitter accounts include Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (112,000 followers), Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij (41,000 followers), and Nation editor Sutichai Yoon (83,000 followers). And of course, much to the government’s chagrin, former Prime Minister Thaksin (114,000 followers) — or one of his aides — posts frequent snippets during his many travels.

Around the world, critics dismiss the service’s 140-character-or-less bursts as shallow and irrelevant. After all, goes the saying, do we really care what you had for breakfast? But Twitter, increasingly, has political implications. 

In June 2009, the service was used inside and outside Iran to share information about events on the ground following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial election. Amid media censorship inside Iran, the U.S. State Department even asked Twitter to continue operating rather than shut down briefly for scheduled maintenance.

Here in Thailand, Mark MacKinnon, East Asia correspondent for Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper, says that Twitter helped him in reporting the red shirt protests by allowing him to gather information from a wide variety of outlets. He used the service to take the temperature in various parts of town, and found that his postings allowed him to preserve — and publish — bits of local color throughout the day that might otherwise have been confined to his notebook. His newspaper even ran collections of his running tweets, providing a compelling narrative for global readers as events developed here. 

Twitter would also play a more serious role during MacKinnon’s time in Bangkok. He was caught in the city’s Wat Pathum temple while reporting the military crackdown on May 19. MacKinnon was with Andrew Buncombe, a journalist for London’s Independent newspaper, when Buncombe was shot and injured after the temple came under fire. Neither Buncombe nor the other wounded civilians trapped inside were able to exit.

After calling embassies and hospitals, MacKinnon used Twitter to ask for help in urging authorities to stop the gunfire so that the injured could be evacuated. “People around me are dying because they can’t get to hospital across the road because of fighting,” he tweeted, along with a photo of some of the injured. 

The message was relayed, in turn, by his followers, and the dispatches were even posted on the Web site of London’s Guardian newspaper. Twitter “helped raise the volume,” he says, and “deserves some of the credit” in bringing about a resolution. 

Jon Russell, a Saraburi-based freelance journalist who publishes a popular blog about social media in Asia, notes that people had used Twitter in Thailand in years past, but that the service grew in popularity during the red shirt protests. Journalists and news outlets began using Twitter, embracing the “real time potential of the service in a way that had never been done before in Thailand.” 


Russell notes that Facebook, too, has grown rapidly in the Kingdom, and that Thailand is among the top five fastest-growing Facebook markets globally. He says that while Twitter users tend to be open to debate, due to its closed nature, Facebook interactions can be more one-sided.

Eric Seldin, a veteran cameraman who runs Bangkok’s Thaicam Production Services, posted his observations and images to Twitter throughout the red shirt protests. His followers grew from approximately 400 to 800 within just a week, he says, as people increasingly craved information about the events unfolding in Bangkok. Seldin even used the service to guide a German camera crew with whom he was working. He could monitor events throughout the city, using Twitter as “original raw sourcing, and then double and triple confirming,” he says. “I could use Twitter as a clearinghouse.” 

He adds that the transparent nature of the service allowed users to quickly verify who was trustworthy and who wasn’t. Media might report one version of events, but individuals could quickly post images, videos, or text accounts — in real time — that refuted or supported these descriptions. “When there was misinformation” from the media or individuals, “people called them on it,” he says.

Richard Barrow, a prolific blogger who lives in Samut Prakarn and runs a network of Thailand-related Web sites, shared numerous images and accounts during the protests with his more than 5,000 followers. During the unrest, “Twitter provided us with a much faster and efficient source of breaking news,” he said in an email. “Literally. What is better than a someone on the scene taking pictures and uploading them onto Twitter and Facebook?” He adds that Thailand’s newspapers may have political biases, whereas so-called “citizen journalists” often do not.

After noticing that local papers weren’t keeping up with the rapidly developing events in Bangkok, Barrow even created a Google Map he labeled “Bangkok Dangerous.” He plotted on it, in English, locations where protests and clashes were taking place. He updated it frequently, and the guide ultimately filled a void: It has been viewed some 2.7 million times to date, he says.


To be sure, Twitter and Facebook have their drawbacks. Reliability is one issue. Few people would use such services for their sole sources of information, and most regard them as a supplement to products of traditional journalism. Still, it’s clear to those who use Twitter, especially, that — just as in every other facet of life — some people inspire trust, while others do not. Readers — and those doing the tweeting — must proceed with caution.

Another risk is political polarization and the temptation to be more rude online than one would be in public. MacKinnon notes that social media tends to allow people to act differently toward others than the might otherwise. During the protests, he noticed exchanges on Twitter that included “things people wouldn’t say if they saw each other in the street.” he says. “People were being hateful.”

In addition, in a world of shorter attention spans and ever-proliferating media, there is another challenge to journalists: Twitter is yet another information stream to be monitored. And this leads, quite simply, to more work. 

Thanyarat says that Twitter can be quite helpful, “but it also adds the burden of fact checking.” she says. “You have to get through the noise to get at what’s really useful. And in a way it adds to your tasks.”


Notes from Thai PM Abhisit’s FCCT Speech

Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand’s recently-named Prime Minister, gave a speech at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand dinner last night. It was his first address given to the entire foreign press corps. In his 30-minute speech, the 44-year-old, British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit said he would work to achieve reconciliation and social justice in a country that has seen ongoing political chaos.

Outside the event, which was held at Bangkok’s Intercontinental Hotel, a small group of opposition protesters staged a demonstration. Many in Thailand still support ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and his backers have recently held a series of protests around the city. They argue that Abhisit came to power last month through a “judicial coup” following the PAD’s closure of Bangkok’s airports and the subsequent banning of the Thaksin-linked People Power Party. One of the protesters held up a sign saying that foreign governments should boycott the upcoming ASEAN summit.

Inside the hotel’s ballroom, though, the atmosphere was relatively lighthearted.

Here are my notes from PM Abhisit’s speech:

On being Prime Minister

  • “I knew this would be an incredibly difficult job…and there is no doubt that the number one priority is to get the system to work again.”
  • “I know that my job is requiring a grand plan for reconciliation. But it won’t happen without justice. I intend to achieve justice in three key areas.”

Abhisit then outlined the following three points:

  • “The restoration of the rule of law” will be crucial. “I’m not just leaving everything to the police. I’m in the process of finding a few people…and I will ask them to help ensure that there’s a good overview of what’s happened.”
  • “There has to be justice through political reform. The red shirts say the constitution is dictatorial and must be reformed. The yellow shirts say they want a ‘new politics.’
  • “Most important: I will prove that my government will not discriminate; we will work for all Thais, no matter where they live…I will work for every single Thai…”

On political divisions in Thailand

  • “It isn’t true that elites and grassroots people have different ideas about what’s best for the country. It just isn’t true…On one side, they believe that democracy should be about majority rule…But on the other side, they expect democracy to return a government that practices good governance that is transparent and accountable. I will prove that both are possible.”

On international relations

  • Holding he ASEAN summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, will “send a clear signal: We are back in business.”

On Thailand’s south

  • “The situation over the last two years has been, at best, stable. But it hasn’t improved markedly…I intend to pass a law to set up an office with a minister for Southern affairs…”

In conclusion

  • “The character of Thai people is very clear: it is our resilience. We’ve come through so many crises in the past. There’s no reason we can’t do so again…We simply can’t ask for cooperation. We must earn it. I intend to earn it.”

Q&A session

On tourism and the rule of law

  • For the Q&A session following his speech, I asked Prime Minister Abhisit about tourism and security in Thailand. Following November’s airport closure, many Americans and other foreigners wonder if it’s safe to travel to Thailand. How will the Thai government communicate to the world that the rule of law still exists in Thailand?
  • PM Abhisit said that he expected tourism numbers to hold steady, and that “we’re on the right path, and determined to stay on this path.”

On lese majeste cases and the Web site crackdown

  • “The monarchy has immense benefits as a stabilizing force. We have respect for freedom of expression.” Web sites “shouldn’t allow illegal content…We will try to enforce the law while allowing freedom of expression.”

More on political divisions within Thailand

  • Abhisit noted that in the US, there are differences in political thought among people who live on the east and west coasts and the mid-west. But he asked whether this truly reflects a “fundamental difference,” and whether this means that people who disagree with one another “can’t live in the same country?” He noted that “democracy isn’t just about elections. It’s about respect and the law. Everyone must be equal under the law.”

On Myanmar (Burma)

  • He was asked what Thailand will do to bring about change in neighboring Myanmar. He said that “it’s time for change that will benefit the people and the government.”

On his musical tastes

And finally, on a lighter note, PM Abhisit was asked about his musical tastes and about some of his favorite music from 2008. He mentioned that he like the following bands:

  • The Killers
  • Oasis
  • Metallica
  • Guns N’ Roses
  • Arctic Monkeys

Media coverage

Here’s some media coverage of the event:

  • The Nation: “Grand reconciliation through social justice and rule of law : PM”
  • AFP: “New Thai PM vows to heal political rifts”
  • VOA News: “Thai Prime Minister Promises to End Country’s Political Conflicts”