Archive for ‘Thailand’

July 30, 2014

Reform, the only way out of political conflict for Thailand’

The Nation

Reform, the only way out of political conflict for Thailand’

July 31, 2014 1:00 am

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.nationmultimedia.com/opinion/Reform-the-only-way-out-of-political-conflict-for–30239839.html

In this concluding part of the speech by former deputy prime minister Surakiart Sathirathai at the international conference “Thailand is Back”, co-organised by the Federation of Thai Industries and The Nation at Dusit Thani Hotel, Bangkok, on Tuesday, he talks about the way forward for the country through a process of reform:

With Thailand back to business, there are still a number of tasks that have to be performed to ensure sustainability. The public and private sectors need to devise strategies and action plans to handle the decline in tourists and sluggish export growth. Relatively weak small and medium-sized enterprises need capital facilities and other assistance to enable them to benefit fully from the Asean Economic Community. Innovation is needed for Thai industrial production. Proper programmes to assist farmers, particularly rice farmers, have to be devised to provide them better income without excessive burden on the government budget. Income and job creation programmes for the poor have to be created in ways that are sustainable.With the rapidly changing regional and international economic landscape, Thai businesses need support from the government to open up new markets and seize new opportunities. But for this to happen during this “special situation” that we find ourselves in, it is absolutely necessary that both the government and the private sector join hands to lay down new approaches, to build good or special relationships with countries which are potential new markets. Relevant ministries and the private sector must examine both economic and political obstacles and potential in different markets and devise different strategies and approaches to each market. Strategies and approaches to build good and special relationships with the US, Latin American countries, Central and Eastern European and Central and Western Asian countries, and African countries which have purchasing power, must be carefully crafted, must be properly focused, and must vary, based on circumstances and the special characteristics of each country. We cannot rely just on being a part of multilateral processes.

This is the time when foreign policy, international economic policy, and the strength of the private sector have to work in tandem. The “special situation” we are in must be seized as an opportunity to reposition the country in order to enhance overall competitiveness and maximise benefits.

Political roadmap important

While the economic roadmap has been spelled out and is in the process of implementation, the political roadmap is indeed equally important, if not more so, as it will bring all sectors in Thailand to share in the future we want, a future that is sustainable. Political stability is a necessity for economic growth and prosperity.

The 11 areas outlined by the Transitional Administration for reforms are therefore to be welcomed. Reform of the process of political participation, reforms for better checks and balances in government, strengthening of anti-corruption regulations, transparency in decision-making, and good governance in public and private sectors, all are critical for the success of a new Thailand. Reducing income disparity, reform of the justice system, decentralisation and wise use of resources in order not to destroy environment for the next generation are other important elements of reform. Therefore, the establishment of the National Reform Council to work on these issues will be the most significant undertaking facing a new Thailand in the months ahead.

It is an ambitious agenda. Not everything can be accomplished at once, or even in a short time span. Priorities therefore have to be set, consecutive phases in implementation have to be outlined, and continuity of the reform processes will have to be guaranteed. The composition of the National Legislative Assembly, the Cabinet, the National Reform Council, and the Constitution Drafting Assembly will be crucial to sustaining the momentum of confidence in the political roadmap. Confidence is key to economic recovery and advancement. Thus far, the general public has drawn comfort from the abundance of good intentions shown by the interim administration. This popular support and confidence has to be constantly nurtured and maintained.

Building a sustainable democracy

We in Thailand are in transition from a dysfunctional democracy to a new and sustainable, deliverable democracy. A sustainable return to normalcy will require successful reforms. For the reform process to be successful, it would appear to me that the process must be inclusive and participatory, encompassing people from all parties to the conflict and those not party to the conflict. There must be constant dialogue and exchange of views until the agreed package of reforms can be adopted. The reforms must not be a victor’s reforms; it has to create a sense of ownership for the people. Ownership can only be created when people can participate, not only in the National Reform Council, but through various mechanisms and forums to enable those outside the Assembly, all over the country, to have the space to discuss, debate and exchange views, to have their voices heard, and provide them with channels to make inputs to the reform council for deliberation. The efforts that the interim administration is making on reconciliation is therefore to be commended. It is a necessary precondition for setting the right atmosphere for dialogue. It is perhaps important to note that reconciliation and reforms are part and parcel of the same process. While reconciliation can lead to successful and acceptable reforms, a successful and acceptable reform will also lead to successful reconciliation. To me reconciliation does not mean that all must agree on everything. Reconciliation means that people can appreciate and accept differences and are able to live together in harmony under agreed rules. Diversity can bring strength. We must build a new Thailand with strength coming out of diversity.

We, in Thailand, have embarked on an ambitious but necessary undertaking that will have enormous consequences not only for the Thai people, but for all our friends and partners, and the wider region as a whole.

In the aftermath of the international financial meltdown of 2008-09, the World Economic Forum issued a study in 2010 on the state of the world economy entitled, “Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild”. There was an opportunity to overhaul the world’s financial, trade and economic architecture in order to provide more equity, transparency and sustainability, and to lessen conflicts. As we all know, that window of opportunity, regrettably, was not fully utilised.

For us here in Thailand, in the aftermath of a series of traumatic political conflicts, the battle cry is now “Reform, Reform, Reform.”

The foreign business community should view Thailand’s reform agenda as a great opportunity to engage with us even more than before in order to bring about a strong Thailand with more economic opportunities for everyone. We should not let this opportunity pass us by. The head of the interim administration has indicated that well-intentioned proposals from foreign partners would be welcomed.

The international business community and foreign countries can contribute to the economic and political reform process by sharing best practices, bringing in experts to provide new ideas and experiences in areas such as prevention of corruption, checks and balances, good governance, electoral reforms, and public participation. We need to learn and study the successes and failures in many countries, many corporations, and pick and choose what are suitable for Thailand.

I am confident Thailand will emerge stronger, more resilient, more democratic, more content, with an open, vibrant and outward-looking society. But we will have to roll up our sleeves and get down to work.

Challenges remain. We do not have the luxury of time; we must make the full and best use of the window of opportunity that has opened up before us. Each of us here today, in our own ways, have talked the talk. Now, there is a clearer economic as well as political roadmap.

We invite our friends to now walk together with us on this journey to a brighter future for all.

 

July 29, 2014

Toyota Sees Thailand Coup as Turning Point in Halting Sales Plunge

The Wall Street Journal - World

Toyota Sees Thailand Coup as Turning Point in Halting Sales Plunge

Automotive Company Still Expects 2014 Sales to Drop 25.9%, but Consumer Sentiment Is Improving

By Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol

July 29, 2014 8:28 a.m. ET

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://online.wsj.com/articles/toyota-sees-thailand-coup-as-turning-point-in-halting-sales-plunge-1406636889

BANGKOK—Thailand’s lucrative automotive industry has yet to recover from months of political instability, with Toyota’s local arm forecasting Tuesday that its own annual sales in 2014 would drop 25.9% year-over-year to 330,000 units.

But Kyoichi Tanada, president of Toyota Motor Thailand, the country’s largest auto maker, said a turning point had been reached with the May 22 coup, consumer sentiment was improving and Toyota would keep investing in Thailand.

Toyota Motor Thailand, which has a 35.9% share of the Southeast Asian country’s domestic market, also projected that 2014 local vehicle sales for the industry would fall to total 920,000 units, a 30.9% decline from a year ago following a 40.5% year-over-year plunge during the first half of the year.

Mr. Tanada told a semiannual briefing that Toyota would continue to invest in Thailand, though he offered no details. In February, Toyota Motor Corp. said it might need to rethink an investment of as much as 20 billion baht ($610 million) to expand its capacity in Thailand.

“In order to introduce new products to the market, we will need to make more investment, especially when we are not only serving today’s market but also the future market,” Mr. Tanada said.

The company continues to view Thailand as “one of the most important production bases and positions and the regional research and development centers of Toyota,” he said.

Thailand’s military rulers adopted a provisional constitution last week to set up an interim government, and they have been implementing various measures to bolster the economy. The army drove out a civilian government, led until shortly before the takeover by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, after seven months of street protests and rallies.

While Mr. Tanada said he doesn’t view a military seizure of power as a way to restore political stability, coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha should be partly credited for helping return order and improving consumer sentiment.

Mr. Tanada said that the expiry of a popular tax rebate for first-time car buyers under the previous government, as well as the political upheaval and economic falloff, had hurt sales.

The company said it has concerns over some of the junta’s policies, especially the imposition of martial law and its impact on the tourism industry, which accounts for around 10% of Thailand’s gross domestic product.

“If the military government would consider lifting martial law, it would really be good for both the economy and the auto industry,” said Ninnart Chaiteerapinyo, vice chairman of Toyota Motor Thailand.

Write to Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol at nopparat.chaichalearmmongkol@wsj.com

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July 25, 2014

Thai Junta Retains Sweeping Power Under Interim Constitution

Bloomberg News

Thai Junta Retains Sweeping Power Under Interim Constitution

By Anuchit Nguyen and Suttinee Yuvejwattana.  Jul 23, 2014 4:22 AM ET

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-22/thailand-junta-retains-sweeping-power-under-interim-constitution.html

Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg. Royal Thai Army soldiers keep watch from a military vehicle while stationed outside the Royal Thai Police headquarters as traffic drives past in central Bangkok, Thailand, on May 20, 2014.

Thailand’s junta announced an interim constitution that gives the military oversight of a hand-picked legislative assembly as well as amnesty for staging their May 22 coup.

The military will choose a 220-member legislature, which will pick a prime minister and 35-strong cabinet, according to a statement in the Royal Gazette. General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, leader of the National Council for Peace and Order, received the endorsed charter from King Bhumibol Adulyadej yesterday.

The constitution reflects the demands of a protest group led by former opposition lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban that staged a six-month street campaign to oust the administration of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Suthep said he wanted to “reclaim sovereign power” and appoint a reform council to wipe out the influence of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, whose parties have won the last five elections.

The constitution “will help solve the crisis and return the situation to normal, restore security, unity and solve economic problems,” according to the statement. The reform council will draft “political rules to prevent and suppress corruption and investigate abuses of power by the state before handing the mission to new representatives and the government.”

The 48-article constitution, which replaces the one annulled by Prayuth after the coup, is Thailand’s 18th since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932. The charter also calls for the formation of a 250-member reform committee that will need to approve a permanent constitution to be written by a 36-strong drafting committee before elections can be held.

Prayuth’s Power

“The NCPO will be in power until a new constitution is implemented,” junta adviser Wissanu Krea-ngam said today at a media briefing in Bangkok, adding that Prayuth is eligible to be named prime minister.

Article 44 of the charter gives Prayuth the power to take action against any threats to peace and order, national security or the monarchy, and the charter’s final article protects the coup-makers from prosecution.

“The point of the constitution is to add palace legitimacy to the coup through the king-endorsed enshrinement of new laws,” said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai. “Almost every Thai constitution has included an amnesty for the military. In fact, amnesty for militaries has been a major rationale for most Thai constitutions. This allows and encourages coup after coup after coup.”

Reform Council

People who have held positions with political parties in the past three years will be ineligible to join the legislature or the reform council, according to the charter, which gives the NCPO power to appoint members to both groups.

The reform committee will include a representative from each of Thailand’s 77 provinces, with the remaining members chosen by a selection committee and the NCPO from among 11 professional groups, junta adviser Wissanu Krea-ngam said today at a media briefing.

Pornphet Wichitchonchai, another NCPO adviser, said at the same briefing that the charter is longer than previous post-coup constitutions because “we have written a lot on the king’s power.”

“This interim constitution clearly states the king’s power over many issues that we want him to have, such as granting amnesty and appointing people,” Pornphet said. “No matter what constitution we are under, either temporary or permanent, the king is our supreme power. Even though the king is the constitutional monarch under the law, the king is more than that.”

Royal Endorsement

King Bhumibol, 86, took the throne in 1946 and serves as head of state. Thailand’s constitution says the king “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.” His picture is hung in most Thai homes and a royal anthem praising him is played before movies in theaters across the country.

King Bhumibol granted an audience yesterday to Prayuth at the Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin, 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Bangkok, and presented the army chief with the endorsed interim charter, according to a palace statement. He moved to the palace in Prachuap Khiri Khan province in August last year, after leaving the Bangkok hospital that he had lived in since September 2009.

Thailand’s military has carried out a dozen coups since the end of direct rule by kings in 1932, with three governments overthrown since 2006 by the army or judicial action. The latest putsch came eight years after army ousted Thaksin, dissolved his party and banned about 200 political allies from holding office for five years. Thaksin later fled abroad to escape a 2008 jail sentence from charges brought by a military-appointed panel.

Political Divide

Prayuth has said he had no choice other than to seize power after meetings called by the army among key figures from both sides of the political divide failed to find a solution to six months of sometimes violent unrest.

Since taking power on May 22, the NCPO has silenced critics by outlawing protests and threatening the media with sanctions for content critical of the coup. Hundreds of activists, academics, opposition politicians and journalists were summoned and detained by the military in the weeks following the putsch.

Prayuth has restarted payments to rice farmers and vowed to accelerate state spending after gross domestic product fell 0.6 percent year-on-year in the first quarter as political turmoil restricted the ability of the previous government to borrow. The junta capped fuel prices and approved handouts to the tourism industry, efforts that it said would “return happiness to the Thai people.”

Prayuth said June 27 that a permanent constitution will be drafted by July 2015 and an election could be held three months after its promulgation. The legislative council is expected to be formed in August, junta adviser Wissanu said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Anuchit Nguyen in Bangkok at anguyen@bloomberg.net; Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok at suttinee1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net Tony Jordan, Dick Schumacher

July 25, 2014

New Thai Constitution ‘clears way for junta general to become PM’

New Thai Constitution ‘clears way for junta general to become PM’

Thailand has adopted a constitution that legitimizes the May coup by granting the military sweeping powers and paving the way for junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha to become prime minister, analyst Paul Chambers tells DW.

Author Interview: Gabriel Domínguez

Editor:  Shamil Shams

Date:  24.07.2014

Permalink:  http://dw.de/p/1Ciam

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.dw.de/new-thai-constitution-clears-way-for-junta-general-to-become-pm/a-17807688

On July 22, Thailand’s king endorsed an interim constitution that grants power to the military to intervene in matters it deems “destructive to the peace and safety of the country” without approval of a civilian government. The document, pitched as “the first step toward restoring electoral democracy,” also preserves the military-led government called National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), in the run-up to a planned October 2015 election.

The draft, however, gave no timeframe for an election. The southeast Asian country has been ruled by a junta since the military staged a coup on May 22 following months of anti-government protests.

In a DW interview, Paul Chambers, Director of Research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, Thailand, says that as junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha (main picture) is expected to retire as army commander in October, he will probably remain at the helm of the NCPO and also appoint himself the country’s prime minister.

DW: The new temporary constitution is being pitched as the first step towards restoring Thai democracy. What is your view on this?

Paul Chambers: The military and the arch-royalists are pitching the new temporary constitution as a first step toward restoring Thai democracy. This is due to the fact that their perception of democracy centers on not allowing any single elected person or party to dominate politics, something which they view as a threat to the king and vested Thai interests.

Chambers: “Prayuth has worked to design the new interim charter to facilitate his rise to the position of prime minister”

As such, the goal of the temporary charter is to set up an assembly to produce a permanent constitution which will diminish the power of elected Thai civilian governments. It is also meant to dilute the electoral system in such a way that no single party can achieve a majority.

Moreover, it is designed to weaken the power of the executive branch and weaken Thai political parties. Simultaneously, the judiciary and security forces would become more insulated from control by civilian governments and their powers would be enhanced.

What are the key aspects of the document?

Firstly, the temporary constitution has been produced to legitimize the May coup and the current ruling military junta. Secondly, the document legitimizes the process of writing a new permanent constitution. The first key aspect involves the creation of a 220-member national legislative assembly and appointed 36-person cabinet – including the post of prime minister. Importantly, the members of each entity are nominated by the NCPO, and then endorsed by the Thai king.

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA, an unelected body similar to parliament appointed by the military) is set to act as legislature to the cabinet. Meanwhile a National Reform Council is to be created and appointed to draft the new permanent constitution. Its members will be appointed by the NCPO and endorsed by the king.

The NCPO will thus be able to veto anything that the NLA, Cabinet or NRC decide, as long as the king endorses such a veto. In other words, the real power remains with the military junta. Such a situation differs from the coup group of 2006-2008, in which the prime minister was actually more powerful than the military junta leader.

Back then, there was much bickering between the junta and the cabinet, and one result was that less policies were effectively implemented, and less laws were enshrined to help ensure that pro-Thaksin political parties could return to power.

Thus, in 2008, a pro-Thaksin party did win the election. This time, the arch-royalists and military want to go the extra mile constitutionally to “fix” the botched anti-Thaksin efforts of the 2006-2008 coup group. As such, General Prayuth, through the NCPO, will be able to have singular power over all institutions, save for the king, who will likely endorse the changes allowed for by the NCPO.

Who drafted the constitution and why was it viewed as necessary by the NCPO?

Actually, it was a group of technocrats who created this interim constitution. Meechai Ruchupan and Wissanu Kruengam are the actual men who put together this document. Meechai has led the writing of Thai constitutions since 1991. He is close to the king. Wissanu was once close to Thaksin. He has moved over to support the arch-royalists.

The constitution was viewed as necessary by the NCPO to firstly legitimize their power seizure and administrative control over Thailand; secondly start the process of “reform,” thirdly grant them complete power over all other administrative, legislative and judicial entities and, last but not least, grant a blanket amnesty to the military for its seizure of power.

The amnesty is perhaps the principal reason for the interim constitution – at least for the military. It constitutionally clears them from any future court action against them. In fact, an amnesty for the Thai military has been a part of 16 of the past 19 constitutions. The need for amnesty can thus explain in part why first, Thailand has had so many constitutions; and second, why Thai soldiers are unafraid about carrying out new coups. It also does not hurt that most of these takeovers have been supported by Thailand’s monarch.

On a higher level, the need for a new interim constitution is needed to prepare for a permanent constitution which is designed to keep the Shinawatra family out of politics, or any future elected civilian politician who might attempt to dominate the political scene and perhaps threaten the political and economic monopoly of the monarchy.

What power does it give the military junta and General Prayuth?

The new temporary constitution has been produced to legitimize the May coup and the current ruling military junta, says Chambers

Article 44 of the constitution grants General Prayuth, as NCPO leader, total power over the rest of Thailand’s political system, though under the king.

I believe that Prayuth has worked to design the new interim charter to facilitate his rise to the position of Prime Minister. AsPrayuth is supposed to retire as Army Commander on October 1, 2014, he will probably remain NCPO head and also appoint himself prime minister, though this is not definite.

He will most likely appoint his loyalist, Deputy Army Commander General Udomdet Sitabutr as army commander. But Prayuth will remain in charge of the military and politics. The interim constitution allows this through Article 44.

Dr. Paul Chambers is Director of Research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

——————-

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HRW slams Thai junta’s ‘comprehensive gag order’

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July 24, 2014

New Constitution Gives Thai Junta Sweeping Powers

New Constitution Gives Thai Junta Sweeping Powers

Thailand’s new temporary constitution that gives the military government sweeping powers in the run-up to a planned October 2015 election also allows the leader of the current ruling junta to become interim prime minister, a senior army official said Wednesday.

The document adopted Tuesday is the first step toward restoring electoral democracy in Thailand, two months after the army took power in a coup, but the junta will continue to hold substantial power even after an interim Cabinet and legislature take office in September.

Although the interim charter is supposed to pave the way for civilian rule, it gives the junta — officially called the National Council for Peace and Order — what amounts to supreme power over political developments. It also legalizes all actions the junta has taken since the coup, as well as the takeover itself.

The members of the National Legislative Assembly will be appointed by the junta, and in turn will nominate a prime minister. The prime minister will then pick a Cabinet, which must be confirmed by the assembly.

The 48-article charter also lays out the process by which a permanent constitution will be drafted and adopted.

While the charter gives the military rulers almost supreme authority over politics, Wissanu Krea-ngam, a legal adviser to the junta, said Wednesday that the military would handle only peacekeeping and security matters, even though the interim constitution clearly gives it the final word on all important issues.

“There are not any provisions in the interim charter that give the power for the NCPO to oust the Cabinet or the prime minister, as people alleged,” Wissanu told reporters. “The NCPO will only exist to share the burdens of the Cabinet on security matters and peacekeeping, so that the Cabinet can run the country without getting distracted with other problems that could arise.”

According to deputy army commander Gen. Paiboon Kumchaya, junta leader and army commander-in-chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha can serve as interim prime minister under the new rules. The junta previously said the interim government would operate until a general election is held by October 2015, if no problems interfere.

“Personally, I don’t see that Gen. Prayuth lacks any qualifications. At this period, it’s like he’s already working as the prime minister,” Paiboon said. “In the past few months, Gen. Prayuth has been doing the job thoroughly, chairing every meeting by himself and running every ministry smoothly.”

The temporary constitution mandates that members of the legislative assembly as well as the prime minister and the Cabinet be at least 40 years old and not have been active members of a political party for the past three years.

Critics have charged that the military is seeking to weaken the power of political parties. One idea being discussed is having a portion of the lawmakers be chosen by occupational groups and different social sectors.

Article 44 of the charter gives Prayuth, as junta chief, the power “to order, suspend or do any actions he sees necessary for the benefits of the reforms, the unity and reconciliation of people in the country, or to prevent, suspend or suppress any actions that will destroy the peace and order, the national security and monarchy, the country’s economy or the country’s governance, no matter if such actions are taking place in or outside the kingdom.” It declares that such actions are automatically legal.

Analysts have raised concerns about the enormous power granted to the junta chief.

“This gives the power for the NCPO to commit any actions that might contradict or even go beyond the power given under this constitution,” said Ekachai Chainuvati, a law lecturer at Bangkok’s Siam University. “It states explicitly that he can perform any actions, such as reshuffling civil servants, drafting any laws or even punishing people judicially.”

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the Democrat Party, which is normally aligned with the establishment and the military, called for the junta leader to quickly clarify how he will exercise the power under Article 44 to “prevent conflict or chaos that could arise.”

“While I believe the society can accept the existence of the special powers in case there is going to be any chaos, it is not clear how necessary it is to extend the special authority to include legislative and judicial powers, or to claim that the power will be used for reforms or reconciliation,” Abhisit, a former prime minister, wrote in a Facebook post.

The coup on May 22 followed months of deep-rooted political conflict that virtually paralyzed the government.

 

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