Archive for ‘Thailand’

December 18, 2014

Thailand In Turmoil: Who Will Be The Next King (Or Queen)?

Barron's Asia

Thailand In Turmoil: Who Will Be The Next King (Or Queen)?

December 16, 2014, 8:17 P.M. ET

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The Thailand SET Index has fallen 8.5% since Thailand’s monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej cancelled the public celebration of his 87th birthday, on the advice of doctors who said he was too ill to make a public speech. Last week, the wife of the 62-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was demoted to a commoner after members of her family were arrested on corruption charges.

The events set off speculation that a royal succession is in order. The last royal succession was in 1946 when Bhumibol succeeded his older brother Ananda Mahidol, with the latter dying  after being shot in his bedroom.

Not surprisingly, the stock market is nervous. The dollar-denominated iShares MSCI Thailand Capped ETF (THD) has fallen nearly 11% in the meantime. Daily trading volume this week was over $550 million, well above the 30-day average of $375 million.

Prime Minister and military coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has said the sudden drop in stocks was because of “false rumors”. Teneo Intelligences Bob Herrera-Lim called him out on this and said market volatility was down to uncertainty over a royal succession:

Given recent developments, such rumors may be related to the succession. Other large cap, non-energy companies dropped almost simultaneously with PTT, including retailer Big C Supercenter, which at its worst plunged 20% during the day, and food company Charoen Pokphand Foods, which dropped 13% before recovering. Telecoms stocks Advance Info Systems and True also fell. Previous instances of large stock market drops were in 2010, a year after Bhumibol was hospitalized and questions over his health suddenly increased, and in 2007 after the then military-installed government floated a draft amendment to the foreign business act that would make it more difficult for foreign investors to control domestic enterprises.

So what will happen when the much revered King dies? “The most likely scenario is that the succession will be multi-year affair, starting with a year-long tribute to King Bhumibol,” wrote Herrera-Lim. Crown prince Vajiralongkorn, an unpopular figure in Thailand for his extravagant lifestyle, is likely to take the throne, although Herrera-Lim sees the scenario whereby his sister Royal Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who is liked by the Thais, may take over:

The alternative to Vajiralongkorn is Royal Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who is well-liked by Thais and would be better placed to preserve some of her father’s goodwill. However, Thailand has never had a female monarch and Sirindhorn had previously disavowed any interest in becoming queen. A third option is the Crown Prince’s nine year old son, with Sirindhorn acting as a regent.

And what’s the deal with Vajiralongkorn’s wife, formerly Princess Srirasmi, being demoted to a commoner? “Corruption is not uncommon among elite networks in Thailand, especially with the police, so the dismantling of Srirasmi’s network may be an effort by the prince to convince his opponents in the military and the monarchy that he is willing to take the needed steps to preserve the institution’s goodwill and, by consequence, its political power. Srirasmi was not only unpopular but controversial, tied to the prince’s freewheeling party life.” Search Srirasmi’s name on Google and you will find an interesting birthday party celebration video, which common Thais find particularly distasteful. Plus, the crown prince “appears headed for his fourth [wife],” said Herrera-Lim. Read BBC‘s analysis “What’s behind the downfall of Thailand’s Princess Srirasmi?



December 5, 2014

In graphics: Explaining Thailand’s volatile politics

In graphics

Explaining Thailand’s volatile politics

Dec 2nd 2014, 13:19 by THE DATA TEAM

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SINCE the introduction of Thailand’s constitutional monarchy in 1932, the country’s armed forces have been the most powerful force in Thai political life. Coups d’état that replace elected governments have gained legitimacy as part of the political process. The monarchy has endorsed all successful coups, including one in May 2014 that ousted Yingluck Shinawatra, who had won a landslide victory in a general election in 2011. She is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was himself ousted in a coup in 2006 and who is, from self-imposed exile in Dubai, the power and money behind Ms Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party. The current prime minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, is the 29th since 1932 and the 12th military strongman to hold the post. Breaking this cycle will not be easy given Thailand’s political and geographic schisms. The old establishment, including chunks of the royalist Democrat Party, which dominates politics in the south and in western parts of Bangkok, welcomes the “double coup” that ousted the Shinawatras as a necessary step to free the country from the grip of a populist authoritarian. Mr Thaksin’s supporters, who hold sway in the populous provinces of the north and north-east of the country, portray the return to military rule as the last effort of a privileged class to preserve the old order.

Thailand’s volatile politics have not prevented it from transforming itself from an agricultural economy into a modern industrial state. The economy grew at a near double-digit pace from 1982 until its collapse during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. Since the 2006 coup, annual GDP growth has been far more modest but foreign direct investment (FDI) has kept coming. The World Bank ranks Thailand 26th out of 189 countries on the ease of doing business. Thailand is the only upper-middle-income country in mainland South-East Asia and the only one with an uninterrupted power supply. Its GDP is bigger than the economies of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam combined. If Thailand’s economy could be said to belong to any foreign country, it would be Japan. After floods devastated Thailand in 2011, Japanese firms poured in nearly $30 billion to rebuild their favourite production base in Asia. That is more investment in three years than everything that American firms have poured in since the Vietnam war, plus everything Chinese firms have ever invested on top.

Thailand’s record since 1997 in improving its citizens’ standards of living has been unimpressive, fuelling political divisions. Many explanations have been proposed for this sluggish performance: a “middle-income trap”, a turf war among Thai elites over resources, an ageing population and a broken education system. What the official figures ignore are incomes from Thailand’s massive shadow economy, which, as a share of GDP, is bigger than any other in Asia. According to the World Bank, only half of all income shows up in Thailand’s national-accounts data.

Unlike its neighbours Myanmar and Cambodia, Thailand is facing the social and economic consequences of a rapidly ageing society. Today, three out of ten Thais are in the labour force, compared with eight out of ten in 1970. In some ways, the country is a victim of its own success. The fertility rate has plummeted from six in 1970 to 1.5 today and life expectancy has surged. Thailand is short of workers as a result. The reported unemployment rate is less than 1%. Millions of migrant workers from Myanmar and Cambodia keep things going. Future growth will have to come from capital accumulation or increases in productivity. That raises political questions. Only one in ten Thais, mainly members of the middle classes, pay tax currently. To provide better education and health services politicians might have to tax the middle classes far more heavily. Such thorny choices are likely to deepen the political divisions that bedevil Thailand.

December 5, 2014

Thailand’s Wind Energy Pioneer Turns Fugitive To Evade Arrest

Thailand’s Wind Energy Pioneer Turns Fugitive To Evade Arrest

Naazneen Karmali Forbes Staff

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Thailand’s wind energy pioneer, Nopporn Suppipat, better known as “Nick”, hit the headlines this week when an arrest warrant was issued against him Tuesday by the Bangkok Military Court. Suppipat, 43, is the cofounder and chief executive of Wind Energy Holdings, Thailand’s biggest developer of wind farms, and features among the country’s richest. He debuted last June on Forbes Asia’s ranking of Thailand’s 50 Richest at Number 31 with a net worth of $800 million.

In a case that has surprised the business establishment, Suppipat is now accused of conspiring with a couple of suspected criminals to kidnap one of his creditors to whom he owed the equivalent of $4 million. The planned abduction was apparently a desperate bid to get the lender to agree to reduce the debt. Suppipat faces charges of extortion, intimidation and of violating Thailand’s strict lese majeste law that protects its monarchy. Suppipat’s case is a fallout of an anti-corruption drive that has ensnared top police officers including the head of the Central Investigation Bureau.

When the suspects surrendered over the weekend, the arm of the law closed in on the man who allegedly hired them. To evade arrest, Suppipat is believed to have fled the country and according to some reports, has escaped to Cambodia.  A banker I approached declined to comment saying that the matter was “sensitive”.

Nopporn Suppipat: on the lam

Nopporn Suppipat: on the lam

Nopporn Suppipat: on the lamThe son of dentists, US-educated Suppipat earned a spot among Thailand’s wealthiest when he inked a deal to sell a minority stake in his privately-held Wind Energy that valued the firm at $1.2 billion. He’s the majority owner with a 65% holding along with his business partner Pradej Kitti-itsaranon who owns 24%.

When I met Suppipat earlier this year, he was dreaming of expanding overseas by listing Wind Energy at a valuation that he hoped would be in the region of $3 billion. Renewable energy firms had caught the fancy of investors and Suppipat was keen to cash in on the trend. Before he hit the green sweet spot, Suppipat had made and lost money twice, first in conventional energy then in magazine publishing.

His move into wind power, Suppipat told me, was a hugely risky one back in 2005 as the country was considered to be poor in wind resources. But Suppipat hired an American consultancy firm to do a detailed study and concluded that the naysayers were wrong. His bet:“ If you’re the first mover you can get an outsize return and that becomes your ammunition.”  While Suppipat had claimed that Wind Energy was profitable, that ammo apparently proved to be inadequate.


November 29, 2014

Office of Thai Crown Prince revokes wife’s family name after graft probe link to her kin

Office of Thai Crown Prince revokes wife’s family name after graft probe link to her kin

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Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand and his wife, Princess Srirasmi, attend a dinner for foreign sovereigns hosted by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at Buckingham Palace on May 18 2012. — PHOTO: SNAPPER MEDIA

THE office of Thailand’s Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has revoked the family name of his wife Srirasmi, days after several of her relatives were implicated in a police graft probe.

In a letter issued on Saturday, the Crown Prince’s secretary, Air Chief Marshal Sathipong Sukwimol, terminated the royally bestowed surname of Akharapongpreecha, ordering those using it to revert to their original surname.

The royal family grants surnames to individuals who are deemed to have made great contributions to the country.

Princess Srirasmi, 42, the third wife of Prince Vajiralongkorn, was originally named Srirasmi Akharapongpreecha. They have a nine-year-old son.

Over the past week, her family has been discredited by a widening graft probe involving alleged extortion and oil smuggling, among other crimes.

Her uncle, former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chaiyapan, has been charged with graft and lese majeste, an offence that carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years.

According to Bangkok Post reports, he and his collaborators had allegedly cited the monarchy when demanding bribes.

Several other senior policemen have also been implicated in the vast corruption probe, alongside three brothers Natthapol, Sitthisak, and Narong Akharapongpreecha, who are similarly accused of defaming the monarchy.

Narong has also been dismissed from his role as a civil servant in the royal household.

Among those who are allegedly part of this extortion gang is the former chief of a police unit, who fell to his death under mysterious circumstances a week ago and was cremated swiftly.

Thailand is currently governed by martial law following a military coup on May 22.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej is widely revered by Thais, who are anxious about the looming succession. He turns 87 on Dec 5.

November 29, 2014

Thailand crown prince strips wife’s family of royal name

BBC News Asia

Thailand crown prince strips wife’s family of royal name

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File photograph of Thai Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn
The prince sent a letter to the interior ministry asking that his wife’s family to be stripped of their royal name

Thailand’s Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has asked the government to strip his wife’s family of their royally bestowed name.

It comes after seven of her close relatives were arrested in a purge of officials allegedly involved in corruption.

Princess Srirasmi Akrapongpreecha is Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s third wife, and the pair married in 2001.

The move is widely expected to be a first step to divorce.

He was already known to be estranged from the princess, although they continued to attend official functions together.


The purge of Princess Srirasmi’s family over the past 10 days has been widely reported in Thailand.

However, until now the severity of the lese majeste law criminalising any critical comment about the monarchy meant that no Thai media had pointed out the family connection.

The princess’s uncle, a senior police general, was arrested over accusations of amassing vast wealth through smuggling and gambling rackets.

Four of her siblings and two other relatives have also been held.

The office of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has now sent a letter to the interior ministry ordering her family to be stripped of the royal name he bestowed on them when he married her.

The dramatic downfall of Princess Srirasmi comes at a very sensitive time, analysts say, with the 86 year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej in poor health.

As the Crown Prince’s wife, she would have been expected to become Queen when he succeeds his father, a potentially very powerful position given the exalted status of the monarchy in Thailand.

The pivotal position of the monarchy in Thailand’s political order makes the succession an extremely sensitive issue, many aspects of which still cannot be reported from inside the country.

The world’s longest-reigning monarch, King Bhumibol has been on the throne in Thailand since 1946.

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