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Blair, Annan to contribute to reform effort

Posted by Rattana_S On August - 10 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Yingluck says former UK and UN leaders agree to take part in forum next month

Former British prime minister Tony Blair and ex-United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan have agreed to contribute to Thailand’s political-reform effort, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday.

She said both Blair and Annan had unofficially accepted the government’s invitation to take part in a panel discussion to be hosted by the Foreign Ministry.

The ministry, assigned by the government, is approaching foreign leaders, particularly those with experience in dealing with conflicts between compatriots, to help contribute to Thailand’s efforts towards national reconciliation, the PM said.

“The government wants to embrace international viewpoints and measures that have been successfully implemented in foreign countries. We want these to benefit Thailand, too. Foreign leaders are invited to speak to Thai people,” she added.

The ministry has approached more than 10 foreign leaders and former leaders, said PM’s secretary-general Suranand Vejjajiva.

The foreign leaders will take part in a panel discussion titled “Uniting for the Future: Learning from Each Other’s Experiences”, to be held by the Foreign Ministry on September 2, said Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul.

In addition to Blair and Annan, Finland’s former president Martti Ahtisaari has been invited to join the discussion and share his international-reconciliation experience, Surapong said.

Blair, 60, served as UK prime minister from 1997 to 2007, while Ghanaian Annan, 75, served as the seventh UN secretary-general from 1997 to 2006. Ahtisaari, 76, was in office from 1994 to 2000.

Both Annan and Ahtisaari are Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

In an interview with the Thai media last year, Annan was asked to comment on the role of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in reconciliation. He said it was up to the country’s political leaders to find a way to bridge gaps.

“They have to put the country first. The country is bigger than they are,” he added.

Thaksin’s legal adviser Noppadon Pattama said yesterday that it depended on the government whether to invite Thaksin to join the proposed political reform forum.

He said that regardless of whether Thaksin was invited, there were already people with the same views as his in the forum.

Priscilla Hayner, an expert on truth commissions and transitional justice who has focused her work on official truth-seeking measures in political transitions around the world, has also been invited to join the discussion, said Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana.

He said the political reform forum, proposed recently by the prime minister, could begin next week with about 100 participants.

“The number of participants should be more than 50, but not over 100. Too few people, and the viewpoints gathered would lack diversity. Too many people, and you don’t have [enough time for] everyone speaking,” he said.

Phongthep said he understood that some of the senior figures invited might, however, be unable to join the forum, because of their current status.

In a related development, former Democrat Party leader Bhichai Rattakul yesterday accepted a government invitation for him to join the political reform forum. Phongthep had called on Bhichai at his house to extend the invitation.

Bhichai said the reform effort should not be aimed at benefiting anyone or any political party in particular, nor should anyone set conditions for joining the forum.

The opposition Bhum Jai Thai Party also agreed to take part yesterday. Party leader Anutin Charnweerakul, who was approached by Phongthep and PM’s Office Minister Varathep Ratanakorn, said he had accepted the invitation in principle.

“Bhum Jai Thai would be delighted to see peace in the country. Personally, I will do anything to help with the reconciliation efforts,” he said.

Cabinet choices show PM relies on technocrats

Posted by Rattana_S On July - 23 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

OVER THE PAST two years, the Yingluck Shinawatra administration has made numerous Cabinet reshuffles involving 55 ministers. Most recently, six former senior bureaucrats were “upgraded” by being appointed as ministers.

Chaikasem Nitisiri, former attorney general, was made justice minister, while Benja Louicharoen left the helm as director-general of the Customs Department three months before retirement to take over as deputy finance minister.

Yanyong Phuangrach, former permanent secretary of Commerce Ministry, was made deputy commerce minister.

The other three who are from the quota of coalition partners are: Yukol Limlamthong, former permanent secretary of the Agriculture Ministry, who became agriculture minister; former Suphan Buri governor Somsak Pureesrisak, now tourism and sports minister; and Pongsvas Svasti, a former candidate for the position of rector of Thammasat University, an industry minister in one of Yingluck’s earlier cabinets.

One of the first questions asked by the media was whether these bureaucrats were appointed as ministers because they were pro-Pheu Thai Party or had served ousted and fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in any way.

Chaikasem insisted this was not the case. He said he was appointed solely because he was the right man for the job. While serving as attorney general, he said, on some occasions he had to bring legal cases against Thaksin to court, while at other times he withdrew cases against him. “I’m very straightforward on such matters,” Chaikasem has been quoted as saying.

As for Benja, she said she could swear her appointment had nothing to do with politics, and that all scrutiny was welcomed, adding that Prime Minister Yingluck was the one who contacted her to join the Cabinet. Yanyong is no different and stressed that his appointment had nothing to do with politics, adding that he earns less money taking up the post than working as a business adviser.

Sources say appointing former top bureaucrats to Cabinet is not unexpected, especially when considering the difficulties the administration faced in trying to push officials to pursue its policies to tackle the flood crisis in 2011, without senior bureaucrats as their enablers.

Bureaucrats who worked with both Thaksin and Yingluck said there were three reasons some senior bureaucrats and technocrats accepted cabinet portfolios.

First, political power is tempting after working closely with politicians.

Second, the prime minister wants an assurance that things will move up the bureaucratic ladder smoothly when orders are given. She also wants a sense of security that nothing against bureaucratic regulations will be committed, as the opposition is only too ready to take improper conduct or orders to court or to the so-called independent bodies.

Third, in Thaksin’s case, such practice reflected his style of management wherein he has the habit of taking into his fold anyone seen as competent to strengthen his political and management base.

Proportionally, the cabinets of the Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra administrations seem to have had similar numbers of technocrats. Meanwhile, having too many bureaucrat-ministers, as in the Surayud Chulanont administration, tends to slow down the work of government, the sources said.

Not all bureaucrats-turned-politicians find their lives bearable, however. Wissanu Krea-ngam, cabinet secretary-general turned deputy prime minister, resigned three months before the coup of September 19, 2006, citing unbearable weight of pressure from society as the Thaksin Shinawatra administration became increasingly unpopular and opposed by more people.

“I didn’t imagine there would be such friction … For friction inside the party, you still have the reserve power of the PM to protect you – but if it’s coming from outside, even the premier can’t survive. I think I am not tolerant enough,” he said.

Charuaypon Torranin, commissioner of merit system protection, said there was nothing wrong with technocrats becoming ministers. However, they must not show too much political favouritism as it might backfire on them.

Some bureaucrats have been seen as an opposition within the government. Thawil Pliensri was transferred from the post of National Security Council secretary-general, to which he was appointed in the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, to a PM’s advisory post, while deputy permanent secretary of finance Supa Piyajitti has been under investigation since revealing data about the rice-pledging scheme to parliamentary committees.

Chalerm warns Yingluck of her ‘ice-cream gang’

Posted by Rattana_S On July - 5 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

A disaffected Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung yesterday warned Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that she was setting her government up for an early demise thanks to her new “ice-cream gang”.

Chalerm was apparently referring to Yingluck’s young aides.

After reporting for work at the Labour Ministry for the first time since the Cabinet reshuffle, Chalerm spent more than an hour complaining about his transfer. He previously held the post of deputy prime minister.

After briefly addressing senior Labour Ministry officials, Chalerm said he was sorry about being removed from his previous position because he was doing so well in fighting drug trafficking.

“I have the right to ask why I was transferred when I had always performed well,” he said.

Chalerm went on to say that his sarcastic comment about being former PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s slave was only meant to have a dig at the opposition Democrat Party. He said Yingluck had invited him to meet Thaksin in London in 2006, where he was asked to join the People Power Party.

After that he was put at the helm of the Interior Ministry for eight months until the so-called “gang of four” took over and started influencing the Cabinet. In this case he was referring to former PM, the late Samak Sundarvej, Thirapol Noprumpha, Newin Chidchob and People Power Party secretary-general Surapong Suebwonglee, who apparently tried to wrest power from Thaksin.

“And now there’s an ‘ice-cream gang’ at Government House,” he said.

Chalerm added that Yingluck should have veteran politicians around her so she can be shielded from political attacks.

“Now, she has only dogs around her and she will face her demise as prime minister as nobody will respect her,” he said.

He went on to say that measures to control the Southern Unrest had failed partially because he had only taken over the responsibility in November and had not been given enough power or funds.

He also attacked Thawee Sodsong, secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre, for ignoring his demand that he publicly announce that Chalerm had evidence proving that the Barisan Revolusi Nasional was behind the May 1 attack.

Six civilians were killed in the attack, and foreign media have been blaming Thai soldiers for it.

He also claimed that Thawee and the “ice-cream gang” had told Yingluck about his inability to ease the situation in the South, which is why she chose not to give him the task to oversee national security.

Will patience pay in the long run?

Posted by Rattana_S On June - 21 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Though Yingluck appears to be asserting her independence, Thaksin too seems to be willing to do anything to return

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is believed to be pulling the strings behind the ruling Pheu Thai Party, once described his sister Yingluck as his “clone”. But over her past 22 months in power, Prime Minister Yingluck appears to be working hard to shed that image.

Yingluck, who turns 46 today, has resisted many of Thaksin’s ideas and even refused her big brother’s choice of aides and advisers. This has led to conjecture of a rift between the siblings.

A ruling party source said it was not unusual to see Yingluck asserting her independence. Her trusted aides are people of the same age who understand her, even though they are less experienced and have less ability than the advisers chosen by Thaksin.

However, Thaksin does not trust some of his sister’s aides because they abandoned him after the September 2006 coup. Yet, the source said, one of the advisers chosen by Thaksin admonished Yingluck publicly.

In addition, Yingluck’s confidantes have refused to take heed of the advice offered by advisers chosen by Thaksin, which has resulted in a growing crisis of confidence in the government. These issues include the Bt2-trillion loan for infrastructure projects, the baht’s rapid appreciation and the loss-making rice-pledging scheme, which have opened the government to attack from the opposition.

Suranand Vejjajiva, the PM’s secretary-general and one of Yingluck’s trusted confidants, said the PM is sincere and apolitical.

“Yingluck is not a politician. I think this is a good quality, considering the current situation. The minute she qualifies as a politician, her sincerity will fly right out the window,” he said.

Yingluck has more patience than her brother in running the government, even if it means having to step back sometimes, he said. “Thaksin is hot-headed and wants to see immediate results. Yingluck steps back while advancing too. She waits patiently and never gives up,” he said.

Neither Thaksin nor older sister Yaowapa Wongsawat have tried to influence Yingluck in running the government, Suranand said. Though, he added, it was normal for siblings to seek advice from each other. “Even I have sought advice from the former PM sometimes,” he said.

Meanwhile, Thaksin’s legal adviser and spokesman, Noppadon Pattama, said there was no need for Yingluck to abandon her image as Thaksin’s clone because it was natural for siblings to be similar.

After all, he said, Yingluck was riding on the coat-tails of Thaksin’s popularity.

Yet, after almost two years in office, Yingluck has shifted from being “a former prime minister’s sister who became a prime minister” to “a prime minister who happens to be a former prime minister’s sister”.

He said Yingluck is self-reliant and possesses strong leadership skills, though he denied that she is in conflict with Thaksin because of that.

Apirak Kosayodhin, deputy leader of the opposition Democrat Party, agreed that Yingluck was trying to outgrow her image of Thaksin’s clone.

He added that attending international forums and portraying herself as an effective leader was possibly part of this attempt.

Yet, the prime minister appears to be keeping herself aloof from the government’s problems. Her usual excuse is that Cabinet members should be responsible for these matters. However, many issues have become serious because the ministers overseeing them are inefficient.

“The prime minister seems to have done almost nothing herself. There are teams responsible for various matters, including economic and political ones,” Apirak said.

Plus, some government policies appear to have had unfortunate side-effects. The rice-pledging scheme, for instance, is plagued by irregularities. The tax rebate for first-car owners has been causing severe traffic jams and the hike in minimum daily wage to Bt300 has been blamed for the escalating cost of living.

Yet, both Suranand and Noppadon agreed that Yingluck’s gentle style of running the government made her the “best choice” in the current political situation, and with her improved leadership skills, the government will stay alive and kicking.

Apirak disagreed. He said the government’s popularity was on the decline and that it was facing a barrage of problems, including corruption, rising cost of living, acts of intimidation by government supporters and disputes between certain red-shirt groups and the ruling party.

As the government heads for the second half of its term, Thaksin has instructed Pheu Thai politicians to go all out on controversial political issues involving the amnesty law and constitutional amendment.

Critics say the hidden agenda behind these moves is to bring Thaksin back home without the need to spend time in jail. Obviously, Thaksin believes high risk brings big rewards. Yet, his sister prefers to “play it safe”.

Apirak said that though Yingluck appeared to have become stronger after two years in power, her longevity as government head also depends on what Thaksin wants his loyal politicians to do to bring him back home.

Eventually, the prime minister will have to decide whether she will “play it safe” or “take the risk”. She will have to choose between her big brother’s dreams and her own political future.