(English)
THAILAND IN 2007

Events in 2007 could be categorized into 7 topics as follows:
  1. The Constitution
  2. The National Legislative Assembly.
  3. Public Policies.
  4. Finance.
  5. Politics.
  6. Violence in the South.
  7. National disaster.


THE 2007 CONSTITUTION

While democracy was de-railed by the 19th September 2006 coup, the Council for National Security (CNS) quickly restored it by the promulgation of the Interim Constitution and the appointment of 100-member Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) and 35-member Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC).

Guiding principles of the Constitution as were eventually enshrined in the first chapter GENERAL PROVISIONS were:

Section 1.
Thailand is one and indivisible Kingdom.

Section 2.
Thailand adopts a democratic form of government with the King as Head of State.

Section 3.
Sovereign power belongs to the Thai people. The King as Head of State shall exercise such power through the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the Courts in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
Duty performed by the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, the Courts, as well as constitutionally mandated organizations and state agencies shall be in compliance to legal principles.

Section 4.
Human dignity, right, liberty and equality of the people shall be protected.

Section 5.
Thai people, irrespective of their origin, gender or religious belief, shall enjoy equal protection under this Constitution.

Section 6.
The Constitution is the supreme law of the State. Any provisions of law, rule or regulation, which are contrary to or inconsistent with this Constitution, shall be unenforceable.

Section 7.
Whenever no Constitutional provision is applicable to a particular situation, a decision shall be made in accordance with the custom of a democratic form of government that has the King as Head of State.

Key issues which were debated during the drafting process included:
  1. Whether a prime minister must be elected.
  2. Whether senators should be appointed or elected.
  3. The size of constituencies.
  4. Retention of the party-list MPs.
  5. The amount of input independent organizations was to have.
  6. Public monitoring.
  7. Human rights.
  8. Minimum educational qualification of candidates.
  9. The minimum time candidates must belong to a party prior to election.


Problems of the previous government which Constitutional drafters aimed to address were:
  1. The protection, promotion, and expansion of rights and freedoms of the people;
  2. The reduction of the concentration of power and the elimination of abuses;
  3. Making politics more transparent, moral and ethical; and
  4. Strengthening and increasing the effectiveness of the scrutiny process by making scrutiny bodies freer, stronger, and more efficient.


The Draft Constitution was finalized in March and released to the public on 18th April. Salient points included an end to an all-elected Senate, a grant of amnesty to coup leaders, a weakening of political party discipline, and a reduction in the number of Representatives.

The country retains its bicameral system of a House of Representatives and Senate, but drafters changed the way the members of each body are selected, making it much more complex. This change represents a significant shift in power away from the electorate to unelected judges and civil servants.

The Senate is to have 150 members. Two from each province (changwat), one elected and one selected, with Bangkok having both senators elected. Selection will be made by a panel from a list of candidates compiled by the Election Commission. The appointing panel will comprise of judges and seven top bureaucrats, e.g. heads of the Election Commission, the National Counter-Corruption Commission and the President of the Constitutional Court. Every three years, half of the selected senators will draw lots to determine retirement and allow a new selection. A senatorial term is six years.

The House of Representatives will have 480 members, 400 of whom will be directly elected from constituency districts and remainder drawn proportionally from party lists. The Election Commission will divide the country into 188 constituencies and 8 (party list) zones. Depending on population size, 31 constituencies will have one Representative, the rest 2-3. Voters will choose whatever number of their Representative/s directly. The 80 party-list representatives, however, will come from 8 zones, each having 10 members. Each zone will have an average population of approximately 7.8 million and parties will submit a list of 10 candidates for each. Voters will vote for a particular political party at the same time as voting for constituency candidates. That party will then return the number of party lists members proportionate to the number of votes received.

In addition, the draft Constitution sets a two-term limit for the Prime Minister and establishes a special panel including the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and senior judges in case of a political crisis.

The previous (1997) constitution sought to consolidate Thai politics and avoid the fractured coalitions of the 1990s, the current one seeks to decentralize power from the politicians and buttress power of bureaucrats and judges.

The Committee on Information and Public Dissemination of the Constitution Drafting Assembly led an advertising campaign to persuade voters to approve the Draft. In this effort 19 million copies of the draft Constitution were printed for the referendum on 19th August.

The Referendum Return

45 million qualified voters
25 million voted ballots
1/2 million invalid ballots
14.7 million voters approved (56.69%)
10.7 million voters disapproved (41.37%)

The 2007 Constitution was endorsed by HM the King on August 24 and the election date is scheduled for December 23.

THE NATIONAL LEGISLATION ASSEMBLY (NLA)

During 2007, many laws were enacted by the NLA and by closing date, more are still in the scrutinizing process. Amongst those enacted were:
  • The Computer Forgery Act: imposing a penalty on the sender of forged electronic mail.
  • The Protection against Domestic Violence Act: seeking to prevent domestic violence with a penalty of maximum 6 months imprisonment or maximum Bt6, 000 fine or both. Any person witnessing or knowing of domestic violence must report the incident to the police.
  • The Driving Act: prohibiting drivers from using a mobile phone while driving.
  • The Two and Three Digit Lottery Act: granting permission to operate the two and three digit lottery.
  • The Alcohol Act: raising the minimum age of buyer from 18 to 20 years.
  • The Forest Communities Act: this long awaited Act gives permission to forest communities to live in the forest while preserving and managing forest land surrounding their communities.
  • The Human Trafficking Act: imposing penalties on those involved in prostitution, human trafficking, forced labor or begging and trading of human organs. The law is specifically gender neutral in that it prohibits these acts against men and women.


PUBLIC POLICIES

During 2007, the government initiated numerous new policies, some of which are clearly a reaction to the apparent self-dealing laws of the previous regime. Not all of these policies have been approved by the NLA. Significant new policies include:
  • Retired Dikka (highest court) judges co-opted to hear criminal cases against high ranking politicians
  • Stronger anti-corruption laws restrict politicians and state officials, their spouse, relatives and dependants from acts which could give rise to conflict of interests.
  • The Foreign Business Act limits foreign share-ownership and voting rights for businesses more than 50% foreign owned.
  • Revoked Thaksin-era excise tax on telecom services which gave a huge advantage to his family company.
  • New policy to de-politicize and decentralize the police, to make it more accessible and responsive to the public and to improve the working life of junior offices so they can work more efficiently. New structure to streamline the police and transfer non-core police business to other departments.
  • To require every businesses of more than 200 employees to employ a minimum of one disabled person to any position.
  • The Cabinet supports financial institutions programs to promote debt relief for farmers, e.g. to delay enforcing mortgages, to waive 50% of original debt for farmers with debts of less than 1 million baht and to waive 10% of interest for those with more than 1 million baht debt.
  • University autonomy bills aim to decentralize state university governance and to reduce the bureaucracy, but the bills sparked opposition from students and officials on grounds that autonomy might lead to privatization.
  • Emergency Medical Team Act: to finance, equip and upgrade emergency aid teams to international standard.
  • To increase community development fund to comply with HM the Kings Sufficiency Economy philosophy by another 271 million baht so total available would be 10 billion baht. And to end the Village Fund, initiated by Thaksin government.
  • To regulate the appointment of Kamnan and village head to ensure candidates are qualified. Their terms have been extended until retirement age of 60, but evaluation is now required every five years. The government also promotes their education by subsidizing their university fees.
  • Retention of 7 per cent VAT until 30th September 2008.
  • Retail Business Bill aims to protect consumers from unfair dominance by giant retailers and prevent some retailers from monopolizing the market by offering short term low prices to attract customers.
  • To regulate the issuance of local authoritys bond to ensure transparency and good governance.
  • To restore the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC), to be headed by Chief of the Army, with the aim to secure domestic security. However, the bill sparked human rights opposition on grounds that it gives to ISOC martial law-type power, immune to any judicial review.
  • To shelve Local Community Organization Councils Bill which was strongly opposed by Ministry of Interior and local authorities associations for being redundant (or for self-interest?) whilst supported by scholars and leaders of peoples organizations as being a mechanism for peoples participation in democracy.
  • To restructure the Civil service, to stagger office hours and increase pay.
  • To privatize State enterprises, but utilities, lottery and tobacco manufacturing, are excluded. Individual State enterprises may increase pay up to 4% subject to performance.
  • To reformulate excise tax on alcoholic drinks, tobacco and air-conditioners, to promote fairness between imported and domestic manufacture. To also increase excise tax on alcohol and tobacco.
  • To ban incitement of pornographic, violent, or illegal acts in all media.
  • Early retirement scheme for state officials over 50 years of age.
  • To reduce excise tax for ethanol-based cars as part of an energy conservation policy, effective January 2008.
  • Establishment of National Food and Drugs Committee to supervise and coordinate the enforcement of various food and drug laws.
  • To require certain professions and businesses targeted by money launderers to report cash transaction above Baht 1 million.
  • To grant Thai nationality to sea gypsies residing in the country for more than 10 years.
  • Development of nuclear energy paving way for nuclear power plant.
  • Approval of new underground purple line.
  • To protect rights of surrogate child, to legalize the status of intending parents and child and to prevent commercial exploitation of the child by the surrogate mother.
  • To waive income tax, value added tax, business tax and excise stamp for supporters of education, research and development, invention and educational training.
  • To promote gender equality by 1) prohibiting sex discrimination, 2) establishing a committee to promote gender equality, 3) establishing an office of Feminine and Family Affairs, 4) investigating claims of sex discrimination, and 5) allocating funds to promote gender equality.


NATIONAL FINANCE

In July, the government submitted the 2008 Budget of Baht 1.66 trillion to the National Legislation Assembly. It was Baht 165 billion in deficit (or 1.8% of gross domestic product) and after three readings was reduced to Baht 1.60 trillion. It was finally passed with 108 to 0 votes on 5th September.

Prime Minister Suyayud Chulanont reassured the NLA that the deficit would not affect the economy since growth rate was expected at 5% pa while overall inflation rate 3%. The country would adopt the Sufficiency Economy philosophy and focus on sustainable development.

Regarding the policy of decentralization, 37 provinces will have self-budgeting in the 2008 fiscal year. It means that they would be able to make their own development plan and their own budget and it is expecting that all 75 provinces would be on self-planning and self budgeting by 2009.

Regarding Public Health, the Board of Social Security Office approved the proposal to increase annual public health expenditure from Baht 1,495 to Baht 1,539 per person. The new rate requires the approval of the Medical Council.

POLITICS

For IPPS, the most interesting event towards political development in Thailand in 2007 might be the National Legislative Assembly vote, on 14th November, to read a Draft Bill on the establishment of a Political Development Council. This Council is to comprise of experts and members from civic sectors. A fund is also being allocated to promote political participation amongst the general public.

This is against the background that on the New Years Eve 2007, several bombs blasts in Bangkok caused deaths and injuries. A year later, the police have not been able to discover the cause nor made arrests. The Prime Minister, however, said that evidence suggests that domestic politics is the cause.

The case against Thai Rak Thai (TRT) continues. On 30th May, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that Thai Rak Thai and two other small parties were guilty of election fraud; the Democrats were cleared. As a result, Thai Rak Thai was not only dissolved but its 111 executives were banned from political activities for 5 years. The key charge against TRT was that it had paid two small parties: Pattana Chart Thai and Thai Ground, to run against it in 37 constituencies in the 2nd April 2006 election. This was the election that was boycotted by main opposition parties, but an electoral rule requires an unopposed candidate to gain more than 20% of the votes to win. In many constituencies, particularly 35 in the South, TRTs candidates would not be able to do so.

A satellite television company, Peoples Television (PTV), founded by former TRT members, lost its license and attempted to broadcast from Sanam Luang. A stage was set up, but tension grew in the early afternoon when city police tried to dismantle the stage. Some demonstrators intervened and clashed with the police, nine core leaders arrested but later released on bail.

On 20th June, the NLA voted to lift a ban on political activities, including setting up a new political party.

The National Legislative Assembly extended the Asset Examination Committees (AEC) term until 30th June 2008. AEC was originally founded by the CNS as an ad hoc agency to investigate Thaksin Shinawatras conduct and allegations of conflict of interests. On 11th June 2007, AEC ordered local banks to freeze 21 bank accounts, worth more than Baht 52 billion belonging to Thaksin and his associates including his wife, children, sister and in-laws until they can prove that these accounts have nothing to do with the alleged malfeasances in the following cases:
  • Abuse of power in his wifes purchase of government land on Ratchadapisek Road worth Bt 772 million:
  • Corruption in a government purchase of rubber sapling worth Bt 1.44 billion:
  • Corruption in the Suvarnabhumi Airport purchase of the CTX 9000 bomb scanners worth Bt 1.5 billion,
  • Illegal launch of the two-and-three digit lottery, and
  • Illegal Krung Thai Bank loan.


AEC filed the Ratchadapisek land case in a special new court: the Criminal Tribunal for Political Office Holders, alleging that the purchaser- Khunying Pojaman- as the Prime Ministers spouse was barred, by the Constitution, from purchasing assets from the government. The court ordered the Defendants, Thaksin and Khunying Pojaman- to answer the charges, and issued an arrest warrant when they failed to appear in Court. Their attorney issued a statement saying that they both are residing in London and shall return to Thailand after an elected government takes office.

Regards to former administrations misconduct, the cabinet appointed an independent panel, chairs by former General Attorney Kanit Na Nakorn to investigate into an allegation on anti-drugs policy implementation led to arrests, seizures, death and mysteriously disappearance of hundreds of people.

SOUTHERN VIOLENCE

Violence in the three southern provinces: Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat- and some districts in Songkla continues despite measures adopted including:
  • A three-month extension of the state of emergency;
  • Each village chief is to have 4 additional deputies to deal with security;
  • The Southern Border Provinces Administration Center (SBPAC) was re-established to tackle grievances, and
  • New development and financial projects were allocated to ease the local ailing economy.


In December 2006, PM Surayud, in his address on Al Jezeera Television broadcasted to Muslim countries, admitted that violence in the South was caused by social injustice and the new Constitution will devolve power to the local people. Nevertheless, daily violence continues. The most violent were over 30 fires and bombings during Chinese New Year in February which caused 6 deaths and 60 injured, and the mini bus ambush in Yala, on March 14 which killed all 9 passengers.

Violence in the south has created a rift between the Buddhists and Muslims. On December 27, 2006, a group of about 200 Buddhists gathered on route 410 in Yala Province demanding that officials apply the law strictly and not allow mob rule to dictate how suspects are to be treated as had happened in the past.

Measures were adopted to ease violence including a plan to designate the area a Special Educational Development Zone with particular strategies:
  • to provide education in security,
  • to stimulate equality in education,
  • to support religious education,
  • to promote education that is fit for employment, and
  • to strengthen the administration of education.


NATIONAL DISASTER

On 16th September 2007, an airplane crashed-landed in bad weather at Phuket airport, 90 people were killed; 43 survived.

STATISTICAL SUMMARY OF CABINET RESOLUTIONS IN 2007


The Government of Surayud Chulanont held its first Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 10th October 2006 and declared its policies to the National Legislative Assembly on 3rd November 2006.

The Communications Office of the Secretariat of the Cabinet has analyzed the Cabinet meetings of the Surayud Government from its first meeting on 10th October 2006 until its last on 30th September 2007, under various categories e.g. the number, the type of matters considered and whether resolutions were made pursuant to declared policies.
  1. Cabinet meetings are pinnacles of the Executive branch. They determine developmental and security policies and practice as well as act as the final arbiter for inter-governmental conflicts. Decisions from these meetings become Cabinet Resolutions. Normally, the Cabinet meets every Tuesday, except for during holidays when it may be postponed. In the one year of the Surayud government (October 2006 September 2007), there were 49 meetings and 3,410 resolutions, an average of 200-300 per month.
  2. Number of matters for consideration : 487
    Number of matters for acknowledgement 2,052
  3. Cabinet resolutions can be divided between legal and non-legal matters. Legal includes all types of laws, rules and regulations. There were 1,125 legal matters and 2,285 non-legal.
  4. Number of Cabinet resolutions that were made pursuant to the five areas of policies as declared to the National Assembly:
    • Policy to reform politics, government and operations : 226
    • Economic policy : 567
    • Social policy : 295
    • Foreign policy : 137
    • National security policy : 257

    Total 1,482

  5. Cabinet resolutions that are applicable generally 674
    Cabinet resolutions that are applicable to only certain geographical areas
    • The South : 190
    • The West : 15
    • Bangkok Metropolis : 95
    • Central Plains : 177
    • The North : 162
    • The Northeast : 147
    • The East : 85

    Total 871

    Extract from the Report on Cabinet Resolution Data
    http://www.cabinet.thaigov.go.th/cc_main31.htm
 


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