(English)
THAILAND IN 2010

INTRODUCTION

Political conflict in 2009 continued into 2010 and seemed to be resolved at a certain degree, either by the greatest flood in 50 years or by the judiciary system. Constitution amendment was started and expected to finish before the next general election. The ruling Party, Democrat, was saved from dissolution and looking forward to gain popularity from the implementation of economic alleviation measures and several civil laws are being enforced for public good.

POLITICAL CONFLICT

Political conflict, started in 2009, continued to the first half of 2010 and the Red Shirt protest accelerated into bloodshed street riots and torched of 39 buildings in Bangkok and the provinces. The situations erupted after the Supreme Courts Criminal Division for Political Office Holders, on 26th February, ruled that the State can seize 46,373,687,454 Baht, out of the total of 76,621,603,060 frozen in bank accounts of Thaksin Shinawatra and his former wife, Pojaman. The verdict was that during his premiership, Thaksin and his wife concealed their ownership of shares in Shin Corp., and breached several laws including the Constitution, the Cabinets Share Holding Act 2000, the Anti-Corruption Act 1999 and the Criminal Act. The money was later transferred to the State.

In the starting of March 2010, Thaksins supporters known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship [UDD] or Red Shirts organized rallies on the streets of Bangkok demanding parliamentary dissolution within 15 days. Their leaders met with the Prime Minister who proposed to dissolve the House after 9 months. As no agreement was reached, on March 12, the UDD leaders summoned the provincial Red Shirts to come to Bangkok. A stage was set up at Phan Fah Leelat Bridge on Ratchadamnern Avenue and they took turns in rallying on Bangkok streets every weekend blocking traffic in that area.

The Government applied Security Law to deal with the situation and later set up an ad hoc committee, the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation [CRES]. The Security Law was replaced with the Emergency Act.

On 16th March, the Red Shirts went to the Government House and later to the Prime Ministers private residence and Democrat Party office. They poured and splashed human being blood previously collected from their supporters. Those building were vacated during weekend and the Prime Minister and some few ministers had taken refuge in the 11th Infantry Regiment in Bang Khen for safety.

Despite of endeavor from many civil society leaders, the Senate and independent agencies to resolve the political conflict, the Red Shirt parades were held every weekend immobilizing traffic in those areas. On 27th March, they went to block the Parliament House demanded to search for soldiers. On that day, bombs were thrown in front of the National Broadcasting Television station, Channel 5 and the Excise Department.

On 29th March, more M79 grenades were thrown into the 11th Infantry Regiment compound causing 4 injuries. That afternoon, the Prime Minister, Korbsak Sapavasu and Chamni Sakdiseth had a televised meeting with UDDs leaders Veera Musikapong, Chatuporn Promphan and Nathawut Sai-Kaue. After a long debate of no resolution, they decided to meet again on the next day. However, the 29th May meeting was abruptly ended when Chatuporn refused to proceed on in the next day. The attempt to resolve political conflict was fruitless and both sides went back to where they were.

It should be noted that during March, despite of the enforcement of Security Law in Bangkok and a few districts in the vicinity provinces, there were more than 30 explosions in Bangkok at strategically important places, such as the Prem Thinsulanond Foundation, TV stations and army barracks. Moreover, an attempt to resolve the political conflict in the House of Reps was also failed since 80 members of the Opposition Party, Paue Thai, walked out of the House before the session convened.

In April, the political conflict descended into anarchy when the Red Shirt protests continued in Bangkok and in many provinces in the north and northeastern regions. They occupied Ratchaprasong shopping area to set up another stage. Throughout the month, the provincial Red Shirts, in respond of Thaksin Shinawatra and the UDD leaders calling, poured into Ratchadamnern and Ratchaprasong areas. They were provided with basic facilities such as shelters, meals and sanitation. Traffic in those areas was completely blocked and the annoyed Bangkok residents formed an anti-Red groups. Through a Facebook social network, the anti-Red grew rapidly and confrontation between the contradictory believers began. Anti-riot squads were deployed to block the Red Shirts rallies but all operations failed. The troops were forced to retreat leaving their weapons including several M16 rifles in the hands of the protesters.

On 10th, troops were sent out to disperse the protesters from Ratchadamnern area. Notwithstanding the 7 escalating measures used as previously announced by the CRES, the confrontation intensified into clashes after soldiers dropped tear gas from helicopters. The angry protesters threw bottles, sticks, stones and even fire bombs into troops and when night fell, armed men in black joined and fired the soldiers with M79 grenades and live bullets. When fighting end after the troop retreated, 25 people, including soldiers, were dead and 863 injuries. Meanwhile, a police operation in Ratchaprasong area also failed. The UDD leaders announced their victory through their People Channel TV and ordered protesters in the provinces to torch local town halls if the government tried to disperse them again. From 14th April, all Red Shirts joined up in Ratchaprasong only where they erected 6 barricades of rubber tries and bamboo sticks for protection. They threat to use gas containers and fire-crackers rockets to counter attack. Every night, M79 grenades and missiles were fired into several places including the Skytrains Silom station where one people was killed and a few injured.

On 24th April, the Red Shirts changed their outfits into multi-colors. Their new tactics were to block the roads into Bangkok in order to prevent provincial police and troops coming to replace the worn out ones in Bangkok. The military resolved by setting up a road block further away and on 29th April, there was a clash between the protesters from Ratchaprasong and military troops. An exchange of gunfire resulted in many UDD being injured and one soldier died. A day after, on 29th April, another UDD leader, Payap Panket, led about 200 Red guards into Chulalongkorn Hospital searching for soldiers. Finding none, they retreated but the Hospital evacuated its patients and suspended out-patient services. Previously, all commercial activities in Ratchaprasong area terminated after the UDD occupation.

Another political resolution was shut down when the Paue Thai Party decided to drop its censure motion against the Prime Minister reasoned the debate would endorse the Governments legitimacy.

On 5th May, the Prime Minister proposed Reconciliation Roadmap to resolve social injustice, establishing facts about the April violence and promising to hold a general election on 14th November 2010. The UDD leaders accepted it on conditions that the definite date of parliamentary dissolution must be announced. They also demanded the lifting of the Emergency status as well as the return of all troops to the barracks before the protesters would disband.

Four days later, on 9th May, Maj. Gen. Kattiya Sawasdiphol [aka She Daeng], leader of the militant wing of the UDD announced his objection to the Roadmap, claiming he was directly authorized by Thaksin to remove and appoint new UDD leaders. He demanded 4 resolutions; 1] a Parliament dissolve, 2] arrest warrant on the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime minister and Army Chief, 3] a reconnect of the People Channel TV, and 4] a lift of Emergency law. His call, particularly on the arrest of Deputy Prime Minister, was responded by not only other UDD leaders but also Deputy Suthep Thaugsuban who presented himself to the Division of Special Investigation [ DSI], an agency assigned to responsible in lawsuits during the unrest. The UDD leaders then changed their words that Suthep must turn himself to the police. Since the Government proposal was rejected and CRES decided to tighten the control of several check points around Ratchaprasong area.

On 13th May, She Daeng was shot in the head while being interviewing by a member of the foreign press within UDD barricades. He died in 17th May in the Hospital.

As schools semester were coming soon, the Government announced extra holidays to ease the traffic problems as well as completely banned people coming into Ratchaprasong area. UDD guards started to burn tires and set fire to vehicles on the streets and fighting broke out when armed men in black joined the protesters. Riots broke out in the periphery area of Ratchaprasong and later buildings were torched. At the same time, riots occurred in many provinces so more than one hundred bank account of people involved with Thaksin were suspended. All transaction must get approval from the CRES.

The 66-day protest ended on 19th May, when military operation started to pressure on the protesters inside the cordoned area. More violence broke out in many places in Bangkok and in the afternoon, after heavy gunfire, the troops was able to break into barricades and enter Ratchaprasong area. At 13.23, UDD leaders called off the protest and rushed to report themselves to the National Police Headquarter. All, except Chatuporn Promphan who is a member of the Parliament, were arrested and detained.

Regardless to the UDD leaders surrendered, the violence remained and it was the most disastrous incident in Thai history for nearly 250 years. More fires were set around the Ratchaprasong area and gun fire continued through out the night. It was found in the following morning that 6 civilian were killed in the Wat Pratumwanaram Temple.

It took a few days before riots in the provinces stopped. Four provincial offices were torched by the protesters. It was officially reported that a total deaths were 85 and 53 people died during the violence between 14-19 March and injuries reached 1,898.

The riots cost immensely economic loss to Thailand as well as a lost of opportunity for businesses particularly tourism sector.

After the incident, the Government introduced several financial measures to assist those who affected from riots. Four committees; a National Reform Committee, a National Reform Assembly, a Truth and Reconciliation Committee and a Constitution Reform Committee were appointed by the Cabinet and their chairperson were authorized to appoint committees members.

CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT

Constitution amendment became a political issue when the five coalition parties submitted a motion on constitution amendment to the President of the National Assembly and Speaker of the House, Chai Chidchob. The motion was opposed by Democrat Party and on 26th January when its 82 MPs voted against. The Party decided not to allow free votes. Democrats standpoint, coincidently similar to the opposition party Pue Thai position, created a rift in the fragile coalition government.

Chai decided to buy more time by extended another 180 days for the constitution amendment committee to study the motion. However, the coalition parties had no option but to unite as a coalition government. The rift was clearly revealed in early June during the no confidential debate. The censure motion was submitted in an extraordinary meeting to consider the annual budget. Though the Prime Minister and all five ministers survived with more than the least votes as needed in the Constitution, some supporting votes were missing. The Prime minister made a Cabinet reshuffle 7th June a few days after the censure motion passed.

In August, the Constitution Amendment Committee, chaired by Prof. Dr. Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, proposed 6 points on the constitution amendment to the Prime Minister. Only one, an amendment of Article 190, was supported by Democrat and made its way to the House of Reps. It was firstly considered and passed on 25th November with 354 to 19 with 17 abstained. A considering panel was appointed to read the draft before submit for the second approval.
Article 190 stated the cabinet should submit dialogue framework, present and get an approval from the Parliament before commit any contract with foreign countries.

Those that were dropped were on the changing of electoral system from multiple candidates to a one-man-one-vote system and the candidates status of whether should be a party member or independent, numbers of constituency and party-list MPs, the Parliamentarians involvement in state agency functions, and ratio of elected to appointed senators. These issues were more controversial since they impact the upcoming general election. It was believed that the bigger party gains advantage through the current electoral system.

DEMOCRAT PARTY SAVED

2010 was the lucky year for Democrat Party since this oldest political party in Thailand was twice saved from dissolution according to the Political Party Act 2007.

The cases were brought to the Constitutional Court by the General-Attorney on allegation that the Democrat Party received illegal donation of 258 million Baht and an allegation that they misused 29 million Baht of the political party development fund. On 29th May 2010, Justices of the Court agreed to consider the two complaints and if the Part was found guilty, the maximum penalty is party dissolution.

On 29th November, the Judges of the Constitutional Court ruled 4 to 2 to lift the 29 million Baht complaint and later on 9th December, the 258 million Baht complaint was again lifted with 4 to 3 votes.

6 MPs MEMBERSHIP TERMINATED

Reference is made to the 2009 Election Commission [EC] finding that 13 Members of the Parliament were acting against the Constitution by holding shares in prohibited categories, i.e., companies holding States concessions or involved in media. The petition was filed to the Constitution Court and on 3rd November 2010, the Court decided by 7 to 1 to terminate the membership of 6 MPs. Five of them were constituency MPs and one, Party-list.

FLOOD ACROSS THAILAND

Thailand was hit by the greatest flood in five decades that caused enormously loss to her agricultural sector.
Since early October, the monsoon rain started to pour in the many provinces in the central and northeastern region resulted riverine agricultural land and built-up areas submerged under the water. While the flood in the upper part of Thailand still remained, the monsoon swept down south and damaged southern region with both rainfall and storm.

Regardless to economic loss, this natural catastrophe returned unity and reconciliation back to the Thai society since it became a national concern. Aids from private and public sectors were widely distributed to every affected person.

ECONOMY

Though the first three quarter of 2010 was economically grim due to the political unrest and flood, Thai economy was picking up in the last quarter. ABAC poll reported in December that domestic spending was 10.5 percent higher than similar quarter of last year due to increasing of all agriculture products. Tourism sector is recovering and government economic revitalization schemes made impact on the overall economy.

Thai Baht continued to increase from 33.90 per one USD at the beginning of 2010 to its highest point of 29.05-29.57 on 15th October. It was the highest in these 13 years before decreasing to the average of 30. Affected by the strong Baht, export sectors called for a National Bank of Thailand intervention but the Bank and the government affirmed their non-interference policy. The Commerce Ministry was confident that export in 2010 could reach a target of 183,000 million USD, 19 percent increase than the previous year. It was expected that GDP in 2010 will increase at a 7.9 percent.

However, the government should be cautious on public spending in the next year since public expenditure is expected at 2.07 trillion Baht while revenue is expected at 1.22 trillion Baht, making a 85 billion Baht deficit.

On 29th September, the Cabinet approved a Public Debt Management Plan total 1.29 trillion for 2011 fiscal year. 607 billion would be allocated for new debts, 608 billion for debt restructuring and the rest, 80 billion are for risk management plan.

REFORM FOR SOCIAL EQUALITY

Minimum wages were increased nationwide since the first of January 2010 and the economic alleviation measures on subsidy of electricity and water supply for small household, initiated in 2009, were extended. Third class train and non-air conditioning bus ride are still subsidizing by the State as well as the maintenance of LPG gas prices for domestic consumption.

For social justice, there were many Bills on process and these following are some of them;
  • Officials Anti-Corruption Bill with principle is to authorize the National Counter Corruption Committee for State Officials to accept and consider petitions on corruption file on former State officials whose terms have been terminated for not more than 5 years. Regarding to sufficient evidence, the acceptance period can be extended under condition that the trial should start within 10 years after the accused official retired from position.
  • Civic Rights to Amend Laws Bill with principle that eligible voters of more than 10,000 and 50,000 persons are entitled to submit a draft bill to amend any law and the Constitution, subsequently.
  • Surrogate Bill [The Protection of Children Born through Assisted Reproductive Technology] with principle to prevent emotional attachment between the surrogate mother and her child by prohibit surrogate mothers from fertilizing their own eggs with sperms of the legal father. Moreover, surrogate mothers must be legally married and there must be written consent from both families.


All indoor and outdoor public areas are now smoke-free zones and penalty is a fine of maximum 2,000 Baht.

People living before 2001 within the radius of 60-70 decibel of Suvarnabhumi Airport had received compensation for noise pollution. More than 900 million Baht had been paid for the insulation.

Minorities and non-citizens living in the country are now entitled to public health services similarly to Thai citizen. Hospitals will get allowances according to the number of patients. It was estimated that 457,376 people would register to this public health scheme; they are;
  • 90,000 permanent residents.
  • 296,863 residents pending acquisition of Thai citizen.
  • 70,513 students, of non-Thai parents, under the free-schooling policy.

Tax incentive measure had been adopted to stimulate reading among Thai people particularly the youth. They included tax deduction at a maximum of 30 percent of institutions and individuals annual income after deductions of expenditures and allowances. VAT on books and publications are reduced to 0 percent, too.

Sexual harassment in state agencies is now strictly prohibited. Actions of verbal or physical communication or contact of a sexual nature as well as any behavior of a sexual nature that causes discomfort or disturbing to others, either to the same or different sexes are liable to penalty according to the ministerial regulation.

HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT

The draft 11th National Economic and Social Development Plan was on process and will be implemented during the years 2012 to 2016. Main focus will be on human resources development to promote equality, justice and immunity against changes.

According to the International Institute for Management Development 2010 report, Thailand education ranked 47th among 58 countries globally. She was the third from bottom among all Asian-Pacific nations and only ahead of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Previously in February, the Office of the Basic Education Commission revealed a benchmark study titled The Ability to Read, Write and calculate, done on 502,469 students in grade 3 public primary schools nationwide that
  • 7.22 percent are below the benchmark for reading out aloud,
  • 17.74 percent of the students are below the benchmark for writing,
  • 22.29 of the students are below the benchmark for making calculations.

The evident proved that an integrated policy on human resources development is urgently needed to be implemented.

CONCLUSION

Thailand survived through the political riots and biggest flood which severely damaged the national economy and in the last quarter the economy is recovering. However, caution should be put on public expenditures since the deficit figures in 2011 fiscal budget is noteworthy. As the general election is coming shortly in 2011, or as latest as the beginning of 2012, political conflict among the coalition parties government is significant. Can the oldest Democrat Party mark further step to become a ruling party? Will their public policies, either already implemented or announced, win popularity over Thaksins Pue Thai or Newins Bhum Jai Thai. No matter who wins, the public should carefully monitor state expenditures and state projects.

Thailand needs more political and social reform and the most important players are Thai citizen, not politicians.
 


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