(English)
THAILAND IN 2011

INTRODUCTION

Following the general election on 3rd July 2011, Phue Thai Party formed a secured coalition government of 300 seats and made a good start by implementing several populist policies announced during their campaign. In August, honeymoon period was cut short when 3 tropical rain storm swept across the northeastern and northern regions causing heavy rains poured into dams, reservoirs and natural waterway. Enormous amount of water accumulated into flood and swept across 65, out of 76, provinces nationwide. Bangkok Metropolitan was also partly submerged for more than one month. Flooding caused great lost to everyone and bore great impact to overall economy. In December most of the flood areas were dried and on 27th the government approved a plan for remediation, reconstruction and prevention of flood, with a budget of Bt.350 billion.

Significant incidences in 2011 could be grouped in 5 topics; politics, mega flood, attempts to save Thaksin, economy and civil society. Each summarized as follow;

POLITICS

After a censure debate in March, on 10th May Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolved the House and called for general election on 3rd July. All major 5 political parties made costly populist promises during their campaign but the opposition Phue Thai Party won the most seats of 265 and formed a 300 seats coalition government of 6 parties. Abhisit resigned from Democrat Party leader and re-elected again but his supporting Secretary-General Suthep Tuagsuban decided not to re-run and the position was taken by Prachuab Kirikhan MP Chalermchai Sri-on.

Thailand got first female Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra whose 49 days political experience promoted her to become the 28th Prime Minister. Her competency was guaranteed by her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, saying she is his cloning in political and economic dimensions. Yingluck delivered an impressive policy statement in the Parliament. Her administration has 7 urgent missions to accomplish and some of them were;
  • To reconcile Thai society and uphold the rule of law.
  • To revitalize the economy, increasing income and stimulate state investment.
  • To tackle corruption and promote good governance.

Several implementation measures were announced in accordance to the policies announced during the election campaign, they are:
  • A 300 baht minimum wage program: To be applied nationwide.
  • Graduated civil servants to get a 15,000 baht salary.
  • Rice Pledging Program: A state pawn on paddy rice at 15,000 baht per ton.
  • Tax refund at a maximum of 100,000 baht for the first-time car and pick up vehicle buyers.
  • Tax deduction at a maximum of 10% for the first-time house buyers.
  • Fuel prices reduction.
  • Petroleum credit card to taxi and public vehicles drivers.
  • Farmer credit card for purchasing of seed and fertilizer.
  • Corporate tax reduction to 23 and 20 percent in 2012 and 2013 subsequently.
  • One tablet PC for grade 1 primary school students.

Despite of many comments from academic and business sector on public spending according to these policies, the government proceeded as promised at all cost of the nation. Commendations were that they do not response to the current global economic crisis and deficit fiscal budgeting. The Bank of Thailand also warned that public debt is rising significantly, but these programs are proceeding despite the consequences of the flood.

The government expressed gratitude towards their supporter, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship [UDD] or the Red Shirt, by appointed 30, most of them involved in the April-May violence of 2010, to important political positions reasoning they are contributor of the party and needed as link to the grass root and help the government respond to those people.

The government task within 5 months was reflected in the medias nicknames ritually given at year ends to cabinet members and politicians. Reporters at the parliament and government house evaluated political elites and voted for their most suitable nicknames which reflected disappointment on their performances against high expectations of the voters in the general election. Moreover, this year reporters refrained from nominating any politician as an Outstanding Lawmaker. The administrative and legislative performance of the year has been no praise-worthy as both failed to be impressive in performing even basic duties.

The Prime Minister got 2 nicknames, 1 from the Parliament reporters, Dying Star, for her frequent absence from Parliamentary session, and 1 from the government house, Parrot PM, for her repeatedly remarks while avoiding talking politics.

House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont has been given the nickname Fake Hammer of the Dubai Brand as he was heavily criticized for being biased during House sessions. He had admitted to travelling to Dubai to meet with Thaksin Shinawatra before being elected to the position.

The Senate has been dubbed Ancient China due to their value but can not be put to real use and can only be displayed.

Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has been nicknamed Delayed Handsome because when he was prime minister, he failed to produce key achievements but now that he is the Opposition leaders, he often comes up with valuable ideas.

However, it must be noted that a nickname Rising Star was given to Democrat Samut Songkram MP Ms. Rangsima Rodrasmee over her outstanding speeches during House session and being stable in her performance.

MEGA FLOOD

When Prime Minister Yingluck took position on early August, extensive flooding was in 28 northern and northeastern provinces and her administration quickly responded by increasing more aids to the affected agricultural households. The cabinet resolved on 30th August to approve a budget of 8,174 million baht for flood relief. Following 3 tropical storms in August and September, more rainwater poured into dams and reservoirs until most of them contained almost 100% of their capacity. Water was urgently released into natural and irrigated waterways and later spilled out over the agricultural basin and built-up areas along the rivers. The water level was 1-4 meter dept and many motorways and railways went below water level disconnected main transportation route between northern and northeastern region and Bangkok Metropolitan Area.

On 20th September, His Majesty the King personally gave advice on flood management to the Prime Minister. All responsible agencies should cooperate and integrate in solving flood problems. The opening of water gates must be correlated and short cut water way could lessen flooding.

An ad hoc flood operating agency, Flood Relief Operation Center [FROC], chaired by Justice Minister Pol. Gen. Pracha Promnok, was appointed on 4th October. Pracha appointed many politicians to assist him in the beginning and later found their assignment overlapped and unconstitutional. Moreover, their intervention put FROC in chaotic and delayed its operation. Politicians interfered in flood management operation for their supporters benefits caused the flood to spread widely. Opposition Democrat Party used the parliamentary debate to grill FROC director Pracha and 6 other MPs in a censure motion. They were accused of mismanagement, miscommunication, failure in providing aids and relief and, most of all, neglected in prevent corruption in the purchasing of relief materials. Though all of them survived with approximately 273 to 188 votes, 5 abstained and 15 no vote, FROC temporary office in Don Muang Airport did not face similar fate. The flood went deeply into Bangkok Metropolitan northern area, by-pass and covered the whole area of Don Muang Airport; runway, facilities and office buildings, including FROC temporarily office and refuge center. FROC was moved to the Energy Ministry building.

On 8th December, Justice Minister and 84 Phue Thai Party members submitted a letter to the Constitution Court through the House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont accused Opposition party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and Pitsanulok Democrat MP Warong Dejkitvikrom on breaching of Article 266[1] of the Constitution when forcing Pitsanulok provincial governor to give them 500 surviving bags, belonged to Energy Ministry, and distributed to the flood victims on their own will. If the Court found them guilty, both could be removed from political status.

Flooding in Bangkok sparked another political game between the governments FROC and BMA governor Sukumpan Boripat who is a member of Democrat Party. Their conflict caused a delayed in flood prevention, management until the demolishing of Big Bag, a gigantic sand bags used for flood prevention.

Residents in Bangkok and its peripheral provinces had experienced a 50 centimeter to 1.50 meter dept of water in many areas from October to November. Thousands of them evacuated to refuge in BMAs temporary centers, an uncountable number chosen to lodge in resort towns and many thousands remained to stay on the second floor of their submerged houses. They commuted daily by boats and military trucks to work or to buy food. These submerged areas were dimmed and silent during the nights.

Seven industrial estates along the flood way were consecutively submerged regardless to their great effort to prevent the water. Primary loss was estimated at 140,000 million baht and the seven estates have been insured at a total of 456,000 million baht, 4% of a national sum insured and 85% of them are re-insured to the international firms.

The government resolved flood problem by announcing that all affected households will get a 5,000 baht cash. This measure was added to the previous financial subsidy to agriculture households. By the end of November, flood situation in the central region was improving and most of the affected people resumed their normal lives. It was reported that out of 65 flooded provinces, there were 652 deaths and 3 still lost. 1,800,043 households and 4,827,958 people were affected from this mega flood.

Hundreds of the flood affected households decided to seek justice compensation through the Administration Court. In December, complaints were lodged against the Prime Minister, as head of the government, and other 11 public agencies. They were accused of mismanagement and failed to perform appropriate duties in flood operation.

ATTEMPT TO SAVE THAKSIN

During the election campaign, one of Phue Thai policy was Thaksin thinks, Phue Thai do and everyone knew the partys victory was made by him. Thaksin fled the country three years ago before the Supreme Courts Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions sentenced him to a two-year jail. He was found guilty on reason of being a state official [then Prime Minister] violated the Counter Corruption Act by facilitating his wife to purchase a 33 rai of plot of land, at a discount price, from a state agency. Thaksin still has other 5 charges at the Criminal Court and Supreme Courts Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions. All law suits, against corruption and malfeasance, are currently pending due to his absent. They are:
  • Inciting violence during the 2009 and 2010 uprising.
  • Personal gain over the EXIM Bank Bt. 4,000 million loan to the Myanmar government.
  • Abuse of authority by granting benefits to family conglomerate in connection with the telecom concession.
  • Legalizing of the underground lottery.
  • Concealing of asset liable to be declared according to the Anti-Corruption Act.

As His Majesty 84th birthday anniversary was coming up on 5th December, in early November, a cabinet meeting was held confidentially and it was later speculated that qualifications of the senior inmates to receive royal pardon were amended to include people who fled their jail term. The speculation coincided with the Justice Minister re-investigation into the petition submitted, in 2009, by 3.6 million people, to the Royal Household Bureau asking a royal pardon for Thaksin. The rumor provoked widely opposes until Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Ubumrung announced it was only a deception. No change was made on inmate qualifications released in this auspicious occasion and Thaksins name was not enlisted. A legal channel to bestow royal pardon on Thaksin by cabinet resolution was shut down.

A new game is being played through an effort to enforce an amnesty act and constitution amendment, both through the parliament. A group of Thammsart University lecturers, Nitirat, started a campaign to push for 19 September 2006 coup nullification and voiding the 2007 Constitution. The constitution amendment was quickly responded by Phue Thai Party saying 90% of its members support Constitutional amendment since the party had announced in election campaign. Phue Thai Party stated it does not intend to amend the Constitution but to draft a new and to get public mandate through a holding of public referendum. Three drafts are expected to be submitted to the Parliament on early January. Speculation was that the new constitution will provide a clause on amnesty for all parties involved in the 2006 coup in which Thaksin will be included. The amnesty will acquit him and return his seized Bt.4.6 billion.

Another attempt was initiated and accomplished in December when the Foreign Affairs Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul announced the Ministry has issued Thaksin with a new passport. Thaksin passport was cancelled, during Democrat administration reasoned he has convicted of violation against criminal law. The Foreign Minister gave no clarification on Thaksin new passport except saying he is not listing in the prohibited persons. Normally, a person must appear personally in applying for a passport and the issuing agency must check with the national police criminal list.

Attempts to bring Thaksin home without penalty became controversy since he has many antis as well as supporters. Political analysts anticipates attempts to save Thaksin will incite political conflict, enhance political and societal rift, and obstruct government reconciliation policy.

ECONOMY

Despite of 2 violence in 2009 and 2010, the Thai economy was picking up in the last quarter of 2010 and recovering due to strong private sectors. In August, the World Bank upgraded Thailands economy from a moderate low income to a moderate high income due to its national per capita income rises. Employment in 2011 was improving and wages and salaries in the private sector rose.

Phue Thai government implementation measures to their populist policies were strongly criticized that they will cause a rise in public debt, currently at 44% of GDP. The Bank of Thailand alerted that public debt tends to increase to 60% in the next 5 years since fiscal budget in 2012 and 2013 are planned in deficit figures. While national income in 2007-2011 rose at 4.2% of GDP, public expenditures grew at 8%. Economic perspective was more negative than forecast since the 2011 flood was far more destructive than the 2010 one. Actually, it is the worst ever happened in 60 years.

The National Economic and Social Development Board estimated a loss of Bt. 1.3 trillion was caused from flooding. Economic growth in the Q4 was a deficit of 3.7% compare to a 4.2% growth formerly expected. The Office of Agriculture Economics estimated 11.48 million rais of agricultural land, mostly paddy rice fields, was flooded and a total loss was estimated at Bt. 76,637 million, or Bt. 14,646 million of the Agricultural GDP.

The Federal of Thai Industry said manufacturing of vehicles, vehicles spare parts, electrical and electronic industry were badly affected by the flood since most of them located in the 7 drown industrial estates.

The Office of the Insurance Commission disclosed a primary damage was estimated approximately Bt. 149-216 billion, against a total national insurance capital, Bt. 745 billion.

The World Bank Office in Thailand also estimated a total loss of Bt. 756,000 million according to the flood; in which Bt. 520,000 million is in private and Bt. 235,000 million in public sector. A national loss of economic opportunity is Bt. 1.36 trillion.

Following these economic defeat, on 27th December, the cabinet approved a plan to bailout the Bt. 1.14 trillion debts over the Bank of Thailand. The bail out of this Bt. 1.14 trillion, both the principle debt and interest expense, would leave the government with more financial resources to invest in infrastructure mega-projects and other important schemes, especially in the wake of the countrys worst floods in decades.

CIVIL SOCIETAL

Despite of FROC failure in flood prevention and management, civil society became stronger and worked impressively in flood relief operation. Aids were provided everywhere from every societal echelon; individuals, families, communities, non-profit and business organizations. Aids came in all form; finance, food and beverage, flood relief materials, labor, consultations and advises. Assistants came from all over of the nation but mostly from residents in Bangkok, before they were flooded, to the flooding area in the central provinces until during the time when Bangkok was flooded. Local volunteers worked jointly with the provincial rescue teams and militants from the start to the end of those big cleaning days in Bangkok.

Regardless to a few societal conflicts between people who thought they were treated unequal; this natural disaster was a chance for Thai civil society to unite and effectively showed their spirits in helping those affected by the flood.

Conclusion

Thailand had managed through 2 big political riots, in 2009 and 2010, and 2 great floods, in 2010 and 2011, and heading towards an uncertain economic and political future in this coming years. Optimistically, the flood has revitalized the Thai civil society to become stronger and united as never before in these past few years. Will this spirit save Thailand from political clash, if unfortunately unavoidable in the future? Will the country be more rifted in political and societal dimensions or will the gap remedy and reconcile by the civil society. Thai people has showed their great unity during His Majesty the King 84th birthday anniversary on 5th December 2011, so will this spirit goes on or fade out? If so, what is the future of this country?
 


Print Version