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A Week in Review: October 16-22, 2010

Riders on the storm...

While devastating floods affected 1.34 million people in 30 provinces across Thailand last week, it was the Democrat Party that found itself struggling to keep its head above the murky waters of a torrential political deluge. Find out if it sank or swam here…

Following last week’s report that thousands of north and northeastern red shirt protestors had received a staggering 100 million baht in compensation following their violent and destructive siege of Bangkok, the government received additional demands from citizens of Bangkok last week.

Paradoxically, the factory workers and vendors who demanded compensation for lost revenue as a result of the red shirts’ siege are the very people the red shirts claim to represent. And in a case of even more perverse irony, residents in Bangkok’s red shirt enclaves are now demanding compensation for ill health arising from smoke inhalation after members of their own community took to the streets and burnt thousands of tyres.

However, paying compensation to the people who caused all their own problems is the least of the government’s current problems. In the latest twist in the ongoing saga over misuse of party funds, video footage appears to show covert collaboration between the Democrat Party and the Constitution Court. The five video clips were released by the opposition Phuea Thai party.

Red Light#1: How would Phuea Thai come to be in possession of video tapes of covert conversations apparently incriminating the Democrat Party?

One of the clips appears to show Democrat MP Wirat Romyen discussing ways for the Democrat Party to avoid dissolution with Pasit Sakdanarong, who was at the time secretary to the Constitution Court President. Pasit conveniently left the country just before the films were released on October 15, and he was fired from his position on October 18th. He may have lost his job, but there is speculation that he became surprisingly richer at the same time.

In his defence, Wirat claims that the meeting was set up in a restaurant by Pasit, who then asked several leading questions that would be construed by any neutral observer as entrapment.

Red Light#2: Why would anyone be filming a conversation between two people in a restaurant if it wasn’t a set up?

Red Light#3: How would Phuea Thai come to be in possession of tapes of covert conversations that took place in a public place, and which apparently aim to entrap the Democrat Party if it hadn’t set the whole thing up?

While there is no doubt that the Democrat Party is far from innocent and that it would take every possible measure to ensure its survival, this whole episode just seems far too contrived to hold any water. If anything, it is Phuea Thai that comes out of this looking as bad as the B movie script it appears to have directed.

However, by far the greatest challenge facing the Democrats last week came from within. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva came under increasing pressure to remove Chavarat Charnvirakul, the official leader of government coalition partner Bhum Jai Thai, from his post as interior minister over his role in a 3.49 billion baht fraud in a computer leasing scheme.

While Abhisit did his best to avoid giving a direct answer to reporters when the issue broke, Bhum Jai Thai de facto leader Newin Chidchob was more forthcoming. Keen to protect his interests, Newin angrily threatened to remove Bhum Jai Thai from the coalition like the spoilt brat refusing to let the other kids play with his ball if he doesn’t get his own way.

Seeing an opportunity to grab more power, and with it a larger slice of the national pie, fellow coalition partner Puea Pandin took the opportunity to stick the knife into its uneasy bedfellows by demanding that Chavarat be fired.

Although the Democrats later responded by saying that Bhum Jai Thai could leave the coalition if they were not happy, it was nothing more than a case of publicly calling Newin’s bluff. Behind the scenes, negotiations were clearly taking place and Mongkol Surassaja became the sacrificial lamb that allowed the fragile coalition to survive.

As Chavarat’s choice, Mongkol had been due to take up the position of interior permanent secretary, but his decision not to accept the post is believed to be the result of a compromise reached between the Democrats and Bhum Jai Thai rather than one of a lack of ambition.

As if to confirm this, Newin immediately changed faces and began to play peacemaker by publicly telling Bhum Jai Thai’s MPs to stop bickering with the Democrats.

This whole sorry episode underlines the fragility of the coalition and emphasises the compromise of principles that the Democrats have to endure just to form a majority government. By aligning itself with the likes of Bhum Jai Thai and Puea Pandin, the Democrat Party is forced to accept rampant corruption as the price for holding the coalition together. In such a weakened position, the Democrats will never have the power to effect meaningful change.

As for Bhum Jai Thai and Puea Pandin, what better evidence could there be that the vast majority of Thai politicians are blatantly out to serve their own personal interests at the expense of the people they are supposed to represent? Actually, there IS one better example…

Paul Snowdon – October 23, 2010

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