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A Week in Review: March 12-18, 2011

Here's mud in your eye...

The mudslingers were back in Thailand last week. But while their aim has improved, they still ended up getting more on themselves than their enemy. Who got the most mud in their eye last week? Find out here…

Last week’s news in Thailand was dominated by the four-day anti-government censure debate. But despite announcing that: “This time we've prepared solid evidence that should jolt the public into reality,” Phuea Thai once again failed to prove any of the allegations of corruption or human rights abuses it levelled against the prime minister and nine coalition government ministers.

The week started reasonably well for Phuea Thai with the leading opposition party’s now confirmed candidate for Prime Minister, Minkwan Saengsuwan, attacking the incumbent PM for economic mismanagement. Aware that the debate was being televised live and watched by Phuea Thai supporters across Thailand, Minkwan deliberately spoke in simple language and appeared more confident than in previous debates. Nevertheless, he yet again failed to make any real impact as the PM effectively rebutted his allegations one-by-one.

The one point where Minkwan would have struck a chord with his supporters was when he questioned the government’s price guarantees for rice farmers. Although he was outplayed on the day by the PM, who challenged Minkwan to propose a better rice price guarantee policy, he took the PM at his word during his closing speech when he made an election promise to set the guaranteed price at between 15,000 and 20,000 baht per tonne if he became prime minister. The current price guarantee is 11,000 baht, with Minkwan claiming that farmers have on occasion received as little as 6,000 baht.

Although other valid issues were covered during the debate, Phuea Thai once again focused much of its time and energy on attacking Prime Minsiter Abhisit and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep for the 91 deaths during the red-shirt-instigated riots last year. But again, a lack of new or telling evidence meant that Phuea Thai failed to live up to the expectations it had set.

Phuea Thai’s primary argument focused on its claim that it was not red shirt supporters but rather military personnel who started the blaze at Central World Shopping Mall on May 19. However, Phuea Thai failed to produce the smoking gun it had claimed to have, nor did it explain why red shirt leaders had repeatedly taken the stage and whipped their supporters into a frenzy of hatred before encouraging them to bring petrol to Bangkok and set it alight.

Highlights were few, but there was one memorable moment during a verbal sparring match between Phuea Thai party list MP and red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan and Deputy PM Suthep. The two shady characters had each managed to tell the truth for a change if only when they accused the other of being a liar. But it was to be Jatuporn who would lose this particular duel.

Playing to the TV cameras, Phuea Thai MPs had brought to the debate a cardboard cut-out of the red shirts’ unofficial military coordinator, Seh Daeng, who was killed by a sniper during the troubles. Well aware that Jatuporn had not seen eye-to-eye with Seh Daeng, and is even alleged to have referred to him as a “decomposed dead dog”, Suthep suggested that it may have in fact been Jatuporn who ordered the sniper to kill Seh Daeng.

Veering once more from the path of truth, Jatuporn’s straight-faced response was that he would never resort to violence. Of course, Jatuporn’s ‘never’ does not include the year 2003 when – as a member of the Thaksin-led government – he was part of a team that ordered 1,000 police to retake land from a group of southern farmers who were unhappy that it was being leased to big palm oil producers instead of being redistributed to poor farmers.

In his defence at the time, Jatuporn claimed that the protesters were armed and trespassing. Somewhat ironic then that he now attacks the government for trying to move the red shirt protesters from their illegal and highly confrontational protest site last year despite the armed elements that were allowed to move freely within their midst and their illegal occupation of a major commercial district.

The added irony that Suthep and his family-owned palm oil business likely benefited from Jatuporn’s dirty work could explain why Phuea Thai now so aggressively accuses Suthep and the large palm oil refineries of manipulating the market.  

To rub salt into Jatuporn’s self-inflicted wounds, the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) announced that Jatuporn will be charged with spying on and disclosing classified documents of a government agency, with falsifying official documents because he distorted the truth by quoting selectively from DSI reports during the debate, and with framing others with the intention of having them wrongly face criminal charges.

However, considering Jatuporn’s inexplicable impunity, he will likely escape punishment once more.

Although Jatuporn may think himself a political heavyweight, Phuea Thai saved its biggest hitter until last. However, even veteran debater Chalerm Yubamrung failed to inflict any damage on the PM despite having a seemingly viable case against him relating to the alleged evasion of taxes by tobacco company Philip Morris Thailand.

When the votes came in, all ten MPs survived the no-confidence vote by healthy margins. While few people would doubt that corruption certainly exists within the current coalition government, Phuea Thai once again failed to make any real impact.

But with an election due in a matter of weeks, the mudslinging is far from over.

Paul Snowdon – March 19, 2011

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Have your say...

James Grant
19 Mar 2011, 05:22
"The two shady characters had each managed to tell the truth for a change if only when they accused the other of being a liar. " Nice.
19 Mar 2011, 09:00
Good on seeing Jatuporn and Suthep, whose land scandal was the cause of Chuan Leekpai's downfall, in the same light!
[Abhisit just paid ransom to the family's 'guess who?' who were hoarding palm oil, so they would put it back on the shelves.]
A win by the reds OR a win by the yellows will be a tremendous loss for Thailand; the Nation then run by one set of gangsters over another. While a small, and growing group of farangs see the System as the enemy, very few Thais have gained this perception. There are the 5% yellow, 10% red and 85%, the Mute Majority who suffer from a culure of inurement.
The thin edge of the wedge, for any hope for Thailand's future, is for a grass roots, Thai, anti Corruption movement.
More Thais have to realise that Buddhist Equanimity does NOT mean apathy and indifference.
This 'might' take generations to achieve, if at all; though there is an Authority that COULD be coopted for much quicker results.
20 Mar 2011, 20:33
Makes the news bearable and fun, as usual.

Regarding Joseph's comments, I'm amazed that after everything that's happened in Thailand, someone can suggest that co-opting an authority (any authority) is a workable solution to problems.
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