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A Week in Review: June 4-10, 2011

Don't let chameleons get into parliament

While more and more Thai politicians find themselves being put to the smear test, one particular animal may be exempt from the PAD’s ‘don’t let animals get into parliament’ list. What is it?

Phuea Thai complained of a smear campaign against Yingluck Shinawatra last week. The party which looks increasingly likely to receive the most votes in the upcoming election and lead a coalition government was upset because opposition groups had dared to question the integrity of its prime ministerial candidate.

Yingluck was under the spotlight because of her involvement in the asset seizure case against her older brother Thaksin Shinawatra. In February last year, the Supreme Court of Thailand ruled that Thaksin and his ex-wife concealed their Shin Corp shares and controlled them through proxies, including Yingluck.

In testimony for the defence, Yingluck told the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions that she bought the 20 million baht of Shin Corp shares from Thaksin. But because she did not have enough money at the time, they drew up a loan contract instead of actually paying for them.

However, the court ruled against Yingluck and found that she had held the shares on Thaksin's behalf. Her critics are now understandably interpreting this as proof that she perjured herself.

Indeed, Yingluck could be facing three charges of perjury since she gave testimony to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC), and the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.

Faced with such serious allegations, the woman who is putting herself forward as the next leader of Thailand surely has no choice but to take accountability and step down until she can either clear her name or accept the consequences of her guilt. Surely nobody could continue to support her candidacy in the meantime.

But this is Thailand.

Far from accepting that Yingluck may not be an appropriate leader of Thailand, Phuea Thai complains that she is being victimised. It is an anthem they know well.

Also, as the trial took place in February last year, Phuea Thai’s supporters ask why these allegations are being laid against Yingluck now.

The answer is obvious. Yingluck is putting herself forward as the leader of Thailand now. Her integrity is of public concern now.

Why is Phuea Thai so surprised that the credentials of the next possible prime minister of Thailand should be open to public scrutiny? If Yingluck can’t be trusted to tell the truth under oath in a court of law 3 times, then how can she be trusted to run Thailand fairly and honestly?

Having publicly claimed that she will eradicate drugs from society in 12 months and eliminate poverty in 4 years, Yingluck has already proven her willingness to lie in an effort to gain power. Is this really the best person to become Thailand’s next prime minister?

But Yingluck was not alone in being put to the smear test last week. In the same week it was announced that an estimated 10 billion baht has gone missing from circulation and is suspected of being used to fund vote buying, Phuea Thai candidate Chalerm Yubamrung’s campaign workers were accused of distributing campaign leaflets that contained 100 baht notes in the Bang Bon area of Bangkok.

While the story is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, it lacked any hard evidence and was dismissed by Phuea Thai as a ploy to discredit Chalerm.

But controversy was never far away from Phuea Thai last week as another Pheua Thai candidate Pairoj Isarasereepong and his aides were accused of intimidating three military members of the government's anti-drug task force who were allegedly attempting to carry out a drug raid.

While the story itself seemed relatively minor and full of holes, it did have the effect of drawing army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha into a regrettable public spat.

Prayuth announced during a media briefing that he had told army officials to launch a war of words on any Pheua Thai members who criticise the army's role. While this public outburst of emotions was certainly not befitting of a man charged with overseeing the Thai army, his next comment gave cause for concern over his mental state.

"Don't be worried,” he continued. “If they (Phuea Thai) lambast me too much, pressure me too much, I'll just quit.”

Perhaps red shirts should pay more attention to attacking Prayuth than Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for the high death toll last year.

However, Abhisit does remain a target. In addition to the general demonization that he has been subject to from pro-Thaksin red shirts since he came into power, the PM is heckled by Phuea Thai supporters wherever he goes and his campaign posters are regularly defaced.

Of course the biggest and most systematic smear campaign is the one being carried out by the yellow shirt PAD. To support their ‘no vote’ campaign, they have produced a series of posters depicting various animals dressed in suits with the caption ‘don’t let animals get into parliament.’

However, the biggest smears of last week concerned yellow shirt founder and leader Sondhi Limthongkul. Media mogul Sondhi was originally a big supporter of Thaksin but later turned against him and formed the yellow shirts to help bring about his downfall.

If the allegations are to be believed, it would seem that Sondhi has once more been lured into the Thaksin camp with promises of a lucrative position on the board of a state enterprise under the Information and Communication Technology Ministry.

It’s an allegation that merits closer inspection. Sondhi and the yellow shirts have certainly fallen out with the Democrats recently. While the given reason of differences of opinion over a border dispute with Cambodia seems rather unlikely, this latest allegation would appear far more plausible and would certainly go a long way to explaining the logic behind the ‘vote no’ campaign.

Since the yellow shirt support is comprised primarily of Democrat voters, the ‘vote no’ campaign is unlikely to achieve anything other than ensuring victory for Phuea Thai.

With Sondhi switching sides more times than the Italians in a war, perhaps the yellow shirts should add a chameleon to their ‘vote no’ campaign posters.

Paul Snowdon – June 11, 2011

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