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Phuket Gazette Thailand News: Election Special – How did we end up here? From Thaksin to today

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Phuket Gazette Thailand News: Election Special – How did we end up here? From Thaksin to today | The Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– Thailand news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Thailand Election Special – How did we end up here? From Thaksin to today
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Yingluck Shinawatra’s journey from political nobody to prime minister was breathtakingly swift. Her premiership’s descent into crisis has been just as rapid.

A political neophyte when she took office in 2011, the 46-year-old former business executive surprised many observers by steadying Thailand after years of often bloody political unrest.

Then she leaned over and pushed a button marked:

Self-destruct

Behind Thailand’s lurch into its worst crisis in years was a disastrous intervention by Yingluck’s billionaire brother Thaksin, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup and now lives abroad to escape a corruption conviction.

Thaksin’s meddling turned a bill that would have freed ordinary Thais charged with protest-related crimes into a controversial wider amnesty for politicians such as himself, say senior members of Yingluck’s ruling Puea Thai Party.

The passing of the bill last November sparked street protests and unrest that have killed 10 people, wounded hundreds and dramatically changed Yingluck’s political fortunes.

A Reuters reconstruction, based on interviews with senior Puea Thai members and its “red shirt” allies, reveals how Thaksin’s intervention shattered two years of relative calm.

It also highlights how quickly political missteps can spiral into violence in Thailand, a warning sign ahead of a general election on Sunday that protesters have vowed to disrupt.

On one side is Thaksin and his younger sister Yingluck. Thaksin redrew the political map by courting rural voters in the north and northeast to gain an unbeatable electoral mandate that he then used to advance the interests of major companies, including his own. Thaksin-backed parties have convincingly won every general election since 2001.

On the other are the traditional Bangkok elites threatened by his meteoric rise, mainly the military, palace and bureaucracy, who see Thaksin as corrupt and his sister as his puppet.

Let’s push this through

Thaksin once famously described Yingluck as a “clone” who could make decisions on his behalf. Her party’s election slogan was “Thaksin thinks, Puea Thai acts”.

But after her landslide victory in July 2011, Thailand’s first female prime minister often set her own agenda, say analysts. She refused to reshuffle her Cabinet on Thaksin’s demand, and deployed her formidable charm to soothe relations with her divisive brother’s opponents in the establishment, particularly the military that had removed him from office.

The previous six years of unrest, which culminated in a military crackdown on Thaksin’s red-shirted supporters that killed 91 people in 2010, began to fade.

But the self-exiled Thaksin wanted to come home, and would not take no for an answer.

The vehicle for his return would be a draft bill that sailed through the Puea Thai-majority parliament last August. It would grant amnesties to protesters – but not leaders – charged and jailed in waves of unrest between 2006 and 2011.

Before the bill’s second reading, Thaksin’s aides told Puea Thai MPs that the former prime minister wanted to radically expand it to absolve leaders on both sides, say senior Puea Thai members.

A parliamentary scrutiny committee, also dominated by Puea Thai and its coalition allies, passed a revised draft of the bill on October 18.

The amnesty now extended to murder charges laid against former Democrat Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, for ordering the 2010 crackdown. Abhisit led an unelected government for nearly three years after a pro-Thaksin administration was removed from office by the courts in 2008.

It also quashed hundreds of corruption cases and nullified the two-year jail sentence against Thaksin, allowing the return of $1.4 billion of his seized wealth – and a ticket back to Thailand.

Yingluck had reservations about the blanket amnesty, particularly about dropping the charges against Abhisit and Suthep, said her chief of staff Suranand Vejjajiva. “But in the end the MPs agreed, ‘Let’s push this through’,” he said.

Growing crisis

The revised bill electrified Thaksin’s opponents and split his supporters. Leaders of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), a pro-government red shirt group, soon made public their anger with the party, seeing the new bill’s forgiveness of Abhisit and Suthep as a denial of justice for slain protesters. At the same time, small protests by Thaksin’s opponents began gathering steam.

More than half of Puea Thai MPs disagreed with the bill, but few dared to speak up, said a senior Puea Thai MP who spoke on condition on anonymity. “The way they put it, if you want to help Thaksin, support the bill. If you don’t support the bill, you don’t want to help Thaksin.”

But Suranand denied the MPs were coerced. “No one put a gun to their head and said, ‘You have to vote’,” he said.

Even so, many Puea Thai insiders feared Thaksin and his sister were blind to the growing crisis, underestimating the ability of his enemies to exploit public anger against the bill, said the senior party member.

At 4am on November 1, a buzzer rang through the hall of Thailand’s House of Representatives. After 19 hours and the abstention of the Democrats, bleary-eyed MPs unanimously passed the amnesty bill.

Protests against the bill, now headed for the senate, dramatically picked up. On Monday November 4, thousands of largely middle class Bangkokians gathered sporting Thai flag paraphernalia and whistles. Leading the pack was Suthep.

Snowball effect

Faced with public outrage, Yingluck quickly ordered the bill to be pulled from the Senate. Her advisors now spin this as proof that she listens to the public and admits her mistakes, and shift the blame for the bill onto Puea Thai and its MPs.

“As a political party, we didn’t anticipate the very negative feedback from the public,” Noppadon Pattama, a Puea Thai strategist who advises both Thaksin and Yingluck, told Reuters.

The aborted bill provided Yingluck’s long-dormant enemies with the ammunition they needed. On November 12, Suthep resigned from parliament along with eight other Democrat MPs. The protests began their evolution into an uprising against, first, the “Thaksin regime”, and then Thailand’s system of electoral democracy itself.

“Once they were participating in the rallies against Thaksin, people who were against the bill became people against the system,” the Puea Thai MP told Reuters. “They got their critical mass and snowball effect.”

Jatuporn Prompan, a UDD leader and senior Puea Thai member, said he could see that Suthep and other establishment figures had long been planning a fresh uprising. He warned party leaders that the amnesty bill was just the trigger they needed.

“Suthep Thaugsuban and his team took two years to prepare for this to happen,” Jatuporn told Reuters. “He was preparing with the support of a network of elite bureaucrats.”

The protests unleashed by the aborted bill have added to a perfect storm of crisis for Yingluck, who has been a caretaker prime minister – with limited powers – since dissolving parliament on December 9 to call a snap election.

Thailand’s anti-corruption commission has launched an impeachment investigation into her role as head of a wasteful and opaque rice-pledging s

— Phuket Gazette Editors

Expats

Ten things the Thai Government could to do right now

The Thaiger

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Ten things the Thai Government could to do right now | The Thaiger

OPINION

Thailand is a proud country with a rich cultural tradition. And great food. Expats and visitors have been flocking to the Land of Smiles for a century, especially the last 20 years when tourism has surged to become a major contributor to the country’s GDP.

But the veneer of a never-ending rise in tourism numbers lost some of its gloss with tourism officials, perennially optimistic and talking-up the numbers, when they were forced to admit that tourism dropped in Q2 this year. The numbers have rebounded since then with tour operators and hotels reporting a buoyant Q3 and good bookings ahead into the high-season.

But it wasn’t just tourism, living as an expat has become increasingly complex and expensive for many. There is a perception that “we’re not wanted here anymore” which is an uncomfortable feeling to have when you just want to enjoy living in the country you love and contribute to its economy by participating.

That the issues are now making headlines in Thai media is bad press for the Land of Smiles.

The rise in value of the Thai baht against some currencies, the enforcement (and ongoing confusion) over the TM30 and more scrutiny on some of the visa options for long-termers, all added to a malaise in the world economy, is making travelling to, and living in Thailand, a bit more challenging than in the past.

Here are ten suggestions, published in good faith, we believe should be implemented to address key problems.

Make it easier to do business

Between the mountains of paperwork, public service attitude, language barriers and fierce protectionism, doing business in Thailand as a foreigner is not easy. The need to have a small army of accountants and ‘Thai Nominees’ is just a part of the problem. The endless red tape and hurdles put up by the Thai Government, and the patchy application of some of these requirements, make running a business professionally an ongoing challenge.

Make it easier to apply for, and maintain, visas

There are quite a few visas available for tourists and expats to come to Thailand . But the goal posts keep being shifted and the requirements continually change. Thinly-veiled corruption and variations of how the various visas are applied have made getting and maintaining a proper visa in Thailand challenging.

Tourist visas would also benefit from increasing possible length of stays and reducing paperwork before and upon arrival. There is currently a waiver of visa fees for some countries up to the end of October 2019.

A long-term resident visa would also be welcome. Given the current difficulty of being eligible and getting a long-term resident visa in Thailand does little attract real long-term retirees who still need to do 90 day reporting, annual visa extensions and worry about the TM30 form every time they travel.

Immigration officials, around the country, control their own local fiefdoms where the ‘guidelines’ are just guidelines and are interpreted differently on different days by different officials. Apart from confusing the expats and tourists, these systems provide lucrative opportunities for blackmail and corruption.

A smile could help sometimes too.

Rebuild the Tourism Authority of Thailand

Whilst the reasons for Thailand’s droop in tourist numbers for Q2 this year are many and varied, the body who has been marketing Brand Thailand is the Tourism Authority of Thailand. They have made countless mis-steps and strategic errors in the past decade and must shoulder part of the responsibility for some of the systemic problems, including the over-reliance on just a few national demographics.

A proper, independent, tourist organisation with a professional, modern marketing team with international experience, not just Thais, is a must. Thailand’s ‘charm’ is no longer enough in the highly competitive world of international tourism. Around SE Asia there are now emerging destinations that are simply doing a better job than the team at the TAT who are, like the national airline, beset with nepotism and long-termers who should have been fired a decade ago.

Just about every aspect of tourism in Thailand needs to be updated, cleaned-up and improved and the TAT are just the wrong people to do it. They’ve strategically been chasing an unsustainable tourist mix and placed all their marketing eggs in few baskets.

Whilst they spend large amounts travelling the world and participating in travel expos, they too need to follow the rest of the world online and have their staff populating the world of social media, all day, everyday. Whatever they’re doing on social media now, multiply by 100!

Working under the auspices of the Department of Sports and Tourism hasn’t worked well for the TAT. The Government now needs a dedicated Department of Tourism is they are to maintain the percentage of GDP garnered from tourists into the third decade of the 21st century.

Urgently and aggressively address tourist safety

The fall-out from the Phuket Boat Tragedy is still being felt and has left a poor impression of safety for tourists. A year later and what has changed?

Speaking of Phuket, the shameful handling of the local lifeguard contracts has been a direct reason for drownings along the island’s west coast in recent years. The dithering of contractual arrangements and personality clashes took precedence over hiring, up-skilling and deploying a professional lifeguard service to protect beachgoers.

Around the country the reports of safety lapses causing death and injury to tourists are alarming in their frequency. Tour bus crashes, boats capsizing, renting out motorbikes to unlicensed drivers and tourist attraction safety standards. Problems associated with all of these are mostly preventable.

Change the company law

Part of the problem of doing business in Thailand is that, no matter how good you are, you never really own the legal framework that defines your business. A foreigner can only own 49% of the shares in a Thai company. This protectionist business law is a major barrier for foreigners to invest in Thailand making it difficult, or impossible to attract additional investment or plant to sell your business down the track.

There are provisions for larger enterprises to register a 100% foreign owned Board of Investment (BOI) business but these are quite complicated and expensive to set up and only available for limited industries.

  • Agriculture and Agricultural Products
  • Mining Ceramics and Basic Metals
  • Light Industry
  • Metal Products, Machinery and Transport Equipment
  • Electronic Industry and Electric Appliances
  • Chemicals, Paper and Plastics
  • Services and Public Utlities
  • Technology and Innovation Development

Providing a more flexible and easier company law, with more options for small to medium companies, would allow Thailand to attract a much larger number of international business people.

Smile

It’s meant to be the Land of Smiles. But arrive at any checkpoint or airport as you land in or depart Thailand and your first and last impressions are of unhappy, scowling immigration officials. And if you arrive at the wrong time at an airport the queues can be horrendous.

The situation may be similar at any international airports around the world, but when you pin your whole brand around being a Land of Smiles, you could at least try. It is, after all, the first impression.

Now they’ve added an additional layer of checking you in and out of the country with a fingerprint and iris scan. Taking a copy of all your finger and thumb prints just adds another 30 seconds or so as you arrive and depart… multiplied by x number of tourists waiting in line.

The same applies for some, probably more than in the past, of retailers who seem to spend a lot more time scrolling on their phone rather than attending to their customers these days. Some just don’t like being interrupted and, if you’re not buying, give you attitude rather than a simple acknowledgement.

Address the currency

To be fair there is only a limited number of levers to pull for Thai treasury officials that could ‘force’ the Thai baht to a lower value. Short of printing new Thai baht bills (which would also push up inflation), there are limits to what a modern government can do in an open international currency trading world.

Still, local businesses in tourist regions could take some control and reduce the ‘tourist’ prices and stop the blatant rip-offs aimed at solely extracting money from tourists’ pockets. Buy a Big Mac in the middle of Patong or Pattaya, then drive 3 kilometres away to another McDonalds and note the difference in price. Just maintaining your high prices and hoping for the best isn’t going to win new business.

The two-tier pricing is also a slap in the face for tourists (and most expats) which smacks of xenophobia or greed. Even the word ‘farang’ denotes an attitude to caucasian foreigners, either of derision or as walking ATMs.

Name and shame scammers

Scams have been part of the tourist game forever in Thailand. Some are just a silly punt at extracting a few extra baht from unsuspecting tourists, others are down-right dangerous, offend tourists and end up as a Facebook post. When these scammers get outed and charged (rarely) the fines and punishment are often perfunctory and are not a deterrent to other would-be scammers.

There should be a register of these annoying tourist rip-offs and schemes which is posted on some website where the ‘shame’ can act as a better deterrent using the Asian concept of ‘losing face’ as a weapon to combat scammers and prevent more from flourishing.

Or simply track down, punish the current scammers and fine them more often.

Make it easier to buy property

You see a property. You like it. You negotiate a price and want to buy it. That’s usually where it starts to get difficult. Foreigners cannot buy land or the land that their villa is sitting on. Many have got around these laws by leasing the land or forming a Thai company to do the transaction. In both cases the ‘buyer’ is never really the ‘owner’ and, whilst working reasonably well for 30 years, is still a long way around a fairly simple situation. The only winners are lawyers as they help foreign buyers navigate the labyrinth of Thai property and company law.

With the law allowing foreigners to own condominiums 100% (as long as 51% of the available units in the development is owned by Thais), developers have raced to build condos to feed the foreign buyer interest in Thai property.

Whilst appreciating the history of keeping Thailand for ‘Thais’ there should also be at least another easy option for foreigners to participate in the freehold market to better internationalising Thai property.

24 hour reporting of address (TM30) needs to be simplified or streamlined

The requirement for foreigners to report their residential location within 24 hours of a change of address, and the current confusion around the matter, should be clarified. The law applies to expats, forcing them to report to Immigration when they return from a weekend away or a business trip. Or their reluctant landlord is responsible. The actual guidelines lead to more questions, rather than providing answers, and the enforcement is applied ad-hoc.

If the report could be done ‘easily’ online on an effective, easy-to-use, reliable webpage or App, that would certainly help. Currently there is an App and a website but the successes for using it are ‘lumpy’ and users could be involved in making the process simpler.

We acknowledge the Thai government’s right to keep a track of foreign visitors but also think a streamlined, clear process would assist everyone and lead to better results for the Immigration team and better compliance by foreigners.

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Thai Life

Thai Government seeks public opinion on civil same-sex union bill

The Thaiger

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Thai Government seeks public opinion on civil same-sex union bill | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Chiang Rai Times

The Thai justice minister is insisting that draft legislation for civil partnerships of same-sex couples won’t be rushed and that the department is waiting for public feedback on the proposal.

Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin says the process will take time as it requires “careful deliberation to prevent any misunderstanding”.

Somsak made the comments yesterday whilst chairing a forum on the Bill. The Bill was agreed in principle on December 25, 2018 and relevant departments are now working on a final draft. The Bill will need to be passed by the new Lower House but there is no timeline on the legislation reaching the House at this stage.

The Justice Ministry is holding public forums to evaluate public opinion on some of the legislation’s contentious issues.

• The Bill stipulates conditions for terminating registration of civil partnerships.

• The Bill fails to include the right for same-sex couples to adopt children or the right to receive state welfare benefits, even though same-sex couples have the right to adopt children under the existing Child Adoption Act.

• Those who register for civil partnership must be a minimum of 17 years old and obtain their parental consent. 

• Feedback on the Bill must be sent back to the Council of State by next month for a final draft to be prepared for Cabinet.

Speaking in the third person, Somsak said “The Justice Ministry will neither rush nor put the brakes on the Bill.”

The Civil Partnership Bill doesn’t allow same-sex couples to marry but it would grant partners the legal right to jointly own and manage assets, and to give or receive inheritances.

Activists, on both side of the argument, are critical of the Bill. On one side same-sex GLBT proponents say it doesn’t provide same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. On the other, critics say the Bill would reduce the ‘value’ and ‘values’ of marriage in Thailand.

But supporter say the Bill is a first step towards equality in Thailand.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Business

Thai GM’s diesel plant in Rayong builds 500,000th engine

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Thai GM’s diesel plant in Rayong builds 500,000th engine | The Thaiger

GM Powertrain Thailand has produced its 500,000th four-cylinder Duramax turbo-diesel engine, a production milestone since production officially started in 2011.

GM announced that the Rayong plant is the first GM facility in the world to produce the engine.

Hector Villarreal, president of GM Southeast Asia says the Duramax engines serve as the heart of the company’s ‘Colorado’ and ‘Trailblazer’ models.

“They are one of the most important components that we manufacture in Rayong for both domestic and export markets. Reaching half a million engines is not only an important milestone for the GPS team but also for everyone at GM Thailand. You should all be rightly proud of achieving this together.”

Amnat Saengjan, vice pesident of manufacturing for GM Thailand, added that the it is the only GM facility that fully manufactures the 2.8L Duramax diesel engine.

“I am very proud of our team members who have taken a key role in helping us achieve this milestone, thanks not only to every team member’s hard work and dedication, but also to the growing popularity of the products that use the Duramax engine, the Chevrolet Colorado and Trailblazer. It shows how far we have come.

He said GM Thailand’s Rayong facility was recognised for its efforts in environmental conservation at the Prime Minister’s Industry Awards of 2018. It was one of two automotive companies that received this award. The facility is part of GM’s 142 manufacturing and non-manufacturing landfill-free facilities globally.

SOURCE: The Nation

Thai GM’s diesel plant in Rayong builds 500,000th engine | News by The Thaiger

Chevrolet ‘Colorado’, which carries the Thai-built engine

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