All about loyalty to the monarchy and polls on the policy statement…
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All about loyalty to the monarchy and polls on the policy statement…

The Nation today:

Wednesday proved once again that whenever they are in the opposition, the Democrats come alive. The policy debate was used to amplify doubts on controversial election promises, but perhaps that should be the least of Yingluck’s concerns. The Democrats managed to keep Thaksin Shinawatra’s shadow hanging over her head and tried to drum up the issue of “loyalty” as one of the Pheu Thai Party’s weakest points. When Pheu Thai was in opposition, being accused of disloyalty could be easily dismissed as political mudslinging. Not quite so when the party is now ruling the country.

It was clear that Pheu Thai lacked leadership and coordination on the parliamentary floor. Whereas the Democrats systematically attacked Thaksin over problems in the deep South and questioned the ruling party’s connection with extreme hard-liners of the red-shirt movement, Pheu Thai let itself be defended by the two persons who were at the centre of controversy and who could only make things worse. Jatuporn Promphan and Natthawut Saikua walked straight into the Democrats’ trap after Nipit Intarasombat brought up the issue of a red-shirt publication.

Parliamentary protests always benefit the opposition, simply because it has little to lose. Pheu Thai, which should have been aware of this universal truth, let debate on the “loyalty” issue drag on and on and be filled with comments from Jatuporn and Natthawut that did not help matters. House Speaker Somsak was lost and confused, trying unsuccessfully to look neutral. When he finally declared the policy debate as over, the perception on the social media was almost a consensus that he was obviously biased in the government’s favour.*

The Nation:

The opposition questioned the government’s sincerity in tackling the problem of insults to the monarchy, during yesterday’s parliamentary debate on the government’s policies.

Supachai Jaisamut, a senior MP from the opposition Bhum Jai Thai Party, said the government’s brief policy regarding the monarchy was mostly copied from the Constitution, without any detail as to how to deal with many websites with content insulting to the monarchy.

He said the websites were claimed to be the work of people in the red-shirt movement, which in turn is linked to the ruling Pheu Thai Party. “The government must have a policy that decisively deals with the problem and the government has to make it clear it has nothing to do with the red shirts who insult the monarchy,” said Supachai, who is also the Bhum Jai Thai spokesman.
… [then the Puea Thai response]

Chalerm said the previous Democrat-led government had failed to effectively tackle the problem of insults to the monarchy. He also said that the Interior Ministry overseen by Bhum Jai Thai leader Chaovarat Chanweerakul simply erected billboards to protect the monarchy.

Information and Communications Technology Minister Anudith Nakornthap told yesterday’s meeting he will not ignore the problem of websites attacking the monarchy. He also said that in fact the previous government was not serious about tackling the problem.

There was a Suan Dusit Poll before the policy statement on what issues those surveyed wanted the government to cover. The top 8 (in order) were the solving drugs problem, suppressing corruption, creating national reconciliation, resolving border problems, relieving agricultural debt/minimum wage of 300 Baht/15,000 Baht, improving international relations, political reform, and providing tablets for students.

There is also a separate Suan Dusit poll on who those surveyed wanted the opposition to ask questions about and it was issues of the public benefit/government policies 62%, source of budget for the policies/checking transparency in use of budget 21%, Thaksin 12% etc

BP: At times, it seemed both sides were trying to out-compete each other on who was the most loyal, who would defend the monarchy the most, and ban the most websites. For anyone concerned about freedom of expression and censorship, such rhetoric did not bode well. BP is not really sure how this was really elevated to be one of the more  pressing issues that people wanted to hear given it was not an issue raised as one of the priorities in the pre-policy statement polls. Then again, some people have raised it..

*Indeed, if those who follow The Nation on social media view the Speaker as biased then he must be… BP has summarized a Matichon article on what transpired late Wednesday night:

Suthep protested in regards to Jatuporn mentioning CRES saying that documents were falsified to malign him [BP: See this translation for context of what Suthep is unhappy about]. Suthep said DSI was investigating LM allegations against 19 people and the case is proceeding. Nattuwat, one of the 19, protested affirming his innocence and over the use of the monarchy to malign. Nattuwat said he was upset about the order to kill people. Abhisit protested for linking the monarchy with the deaths and for the investigation into the events of 2010 to show who was correct or not and that mentioning that permission was given to kill and that was related to the LM allegations that he and others were damaged and so was the monarchy.

Suthep added that unless the accusation was withdrawn , he wouldn’t accept it and if the Speaker didn’t decide that the statement should be withdrawn he wouldn’t accept the Speaker. Suthep gave the Speaker a copy of what Nattuwat said. Nattuwat explained that he gave his honest opinion and that he didn’t want those to use charges related to the monarchy to malign in a political manner and that such accusations have destroyed 2 PMs. Speaker called for a break to review the matter.

In the 40 minute break, Abhisit gave copy to Chalerm and they spoke with the Speaker. After the break at 11:05 p.m., the Speaker asked Nattuwat to withdraw his statement and he did. A  Puea Thai MP then proposed to end the debate in accordance with Regulation 32(5). Democrats disagreed saying many more people left to speak. The Speaker checked the quota. Some Democrats walked out leaving only 308 people less than the 325 needed. Then, after this there were 313. Chalerm said that the government rests. Speaker asked who disagreed. The Opposition did, but he said that the Parliament lacked a quorum

BP: Day 2 became very messy with  both sides trading accusations. Reading through the different papers, BP will say that it almost seems like what transpired during the policy statement were two completely different events depending on which paper you read. BP points this out because if you read only The Nation and the Bangkok Post, you will get a different take than if you were to read Matichon, Khao Sod, or Thai Rath (and some other Thai language papers). Which interpretation of what transpired is accurate will depend on your political view.

Late yesterday, Suan Dusit released another poll (PDF) where the 1,108 people surveyed in Bangkok and surrounding provinces between August 23-25 gave the government 5.61 out of 10 and the opposition 5.38 out of 10 for their respective performances for the policy statement.

On what people “got” from the policy statement, 63% felt they learnt more information about the policies/greater clarity/understanding of direction of government; 21% saw the intent on both sides to manage the country and solve problems; 11% seeing the bad behavior/language of those in parliament.

On what people disliked, 60% said it was arguments/protests which meant they couldn’t get the meaning of what was said; 28% not speaking on point; and 11% reading made it not enjoyable to listen.

On who in the government side people liked: 44% Chalerm;** 39% Yingluck; 16% Anudit.

On who in the opposition people liked: 48% Abhisit; 32% Chuan; 19% Chuwit.

BP: Suranand notes that while it may seem tedious, there are legal reasons why the entire 44 page policy statement was read. Clearly, Yingluck is not at ease as others in parliament, but then this is also about the image that Puea Thai are trying to portray Yingluck as never attacking or criticizing anyone so she is seen as above the fray. This is something that worked well for Puea Thai in the election campaign, but it will be more difficult to do in government. Nevertheless, Yingluck has scheduled bi-weekly press conferences and tried to avoid the daily “doorstops” where the press ask her questions when she arrives at an event so she will be speaking to the press regularly. She has to say enough to satisfy the public. There is clearly a policy of trying to limit her appearances, but as Achara D notes in The Nation:

Indeed, driven by her reluctance, she could set a new standard in speaking to the media. Scheduling the talks twice a week and running away from them at other times would save the public from confusion. As we have learned from many prime ministers, speaking to the media every time they’re reached by a microphone did not help boost their image or clarify dubious issues. Some prime ministers talked too much, even on subjects they had not yet been informed about, let alone investigated.

BP: Yingluck is very careful what she says and non-committal so it feels like we are not getting much information, but then again if she commits to something then she would be held account for what she says. The government has argued that statements made during the election campaign were just statements***There are many issues and details to work out about the timing of the 300 Baht a day minimum wage particularly as the government has been talking (negotiating ?) with the Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Thai Industries over this. BP thinks the government will want to negotiate an outcome/settlement which is likely to mean a more gradual implementation and compensation for SMEs as business buy-in is preferable to the business groups criticizing the government. Negotiations will likely continue. Yingluck will likely be more deployed to announce positive developments/concrete outcomes, e.g the reduction in the oil fund which is likely to be confirmed today, but will there be enough concrete outcomes for Yingluck to announce over the next 6 months? It will be more what is implemented and now what is said beforehand. The selling will not come until after the policies begin to be implemented.

** On Chalerm, The Nation in an editorial:

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung rambled on with his senseless speech and interrupted his opponents. Chalerm’s old tactics might have worked a decade ago, but not now. The public no longer tolerates politicians who look down on their intelligence. Chalerm should realise that Bangkok voters dumped his son during the general election partly because they are sick of his verbal nonsense and political rhetoric.

BP: Well, apparently not so. The writer on the editorial may want to reflect that Chalerm is deployed as an attack dog when the government was criticised. Many people like when Chalerm hits back strongly…

***This seems ridiculous and untenable because for the next election voters will give your words less weight. They could easily have argued global economic factors have changed and/or they have listened to criticisms about implementing too quickly etc. Not every policy will be implemented and there will always be changes. People will make judgements over what was promised and whether they are satisfied over what they get.