Why is Thai PM Yingluck not in parliament?
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Why is Thai PM Yingluck not in parliament?

Thai PMs normally make a number of visits – they usually try to visit every Southeast Asian country within the first year of taking office – and then there are international meetings and bilateral visits. At the end of August, Thai Rath had full details of all 52 trips to 41 countries that Yingluck had made since taking office and the political desk questioned whether all the trips that Yingluck was making were worth it.

The government has defended the trips. The Bangkok Post:

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul rose to reply on behalf of Ms Yingluck and said the prime minister’s visits were at the invitation of those countries.

The increasing number of tourists visiting Thailand is a result of the prime minister’s overseas trips, Mr Surapong said.

Thai government:

According to the Government Spokesperson, during September 2011 and August 2013, Prime Minister and Defense Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has made 42 overseas trips altogether comprising visits to the 9 ASEAN member countries, official visits to 26 countries, and 19 times of attendance of international meetings.

The Nation:

Varathep said spending on Yingluck’s trips abroad was necessary – especially for trips made at other countries’ invitation – as this is her first term and she had to strengthen international relations. Spending was always done according to the regulations, the minister said.

The biggest portion of travel costs went towards airfares. For 2011 and 2012, the budget for airfares was set at Bt61 million (US$1.9 million), and Bt80 million for 2013, he said, adding that Bt55 million had been earmarked for next year

BP: A Senator put the total cost at 300 million Baht.

There has also been widespread criticism of Yingluck for the trips, particularly in op-ed columns.

Tulsie in an op-ed in The Nation:

Yingluck is travelling like crazy – much more than the woman in the song. Should we have a problem with that? No, not if rubber planters aren’t blocking roads and railways and burning their produce. And of course not, if she hadn’t said repeatedly, here and abroad, that her government considers political reform to be vitally important.

Friendly countries are Yingluck’s comfort zones. If she wasn’t Thailand’s leader, you couldn’t blame a woman for wanting to get out of the kitchen when it gets too hot. But a political leader, male or female, cannot escape from domestic issues, especially if those domestic issues directly or indirectly involve his or her family.

BP: Kitchen reference…

Veera in the Bangkok Post:

When facing the threat of the Democrat-led street protests over the amnesty matter earlier this week, it was Ms Yingluck who called for the use of parliamentary channel. Her own words: “Let’s take the issue to parliament” to tackle the national crisis.

However, it’s the same Ms Yingluck who escaped from the House debate after opening it on Wednesday afternoon. The prime minister chose to travel to Hua Hin for another function.

Really? Isn’t the amnesty an important national issue?

No, judging from her proposal to enlist political heavyweights to set up the political reform council.

It would appear that Ms Yingluck considered the amnesty issue highly important as she addressed the nation live in a televised broadcast on Aug 4.

But her absence from parliament tells us otherwise. Perhaps Ms Yingluck thinks parliamentary affairs are social events where she can simply cut the ribbon and then leave.

Saritdet Marukatat in an op-ed in the Bangkok Post:

MP Yingluck was neither at parliament nor at Government House the next day. She was PM Yingluck, leading a group of cabinet members on board a luxurious train of the State Railway of Thailand for a trip to Nakhon Pathom – before switching to an escorted motorcade to go to Ratchaburi and then Prachuap Khiri Khan.

Her mission included chairing a meeting to improve the hapless condition of the SRT and railway development plans, including the high-speed train project. She obviously enjoyed the trip, which included a short non-air-conditioned bus ride from Nakhon Pathom railway station to pay respects at Phra Pathom Chedi, with people greeting her as the bus passed by.

Meanwhile, on the floor of the House over those two days while she was away, other lawmakers were fighting for and against the bill proposed by Pheu Thai MP for Samut Prakan Worachai. 

BP: As you see, it is not just going overseas, Yingluck will avoid parliament during controversial bills by taking domestic trips. There is little analysis of why she is avoiding parliament. Veera, above, takes the view that the Shinawatras give little attention to parliament and prefer to cut ribbons, but again this doesn’t focus on the why so much.

There are probably a multitude of reasons, but BP thinks the two key reasons are:

1. She is not a good parliamentary debater. Yingluck has got more adept at giving speeches – although they are far from fluid – but she has spent little time seriously debating in parliament. She has left this to the more vocal and you could say skilled debaters. This is probably somewhat strategic as well as Yingluck has tried to craft an image of being above the fray so getting into arguments in parliament is not going to help this image.

2. Fear of being removed from office. Were Thaksin, Samak, and Somchai voted out in an election? No, they were removed from office by the military and the judiciary respectively. The Samak and Somchai removals are more relevant and you can  see why she is avoiding parliament during the recent bills given the below:

The Bangkok Post:

The opposition deployed a wide range of tricks and technicalities yesterday to stall a House debate on the amnesty bill proposed by Pheu Thai Party MP Worachai Hema.

Democrat MP Nipit Intarasombat asked Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra if she would vote for the bill. He said if Ms Yingluck voted for the bill he would file a case against her with the Constitution Court because it would be a conflict of interest as the bill would benefit her brother Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Bangkok Post:

Permitting senators to deliberate and influence an amendment to sections of the charter relating to the senate itself may contradict the constitution, Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Monday.

The law prohibits MPs and senators from having roles or duties that pose a conflict of interest and place them in the position of stakeholder in relation to policies that they oversee, the opposition leader added.

BP: Now, to BP it is clear that there is some kind of arrangement/deal/compromise between the establishment and Thaksin, but this could easily break down if say the government’s popularity dropped below a certain level. In sentencing Thaksin to jail for two years, Tonglor Chomngarm, head of the panel of judges, justified not suspending the sentence as follows (sentences of less than two years are regularly suspended):

The defendant was a leader of government and should have acted with a good example to others, so the court decided not to suspend the sentence and decided to jail him for two years.”

BP: Sometime in the future well a vote (or even deliberating ?) may be viewed as illegal and may result in her being removed from being PM and/or even worse. It is clear that they have decided she should avoid any risk which in some ways is prudent.

Nevertheless, there is a point of Yingluck’s frequent travel. For example, by BP’s calculation (not necessarily an exhaustive list) Abhisit made 31 visits  in his two and half years in office* so Yingluck has already surpassed this and she has been in office for two years only (Thai Rath‘s list was up to August 21, 2013). BP can see the rationale for not voting, and possibly not attending parliament on matters where her attendance/vote may later be used as grounds to remove her from office or even a jail sentence, but it is not only these types of votes that Yingluck has not being attending parliament. Being Defence Minister and chairwoman of many committees and with executive responsibilities, Yingluck is always likely to miss a number of parliamentary meetings, but her attendance seems to be  shrinking over time. The Nation:

The current 24th House of Representatives has had five regular sessions and one extraordinary session so far. Though Yingluck tried to attend House meetings early in her term, she started skipping them soon after.

She has also only answered three queries – one put forward by a government MP and two others by Democrats.

She was given “one star” as an MP in her first year because she attended less than 70 per cent of the meetings, according to the MP’s “report book”, which is part of the Thailand Political Database – a website that monitors Thai politicians.

In 2012, her second year, Yingluck’s attendance went down to 50 per cent in September, rose to 60 per cent in November and fell to 56 per cent in March this year.

Charas Suwanmala, former dean of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science and head of the Thailand Political Database project, said he believed the poor attendance of Yingluck and some of her ministers could be attributed to their busy schedules as Cabinet members. “However, they cannot always use that as an excuse for not attending Parliament meetings.

The prime minister should attend more often,” Charas said.

BP: Indeed, she should.

*Belgium (October 2010);
Bahrain (March 2010)
Burma (October 2010)
Brunei (March 2010)
Cambodia (November 2010)
China (June 2009September 2010)
Denmark (December 2009)
Hong Kong (May 2009)
India (April 2011)
Indonesia (February 2009; May 2011June 2011)
Japan (February 2009; November 2009)
Laos (December 2010)
Malaysia (June 2009)
Philippines (August 2009)
Singapore (June 2009; November 2009)
South Korea (May 2009)
Switzerland January 2009; January 2010January 2011)
UK March 2009;April 2009)
United States (September 2009; September 2010)
Vietnam (July 2009; June 2010)