Anti-Thaksin energy reform activists detained by Thailand’s military junta
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Anti-Thaksin energy reform activists detained by Thailand’s military junta

The Bangkok Post on August 20:

Energy reform advocates kicked off their 950km walking campaign from Songkhla’s Hat Yai district to Bangkok yesterday to raise public awareness of national energy policy.

The group, called “Partnership on Energy Reform,” started the campaign at the Clock Tower square in Muang Hat Yai municipality, drawing about 100 participants from seven energy networks from the southern provinces of Songkhla, Phatthalung, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani, Satun, Krabi and Chumphon.

The activity was monitored by 42nd Military Circle troops, who told activist leaders to comply with the law.

These comprise suggestions for the use of a benefit-sharing system in oil exploration and drilling concessions; the set-up of a national petroleum company; clear zoning of petroleum, farming and tourism areas; the scrapping of coal-fired power plants to promote public health and environment protection; and state support for renewable energy.

BP: A national petroleum company as in reclaiming the partially privatized PTT* as a national asset which was the PAD agenda? (see here and here). This agenda was not a prominent issue on the PDRC stage and was limited to the smaller PEFOT stage (or whatever they were calling themselves back then) which was basically a reincarnation of the PAD.

Then yesterday, the Bangkok Post:

Former yellow-shirt leader Veera Somkhwamkid, who was released from a Cambodian prison last month, and six other activists were arrested on Sunday shortly after they kicked off a march to support energy reforms.

Police from the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) whisked away the Thai Patriots Network leader as he and others were walking along Phahon Yothin road from Victory Monument to Sanam Pao to support activists in the southern region who are demanding reforms in the energy sector and a ban on coal-powered plants.

The army blocked advocates of energy reforms from marching from Hat Yai district of Songkhla province to Bangkok last week and urged them to submit their demands through the National Reform Council instead of taking the issue to the streets. They were detained at an army camp in Hat Yai on the same charge of violating martial law.

BP: You can see video of the detention here. This tension within the anti-Thaksin alliance is not too surprising and was something that BP flagged in June. Excerpt of that post below:

As background, the PTT was partially privatized in 2001. As of now, the Thai government, through the Ministry of Finance owns 66.4% of shares in PTT (the Ministry directly owns 51.3% and a Ministry of Finance mutual fund holds another 15.3%). The remaining shares are traded on the Thai stock exchange (SET).

On one side you have technocrats and those in the business community who basically like the current structure. PTT is used as a cashcow to subsidize LPG and CNG/NGV to the tune of 70 billion baht a year (US$2.16 billion) – estimates vary. No one has dared to kill the goose that lays the golden egg whether it be the post-coup government in 2006 or the Democrats in 2008.

On the other you have the PAD wing, while rhetoric about PTT was largely absent from the main PDRC stage, it was a more constant theme from the People’s Movement to Overthrow the Thaksin Regime stage. They have called for PTT to be reclaimed for the nation – although it is unclear whether this would be renationalisation without compensation – stating that national resources are being misused for profit and that if it was under government control this would result in lower petrol prices for all Thais. Similar views have been expressed by the so-called “Group of 40 Senators” who are mainly made up of Appointed Senators, but so far these views are mainly expressed with little chance of implementation and these goals are not mentioned on the main Democrat-led stage.

We will have to see what way the junta goes, but BP wouldn’t be surprised if the PAD crowd is disappointed again although the junta will likely say they are reforming – Dr. Piyasvasti has talked about reform – although the reforms will likely be cosmetic (UPDATE: Now, when you have absolute power, decisions can be made erratically, e.g. capital controls in 2006). Now, when you had a pro-Thaksin government in power, you had a temporary, albeit uneasy alliance on some policy issues. These policy differences will become more apparent although it is likely to take 2-6 months before the divisions really appear (PAD have already filed a lawsuit for the return of PTT in the aftermath of the coup).

BP: For those in the wanting-to-reclaim-PTT-camp of the anti-Thaksin coalition, it is a very big issue for them. BP is not surprised that they are pushing the issue as they will be very unhappy with the appointment of Dr. Piyasvasti as chairman of the PTT Board (see this post for details of their unhappiness). Now, while they likely deem it is appropriate that the military is not allowing the reds to protest, they won’t be happy that they are not able to put their point across. Expect to see further cracks** in the anti-Thaksin coalition on this issue in the coming months.

*Government directly and indirectly owns around 66% of PTT

**Cracks does not imply a large scale protest against the junta