The month in Thailand: Reshuffles, coup rumblings and the 3G farce

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 1, 2012

October is normally a politically heated month in Thailand, as seen in the numerous street protests, military shenanigans and other political developments in the recent history and in the more distant past. However, the events in this month were less controversial, or the changes were in the detail, or both. Here are some of the stories that show that.

Military promotions and cabinet reshuffle: look who’s talking now?

Normally, the annual reshuffle and promotions of countless military officers and civilian ministers is enough source for discord between the government and the armed forces and for both groups within themselves. This year’s military merry-go-round has been largely unsurprising – apart from the removal of Defense Permanent Secretary Gen. Sathien Permthong-in – and reassures the ongoing truce with the government. Also, the promotion of Yingluck’s nephew is seen by some as a good sign.

The new cabinet of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on the other hand has some interesting changes. Yongyuth Wichaidit has resigned as deputy prime minister and Pheu Thai Party leader, some saying to evade a potential corruption case, while the rest of the Yingluck cabinet has the pundits reaching for very different conclusion. Some are saying Thaksin is slowly reclaiming the party, while others say Yingluck is holding her ground.

Sleeping hawks are awake, confused

One more thing that normally comes up during this time of the year (mostly as a negative outcome of the two issues above): rumors and calls for a military coup – since that is apparently the only time-proofed method to bring in stability and democracy in Thailand, according to some.

Last Sunday saw yet another rally that calls for the current government to be ousted by nothing else but a military intervention. The  group calls itself Pitak Siam (Protect Siam) and their main organizer is Ret. Gen. Boonlert Kaewprasit, chairman of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School (AFAPS) Foundation and Class 1 graduate. He’s also been consistent in demanding coups on a regular basis (and having participated in the failed coup attempt of March 1977), citing the cause of protecting the monarchy from lèse majesté. No change this time:

I’d love to see a coup because I know this puppet government is here to rob the country. Several sectors of society can’t take it anymore. If I had the power a coup would have been staged by now,” he said. (…)

Over the past year the government has not only stood by as offensive criticism has been hurled against the monarchy, but it has appeared to encourage it, he said. The government has showed itself to be Thaksin’s puppet, he said, adding that by installing his sister Yingluck as prime minister, Thaksin had insulted the entire nation.

Pitak Siam rally hopes to oust govt“, Bangkok Post, October 24, 2012

The rally itself was joined by groups (many are PAD-aligned) that can be generally described as ultra-royalist, anti-democratic and nationalist, but also some that are just fed up with the current government. Attendance figures varied wildly between 3,000 (police estimate) and 30,000 (organizer’s estimate) – but it’s safe to say that they were able to fill the main grandstand at the Royal Turf Club, which holds about 20,000.

What all the coup demands in recent years have in common (apart that it is potentially illegal) is a relentless contempt against Thaksin and the willingness to accept the damage of a military coup with the disregard for the democratic system. The upper echelons of the army at the moment are siding with the government – for now. Gen. Boonlert has announced that there’ll be another rally soon and is even more hell-bent to topple this government no matter the costs. However, he and like-minded people should also take into account that another military coup will be even less well-received by the general population than at the last one.

Thailand’s eternal 3G farce – the last chapter?

After an almost eternal and tedious waiting period Thailand will finally upgrade to 3G mobile technology making it the second-to-last country in Southeast Asia to do so. It’s been a long and painful process but now Thailand’s citizens, especially smartphone users, can look forward to finally get wide 3G coverage even before the end of year – or may be not…?!

See, the issue with the 3G implementation in Thailand is a neverending story and – admittedly – much more complicated to explain than the government’s rice pledging scheme! The last auction attempt in 2010 was stopped by a last-minute court order after a complaint by a state-owned telecommunications company that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) was not authorized to hold the auction – a mess created by the 2007 constitution.

Now, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) which had the authority to hold this auction. There were in total 9 slots of 5 MHz bandwidth each, three bidders who cannot get more than three each and the results were underwhelming for some.

Thailand has raised 41.6 billion baht (US$1.4 billion) from its long-awaited auction of 3G mobile licenses, with the three bidding operators said to have paid “only a small premium”.

[…] the three bidders – AIS, Dtac and True Move – managed to secure 3G licenses. The NBTC noted that AIS submitted the highest bid at 14.6 billion baht (US$ 475 million) for three slots of 5 MHz bandwidth. The other two operators each submitted the minimum bid of 13.5 billion baht (US$439 million) for the three slots of bandwidth, it added.

Thailand nets $1.4B from 3G auction“, ZDNet, October 17, 2012

Dtac was the only one to bid slightly above the starting price and overall the auction only gained a plus of only 1.125 bn Baht ($36m) or 2.78 per cent above the reserve price. Amidst that meager profit from the bidding a torrential flood of criticism poured down on the whole event, especially on the NBTC. Most fault them for missing out on a lot of money during the bidding and thus the ‘damaging the country’ (even leading The Nation to draw up the most ludicrous conspiracy theory or a poor attempt at satire). On the other hand considering that this was a bureaucratic mess almost a decade in the making and the resistance of state companies, one has to wonder what is still left of the real price of infrastructure progress in Thailand.

And meanwhile across the border, Laos is preparing to launch 4G…!

Lèse majesté update: Judiciary upholds constitutionality while suspect is acquitted

Thailand’s Constitutional Court has ruled the Kingdom’s draconian lèse majesté law unanimously and unsurprisingly as ‘constitutional’, after Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and Akechai Hongkangwarn (both accused and detained on lèse majesté charges) have contested Article 112 of the Criminal Code in a landmark legal challenge.

Meanwhile, some good news: A 41-year-old programmer has been acquitted of lèse majesté charges. The court ruled in doubt for the  defendant after it was not clear whether or not he was the author of defamatory Facebook messages and that computer evidence could have been even forged.

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