About Politics

About Politics

The Thai herbal industry may get an injection of prime ministerial pizzazz v Since Aug 7, new election proposals are popping up and causing alarm v Gen Prayut sidesteps the usual cliques in the military reshuffle, and Gen Prawit might feel miffed.

Healthy doseof S44 action

Section 44 of the interim constitution has been in frequent use of late and its supposed "cure-all" properties are being extended to the Public Health Ministry to help get some projects moving a little faster.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), may soon invoke Section 44 to expedite things at certain agencies that come under the ministry, according to a source close to the prime minister's working team.

The prime minister reportedly called on the Health and Interior ministries to work together in developing herbal products under the Otop brand, and expand their reach to international markets.

This task requires not only tight inter-ministerial coordination but plenty of political will to realise. The so-called "Wonder 44" could come in handy in tightening the coordination gap and getting people to work in earnest.

While the prime minister's expected use of Section 44 is mere speculation at this stage, the source said Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn may feel the need to roll up his sleeves early.

With the government's policy to support the research and development of herbal plants and the draft charter's requirement for Thai traditional medicine to be supported and promoted, Dr Piyasakol's challenge is to bring a balance to two camps that are involved -- those practicing modern medicine and practitioners of Thai medicine.

According to the source, Gen Prayut was said to have agreed with this initiative and has asked the Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital Foundation to proceed. He also urged authorities concerned to raise awareness about proper use of herbal plants as alternative medicines to prevent abuse and possible harm.

The growing popularity of herbal medicine was evident in the large turnout at a recent national herb expo in Bangkok. The "13th National Herb Expo: Thai Herbs for a Brighter Future for Thailand", held on Aug 31-Sept 4 at Impact Muang Thong Thani, drew more than 300,000 visitors and brought together producers, vendors and other stakeholders.

Aside from sales of herbal products, food supplements and cosmetics, the event featured conferences, short training courses and exhibitions on healthcare, alternative medicine and research and development of Thai herbs.

The success of the expo is seen by those involved as a sign to push for serious research and development of local traditional herbs for both medical treatment and general use, according to a source.

So far, the efforts to develop herbal products and expand their reach to the wider market have been hampered by a lengthy process required by the National Drug Act of 1967. It is about time to give another push for a separate law known as the Herbal Plants Act to regulate production and use of herbal plants. Advocates of the new law believe that Thai traditional drugs will be treated as equal to modern medicine once the law is in place.

And with the right policy and clear objective, reliance on product exports such as cosmetics and supplementary foods and dependence on western medication can be reduced. The economic values of these local herbs will also strengthen the local economy.

Following the expo, the Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital Foundation, which owns the domestic brand of herbal medicine, Abhaibhubejhr, has sprung into action.

Hospital director Charun Boonritthikarn and Supaporn Pitiporn, a renowned pharmacist with expertise in herbal plants, reportedly met the prime minister and asked him to support the establishment of a Global Monitoring Centre for Thai Wisdom.

The centre initiative is intended to keep track of the development and use of herbal plants, especially indigenous herbs. The foundation has found that some lesser-known indigenous herbs such as pradu thung (enkleia thorelli) are being used in foreign-owned whitening products.

Controversies keep flowing

Some members of coup-appointed bodies are never short of ideas that provoke political controversy as they rattle off proposals which are seen as attempting to curry favour with the military regime.

A number of National Legislative Assembly members recently came up with a totally unexpected and very controversial proposal that the Senate be allowed to join members of parliament in nominating a prime minister under the new constitution. It drew an immediate public backlash and in short measure it was thrown out of the window by the Constitution Drafting Committee.

Now some members of the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) have unleashed a series of proposals -- equally controversial -- which would see them included in the new charter's organic laws governing political parties, the election of MPs, the Senate and the Election Commission.

One proposal calls for the involvement of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the Interior Ministry in the organisation of the general election expected next year, alongside the Election Commission.

Critics noted that allowing the Interior Ministry to take over poll management from the EC would be a retrograde step and possibly intended to manipulate the election's results.

Seree Suwanpanont, head of the NRSA's political reform committee, and Wanchai Sornsiri, who sits on the panel, have thrown their support behind the proposal which advocates for the "return of the Interior Ministry, taking back management of elections from the EC, which is an independent body".

Almost immediately questions were raised about the ministry's independence and its impartiality in any endeavour to replace the EC in running an election. The great fear is that this would revive the problems of the past when the Interior Ministry was responsible for organising elections.

In those days, the ministry was frequently accused of being open to exploitation by the ruling party of the day, which used its resources to manipulate poll results. The Interior Ministry oversees provincial governors, district chiefs and local authorities nationwide, and it is these people who serve as the key mechanisms in the organisation of polls in the provinces.

In recalling this situation, the critics (including politicians) accused Mr Wanchai and Mr Seree of attempting to butter up the regime in the hope of securing important positions, especially in the 250-member appointed Senate, where the NPCO leader (Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha) has the final say on who gets a seat.

Mr Wanchai explained his support for the proposal during an NRSA session, and said the suggestion for the Interior Ministry to organise elections, and for the NCPO to oversee it all, was not his, nor did it come from Mr Seree.

Mr Wanchai also said the proposal did not actually call for the NCPO to oversee elections. He said the suggestion was for the NCPO to support the work of the EC to ensure that the next general election would not be a failure.

Witthaya Kaewparadai, an NRSA member, then admitted that he was the one who suggested the Interior Ministry be brought in to help with the polls, and that the NCPO could help to oversee matters.

He said the EC had failed to address election fraud over the years because it had too much on its hands. The proposal was aimed at easing the EC's workload, he said.

Taking a tiger by the tail

Who would have thought Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his "big brother", Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, might go through a rough patch in their relationship?

Observers suspect Gen Prawit, who controls the country's security system and is one of the most widely respected of the country's top brass, might have reason to feel peeved with the way the latest top-level military reshuffle has panned out.

The new army chief has been nominated, but he is not of Gen Prawit's choosing this time around. Instead it's a decision made by Gen Prayut who in the past had left military reshuffles in Gen Prawit's hands.

Assistant army chief Chalermchai Sittisart looks set to succeed army chief Thirachai Nakwanich, who is due to retire at the end of this month. His nomination may be a surprise to Gen Prawit as Gen Chalermchai does not come from the Burapha Payak clique, a group from which several senior officers have emerged to take up leading roles in the army.

Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit have also promoted officers from this "Tiger of the East" clique.

According to military sources, Gen Prawit would much rather see another candidate for the army top post, Gen Pisit Sitthisarn, the army chief-of-staff, take over from Gen Thirachai and carry on the Burapha Payak line of commanders-in-chief.

However, Gen Prayut saw it differently. He went for an army chief from outside of the "Tiger of the East" ranks to quash the growing assumption of a leadership monopoly which could sow seeds of distrust and stoke conflict within the army.

Unity in the force has never been more important at a time when the country is transitioning back to democratic rule, with the general election expected at the end of next year or early 2018. The country could face turbulence after the National Council for Peace and Order cedes much of its sweeping power in national administration to a civilian government and political power players fight to regain dominance in parliament, according to political scientists.

Gen Prayut made deep inroads into the decision-making authority over the reshuffle when he selected Lt Gen Apirat Kongsompong, leader of the 1st Army Corps, to fill the position of commander of the 1st Region Army, said a military source.

The 1st Region Army is the pillar of this arm of the forces, and is the principal supplier of both men and might, especially in times of national emergency or military upheaval.

Neither Gen Chalermchai nor Gen Apirat are from the Burapha Payak clique.

Although Gen Prawit may not have a lot to argue about with Gen Prayut, who insisted on principle and reason in picking the two senior officers, the deputy premier might feel aggrieved that his control over military shake-ups has ebbed.

But even if Gen Prawit does feel a loss of face, he won't show it. He has made it crystal clear there is zero chance of anything or anyone driving a wedge between him and Gen Prayut, whom he has known for four decades since they were junior officers of the Queen's Guard, and worked, ate and played together.

Despite Gen Prawit's cool response, the source said Gen Prayut will not stop asserting his leadership over the reshuffle. He has in the pipeline a plan to overhaul the country's intelligence operations following alleged security oversight blamed for a series of violent incidents in various provinces and an upsurge of unrest in the far South.

The revamp initiated by Gen Prayut could be interpreted as a challenge to Gen Prawit's efficiency as the highest supervisor of the country's security affairs, according to observers.

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