About politics

About politics

In the halls of justice, Gen Paiboon's departure is creating concern v Gen Prem heads a line-up of military and influential luminaries on the Privy Council v The organic laws are striking fear into political parties who fear only the rich will survive

A ministryin transition

The departure of one of the cabinet's foremost ministers, the no-nonsense boss of the Justice Ministry Gen Paiboon Koomchaya, has raised queries over how the ministry will keep up the momentum in steering the course of the law.

To political watchers, the naming this week by His Majesty the King of Gen Paiboon as a member of the Privy Council was totally unexpected. But a source with knowledge of the matter said the general had been quietly delegating his work to his deputy.

This had sparked speculation of an imminent cabinet reshuffle, with Gen Paiboon thought to be in line for a shift to an A-grade ministry -- Agriculture -- to deal with some tough issues that require a very firm hand. It would have been perfect for Gen Paiboon who is highly regarded for his decisive leadership.

Some critics believe a cabinet shake-up is in order, the sooner the better, given the chronically slow economic climate.

The Pheu Thai Party has launched an assault on the government, saying it is languishing in its efforts to get the economy back on track.

Agriculture is one ministry that can help the economy along through invigorated farm exports and increased crop productivity. But it needs strong leaders who can swiftly tackle crop price problems and initiate serious reforms.

Gen Paiboon's supporters say he has a proven track record of stepping in and managing political tension generated by significant controversial issues. In his capacity as head of the Centre for National Anti-Corruption (CNAC) he highlighted alleged irregularities in the construction of Rajabhakti Park, home to the statues of seven former Thai kings in Prachuap Khiri Khan, initiating a thorough probe to ease public doubts about the one-billion-baht project.

This was done despite a number of individual probes by related agencies. Gen Paiboon said a petition was sent to him to look into irregularities involving kickbacks in the project so he asked the agencies concerned to help investigate.

The CNAC eventually declared no irregularities were detected in the casting of the statues of the Thai kings.

As justice minister, Gen Paiboon was handed another hot potato, this time concerning a powerful temple.

He found himself saddled with the task of directing the Department of Special Investigation whose law enforcement power was being challenged by its inability to bring Phra Dhammajayo, the former abbot of Phra Dhammakaya, to heel over charges in connection with the Klongchan cooperative fraud.

Gen Paiboon insisted that while the law must be enforced to preserve its sanctity, the drastic step of raiding the temple would not be taken for fear of violent clashes with the temple's disciples who have so far blocked all efforts by the authorities to capture their revered former abbot.

According to Gen Paiboon, less risky ways must be devised to enforce the law and ensure the monk acknowledges the charges against him.

Now that Phra Dhammajayo has been indicted by prosecutors, strategies have changed.

The police now are vowing to arrest anyone, including the acting abbot Phra Thattacheewo, who shelters the former abbot.

Gen Paiboon is now out of the political picture, and there is considerable uncertainty as to who will become the new Justice Ministry leader in his place, and whether he or she will be capable of the enormous task of delivering justice.

Corridors of power

The saying that "Pa Prem will never fade away" is true once again as statesman Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was recently reappointed Privy Council president under a royal command from His Majesty the King.

The tireless 96-year-old has just completed a term as regent pro tempore following the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Oct 13.

Speculation was rife that he would finally turn his back on all posts and retire to a quiet life as a statesman at his Si Sao Thewes residence.

But with his reappointment as Privy Council president, the Si Sao Thewes residence once again shapes up as a focal point of attention.

Gen Prem has the full trust of His Majesty the King as the monarch expressed his appreciation that Gen Prem was again prepared to preside over the Privy Council during the oath-taking ceremony for the 10 newly appointed privy councillors.

His Majesty has appointed 10 members of the Privy Council of whom three were newcomers, including two government ministers.

The three new members are: Education Minister Gen Dapong Ratanasuwan, Justice Minister Gen Paiboon Koomchaya and Gen Teerachai Nakwanich, who retired as army commander-in-chief on Sept 30.

The other seven were reappointed under the latest royal command. They are Gen Surayud Chulanont, Kasem Watanachai, Palakorn Suwanrath, Atthaniti Disatha-amnarj, Supachai Poo-ngam, Chanchai Likhitjitta and ACM Chalit Pukbhasuk.

Eight others in the previous council under the late King resigned from their positions.

In terms of military seniority, Gen Prem is the figurative "elder brother", followed by Gen Surayud from Class 1 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, ACM Chalit from Class 6, Gen Dapong from Class 12, Gen Teerachai from Class 14 and Gen Paiboon from Class 15.

As close friends of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Gen Dapong and Gen Paiboon worked shoulder-to-shoulder in handling the street protests in 2010, as well as staging the May 22, 2014 coup.

Gen Paiboon was put in charge of legal affairs on the National Council for Peace and Order, and was put at the helm of the Justice Ministry.

Gen Dapong and Gen Paiboon both formerly served as Royal Guard soldiers and also commanded the 1st Division, King's Guard, which controls the army's major combat units in Bangkok.

The pair were also responsible for providing protection for the late King and leading military parades of Royal Guards during ceremonies.

In particular, Gen Paiboon is treated like a son by Gen Prem, who often refers to him as "Commander Tok". Gen Paiboon is generally regarded as having the ability to maintain ties with politicians from all camps, a source said.

Gen Paiboon revealed that he had known for about a month that he would be appointed a privy councillor.

As for former army chief Gen Teerachai, his mother -- MR Phisawas Diskul -- is also from a family of royal lineage, the Diskul family. Gen Teerachai was once the commander of the 1st Army Region before being promoted to army chief.

Parties face a predicament

The organic draft law -- dreaded by most political parties -- is wrapped up and almost ready for submission to the palace, with many fearing the contents will build an iron-clad cage around parties big and small.

One of the more potent sections in the draft, finalised this week by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), zeroes in on ridding the parties of "puppet masters" lurking behind the scenes and pulling the strings.

Unless watered down by the National Legislative Assembly, and passed with the entire CDC-sponsored content intact, the draft will equip several sections of the law with the power to stipulate the grounds for the dissolution of a political party through a Constitutional Court order.

One of the grounds concerns a party allowing a non-member or a "prohibited person" from directing its administration, however discreetly, leaving it open to disbanding.

The draft organic law is one of four being lined up for enactment which provide the legal platform for driving the National Council for Peace and Order's administrative roadmap that includes organising a general election at the end of next year.

But a storm of discontent festered even before the CDC had a chance to wrap it up. During the design stage of the draft, marked by input from forums of stakeholders, the large political parties like Pheu Thai and the Democrats picked up on the CDC's drift and instantly raised their guard, objecting to proposals to restrict their recruitment of members, and what they can or cannot do.

There was even talk among opponents of the CDC about "zero setting" of parties, which would mean their re-registration, opening the way for politicians to hook up with new groups that have much brighter prospects at the next poll, according to political sources.

Last weekend, Pheu Thai core figure Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan urged those in power not to regard political parties as though they are rivals by continuing to limit their roles.

She insisted that no matter how many laws are passed to control political parties, they will not sever the deep ties between politicians and the people.

The final version of the draft organic law demands greater accountability from political parties for their actions and their role in forging national reconciliation by tolerating and accepting different political opinions and helping to resolve political conflicts through peaceful means, according to CDC spokesman Udom Rathamarit.

Failure to comply or acting in a way that defies this stipulation will be punishable by dissolution.

But perhaps what has unnerved the parties -- some more than others -- is the stern prohibition of undue influence and dominance by powerful background figures who are not a party member or are a person prohibited by law from being a member, including those declared legally unfit because of asset seizure by the Supreme Court or convicted of corruption.

This prohibition is unprecedented. It was unknown in previous charters which enabled Pheu Thai and the now-defunct People Power Party to be accused of capitalising on and adopting election manifestos initiated by former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now on the run after being convicted of helping his former wife, Khunying Potjaman Na Pombejra, while he was premier, to buy an expensive plot of land on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok at a discount.

The poll manifesto advocated by Pheu Thai came with the slogan that did not hide Thaksin's influence over the party. It read: "Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai delivers". Observers agree that its success in the 2011 election may well have been due, at least in part, to its campaign advertisements blatantly showing Thaksin.

Once the draft organic law comes into force, anything amounting to a "Thaksin factor" in a party's affairs will be illegal, and the price for breaching the law will see the party cease to exist.

Predictions are that there will be a slew of complaints and counter-complaints among political parties seeking to have the others disbanded, and there might well be only a few left standing come the next election.

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