published : 14 Jan 2017 at 04:00
newspaper section: News
The battered South is spared political shenanigans because of the party ban v Pheu Thai's footloose MPs are scratching to survive and getting no help from the 'boss' v The new BMA chief is to tell the world about each achievement as it arises
Flood aidgets through
Recovery operations across the inundated provinces in the South and Prachuap Khiri Khan are ratcheting up as flooding from the recent huge downpours has started to recede, revealing ruined homes and damaged roads, bridges and rail lines.
The heavy flooding that wreaked havoc in 12 provinces as the New Year rang in is believed to have caused damage estimated at 22.4 billion baht.
Financial aid is on the way with donations pouring in from all sectors. Among those seeking to help is Muan Maha Prachachon for Reform Foundation whose chairman, Suthep Thaugsuban, has stepped up in a big way, hosting a Facebook Live event to call for donations to help the flood victims.
Following his move, key leaders of the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) have sprung into action, including Chitpas "Tant" Kridakorn, Chumphol Julsai and Isara Somchai, who was injured in a car accident while preparing to deliver rice to flood victims.
But Witthaya Kaewparadai is Mr Suthep's right-hand man in this operation.
Mr Witthaya, the former Democrat MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat, has been seen as reaching out to flood victims not only in his home province, but also in nearby areas. The former MP's role in the flood relief operation is said to have helped boost the efficiency of distribution of essential supplies.
As a veteran of local politics, he knows his way around and can direct help to those most in need. As a member of the coup-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) he secures coordination among state agencies and the military which need a go-between to bring help to where it is needed.
Since the PDRC protests, Mr Witthaya has remained active in his constituency, but his focus has been on community work. He has founded a cycling club where members do the necessary legwork to keep fit and the brainwork by discussing problems facing their community. This cycling club is said to be the biggest in the region.
The Muan Maha Prachachon for Reform Foundation's contribution to flood rescue and relief operations can be no less; most of the flood victims are the very same people who kept the group's street protests going in Bangkok during 2013-2014.
While the former PDRC leaders are out there working in flood relief operations, the Democrat Party which has a political stronghold in the region is helping quietly, staying out of the spotlight due to a political ban by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
Even Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is said to be waiting patiently for the right time before he can travel down south to visit the flooded provinces. He will be going to the South in his capacity as chairman of the Seni Pramoj foundation.
The party's low profile has triggered criticism on social media, and some are calling on it to set up a flood relief centre, a move rejected by the party due to the NCPO's ban on political activities.
Being seen in the news is just former leader Chuan Leekpai, a member of the party's old guard, who is actively working to assist the flood victims in Trang.
However, it is believed that the Democrat Party's limited involvement in the flood relief campaign is unlikely to affect its popularity, according to a political observer.
"People think the PDRC and the Democrat Party are no different. It doesn't matter who leads the flood relief efforts," said the source.
Morsels from master's table
On New Year's Day, more than 100 ex-MPs of the Pheu Thai Party got together to offer their best wishes and greetings to two former prime ministers -- Yingluck Shinawatra and Somchai Wongsawat.
But when the New Year's celebrations ended, those former party MPs, many of whom journeyed from distant provinces to show their loyalty to the party's key figures, had to return home empty-handed and disappointed. The organisers of the event did not give them envelopes containing "New Year gifts" as in previous years, a source said.
The source said many of those former party MPs at the event complained that the party's heavyweights are no longer taking care of them and are leaving them to fend for themselves.
The ex-MPs are moaning about the fact that they are now forced to eke out an existence after having been jobless since the military seized power more than two years ago.
Their complaints were later relayed to the party's executives who offered words of comfort, promising that they would not leave them in the lurch and that all former party MPs would be well looked after, the source said.
Optimism was also awakened in Pheu Thai when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha recently announced that the government will enter a mode of reconciliation this year, giving the party a glimmer of hope that its key figures who are facing court cases will be treated justly and fairly and that double-standard practices will cease, the source said.
One high-profile case involves Ms Yingluck who is accused of dereliction of duty over her alleged failure to stop her government's loss-ridden rice-pledging scheme. The ongoing trial is expected to be completed later this year.
The current government is also demanding 178 billion baht in compensation for losses accumulated by Ms Yingluck's rice-pledging scheme for the 2012-2014 crops.
The former prime minister has been ordered to pay 20% of the sum, or 35.7 billion baht with the government seeking others to help compensate for the remaining 80%.
However, no matter whether the roadmap leading to the election expected late this year is still on course, or whether it will be delayed further, key Pheu Thai figures are still confident that the party will win no less than 220 House seats if and when the election is called, the source said.
But neutral observers noted that the new constitution will put Pheu Thai at a disadvantage with its mixed-member proportional representation voting system and the use of a single ballot for both constituency MPs and party-list MPs.
This will result in major parties like Pheu Thai probably winning fewer seats. It will not be easy for Pheu Thai to grab half the 500 House seats.
This will pretty much shut the door on the party's hopes of going it alone in grabbing a parliamentary majority and forming a single-party government.
With the military regime's iron-fisted ban on political activities remaining in place, it is not as easy for ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Pheu Thai's de facto leader, to direct the party from afar as before, while the fate of Ms Yingluck who is involved in legal wrangles still hangs in the balance, observers say.
Pheu Thai will have to struggle hard in the next election.
Rumbles in the corridors
The honeymoon period is well and truly over for Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang, and the task before him now is to make good on the promises he made when he assumed the post.
It has been said that Pol Gen Aswin is closely connected to Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda who is directly in charge of City Hall.
Pol Gen Aswin is expected to be on the same page with the ministry and indeed the government as he was hand-picked to replaced MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, the previous, elected Bangkok governor by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
Some were not surprised by his appointment, especially as there was a growing call to sideline MR Sukhumbhand, who was, incidentally, in his second term at the BMA's helm, for acting too slowly in getting his work done at City Hall.
Yet the former governor left office with no visible grudges as he gave his successor his blessings and voiced confidence in Pol Gen Aswin's ability to pick up where he left off. Pol Gen Aswin had, of course, served as his deputy at the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).
No sooner had Pol Gen Aswin been named as governor than he announced a policy to keep all motorcyclists and street vendors from encroaching on public spaces designated for pedestrians.
He insisted it was completely inexcusable that anyone should be allowed to continue misusing the pavements.
A former police commissioner, he drew from his strength in law enforcement. He vowed that those breaking the law must be penalised, and made it unequivocally clear that he would take serious action against pavement violators.
However, his duties are not restricted to evicting pavement encroachers. He is giving his higher-level officers quite a lot of work.
Gen Anupong has conceded that local administrative affairs and urban issues associated with the running of City Hall are not exactly his cup of tea. The message was quite clear, suggesting that he would allow Pol Gen Aswin a free hand and full authority in governing Bangkok.
Gen Anupong, however, said he would be obliged to assist the new governor by amending laws and regulations needed to remove obstacles in managing City Hall.
A source in the BMA said that given the backing of the NCPO and the government, Pol Gen Aswin can feel assured that he has nothing to be concerned about with his administration of the metropolitan authority, leaving him with a free hand to pursue the tasks he has been assigned to do.
He was also given the major responsibility of preparing for the historic royal funeral for King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Sanam Luang in Bangkok at the end of the year.
Also, he will be preoccupied with studying any flaws in regulations or procedures that dogged his predecessor which need fixing so that he does not find himself caught in any impasses.
Critics observe that MR Sukhumbhand was not the most vocal person when it came to declaring to the public what he considered were his achievements in office.
The source said Pol Gen Aswin is being adamant about putting the word out that he is doing things and that he has plans for Bangkok.
He is looking to hire professional media consultants to help publicise the BMA's work, which could also get across the image of the new governor as being accessible and approachable.