Thai establishment to disband popular party – Asian Media Report

Mar 16, 2024
More details Pita announces a government formation following the 2023 general election, 18 May 2023. At The Okura Prestige Bangkok Hotel.

In Asian media this week: ‘Inexorable, predictable’ proceedings against Move Forward. Plus: South Korea’s new envoy at heart of political row; Xi revives Mao’s party-control dictum; Fukushima meltdown fuel still a mystery; China’s tai chi diplomatic culture; Singapore writer in long Taylor Swift gloat.

In a slow-motion replay of the main contest in Thai politics for the past two decades, the military-royalist establishment is lining up the dissolution of the most popular progressive political party.

The Election Commission this week decided to ask the Constitutional Court to dissolve the Move Forward Party, the party that won the most votes in last May’s general election but was blocked from forming government by the military-appointed Senate.

Bangkok Post said the Election Commission’s decision was based on a Constitutional Court ruling in January, outlawing attempts by Move Forward to amend Thailand’s strict lese majeste law. It ruled that campaigning on the issue was considered an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy..

If the party is disbanded, its leaders could be banned from politics for 10 years.

An article in The Diplomat magazine said it was hard to see the court refusing to accept the commission’s recommendation, given its previous ruling against Move Forward.

“There is both an inexorability and predictability to the legal proceedings against Move Forward,” the article said. “Since the turn of the century, every time a political party has emerged that is deemed to pose a threat to the Thai conservative establishment and its sustaining institutions – the monarchy and the Royal Thai Army – they move swiftly to neutralise the threat.”

The political energy the Move Forward captured, it said, was almost certain to re-emerge in a more radical form, the article said.

An opinion piece on the ThaiPBSWorld website said that to survive Move Forward (and presumably, its successor party) must keep up a friendship with the Pheu Thai party and its patriarch, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin, it said, would want to retain good ties with Move Forward to boost his bargaining power with the conservative establishment. “Thaksin’s strategy is to benefit from maintaining a balance between the conservatives and Move Forward,” it said.

A commentary in the South China Morning Post portrays Thaksin, currently on parole following his conviction on corruption charges, as more influential than Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

The piece, by Singapore-based Thai academic Termsak Chalermpalanupap, says Srettha was hardly at the bargaining table during the weeks before the formation of his Cabinet.

The wheeling and dealing handled by Pheu Thai heavyweights who undoubtedly consulted with, and listened to, Thaksin, the article says.

It points out that former Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen travelled to Bangkok last month for lunch with Thaksin – leaving without calling on Srettha.

“Apparently, Hun Sen knows who to talk to in Thailand to get what he wants,” the article says.

New ambassador to Australia under official investigation

South Korea’s new ambassador to Australia, Lee Jong-sup, is at the centre of a political controversy over his appointment.

Lee, a former defence minister, is being investigated by an anti-corruption body following the death of a young marine during a monsoon-season rescue operation last July. He is accused of downplaying the death and trying to interfere in the police investigation.
He arrived in Australia this week, leaving Seoul two days after the Justice Ministry lifted a travel ban that had been imposed on him.

The Korea Times reported that opposition parties had mounted an offensive against the Yoon Suk Yeol administration over the appointment as part of their campaigning for general elections to be held next month.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Korea, accused the presidential office of arranging Lee’s diplomatic appointment, effectively helping him avoid the investigation.

The party called on President Yoon to rescind Lee’s diplomatic appointment, The Korea Herald reported. It quoted a senior party MP as saying Lee was one of the key suspects in the alleged obstruction of justice.

The Herald also reported a civic group, known as National Action for Judicial Justice, had filed an official complaint against Yoon and two other ministers, accusing them of abusing power and helping a suspect flee.

Critics had said it made no sense to appoint a suspect to an overseas post, the paper said. But the presidential office said it did not know of the investigation and exit ban when it named Lee as ambassador.

The body investigating Lee’s allege abuse of power, the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials, said additional questioning of the new ambassador was necessary, The Korea Times said. The office said in-person questioning was necessary in Lee’s case.

The office said it would not be hard to question Lee as diplomats returned home often for official duties.

The paper said this was a hint of a possible summons for Lee.

Party control an institutional advantage, China says

To outside observers, it might seem a mere detail – formalising the informal – but the dominance of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party over the government of China is now absolute. It is official, as the tabloids might say.

There is now legally no separation between the party and the state.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported that legislators changed the law governing the State Council, or cabinet, on the final day of the annual “two sessions” legislative meeting.

The cabinet must now uphold the party’s leadership, implement its decisions and follow closely Xi’s teachings.

The paper quoted Deng Yuwen, a former deputy editor of Study Times, the Central Party School’s official newspaper, as saying the era of separation between the party and the government was over.

Deng said: “[Xi has] consolidated all major decision-making power for the party and himself, making the State Council just an arm to execute the party’s policy decisions.

“Xi has successfully revived Mao’s famous slogan about the party’s overall leadership.”

Global Times, an official party newspaper, said the State Council had called on all departments and local governments to take firm measures to implement tasks outlined at the two-sessions meetings.

The prompt response came just a day or two after the two sessions had concluded. It would mobilise the country to meet development goals for everything from GDP growth to food security to job creation.

It would be a vivid display of China’s efficiency in policy-making and implementation, in stark contrast to the dysfunction of some Western countries.

China, the paper said, had a distinct institutional advantage.

Fukushima’s 40-year timeline labelled optimistic

This week marks 13 years since an earthquake and tsunami struck coastal towns in northern Japan, destroying the power supply and fuel cooling systems of the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing meltdowns in three reactors.

Operators have begun discharging into the sea contaminated cooling water that has been treated. Removing the water tanks is crucial to creating space for facilities needed for decommissioning the plant.

But, Asahi Shimbun reported, the contents of the reactors remained a mystery.

“Little is known, for instance, about the melted fuel’s condition or exactly where it’s located in the reactors,” the paper said.

“Not even a spoonful of the fuel has been removed.

“About 880 tons of melted nuclear fuel remain inside the three damaged reactors and Japanese officials say removing it would take 30-40 years. Experts call that timeline overly optimistic.”

The Japan Times said the National Police Agency put the death toll from the disaster at 15,900 people. The number of deaths from indirect causes related to the disaster stood to 3,802 people.

At the end of February 2,502 people were still missing, the paper said.

China follows rules, Russia ignores them

China and Russia have had a “no-limits” partnership for more than two years, yet they differ in their international outlook and behaviour.

Their views of international rules are also different.

Chinese academic Wang Yiwei says China seeks harmony and the common good, while Russia stresses differences. “China’s history is replete with exchanges of knowledge between civilisations, which point to how it has focused on pursuing harmony,” he says.

Wang, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, says China has a tai chi culture, where the emphasis is on pushing an opponent without using force. “Russia, however, is a bear culture,” he says in an opinion piece published in the South China Morning Post.

He lists 10 reasons for the two countries’ different approaches to international rules.

One difference he gives is that China observes the international rules itself rather than just asking others to follow them, while Russia considers itself exempt from the rules.

He says: “China seeks to improve the international order while Russia wishes to challenge the West and the unipolar order.”

Thai PM says he admires Singapore’s Swift deal

Taylor Swift brings joy to her fans but not to politicians who cannot attend her sold-out shows. Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin complained that Singapore paid Swift about $US3 million for each of this month’s six shows there, on condition that she not appear in any other Southeast Asian country.

At least, it sounded like a complaint – until diplomacy won out. Did he resent Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for securing the deal? Srettha said he had no problems with Lee, The Nation reported.

Which was all to the good, as the two were seated next to each other at the recent ASEAN-Australia Summit in Melbourne.

“If you pay attention, you will see that I had spoken of Singapore with admiration,” Srettha said. “Some media outlets may have distorted what I said to make it a political issue.

“I see this as a wise way of managing a country.”

Singapore’s The Straits Times carried a 1300-word opinion piece by author Koh Buck Song, arguing that the country’s brand had been burnished. “In other words, its soft power has been enhanced,” Koh wrote.

“Audience memories become visitor testimonials that will add to international awareness of Singapore as a diverse, cosmopolitan, open and welcoming place that certainly knows how to have fun.”

A long, long gloat.

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