Thai king strips fugitive ex-PM Thaksin of royal decorations

Clockwise from left: Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, exiled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. (AFP / Lillian Suwa)
Updated 31 March 2019

Thai king strips fugitive ex-PM Thaksin of royal decorations

  • Thaksin became prime minister in 2001 but was ousted by a 2006 military coup
  • A military coup in also kicked out Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra as PM in 2014

BANGKOK: Thailand’s king has stripped fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of his royal decorations, citing his 2008 flight to escape serving a two-year prison term on a conflict of interest conviction and other legal cases against him.
Thai media reported that the royal command from King Maha Vajiralongkorn was published Saturday in the Royal Gazette.
The move follows a March 24 general election in which a party loyal to Thaksin claimed it won enough seats to form a coalition that would hold a majority in the House of Representatives. Final certified results will not be issued until May 9, and the Election Commission has warned there could be some disqualifications by then.
Last week, a military award Thaksin has been given was revoked by the army, with the explanation that he failed to deserve the honor.
Vajiralongkorn on election eve had issued a statement urging voters to select “good people” for public office, a message taken as implicit support for Thaksin’s opponents, mainly the military-backed Palang Pracharath Party, which won the highest number of popular votes.
Thaksin, a billionaire with populist policies, became prime minister in 2001 but was ousted by a 2006 military coup. Abuse of power and disrespect for the monarchy were two of the accusations that were offered as justification for the coup.
The army staged another coup in 2014 against a government that had been formed by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was forced out of office on a controversial charge, later found guilty of negligence in her duties, and also fled into exile.
The 2014 coup was led by then-army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has been junta chief and prime minister since then, and is the candidate of Palang Pracharath Party.
The 2006 coup set off a sometimes violent struggle for power between Thaksin’s supporters and opponents, and pro-Thaksin parties staged several comebacks even though the military and other royalists have tried to dismantle his political machine.
These include changes in the constitution and election laws under the military government that were meant to handicap parties loyal to Thaksin.
The hostility of royalists toward Thaksin has been evident since he was in office, though was never expressed directly by members of the royal family, including Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016. The royal family by tradition is above politics.
Vajiralongkorn’s older sister, Princess Ubolratana, caused an uproar in February when the pro-Thaksin Thai Raksa Chart Party registered her as its nominee for prime minister. The move was initially seen as a clever ploy by Thaksin’s political machine to immunize itself against charges that it opposed the monarchy. It backfired badly when the king declared it inappropriate and unconstitutional, and the party was dissolved by the courts before the election, hurting the pro-Thaksin forces.
Princess Ubolratana, however, made a high-profile appearance at the wedding reception of one of Thaksin’s daughters in Hong Kong just two days before the election. Photos and video of the event showed Thaksin welcoming her warmly.
Thailand’s monarchy is protected by strong lese majeste laws that make whatever is judged defamatory of the royal family punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment.


‘Clear risks’ for stability in China’s Pacific lending, Australian think tank warns

Updated 45 min 39 sec ago

‘Clear risks’ for stability in China’s Pacific lending, Australian think tank warns

SYDNEY: China’s financial largesse in the Pacific carries “clear risks” for stability if left unchecked, a Sydney think tank warned, while saying allegations of “debt-trap” diplomacy are so far overblown.
In a study released Monday, the influential Lowy Institute warned that fragile Pacific nations risked borrowing too much and leaving themselves exposed to demands from Beijing.
China has repeatedly been accused of offering lucrative but unserviceable loans to gain leverage or snap up strategically vital assets like ports, airports, or electricity providers.
While Lowy said allegations that China was engaged in “debt-trap” diplomacy in the Pacific were overblown, the trend was not positive and countries like Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu were dangerously exposed.
Between 2011 and 2018, China committed loans to the region worth $6 billion — around 21 percent of regional GDP.
A majority of that money, $4.1 billion, was earmarked for Papua New Guinea.
Only a fraction, less than $1 billion, has so far been dispersed but China is still the single largest creditor in Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu.
“The sheer scale of Chinese lending and the lack of strong institutional mechanisms to protect the debt sustainability of borrowing countries mean a continuation of business as usual would pose clear risks,” the report said.
The South Pacific has become a forum for intense competition for influence between China, the United States, and Australia in recent years.
The island nations sit on a vital shipping crossroad, contain vast reserves of fish stocks, and provide a potential base for leading militaries to project power well beyond their borders.
Beijing has stepped up engagement in the region through a series of high profile visits and no-conditions lending via its Belt and Road Initiative.
The Solomon Islands and Kiribati recently announced they would switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing after a long courtship by the country’s Communist leaders.
Six Pacific governments are currently debtors to Beijing — the Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
Lowy said many of China’s loans carry a modest two percent annual interest rate.
But it warned that China would need to adopt formal lending rules if loans were to be made sustainable as natural disasters like earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis can quickly upend countries’ ability to pay back loans.
“Three small Pacific economies — Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu — also appear to be among those most heavily indebted to China anywhere in the world,” it said.