Economy

Russian premier visits Thailand: More rubles rolling into Prayuth's regime?

Originally published at Siam Voices on April 10, 2015

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Thailand this week was a rare and convenient foreign policy opportunity for the junta, writes Saksith Saiyasombut

It’s been a while since the red carpet has been rolled out at Bangkok Government House for a foreign leader who isn’t from an Asian country. That hiatus ended mid-week with the visit of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday.

The timing couldn’t be better for Thailand’s military junta, still yearning for some international recognition. Relations with most Western countries cooled significantly (we reported) after last year's military takeover, led by then-army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has since installed himself as the country's prime minister.

Since the coup, foreign criticism has been met with petulant and indignant rebuttals by the junta - more often than not from Gen. Prayuth himself - as seen with the most recent backlash against the military government’s revoking of martial law and the subsequent invocation of Article 44, which gives junta leader Gen. Prayuth nigh-absolute power.  In the latest development, soldiers have been granted permission to effectively act as law enforcement officials.

So it comes to no surprise that the junta is looking for new (and/or) old friends elsewhere, so far finding them in neighboring Cambodia and Burma (Myanmar), and - more strangely - in North Korea. Most important, though, is Thailand's pivot towards China (we reported). Ties between the two countries - especially between its armies - have strengthened significantly with Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan traveling to Beijing for the second time since the coup this week, not only to deepen ties but also do some window shopping for military equipment.

Back in Bangkok at Medvedev’s visit, things seems to be going smoothly as well.

"When a friend is in trouble, moral support from allies is needed. Russia still chooses to be friends with Thailand today and we will ensure the bond of friendship remains tight," Gen Prayut said. He thanked Mr Medvedev for his understanding about Thai political developments and vowed he would strengthen ties between the two countries. (…)

The two leaders witnessed the signing of 10 MOUs at Government House. Five were signed between state agencies, including energy, tourism, cultural exchange, anti-narcotics and investment.

Thai and Russian private companies signed five MOUs to strengthen cooperation in machinery engineering, navigation technology, rail infrastructure, fibreglass production and educational exchange between Moscow State Regional University and Siam Technology College.

Prayut reaches out to Moscow”, Bangkok Post, April 9, 2015

While Russian-Thai relations go back to when Tsar Nicholas II welcomed King Chulalongkorn in 1897 (more can be read here and here), ties between the two countries have not been a priority for either party over the years, especially because of the Cold War and the United States being Thailand’s long-standing ally. And despite a rather turbulent episode with the extradition of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to the US, which left Russia fuming at the then-administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Russian ruble has been steadily rolling into Thailand since the fall of the Soviet Union.

That is mostly thanks to an influx of Russian tourists and expats, who are now ranked third as the country with the most tourists to Thailand, behind Malaysia and China. However, in 2014 the number has dropped to 1.6m tourists - a decrease of 8.6 per cent (source). But that has less to do with the Thai political crisis and more to do with Russia’s own economic woes and its tumbling ruble (partly as a consequence of international sanctions for its meddling in the Ukrainian conflict). The fall in Russian visitors has had a significant economic impact, especially in the Russian stronghold of Pattaya.

Nevertheless, both countries are optimistic about their economic outlooks, with a bilateral trade volume (officially) estimated at almost $4bn and about many potential lucrative deals: Russia could, as Trade Minister Denis Manturov told Reuters, buy 80,000 tonnes of rubber from Thailand, thus alleviating one of the junta's biggest commodity headaches. Also, the prospect of a Russian-Thai free-trade agreement could fill void left by the suspended talks with the European Union, much to the disappointment of European trade lobbyists in Thailand.

But more importantly, the Russians also have this to offer:

"We are feeling out the interest on the Thai side to purchase military equipment," Russian Trade Minister Denis Manturov told Reuters in Bangkok on Wednesday. "Our friends from the Western part of the world are ignoring Thailand." (...) Talks on defence-related sales were focused on military aircraft and related training and services, Manturov said. He declined to give details of specific deals under discussion.

"Russia eyes military sales to Thailand, rubber deals", Reuters, April 8, 2015

Unlike its direct neighbors, Thailand's Air Force is mostly equipped with American F-16 and Swedish JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets. But in the current situation, Russia could bundle an attractive package for the Thai generals, which could also cover their long-held wish for submarines.

It should be by now obvious that a rapprochement between Russia and Thailand could - despite denials by both countries - be of geo-strategic benefit for them, given how the two are internationally spurned (albeit at completely different levels of severity and significance). The Thai military junta could always use a big country at its side for international legitimacy, that is also willing to do business and not ask pesky questions about democracy and human rights, while Russia can continue to develop its trade relations in Southeast Asia.

That said, Western countries won't be giving up on Thailand just yet. Not if if they don't want to leave the playing field to a geo-political rival.

While Thailand is not likely to be welcoming many foreign leaders from the West, the red carpet at Government House may be rolled out for new guests more often - although at what cost?

Thailand’s new cyber laws – Part 5: Admin error

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 26, 2015

In the last part of our Siam Voices series examining the new cyber laws, we chronicle the criticism against and the defense for the controversial bills - and what’s behind the military junta’s motivation to push these into law.

In the past two weeks we have analyzed the cyber law bills for its potential impact on policies, censorship and also business. More often than not we found that the flaws outweigh the benefits and, if signed into law without large-scale amendments will have very serious implications of the civil liberties, free speech, personal privacy and even e-commerce of every Thai internet user - except for those in charge of the law.

So it is no wonder why there has been a significant amount of criticism against the cyber bills. Here’s just a small selection:

"Proposed cyber-security legislation in Thailand represents a clear and present danger to media freedoms," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "If Prime Minister Prayuth is sincere about returning the country to democracy, he should see that Parliament scraps this bill, which is reminiscent of a police state, and instead enact laws that uphold online freedoms."

Cyber security bill threatens media freedom in Thailand”,  Committee to Protect Journalists, January 20, 2015

"The consumers will feel that they are being watched when they go online,” said Arthit Suriyawongkul, an expert on cyber and computer law from the Thai Netizen Network. (…)

“They'll feel unsure about sharing their private information fearing that officials could abuse their privacy,” Mr Arthit said. “If consumers are not confident then online businesses will suffer."

"Fears over Thailand's online freedom, as junta drives towards digital economy”, Channel NewsAsia, January 29, 2015

Six civil organizations [Thai Netizen NetworkFTA WatchFoundation for Community Education Media (FCEM)Green World FoundationPeople’s Media Development Institute, and Thailand Association for the Blind (TAB)] denounced the eight Digital Economy bills recently approved by the junta, saying they are national security bills in disguise and that the bill will pave the way for a state monopoly of the telecommunication business.

"Thai junta’s Digital Economy bills are national security bills in disguise: rights groups”, Prachatai English, January 14, 2015

Also, almost 22,000 people have signed an online-petition against the bills, calling for them to be stopped.

At the moment the right cyber bills are in the military junta’s all-appointed ersatz-parliament, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) - dominated by active and former military officers - and are awaiting deliberation. It is not expected that the rubber-stamping body will be making any fundamental changes to the drafts.

Nevertheless, the military government’s response to the criticism is - like with any other criticism out there - aggravated and irritated. Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha responded in his usual style:

“We will develop software for goods and services. If there is private [online] content, no one would mess with it. But if [some people] commit crimes [such as lèse majesté], we have to investigate the matter. The accusation that the government is not taking care of Article 112 [of the Criminal Code, known as the lèse majesté law] is because those lèse majesté websites operate from overseas.

"Junta leader admits controversial digital economy bills target lèse majesté”, Prachatai English, January 22, 2015

And when pressed by another reporter…

"Today, have I ever restricted anyone's rights? Have I ever done that?" asked Gen. Prayuth, who imposed martial law after leading a military coup on 22 May 2014, and has banned any political protests or public criticism of his regime.

The reporter pressed Gen. Prayuth to justify the sweeping nature of the bill, prompting Gen. Prayuth to lose his temper and shout, "I don't have to answer why! I will pass it. You have a problem with that? Otherwise, why the hell am I the Prime Minister? Why am I the Prime Minister?"

Gen. Prayuth then walked away from the reporters and said angrily, "I'm in a very bad mood."

"Thai Junta Leader Deflects Concern Over Mass Surveillance Bill”, Khaosod English, January 21, 2015

This incident at a small activist symposium shows how much the military government is trying to claim its narrative over the bills:

Also present at the Bangkok symposium was an Army Lieutenant who arrived uninvited with three other soldiers in an armoured Humvee and "asked" to be allowed to defend the draft bills. (…)

Army Lieutenant Kittiphob Tiensiriwong (…) urged the 35-strong crowd to accept the bills, saying that the NLA had good intentions but acknowledging that the bills must have more positive than negative aspects.

When asked to explain, Kittiphob, who did not remove his footwear like the other participants, said there were times when speedy access to the Internet was needed.

He said the bills aimed "to control those who think unlike others - those who have their own mind and are not considering the thinking of the collective."

"Calls to hold cyber bills until democracy is restored”, The Nation, February 2, 2015

While this should come as no surprise to anyone, that right there is actual main motivation of the military junta for the cyber law bills and for the way it was written! Ever since the military coup in last May, one of the key elements of its tight grip is the massive monitoring of the media, including online, to curtail any signs of criticism and dissent.

Even without the cyber laws and thanks to the still ongoing martial law, the military junta has already taken steps for wide-spread online surveillance as we have previously reported, as well as ordering Thai internet service providers to preemptively block websites. Since then, there have been further developments that are in line with the authorities' efforts to scrutinize online traffic: the development of software to intercept secured SSL-connections, mandatory sim-card registrations (in a country that predominantly uses their phones with pre-paid subscriptions) as well as for free wifi and the reported creation of a "cyber warfare" unit by the Thai military.

The desire by Thai authorities to control the flow of information online is not new and was evident in past governments (see hereherehere and here), but under the authoritarian rule of the military junta, it can operate with no checks and balances - and thus also legalize its unprecedented powers to monitor, spy, filter, censor and collect anything online.

The main purpose of an army is to protect the country from external threats, but history has shown that the Thai army has mainly acted against the Thai people. Now with the new online surveillance measures and the cyber law bills, the Thai military and the junta is expanding its fields of operations (or rather battlespace) to the cyberspace - and thus not against an external force, but again against every Thai internet user.

THAILAND'S NEW CYBER LAWS: Part 1: Introduction - Part 2: Changes to Computer Crime Act - Part 3: Far-reaching and all-encompassing cyber security - Part 4: Bad for business, too! - Part 5: Admin error

Thailand’s new cyber laws – Part 4: Bad for business, too!

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 25, 2015

In the fourth part of our series examining Thailand's new and controversial cyber laws, we look at the impact it can have on business - and it doesn't necessarily look very profitable.

In the last couple of instalments of this series, we have highlighted the pitfalls, flaws and loopholes of some of the new proposed cyber laws of the Thai military government. Obviously, since this blog mainly focusses on politics and media freedom, we have so far examined the bills with regards to cyber security, surveillance and its implications on censorship, civil liberties and privacy.

However, for some people and entities these aspects are simply not on the top of their priority list - and we’re not talking about the junta this time! No, this time we mean the economic sector. And it is often said from that direction that an effective, stable political situation is preferable - cynics would argue that democratic values are not economic factors.

The main selling point by the current military junta of the new cyber laws is to lay out the legal groundwork to improve the conditions for Thailand’s ”digital economy” and thus position the country more competitively, especially with the ASEAN Economic Community lurking just around the corner. Another objective is to integrate governance and state business better in to the ”digital economy” as well.

And there are some very good reasons to focus on that: With an internet penetration of 35 per cent (roughly 28.3m people) and an even higher percentage of mobile phone users (125 per cent or 84m people, in fact more than the actual Thai population!), there are a lot of opportunities to be made digitally (source and more stats here).

But when you take a closer look at the eight different cyber law bills, there are many passages that also potentially can spell bad business as well. As usual, the devil is in the details.

Let's start off with the Personal Data Protection bill (full translation available here). As the name of the bill implies, it is initially set up to (supposedly) protect personal data of every Thai online user and for that reason a committee overseeing that would also include representatives of three consumer protection NGOs on board. According to Article 7 of the new bill however, they are now gone and have been replaced by the Secretary of the National Security Council instead.

And it doesn't get any better as we encounter yet another example of a typical problem when it comes to Thai legalese:

The draft bill also imposes significant legal burdens on foreign tech companies as responsibility falls solely on the data controller. Such companies would also run a greater risk of being subject to legal action, said Dhiraphol Suwanprateep, a partner at Baker & McKenzie. (...)

He said the bill posed a challenge for the government's digital economy policy, as there is no clear distinction between "personal data processor" and "personal data controller"The draft only identifies a data controller as the person with the authority to control and manage his or her personal information.

"Data processor" typically refers to a third party that processes personal data on behalf of a data controller, Mr Dhiraphol said. In the absence of such identification in the bill, data processors such as internet service providers, web hosting providers, cloud service providers and content hosting platforms could be broadly interpreted as a data controller. (...)

"If there is no separate definition between data controllers and data processors, it will be difficult to enforce the law, as most technology businesses are dwelling on cloud-based services which are physically located outside the country," Mr Dhiraphol said.

"This will not attract foreign investors into Thailand, as stringent legislation would rather hamper businesses' innovative technology instead of promoting Thailand as a digital economy hub for the Asean Economic Community."

"Legal expert shreds data security bill", Bangkok Post, January 26, 2015

Another passage at Article 25 would affect a lot of different sectors as well:

Section 25: Any collection of personal data pertaining to ethnicity, race, political opinions, doctrinal, religious or philosophical beliefs, sexual behaviour, criminal records, health records, or of any data which may upset another person’s or the people’s feelings as prescribed by the Committee, without the consent of the Data Owner or the person(s) concerned, is prohibited, (...)

Following the words of the law, it would make it very difficult to use somebody's yet-to-be-defined "personal information" for any kind of work without their permission. For example, journalists wouldn't be able to use these sources for any critical investigation or marketing campaigns and wouldn't be able to implement social media posts (unless they write some crafty terms of services that nobody reads anyways).

Another crucial point of contention for many critics is the upcoming allocation of new frequency spectrum that would bring 4G mobile connection to Thailand (and hopefully soon and not as drawn-out as the farcical 3G auction was). However...

It also empowers the [Digital Economy Commission chaired by the Prime Minister] to order any private telecommunications operator to act or refraining from acting in any way and also compels companies to provide information on request as well as hand over executives for questioning.

The portfolio of digital economy laws also has a new frequency act that gives the final say in spectrum allocation to the Digital Economy Commission and emancipates the telecommunications regulator, leaving it in charge only of commercial spectrum and imposing strict budget controls on the former autonomous agency. (...)

But while on the one hand [the government] are signalling compromise with the aforementioned committee, the junta are also threatening that 4G will be delayed unless the laws are passed quickly, and of course everyone loves more bandwidth.

"Thai spying law controversy rages on", Telecomasia.net, February 6, 2015

And generally one of the biggest problems is that the cyber law bills are creating a bureaucratic monster:

Paiboon Amornpinyokait, an expert on cyber and computer law, said (...) they gave too much power to the new Ministry of Digital Economy and Society by allowing it to oversee too many areas.

They include areas currently under the jurisdiction of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) Bill, the Cyber Security Bill, the New Computer Crime Bill, the Personal Data Protection Bill, the Digital Economy Promotion Bill, and the Digital Economy Development Fund Bill.

Paiboon said the bills would result in too much centralised power and will give too much authority to officials or authorities, which could easily lead to abuse of power.

"Digital economy bills 'need to be amended'", The Nation, January 19, 2015

These passages and many other legislative pitfalls that we haven't covered yet show that this is not only a matter of human rights, free speech and personal privacy, but it also could have potentially serious implications for the economy and scare away potential foreign investors.

Just as the military junta tries to fix the economy and could be doing more harm than good, these batch of cyber bills could have the same effect as well if they're not being thoroughly amended or rejected by the junta's ersatz-parliament. As we explain in the next and last past of our series, there is definitely not a lack of criticism from all sides but a severe lack of justification from Thailand's military junta.

Translated sections of draft bills by Thai Netizen Network. You can read complete translations here.

THAILAND'S NEW CYBER LAWS: Part 1: Introduction - Part 2: Changes to Computer Crime Act - Part 3: Far-reaching and all-encompassing cyber security - Part 4: Bad for business, too! - Part 5: Admin error

The Thai junta's 2015 draft budget, explained in 4 graphs

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 19, 2014 Thailand's National Legislative Assembly (NLA) approved the draft for the 2015 budget in its first reading on Monday. The body, whose members were all picked by the military junta and is thus dominated by active and retired military officers, rubber-stamped the budget bill with 183 votes and three abstentions (assumed to be the assembly president and his two deputies). Noting the lack of votes against the bill, junta leader and army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha quipped: "Nobody had any problems. Nobody disagreed."

An ad-hoc committee will screen the budget bill and it is expected to be completed by September 1 and put to a vote on September 17, all well before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. By then a new cabinet is expected to be in charge of the interim government.

The proposed 2015 budget sees a total allocation of 2.58 trillion baht (US$81.08bn) - 50bn Baht ($1.57bn) or roughly 2 per cent more than the previous budget. According to the Budget Bureau's published draft (translated spreadsheet) from last month it breaks down like this:

Not only are ministries listed, but also civil servants, the bureaucratic system, provincial funds, the so-called "independent" government agencies (e.g. the obstructionist Election Commission) and many others.

As is evident above, education set to get a big chunk out of that pie chart with 498.16bn Baht ($15.66bn) being allocated to the Education Ministry, but more on that later.

But not only the Education Ministry can look forward to an increased budget as the next graph shows:

The increased budgets for the ministries of transport, interior and agriculture are not surprising.

On the transportation front, the junta has recently approved 741.46bn Baht ($23.3bn) for the construction of two high speed train routes from Thailand's industry belt on the eastern coast up to the north and north-east to Chiang Rai and Nong Khai respectively. The main goal seems to be to improve freight links with China, as evidenced by the fact that neither or fthe routes will pass through the capital Bangkok.

The Interior Ministry is also in charge of many administrative issues down to the local level  (e.g. appointed provincial governors). Whether that money will be used for any decentralization efforts has yet to be seen, even though that looks very unlikely at the moment.

And with the military junta pledging to help rice farmers get the money that the toppled (elected) government's rice subsidy scheme couldn't pay out, the rise of the Agriculture Ministry's budget is unsurprising. On the other end of the spectrum, the massive cut for the Finance Ministry could also be related to the rice scheme and thus a punishment of sorts by the military junta.

The loss of almost a third of the Tourism Ministry's budget appears to be counterintuitive, as tourist arrivals are currently down 10 per cent compared to this time last year - unsurprising, given the prolonged political crisis and its (politically) violent resolution.

The next two graphs are by ThaiPublica and focus on a trend of government spending in the past decade, regardless of who is in power. Let's start off with the education spending between 2008 until today:

As regular readers of this blog know, Thailand's education system leaves muchto be desired and is a serious concern not only when it comes to regional competitiveness, but also - in the opinion of this author and others - one of the root causes of why Thailand has a prolonged political crisis in the first place.

Previous governments in Thailand were already spending a sizable amount of its national budget for education, but ultimately more money was thrown at the problem rather than a complete and long overdue overhaul of the curriculum.

Noteworthy is the repeated emphasis by junta leader and army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha to re-examine and thoroughly reform Thailand's education system. The 498.16bn baht ($15.66 billion) are more likely to be spent to teach Thai children about the "Thai values and morals" that Gen Prayuth has been preaching and to re-enforce the archaic, militaristic attitude at Thai schools, rather than critical thinking and individuality on the part of the students.

The last graph is on military spending in the past 10 years and the trend should be quite obvious:

After the military coup of 2006 (or 2549 in the Buddhist calendar) the defense budget rose annually between 25 to 33 per cent until 2010, before levelling off in 2011-2012.

However, in a bid by Yingluck's government to appease the military, the defense budget increased again gradually - we all know by now how well this worked out for her and her government...

Thus, it comes to no surprise that military spending has grown over 100bn Baht ($3.14bn) or 135 per cent over the last 10 years and with next year's budget draft, the junta is adding another 5 per cent, or 193.07bn baht (US$6.07bn).

While these graphs are a good indicator about where Thailand's military junta is putting its emphasis, what they cannot directly visualize is the character of the junta and its leader Gen Prayuth, who said that if Thailand doesn't "purchase new weapons, then nobody will fear us".

Prayuth also stressed that the junta only has "limited time" to govern before an eventual promised return of civilian power sometime later next year, but as stated in the interim constitution, Gen Prayuth and the junta will be calling the shots until then - and most likely beyond that, including complete control over the country's finances and an assembly to rubber stamp it.

The month in Thailand: Reshuffles, coup rumblings and the 3G farce

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 1, 2012 October is normally a politically heated month in Thailand, as seen in the numerous street protests, military shenanigans and other political developments in the recent history and in the more distant past. However, the events in this month were less controversial, or the changes were in the detail, or both. Here are some of the stories that show that.

Military promotions and cabinet reshuffle: look who's talking now?

Normally, the annual reshuffle and promotions of countless military officers and civilian ministers is enough source for discord between the government and the armed forces and for both groups within themselves. This year's military merry-go-round has been largely unsurprising - apart from the removal of Defense Permanent Secretary Gen. Sathien Permthong-in - and reassures the ongoing truce with the government. Also, the promotion of Yingluck's nephew is seen by some as a good sign.

The new cabinet of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on the other hand has some interesting changes. Yongyuth Wichaidit has resigned as deputy prime minister and Pheu Thai Party leader, some saying to evade a potential corruption case, while the rest of the Yingluck cabinet has the pundits reaching for very different conclusion. Some are saying Thaksin is slowly reclaiming the party, while others say Yingluck is holding her ground.

Sleeping hawks are awake, confused

One more thing that normally comes up during this time of the year (mostly as a negative outcome of the two issues above): rumors and calls for a military coup - since that is apparently the only time-proofed method to bring in stability and democracy in Thailand, according to some.

Last Sunday saw yet another rally that calls for the current government to be ousted by nothing else but a military intervention. The  group calls itself Pitak Siam (Protect Siam) and their main organizer is Ret. Gen. Boonlert Kaewprasit, chairman of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School (AFAPS) Foundation and Class 1 graduate. He's also been consistent in demanding coups on a regular basis (and having participated in the failed coup attempt of March 1977), citing the cause of protecting the monarchy from lèse majesté. No change this time:

"I'd love to see a coup because I know this puppet government is here to rob the country. Several sectors of society can't take it anymore. If I had the power a coup would have been staged by now," he said. (...)

Over the past year the government has not only stood by as offensive criticism has been hurled against the monarchy, but it has appeared to encourage it, he said. The government has showed itself to be Thaksin's puppet, he said, adding that by installing his sister Yingluck as prime minister, Thaksin had insulted the entire nation.

"Pitak Siam rally hopes to oust govt", Bangkok Post, October 24, 2012

The rally itself was joined by groups (many are PAD-aligned) that can be generally described as ultra-royalist, anti-democratic and nationalist, but also some that are just fed up with the current government. Attendance figures varied wildly between 3,000 (police estimate) and 30,000 (organizer's estimate) - but it's safe to say that they were able to fill the main grandstand at the Royal Turf Club, which holds about 20,000.

What all the coup demands in recent years have in common (apart that it is potentially illegal) is a relentless contempt against Thaksin and the willingness to accept the damage of a military coup with the disregard for the democratic system. The upper echelons of the army at the moment are siding with the government - for now. Gen. Boonlert has announced that there'll be another rally soon and is even more hell-bent to topple this government no matter the costs. However, he and like-minded people should also take into account that another military coup will be even less well-received by the general population than at the last one.

Thailand's eternal 3G farce - the last chapter?

After an almost eternal and tedious waiting period Thailand will finally upgrade to 3G mobile technology making it the second-to-last country in Southeast Asia to do so. It's been a long and painful process but now Thailand's citizens, especially smartphone users, can look forward to finally get wide 3G coverage even before the end of year - or may be not...?!

See, the issue with the 3G implementation in Thailand is a neverending story and - admittedly - much more complicated to explain than the government's rice pledging scheme! The last auction attempt in 2010 was stopped by a last-minute court order after a complaint by a state-owned telecommunications company that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) was not authorized to hold the auction - a mess created by the 2007 constitution.

Now, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) which had the authority to hold this auction. There were in total 9 slots of 5 MHz bandwidth each, three bidders who cannot get more than three each and the results were underwhelming for some.

Thailand has raised 41.6 billion baht (US$1.4 billion) from its long-awaited auction of 3G mobile licenses, with the three bidding operators said to have paid "only a small premium".

[...] the three bidders - AIS, Dtac and True Move - managed to secure 3G licenses. The NBTC noted that AIS submitted the highest bid at 14.6 billion baht (US$ 475 million) for three slots of 5 MHz bandwidth. The other two operators each submitted the minimum bid of 13.5 billion baht (US$439 million) for the three slots of bandwidth, it added.

"Thailand nets $1.4B from 3G auction", ZDNet, October 17, 2012

Dtac was the only one to bid slightly above the starting price and overall the auction only gained a plus of only 1.125 bn Baht ($36m) or 2.78 per cent above the reserve price. Amidst that meager profit from the bidding a torrential flood of criticism poured down on the whole event, especially on the NBTC. Most fault them for missing out on a lot of money during the bidding and thus the 'damaging the country' (even leading The Nation to draw up the most ludicrous conspiracy theory or a poor attempt at satire). On the other hand considering that this was a bureaucratic mess almost a decade in the making and the resistance of state companies, one has to wonder what is still left of the real price of infrastructure progress in Thailand.

And meanwhile across the border, Laos is preparing to launch 4G...!

Lèse majesté update: Judiciary upholds constitutionality while suspect is acquitted

Thailand's Constitutional Court has ruled the Kingdom's draconian lèse majesté law unanimously and unsurprisingly as 'constitutional', after Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and Akechai Hongkangwarn (both accused and detained on lèse majesté charges) have contested Article 112 of the Criminal Code in a landmark legal challenge.

Meanwhile, some good news: A 41-year-old programmer has been acquitted of lèse majesté charges. The court ruled in doubt for the  defendant after it was not clear whether or not he was the author of defamatory Facebook messages and that computer evidence could have been even forged.

The best article by The Nation - EVER!

And finally, I present you the best, most coherent article The Nation has written - EVER!