Santa Clause is coming to town
9 December 2013
Democrat Party is not so keen on the whole democracy thing
9 December 2013 -
By Newley Purnell (with some editing).
Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has dissolved parliament, called
for new elections, proposed a national referendum, and even offered to
resign to appease anti-government protesters. You might think that would be
welcome news to the opposition Democrat Party and the 100,000 demonstrators
who returned to the streets on Monday to try yet again to unseat her—but you
would be wrong. After losing a string of elections to Yingluck and her
brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Democrat Party has
had more than enough of democracy, and is seeking to reshape Thailand’s
politics by other means.
On Sunday the Democrats, who are mainly supported by middle class and
wealthy residents from Bangkok and the country’s south, announced their
members are quitting parliament en masse because, according to Democrat
leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, Yingluck’s government is “illegitimate.” What he
didn’t mention was the fact that the Democrats simply can’t beat the
democratically elected Yingluck and her party at the polls.
“You have to throw
away this definition of what democracy is supposed to be,” Bangkok Post
columnist Voranai Vanijaka told the Daily Beast. “This is not about
democracy and rule of law, blah, blah, blah. This is a fight. This is a
fight for who’s going to run this country. … They’ll worry about democracy
when the fight is over.”
Yingluck’s party rose to prominence thanks to rural voters in the country’s
populous north and northeast, whose economic gains and political empowerment
have radically redrawn the Thai electoral map. The Democrats, meanwhile,
haven’t won a nationwide contest in more than twenty years. “We cannot beat
them,” Theptai Seanapong, a Democrat member of parliament, told the New York
Times. ”It doesn’t matter if we raise our hands and feet in parliamentary
votes, we will never win.” How the party actually can win is far from clear.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has called for an unelected council of
“good people” to run the country, but details are scarce. (On the topic of
participating in new elections, Abhisit said “We are walking today; we will
talk about that later.”)
declared a people's revolution and will not accept either the Peau Thai
party or Yingluck as Prime Minister in the caretaker government that would
be required during the sixty day campaign until an election can be held.
Indeed, it might be time to adjust the copy on the Democrat Party’s web
site. The party claims it “will always continue to firmly adhere to the
principles of democracy, freedom, transparency, and public participation.”
Except, perhaps, those pesky parts about democratic elections and majority
What next: if
there is an election then the proposed date is 2 February.
But the Democrats
do not want an election; one possibility is that the constitutional court
will be pressured not to dissolve the PT party but to suspend the political
rights of all 312 PT MPs.
Emirates: In a sweet spot
9 December 2013
- The Financial Times
To understand the sheer might of Emirates Airline, you have to go to its
Dubai hub at midnight. Between 10pm and 1am, Emirates’ airliners rain down
on Dubai International airport – 90 land during this frenetic three-hour
period, flying in mainly from Asia, Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East.
These long-range aircraft – Emirates is the world’s largest operator of the
Airbus A380 superjumbo and Boeing 777 jet – are then rapidly prepared for
their next flights. About 60 jets roar out of Dubai between 2am and 4am.
The waves of aircraft highlight how Emirates’ Terminal 3 at Dubai
International has become a hub for millions of passengers criss-crossing the
world. Rush hour happens in the middle of the night as bleary-eyed
passengers spend a few hours in the airport’s duty free shopping malls
between their incoming and outgoing flights.
Saadia Farrukh, a Pakistani doctor, has flown into Dubai from Amman with
Emirates, and is preparing for the second leg of her journey to Islamabad.
“I find Emirates one of the best airlines because of the service and the
staff . . . very courteous and hospitable,” she says.
Not quite everyone is happy with the airline, however. Masashi Sato, a
Japanese consultant, is waiting for his flight to Tokyo after flying from
Tunis on an ageing Airbus A340 that he complains had uncomfortable seats. “I
prefer Japan Airlines,” he says, before adding pointedly: “But the cost
[with Emirates] is a lot less.”
Fiercely competitive pricing, polite service and the ability to operate
around the clock from its Dubai hub help explain how Emirates has become one
of the most powerful forces in global aviation. Founded in 1985, Emirates
has assembled the largest fleet of long-range, wide-body passenger jets in
the world – 196 in total. And mainly thanks to Emirates, Dubai is on course
to replace London’s Heathrow airport as the world’s largest hub by
international passengers in 2015. Night flying is heavily restricted at
Emirates is one of three fast-growing, state-controlled carriers in the
wealthiest corner of the Gulf that are successfully wooing travellers who
have previously flown with longer established airlines based in Asia, Europe
and the US. Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways – which have hubs in Abu Dhabi
and Doha respectively – are also pursuing ambitious long-haul flying
Confirmation of the three Gulf carriers’ muscle came at the Dubai air show
in November, when Emirates, Etihad and Qatar were announced as launch
customers for the 777X, Boeing’s planned new version of its popular 777
Emirates is proposing to buy 150 of these more fuel-efficient 777X jets in a
deal that should become the US manufacturer’s biggest single commercial
aircraft order, worth $55.6bn at catalogue price. The transaction symbolised
the resurgence of Dubai four years after a debt crisis brought the emirate
to its knees.
It was Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum, Dubai’s former ruler during its
transition from British protectorate to member of the United Arab Emirates,
who realised aviation could bolster the city state’s longstanding role as
Dubai did not have the large oil reserves of neighbouring Abu Dhabi, and
Sheikh Rashid focused on infrastructure projects, including the construction
of Dubai International, that could support the emirate’s position as a
modern-day centre for trade and tourism.
But Emirates Airline was the brainchild of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum,
third son of Sheikh Rashid and now Dubai’s ruler, according to Sheikh Ahmed
bin Saeed al-Maktoum, the carrier’s chairman.
Sheikh Mohammed always encourages Emirates to “push the limit”, says Sheikh
Ahmed, who is the Dubai ruler’s uncle and has been the airline’s head since
its creation. “It was very clear from day one – his highness gave the
management of Emirates Airline the freedom of expanding the
business . . . as long as they do not go to the government for any guarantee
or any finance,” he adds.
Sheikh Ahmed personifies the seamless relationship between the emirati
government and the aviation industry – as well as leading Emirates, he is
chairman of Dubai Airports, operator of Dubai International airport, and
president of Dubai civil aviation authority, the regulator. These combined
roles have enabled him to smooth the way for Emirates’ rapid expansion over
the past decade.
But Emirates’ growth is premised on Dubai’s location – it is well placed to
link east with west because two-thirds of the world’s population lives
within eight hours of the city state.
The airline is riding high on globalisation. Chinese business people flying
to Africa are important customers, for example. But smaller UK airports are
also being targeted because British families want to see relatives in
Crucially, Emirates does not have the unwieldy cost structures of European
and US airlines. For example, Emirates’ workers are not unionised.
Costs are also minimised by the relatively low landing charges paid by
Emirates at Dubai International, and the airline’s young fleet. The average
age of its jets is six years, which reduces fuel and maintenance bills
significantly. Finally, Emirates benefits from the fact that there is no
corporate tax levied in the UAE.
But while the airline has cost advantages over rivals, it stands out for
taking risks, such as its big bet on the Airbus A380 superjumbo, the world’s
largest passenger jet.
Emirates was one of the European manufacturer’s launch customers for the
A380, but the first aircraft arrived two and a half years late in 2008,
temporarily playing havoc with its expansion plans. However, the A380 bet
has largely paid off because the aircraft is proving popular with customers.
“I see in Emirates an airline willing to take more risks because they see
the reward,” says John Leahy, Airbus’s chief operating officer for
customers. “If you look at some of the legacy carriers, they are more
focused on reducing risk.”
This appetite for risk-taking at Emirates is partly the result of the Dubai
government’s enthusiastic backing for the airline’s growth strategy,
according to some analysts.
Tim Clark, Emirates’ president and the British executive who developed the
airline’s innovative routes over the past 28 years, says there is a
perception in Dubai that the company is too big to fail because aviation
accounts for 30 per cent of the emirate’s gross domestic product. But he
adds: “I would never ever regard the government of Dubai as a safety net.”
Emirates strongly denies accusations from some western airlines that it
receives state subsidies, saying it has not had any financial help from the
Dubai government beyond $10m of seed capital, two Boeing 727s, and the
deposits on two Airbus A310s – all provided during the 1980s. The airline’s
expansion has been financed through its earnings. Unlike many other
carriers, Emirates has notched up 25 consecutive years of profits.
But accusations from European and US airlines persist. Last year, Lufthansa
complained of an uneven playing field, saying Emirates disproportionately
benefited from Dubai’s low landing charges. Echoing these concerns, Air
France-KLM said in March that Gulf carriers should be refused increased
access to EU airports until they provided assurances about fair competition.
But this demand is unlikely to gain traction because it goes against 35
years of industry liberalisation.
Moreover, Emirates believes it has at least one bargaining chip. Sheikh
Ahmed stresses the airline is safeguarding jobs at Airbus and Boeing through
its orders. “Why would [we] buy something if they will not allow us [landing
rights in Europe and the US]? They can take the aircraft back,” he says,
before adding that he thinks matters will not go that far.
Meanwhile, US carriers led by Delta Air Lines are calling for the
Export-Import Bank, the US export credit agency, to stop providing financing
guarantees to non-US airlines including Emirates for purchases of Boeing’s
Delta is one of several airlines from the countries where Boeing and Airbus
build aircraft that abide by a voluntary arrangement not to seek export
credit financing to buy jets. But the plea from the Atlanta-based airline
has made little headway.
Boeing highlights how the Gulf carriers’ purchases from Airbus continue to
obtain guarantees from European export credit agencies. “For our country to
say export support is no longer a game we are going to play – that amounts
to unilateral disarmament,” says Jim McNerney, Boeing’s chief executive.
The biggest threat to Emirates’ growth is not lobbying from European or US
carriers but rather Dubai’s airport infrastructure, which is struggling to
keep up with the airline’s expansion.
Sheikh Ahmed can see a case for Emirates more than doubling its fleet to as
many as 450 aircraft (the airline has placed orders with Airbus and Boeing
for 385 jets, although many of these will replace ageing planes, including
But Mr Clark says the airline will not be able to operate more than 260 jets
at Dubai International because it is getting full. It hosts 140 airlines,
including Flydubai, the emirate’s fast-growing short-haul carrier.
Dubai’s debt crisis in 2009 slowed expansion of Dubai International as well
as ambitious plans for Dubai World Central, the location of a new airport in
Paul Griffiths, Dubai Airports’ chief executive, expects Dubai International
to exhaust its available capacity by 2020, when it could be dealing with
100m passengers a year. He is now working on revised plans to expand Dubai
World Central, so that it can also process 100m passengers a year sometime
“We’ve got to develop [the new hub to 100m passengers] in the shortest
possible timeframe,” says Mr Griffiths, adding that Dubai would have two
hubs for the “foreseeable future”.
Sheikh Ahmed, who will be a crucial decision maker on Dubai World Central’s
expansion, says the solution to the capacity crunch may be for Emirates to
remain at Dubai International, with Flydubai moving to the new hub. “My
ambition is to see Flydubai really very strong,” says Sheikh Ahmed, who is
chairman of Flydubai. “I will always want to see one airline [at Dubai World
Central] and one airline [at Dubai International]. Maybe at some point
flipping them over, but I want both airlines to be very strong in the
Regional instability also poses a threat but the UAE has so far reaped the
economic benefit of not being affected by the Arab spring’s popular revolts.
Fears about air strikes against neighbouring Iran’s nuclear facilities are
Mr Clark can therefore see little to knock Emirates off its expansionist
course. “There is an equilibrium in this part of the world,” he says. “As
long as that remains, we will be in good shape.”
Etihad Airways, the youngest of the three large Gulf carriers, may never
reach the size of Emirates Airline, writes Andrew Parker. But Abu
Dhabi-based Etihad, established in 2003, is seeking to triple the size of
its 83-strong fleet by 2026.
James Hogan, the chief executive, placed orders for 143 aircraft worth
$37.2bn at catalogue price at the Dubai air show in November, adding to
plans outlined five years ago to buy 100 passenger jets. “We’re looking at a
figure between 240 and 250 [aircraft in the Etihad fleet] when we peak,”
says Mr Hogan.
“From Abu Dhabi, I’ve got access to markets that the European carriers and
the American carriers have, in the majority of cases, retreated from. So
we’re talking about Middle East markets . . . we’re talking about markets
like Pakistan and Bangladesh.”
This rapid expansion should be made possible by plans for Etihad to have a
new terminal at Abu Dhabi International airport in 2017.
Tony Douglas, Abu Dhabi Airports’ chief executive, is supervising the
construction of the airport’s vast Midfield terminal. Amid swirling winds
that blow dust everywhere, Mr Douglas’s “marching army” of 6,500 workers are
scrambling to hit a series of deadlines set at 200-day intervals.
6 December 2013
I find that I am
deeply saddened this morning by news of the death of Nelson Mandela. He was
95 and had been ill for some time. But he provided a moral compass not just
to his people, his nation, but also to the world. And without him that
guidance, that profound sense of right and wrong, may just waiver.
"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African
people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against
black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free
society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal
opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But
if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Mandela made this statement from the dock at the opening of his trial on
charges of sabotage, Supreme court of South Africa, Pretoria, April 20 1964
President Obama's statement at the White House today
describing Mandela as a profoundly good human being.
An open letter
from Carl Bernstein to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger
3 December 2013
Watergate scandal journalist's letter comes as Guardian editor prepares to
appear before MPs over Edward Snowden leaks. Worth repeating in full here as
the UK government seeks to shoot the messenger.
There is plenty of time – and there are abundant venues – to debate relevant
questions about Mr Snowden's historical role, his legal fate, the morality
of his actions, and the meaning of the information he has chosen to
But your appearance before the Commons today strikes me as something quite
different in purpose and dangerously pernicious: an attempt by the highest
UK authorities to shift the issue from government policies and excessive
government secrecy in the United States and Great Britain to the conduct of
the press – which has been quite admirable and responsible in the case of
the Guardian, particularly, and the way it has handled information initially
provided by Mr Snowden.
Indeed, generally speaking, the record of journalists, in Britain and the
United States in handling genuine national security information since World
War II, without causing harm to our democracies or giving up genuine secrets
to real enemies, is far more responsible than the over-classification,
disingenuousness, and (sometimes) outright lying by a series of governments,
prime ministers and presidents when it comes to information that rightly
ought to be known and debated in a free society. Especially in recent years.
You are being called to testify at a moment when governments in Washington
and London seem intent on erecting the most serious (and self-serving)
barriers against legitimate news reporting – especially of excessive
government secrecy – we have seen in decades.
The stories published by The Guardian, the Washington Post and the New York
Times based on Mr Snowden's information to date hardly seem to represent
reckless disclosure of specific national security secrets of value to
terrorists or enemy governments or in such a manner as to make possible the
identification of undercover agents or operatives whose lives or livelihoods
would be endangered by such disclosure. Such information has been carefully
redacted by the Guardian and other publications and withheld from stories
based on information from Mr Snowden. Certainly terrorists are already aware
that they are under extensive surveillance, and did not need Mr Snowden or
the Guardian to tell them that.
Rather, the stories published by the Guardian – like those in the Washington
Post and the New York Times – describe the scale and scope of electronic
information-gathering our governments have been engaged in – most of it
hardly surprising in the aggregate, given the state of today's technology,
and a good deal of it previously known and reported and indeed often
discussed "on background" with reporters by high government officials from
the White House to Downing Street confident that their identities will not
Moreover, the Guardian—like the Times and the Post in the US – has gone to
great lengths to consult with Downing Street, the White House and
intelligence agencies before publishing certain information, giving time for
concerns to be raised, discussed sensibly, and considered.
What is new and most significant about the information originating with Mr
Snowden and some of its specificity is how government surveillance has been
conducted by intelligence agencies without the proper oversight – especially
in the United States – by the legislative and judicial branches of
government charged with such oversight, especially as the capabilities of
information-gathering have become so pervasive and enveloping and with the
potential to undermine the rights of all citizens if not carefully
supervised. The "co-operation" of internet and telecommunications companies
in some of these activities ought to be of particular concern to legislative
bodies like the Commons and the US Congress.
As we have learned following the recent disclosures initiated by Mr Snowden,
intelligence agencies – especially the NSA in the United States – have
assiduously tried to avoid and get around such oversight, been deliberately
unforthcoming and oftentimes disingenuous with even the highest government
authorities that are supposed to supervise their activities and prevent
That is the subject of the rightful and necessary public debate that is now
taking place in the US, the UK and elsewhere.
Rather than hauling in journalists for questioning and trying to intimidate
them, the Commons would do well to encourage and join that debate over how
the vast electronic intelligence-gathering capabilities of the modern
security-state can be employed in a manner that gives up little or nothing
to real terrorists and real enemies and skilfully uses all our technological
capabilities to protect us, while at the same time taking every possible
measure to insure that these capabilities are not abused in a way that would
abrogate the rights and privacy of law-abiding citizens.
There have always been tensions between such objectives in our democracies,
especially in regard to the role of the press. But as we learned in the
United States during our experience with the Pentagon Papers and Watergate,
it is essential that no prior governmental restraints or intimidation be
imposed on a truly free press; otherwise, in such darkness, we encourage the
risk of our democracies falling prey to despotism and demagoguery and even
criminality by our elected leaders and government officials.
With warmest regards and admiration,
2 December 2013
One of our Dubai
based Thai friends who also works at Emirates Airline has been making clear
her allegiances on facebook with a couple of postings which my wise better
half has suggested that I do not respond to directly.
One of the posts
stated "Sad for what happened in my beloved country. RIP to those who
sacrificed their lifes last night. I do hope this time we can get rid of
this BIG corrupted government and bring back Thailand to the Land of smile
But it did get me
What exactly do
smart educated young people want. In Indonesia students have been protesting
in support of the poor and their fight for democracy; in Thailand they
appear to stand for the rich and privileged, and fight against democracy.
I have heard this
too often in Bangkok - the poor people are not educated enough to vote.
Imagine the debate that must have gone on in England when they were drafting
the 1832 Great Reform Bill giving every man (sorry women came to the party a
bit later) the right to vote.
Did the London
elite worry that the poor farmers of Shropshire or the cotton workers of
Lancashire were not smart enough to be entrusted with Democracy? The fact
that Thais are having that debate implies a preference for feudalism.
protestors, basically the same mish-mash of groups and leaders that led the
anti-Thaksin protests in 2006 and 2008, are seeking to change the
government; they propose to establish their own government with a rewritten
constitution that gives priority to unelected (appointed) sources of power.
This preference for an electoral system that looks more like Syria or the
UAE is bizarre. It is rolling pack eighty years of progress.
But it is the
country’s electoral democracy that is, in the protesters’ view, “the source
of Thailand’s corruption.” Suthep’s proposed People's Assembly is their
solution, despite being a rejection of electoral democracy and a return to
Stop the Thaksin
system is the mantra. The protest leaders accuse Thaksin of corruption,
human rights abuses, vote-buying, extrajudicial killings, selfishness,
patronage. You all know the story. You should also know that all of these
were well established custom and practice long before Thaksin realised his
political power by harnessing the support of the North.
Neither did the
Democrats do anything to eradicate corruption and patronage in their own
futile period in office from 2009-2011. To hold onto power the Democrats
bought the allegiance of Newin Chitchod, the godfather of Buriram,who was
rewarded for his support with his party controlling three of the most
profitable government ministries including transport and the interior.
Thaksin (and his surrogates) have kept on winning elections — 2001, 2005,
2007, 2011 — despite significant obstacles in his way. Thakinism, as seen in
the political empowerment of all (rather than selective) Thais, just won’t
be stopped. Indeed over those four elections the Thai Rak Thai – People
Power – Pheua Thai vote ranged from just under 40 percent (2007) to a
whisker over 60 per cent (2005 wehn Thaksin was elected for an unprecedented
Even with the
problems faced by the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra it seems likely
that the result of any 2014 or 2015 election would fall within this same
range. Which is why the Democrats want neither an election or democracy (at
least until they know they can win).
The correct way to stop the “Thaksin system” would be to develop an
electorally attractive political platform as an alternative. The Democrats
failed to do this; even when the government of the nation was handed to them
by the courts for 2009-2011.
There is so much
more to this story; the trouble is that it is polarizing Thailand to the
extent that as someone said on Facebook last night: "The
sad truth is Thai people are permanently divided now. At least for this
generation. Doesn't matter who does what, who wins, who loses, we all lose."
It is far from
clear how if ever this ends; political turmoil and violent street protests
have been a fact of Thai life since 2006; and before that. There is a
succession ahead; only then we will likely know the ambitions of the various
groups dominating Thai poltics.
A temporary peace
or a lull in fighting is not going to be a long term solution. Not until the
so called Thai elite embrace power sharing with the majority in rural
Thailand and not until the bodies that do govern Thailand are freed from
their corrupting yokes.