Will Thai­land’s elec­tion be free and fair?

The Phnom Penh Post - - OPINION -

IN­DONE­SIA’S Fi­nan­cial Trans­ac­tion Re­ports and Anal­y­sis Cen­tre and the Mone­tary Author­ity of Sin­ga­pore are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the trans­fer of about $1.4 bil­lion be­lieved to be stashed by In­done­sian in­di­vid­u­als abroad.

The probe aims to find out if the trans­ac­tions, con­ducted by Stan­dard Char­tered Bank on be­half of its In­done­sian clients from the bank’s trust unit in Guernsey in the United King­dom and its of­fice in Sin­ga­pore in early 2015, were il­le­gal and part of global money laun­der­ing op­er­a­tions.

Bloomberg re­ported that the money be­longed to In­done­sian na­tion­als linked to the mil­i­tary.

Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral of Tax­a­tion Ken Dwi­ju­giasteadi con­firmed that the money is owned by In­done­sian busi­ness­men but dis­missed spec­u­la­tion of their con­nec­tion to the mil­i­tary. He said a large part of the funds was moved to Sin­ga­pore to take ad­van­tage of the govern­ment’s tax amnesty pro­gramme.

The pro­gramme of­fered a gen­er­ous tax scheme to at­tract In­done­sia’s wealthy to de­clare their un­reg­is­tered funds and prop­er­ties over­seas.

The govern­ment has yet to find any in­di­ca­tion that the whop­ping amount of money trans­ferred was a re­sult of il­licit ac­tiv­i­ties. One thing clear is that the trans­fer fur­ther con­firmed re­ports In­done­sia’s wealthy de­posited tens of bil­lions of dol­lars over­seas.

Ac­cord­ing to a study con­ducted by a global man­age­ment con­sult­ing firm in De­cem­ber 2014, In­done­sian na­tion­als kept about $250 bil­lion worth of funds and other as­sets abroad.

The dis­clo­sure by Stan­dard Char­tered of a mega trans­fer of as­sets be­long­ing to In­done­sian na­tion­als serves as a warn­ing that there is no safe haven where peo­ple can hide their money from the tax man.

The Au­to­matic Ex­change of In­for­ma­tion, which In­done­sia has rat­i­fied, can re­duce the in­ci­dences of tax eva­sion and fraud. Un­der this fi­nan­cial trans­parency pol­icy, tax au­thor­i­ties in the par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries can ex­change data re­lat­ing to the bank and the ac­counts of tax­pay­ers.

The mem­ber coun­tries of the G20, the 35-mem­ber Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment and other im­por­tant fi­nan­cial cen­tres, in­clud­ing Sin­ga­pore, have com­mit­ted them­selves to im­ple­ment the AEOI that will en­able the govern­ment to de­tect tax rev­enue lost through non-com­pli­ance.

In July, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed a law that grants tax of­fices di­rect ac­cess to fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion held by banks and other in­sti­tu­tions as part of the AEOI. Be­gin­ning next year, In­done­sia will au­to­mat­i­cally re­ceive data and in­for­ma­tion of the fi­nan­cial ac­counts of In­done­sian ci­ti­zens in coun­tries where AEOI is en­forced and re­cip­ro­cally share the same data of ci­ti­zens of state par­ties to the global fi­nan­cial trans­parency mech­a­nism.

THE an­nounce­ment by Thai­land’s prime min­is­ter, Gen­eral Prayut Chan-o-cha, that a gen­eral elec­tion will take place in Novem­ber next year is wel­come, though there is good rea­son to doubt it will be his last word on the sub­ject.

The road map to elec­tions is bran­dished ev­ery time the junta chief trav­els to a demo­cratic coun­try, most no­tably dur­ing trips to the US and Ja­pan.

He told Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe dur­ing this first visit to Tokyo in 2015, that Thai­land would hold an elec­tion by early 2016. The story had changed by Septem­ber that year, when Prayut made his first visit to the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly and told then-UN chief Ban Ki­moon that polls were planned for July 2017.

Dur­ing his trip last week to the United States, Prayut made an­other pledge, as­sur­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump that the date would be an­nounced next year.

Their joint state­ment was more spe­cific about the poll date: “Pres­i­dent Trump wel­comed Thai­land’s com­mit­ment to the Roadmap, which upon com­ple­tion of rel­e­vant or­ganic laws as stip­u­lated by the Con­sti­tu­tion, will lead to­wards free and fair elec­tions in 2018.”

The story changed again when Prayut later met with the Thai com­mu­nity in Wash­ing­ton and told them elec­tions should take place in 2019. That pledge con­tra­dicted the pro­jec­tions of junta-ap­pointed leg­is­la­tors who were read­ing from the road map in the new char­ter.

The on­go­ing con­fu­sion is fu­elling de­bate in Thai­land over the time­line of the so-called road map to an elec­tion.

It seems that Prayut, who led a mil­i­tary coup to top­ple an elected civil­ian govern­ment, en­joys pay­ing lip ser­vice to this sub­ject.

But while an elec­tion would bring the nor­mal con­di­tions on which eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment thrives, it also sig­nals a re­turn to bar­racks for the rul­ing mil­i­tary. The top brass, un­der­stand­ably re­luc­tant to re­treat from the halls of power, will nat­u­rally seek to pro­long the in­evitable.

Yet ob­servers say Prayut’s lat­est state­ment is the junta’s most pre­cise sched­ule to date, hav­ing pre­vi­ously de­clined to of­fer a clear timetable, cit­ing fac­tors in­clud­ing a com­pli­cated char­ter-draft­ing process with amend­ments, the en­act­ment of com­plex or­ganic laws and ar­range­ments for the late king’s funeral.

The junta has utilised the de­lay to forge long-term mech­a­nisms to bind fu­ture elected ad­min­is­tra­tions, such as the 20-year na­tional strat­egy, that will per­pet­u­ate its hold on Thai pol­i­tics.

Mean­while Prayut’s reg­u­lar an­nounce­ments about an elec­tion serve as a re­lease for mount­ing pres­sure over the mil­i­tary’s ex­tended stay in power.

The junta an­tic­i­pates pres­sure for an elec­tion will surge fol­low­ing the royal cre­ma­tion late this month. The of­fi­cial end to a year of mourn­ing will see po­lit­i­cal par­ties de­mand the junta ban on their ac­tiv­i­ties be lifted.

Prayut, in turn, has urged the par­ties to be pa­tient, an­nounc­ing that re­stric­tions on their ac­tiv­i­ties would be sub­ject to de­bate. Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Gen­eral Prawit Wong­suwan said an ap­pro­pri­ate junc­ture for the recom­menc­ing of pol­i­tics must be care­fully con­sid­ered.

The gen­er­als have hinted at a grad­ual re­turn to po­lit­i­cal nor­mal­ity in the wake of the royal cre­ma­tion, when par­ties might be per­mit­ted to hold meet­ings but re­stric­tions on rights such as free­dom of as­sem­bly and of ex­pres­sion would re­main in place.

How­ever, this state of af­fairs would fail the in­ter­na­tional bench­mark for a free and fair elec­tion. An­nounc­ing a time­line and the lift­ing of the ban on po­lit­i­cal par­ties’ ac­tiv­i­ties is not enough to meet that stan­dard. While the rights of or­di­nary vot­ers con­tinue to be sup­pressed, no amount of lip ser­vice paid by Prayut will suc­ceed in quelling ris­ing pres­sure for a free elec­tion.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Thai­land’s Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-o-cha shake hands as they take part in a meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice of the White House on Oc­to­ber 2.

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