Will Thailand’s election be free and fair?
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.
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.