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    Prem, Yingluck seen side by side for second tim

    Prem, Yingluck seen side by side for second time
    The Nation February 11, 2012 1:00 am

    The media spotlight was focused on Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as they met publicly for the second time yesterday.

    Prem was a guest of honour at the gala dinner hosted by the Yingluck administration at Government House last evening. Held under the theme "Love Thailand, Move Thailand Forward", the Bt10-million event was held to thank people and organisations for helping the government with its flood-relief efforts, sources said.

    Yingluck and Prem were first seen publicly last month at a function held to celebrate the Army's 420th anniversary.

    The chief royal adviser, accompanied by fellow Privy Council members, was greeted by the prime minister and Deputy Premier Yongyuth Wichaidit upon arrival at Government House at about 5.45pm. Yingluck and Prem then sat down in the Ivory Room at the Thai Khufa building for a brief chat in the company of Yongyuth, some privy councillors and Cabinet members.

    About 10 minutes later, Yingluck and Prem left the room together and walked over to the Santi Maitri building to listen to the Youth Orchestra of Yala Municipality perform. They then greeted other guests before stopping once again to listen to the orchestra perform the song "Rak" (Love), which was composed by His Majesty the King and HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

    Prem has previously been attacked by politicians from the ruling Pheu Thai Party and their red-shirt supporters for allegedly being behind the 2006 military coup that overthrew the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's older brother.

    Deputy Agriculture Minister Natthawut Saikua, one of the leaders who had also attacked Prem during the red-shirt protest, was also seen speaking to the Privy Council chief.

    Yesterday's event was broadcast on the state-run Modernine TV and NBT.

    Foreign diplomats, top bureaucrats, business leaders, privy councillors and military commanders were among the more than 500 guests attending the event, which also featured the Thailand Philharmonic and the Royal Thai Armed Forces Symphony Orchestra.

    Meanwhile, opposition Democrat Party spokesman Chavanont Intarakomalsut said yesterday that he and other Democrat MPs were in black because they were "in mourning" for the government's decision to hold an event like this.

    About 200 people, led by activist Chaiwat Sinsuwong, gathered at the Misakawan Intersection, not far from Government House, yesterday evening to protest against what they said was a waste of taxpayers' money.

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    Re: Prem, Yingluck seen side by side for second tim

    COMMENTARY

    One small step for Yingluck, no giant leap for Thailand
    Published: 13/02/2012 at 12:00 AMNewspaper section: News
    As far as the government is concerned, the 10-million baht cost of staging the "Love Thailand, Move Thailand Forward" gala dinner at Government House on Friday was worth the cost despite all the criticism of bad taste, waste of taxpayers' money, a PR stunt, etc from a host of critics.

    The critics are not wrong in their attacks given the mere fact that there are still several thousand flood victims who have yet to receive the 5,000 baht initial compensation promised by the government and, especially, that the social event was intended to say thank-you to the staff of the incompetent Flood Relief Operations Command and the other agencies and volunteers who helped in the flood relief operations.

    But the thank-you party was also politically motivated.

    Why was Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, president of the Privy Council, invited not just to attend the party but to chair it? Before last Friday, there were several Pheu Thai MPs who were uncertain whether Gen Prem, who is considered by the Pheu Thai Party and red-shirt followers as the overlord of the amataya elite and their Number One foe, would actually attend despite his confirmation. Even Matichon weekly, which has become less critical of the government, could not confirm whether Gen Prem would attend the party.

    The lingering uncertainty vanished when the elderly statesman turned up in his praratchatan Thai suit. It was his second close encounter with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra after their first on Armed Forces Day in January.

    The mere sight of Gen Prem and Prime Minister Yingluck being together in all smiles and broadcast nation-wide has conveyed the message that the government wanted to show _ that relations between the two arch rivals, Pheu Thai and the amataya overlord, have started to warm up.

    Given the fact that Gen Prem has refused to meet a member of the Shinawatra family in public since he parted with former prime minister Thaksin even before the Sept 19 coup in 2006 which ousted the Thaksin government, this is a step towards reconciliation. Of course there is still a long way to go before national reconciliation will be restored, if ever, because of the wide political divide and mutual hatred between the colour-coded political groups.

    It should be noted that before the thank-you party last Friday, the government had taken an important step to smooth the relationship with Gen Prem and probably to convince his acceptance of the invitation to grace the social function. That was the government's decision not to amend the lese majeste law or Article 112 of the Criminal Code.

    The red-shirt movement, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, which earlier supported the move by the Nitirat group and its like for amendments to the law have abruptly switched sides.

    Putting all these relevant developments into perspective, the government's attempt to reconcile with Gen Prem was a clever and calculated move. And it paid off.

    At least the smile and happiness on the face of Gen Prem on Friday in the company of Ms Yingluck should say something about the warming of their relationship.

    That Gen Prem was invited to grace last Friday's event at Government House was indicative that the Pheu Thai Party has realised that the elderly statesman cannot be ruled out of the political equation and that his blessing is required if national reconciliation is to have any chance of success.

    In order to mend fences which have been badly damaged since the days of Thaksin's time in office, it will take more time and greater efforts from the government, especially Prime Minister Yingluck, in order to earn the trust of the elderly statesman. The Pheu Thai Party will have to prove that it is loyal to the monarchy and this means that the party or its sidekick, the UDD, will not seek amendments to the provision about the monarchy in their attempt to write a new charter.

    Although the party has announced it will leave the monarchical provision untouched, its pledge will have no binding effect on the charter drafting assembly which is yet to be set up by means of an election and appointment.

    It remains to be seen whether this pledge will be kept.

    Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.

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