May 1, 2014 1:00 pm JST

Drama at Thai Airways' record-breaking nine-hour shareholders meeting

YUKAKO ONO, Nikkei staff writer

BANGKOK -- Although it seems to be losing ground on many fronts, Thai Airways, Thailand's national flag-carrier, on Tuesday smashed a record. It held the longest shareholders meeting in the company's -- and likely the country's -- history.

     For nine hours, angry shareholders grabbed the microphone one after another, demanding transparency in the state-owned airline.

     Their main targets were two "invisible" men.

     The first invisible man was Ampon Kittiampon, the former chairman of the board who resigned in March after supposedly taking responsibility for soaking the company's financial results in red ink last year but somehow was slated to be re-elected as a director. He did not show up to the meeting, held at the Air Force Convention Hall.

     "Ampon should be removed," demanded a 61-year-old woman who identified herself as a former Thai Airways labor union leader. She accused Ampon not only of mismanaging the airline but also of wrongfully sacking former President Piyasvasti Amranand in 2012. "He (Piyasvasti) was cutting costs and making profits," the shareholder said.

     Axing of Piyasvasti came just months after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's new government took office, stirring controversy that the move was politically motivated.

     Another target was the Ministry of Finance. The ministry is Thai Airways' biggest shareholder, with a 51.03% stake.

     "Where is the representative for the Ministry of Finance?" a shareholder asked. "If you are the biggest shareholder, you should present yourself and speak out."

     Said another, "You have to tell us why you are re-electing Ampon." The shareholder might as well have been addressing the walls; no ministry representative ever appeared.

     At 10:45 pm, a full nine hours after the meeting began, Ampon was re-elected with 97.8% of the vote, supported by the Ministry of Finance and other big shareholders.

     Prajin Juntong, the new board chairman and Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Air Force, chaired the marathon meeting. Looking exhausted, he said it was "a good experience. I got useful information and will do my best to improve the company."

     One shareholder questioned his ability to do just that. "How can you manage the company," the shareholder began, "when you are not even strong enough to control a shareholders meeting?"

      The question went unanswered.