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Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Whoever pays the piper...

As a long time resident (some would say 'lifer') of Thailand, a few friends have recently emailed me asking for my take on the recent problems that have beset Thailand. Ordinarily, this blog has been devoid (largely) of political opinion, and indeed commentary on The Thai monarchy and the Thai Police, what I call the 'Trinity of Untouchables'. There are many reasons for this, none of which I'm going to get into now, although I will make a few observations on the current problems for the sake of outsiders who are wondering what can have happened to such a beautiful country and such eternally optimistic and smiling people.

Once upon a time there was this very clever young man, named after a former Thai king, Thaksin Shinawatra, who had high ambitions. He started his own telecommunications company and became very successful indeed (largely through unscrupulous business practices). Then one day someone said that as he had so much money that he ought to enter politics where he could make even more. Smart enough to see a golden opportunity, he did, and won a landslide election mostly in part because he could see that there was a large part of the country in the North West region (The Red Shirts) who felt disenfranchised and were fed up with the Old Guard, (The Yellow Shirts) the elite sets of Thai families who always controlled everything from Bangkok and scarcely gave a thought in developing their own region.

(It also helped in large measure too that he spent a considerable amount of money bussing down to Bangkok all the rural poor to vote for him along with some 'tea money' for a drink later!) For all intents and purposes, Thaksin set himself up a s a modern day Robin Hood, walking round poor villages (making sure the journalists were filming him) handing out 1,000 baht notes (about 20 GBP) to the poorest of the poor. Onyl a complete fool could fail to see what he was doing but it worked and he secured their votes when election time came around.

A friend recently wrote in an email the following:

'Fun and games in BK I see. I've been watching the situation for a while and I wonder what your take is?" Here's my answer:

It could easily descend into civil war. There are two clear divisions but with two opponents with similar messages. Both want to change things, but in radically different ways.

On one side, you have the 'Old Guard', (which includes the Monarchy) the 'paternal father' kind of power seekers - curiously Asian (especially prevalent in Thai politics) where an elite group of politically active families decide what's best for the majority (with the necessary and occasional 'bow' from the monarchy).

And then there's the progressives, the bureaucratic staff, government officers, the police (those much more attuned and accustomed to gaining advancement through rank than privilege, in other words - a meritoracy. Thaksin belongs here as he rose to power as a hugely succesful businessman. Thais love nothing more than a successful man who's made it in business.)

"How are the Thais reacting?" I'd say mixed reactions. The Bangkokians seem to be taking it in their stride at the moment, but then Thais are very good at pretending things are not happening around them, so it's often really hard to gauge the real Thai reaction if you know what I mean.

"Is this just a feud of the governing classes and their supporters or are the people actually divided?" Yes, it's that but more. Abhisit represents 'the new' as in born in Newcastle, studies at Oxford, is young and handsome bla, bla, bla, but Thaksin has been trying to sing the same tune in his addresses saying 'Thailand needs change! e.g. presenting himself as 'the candidate of change', so I guess you have to work it all out for yourself cos there's no clear candidate with a clear mandate to govern more's the pity!

'Are the cops supporting Thaksin or just incompetent? Ah! Now I have to be tactful here as I don't want to mention the lovely boys in brown in an email in a bad light. Let's just say that Mr. Thaksin is an ex-cop and leave it at that!

And now the latest is that King Thaksin's passport has been revoked. Remember too that he is known to dislike the monarchy and wants to replace it with a Republic. He met a set of prominent politicians and business leaders in Finland a year or three ago with a view to getting rid of the Thai monarchy and 'the word on the street' (God, I sound like Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch!) his long term goal is to become the first President of Thailand.

Personally, I find it strange the way that the news media especially from USA and the BBC portray and treat Thaksin as the good guy, not once mentioning his atrocities in Tak Bai where 100 or so unarmed protesters were beaten up, then trussed up like chickens and forced to lie face down in a truck in 100+ degree heat whereupon they all died in police custody. Don't forget the 3,000 + 'extra-judicial' (don't you just love that adjective!) killings when he promised (quite stupidly) that he could rid Thailand of drug dealers in three months.

The list goes on and on and only serves to show how much of a meglomaniac the man really is. I was appalled at how rudely the CNN journalist talked to Abhisist almost treating him as though he were the criminal yet when Thaksin spoke he seemed to largely be receiving her sympathy yet he is a convicted criminal who is too much of a coward to go home and face the music in his own country. This is a man who in those interviews repeatedly said he wanted 'true democracy', like he even knows what that is since nobody received it during his tenure in office, only law suits and subpoenas if they (read foreign and local journalists) wrote anything unfavourable about him.

This is a comment a reader of The Bangkok Post recently wrote:

"I am not going to claim any big conspiracy theory... I will just say that the reason BBC and CNN have not slammed on Thaksin is that they simply don't pay attention to Thailand on a daily basis and when their reporters have to do a story, they do a quick literature search to gain perspective..."

"What they find in their search is that Thaksin has been a darling of the international business community for some time... mostly because he has repeatedly been willing to sell off or sell out the country without hesitation. He is a wall-street hero! One needs to look no further than the multiple Economist articles that have been banned in Thailand. When you read these articles, you'd swear that they were talking about someone else. Articles written as fact are bloated with opinions... all of which portray Thaksin as a greater market liberator and champion of the poor... they down play his excesses and almost glorify his extrajudicial killings as the "get tough" man that Thailand needs... they portray his removal as a crime against democracy and his convictions as minor infractions."

"The transnational business world hates the traditional sources of power in Thailand because they hinder the ability for external investors to plunder the country... Thaksin, as the plunderer-in-chief has always had a receptive ear in the West. When my fellow farang have their thoughts on money, they will ignore almost any crime or usurpation. It may just be that the business world is starting to turn their back on Thaksin as his involvement at this stage will only lead to civil war and Abhisit represents someone in the middle that may not be their first choice, but someone that they can work with."

Now don't get to thinking that Thailand has always been this squeaky clean democratic country where everyone is elected fairly and everyone has a fair say in the running of the country and the election of its leaders. The fact is that Thailand has for a long time had a constitutional monarchy, and since that time e.g. since 1932, of a constitutional monarchy, Thailand has had: 17 coups, 17 constitution drafts, 27 Prime Ministers, 5 leaders with various “Chairman” titles, 37 states of emergencies, 53 house dissolutions, 29 years of martial law, and 163 cabinet reshuffles – all in 77 years! No democracy ever, so whilst I think King Thakisn is a cancer of unimaginable size in Thailand, if it wasn't him raping the country, it would be some other tyrant such is the scale of the problem.

As always, whoever pays the piper, calls the tune, and right now there's a long queue for who gets that privilege.

If you want to view some recent satire, check out this hilarious link to Thaksin the Rapper! (aka his nickname - 'maew' which means 'cat' in Thai)

Thaksin Rap -

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