Friday, January 26, 2007

A battle for Thai hearts













Now I'm breaking my own vow not to discuss politics on here but I am going to try and make this as relevant and light as possible.

Thaksin Shiniwatra went on CNN last week and cunningly portrayed himself as the innocent, democratically elected leader removed by a greedy military coup.

It was the latest episode in a mental warfare so subliminal it almost feels like a real life rendition of the old "Tron" movie. This time however , the enemies consist of an adroit but utterly corrupt and cold politician with his cronies on one side and an aging, outmoded but powerful military junta on the other.

Thaksin followed up this propaganda effort by travelling to Japan and telling the awaiting press "I am disgusted with the media interference" , referring to the fact that the military junta censored his previous CNN display in Thailand.


Anybody with rudimentary knowledge of Thai politics watching the CNN interview could be forgiven with sympathising with Thaksin's cause. These people would be misguided. Thaksin is a master of mental warfare and subtle intimidation, and the fact that he is a weak public speaker who stumbles at English only enhances his feigned innocent demeanour.


Rather than launch a tirade of rebuttals , I will try to list some precise facts here:

1) Thaksin took corruption in Thailand to unprecedented levels. When he took office - after lobbying judges to forgive him for blatant asset concealment - he told the people "I do not need to be corrupt, I am already rich" (He neglected to mention he was already rich from using contacts to win government concessions and alleged insider trading to avoid the Asian crash of 1997). The day after taking office , Thaksin launched decrees to put mobile phone competitors out of business and never looked back. His family became the richest in Thailand by (ab)using their power to eliminate all forms of competition. It would take a book to list his alleged misdeeds.


The junta have installed a hand picked team known as the Assets Scrutiny Committee (also known as the Assets Examination Committee) to investigate corruption. They have been criticised for being slow but they are trying to do things lawfully, and incriminating a team of powerful and devious crooks is not easy.

2) Thaksin had no respect for law whatsoever. The law major and former police captain packed and lobbied every independent body to allow himself free passage of action. The Election Commission, the National Counter Corruption Commission and of course the police force was headed by hand picked men sycophantic to Thaksin. Various charges were bought against TRT MPs but could reach no conclusion as the reponsible bodies would simply throw all cases out. The opposition parties had so few MPs in the house that 'no confidence' debates were a forgone conclusion. TRT MPs who wanted to keep their little piece of the greedy pie knew what they had to do in such situations. During the debate on the airport CTX scanner scandal (scanners were sold at a 20% greater than invoice price and the US trader admitted paying kickbacks) one female TRT MP Pattra Waramit actually dared to abstain rather than vote for her party colleague, stating she could not support him with a clear conscience. The masters degree holder Waramit was escorted to a meeting room from where she emerged crying and said: "I'm sorry, I was tired and pressed the wrong button". These actions came from the same people who were being paid massive salaries to run the country.

(For yet more quotes from Waramit and her father who is also a TRT MP , click here. The quotes give an excellent insight into politics, especially the quote "he hoped she had learned something about politics")

3) Thaksin was sickeningly arrogant and unrepentant. He had a clever populist line of rhetoric that turned any criticism or complaint against him to a complaint against Thailand , a ploy that worked well on the rural masses that formed his main support base.






A few select quotes are:

On taking office:

"I will serve twenty full terms and then retire out of sympathy to the opposition. There will be no crime, no Mafia and no social ills"

In response to academic criticism:
"I have full knowledge of democratic values, those who know less should refrain from talking"
" Some teachers cannot teach and just criticize to look cool. They will have to go".

On concerns about compramisation of independent checking bodies:

"The woman who cautions me is my wife. People needn't worry, my wife keeps me in check"

(Two points of note here: Firstly, Thaksin didn't mention that since he took office, his wife had become the richest woman in Thailand and was heavily implicated in tax evasion allegations. Secondly, this quote was made not longer after HM The King had made a speech in which he mentioned how his mother used to keep his feet on the ground. I wonder if Thaksin simply liked the sound of HM The King's speech).

Talking to the rural masses about the protests in Bangkok:
"These people think they are smarter than you, you must tell them loudly how you feel"

After losing two by - elections:
[to the voters in those two provinces] "Let me be very clear, we will take care of our own first, we will give priority to those provinces who voted for us"

(NB Thaksin seemed unconcerned that he was publicly declaring a breech of constitutional rule by showing favour to provinces that voted for him)


Now watch for a trend from here on............

After protests against the government decision to privatise public businesses without referendum and sell them to politician shareholders:

"Some people don't understand what we are doing because they don't have enough knowledge"

During protests against Thaksin using public funds to buy Liverpool Football Club:
"Some people simply don't understand. They aren't ready for my vision yet"
"Some people might be upset because they don't have access to all the information"

After the Constitutional Court rejected Thaksin's bid to privatise the Electric Authority:
"Some people are confused and don't understand, that's OK"
"Some people might not be aware of all the facts"

After massive Bangkok protests in response to Thaksin selling his main business and avoiding paying tax:
"There are technical issues that most people don't understand so they are confused"


A second standard response was to state that any critic of any form "doesn't love the country"

4) Last but not least , Thaksin was involved in huge scale media intimidation. I could write another ten pages about all of this, but I've waffled enough already. Suffice to say that this letter from today's edition of The Nation provides a nice summary:


Ex-PM getting a taste of how his regime dealt with media

Re: "No plans to return yet, says Thaksin", News, January 24.

I must confess I fully sympathised with ousted prime minister Thaksin when he said "I am outraged at the interference to the mass media", this week.

Of course, he was referring to the censorship of his recent CNN interview. However, I was also shocked when, during the time of his regime, a total of 32 reporters quit ITV after alleged government interference with programming. Likewise, I was disgusted when radio stations that happened to be critical of the prime minister disappeared from the airwaves. I reeled with horror when the English-language newspapers became victims of various threats, clandestine investigations and buyout attempts as they dared to cast a critical eye at the Thai Rak Thai Party. And I was stunned when one single journalist was struck with an extortionate damages claim for venturing to suggest Thaksin's family businesses had profited from his tenure as premier. Indeed, one must fully sympathise with Thaksin because media intrusion is indeed a major sin, and one that should not go unpunished.

A Father in Thailand



I could go on but I think you get the picture. Thaksin isn't a wolf in sheep's clothing , a more accurate description came from academic Thirayuth Boonmi who described Thaksin as a "monstrous baby".

Nobody likes a coup, it is an unforgivable sin. But in the case of Thailand - as I have written before - the country was in grave danger of a class war or at least a unbridgeable gulf between the Bangkokians with a new generation of university students and an educated workforce who opposed Thaksin, and the rural masses, subject to populism and manipulation, prone to sporadic bursts of violence and given taxpayers money to parade their support of Thaksin.

General Sondhi is set to appear on CNN next week to give the other side of the view.

The future look cautious. A new constitution is in progress, the government has promised police reform and elections within a year , bomb investigations are underway and already the army and police are contradicting and opposing each other. But while the ASC seeks to uncover solid evidence to convict the Thaksin family, the man himself is circling Thailand like a hawk. His screeches cause the aging junta to act rashly, bureaucracy to procrastinate ASC investigations through fear of reprisals and the Thaksin supporters to continue their resentment of the new regime.

One can only hope that all the rifts are healed, justice is served and the country moves forward. Ultimately it will be down to the Thais themselves, and those in power must have the courage and the love to do what is best for the country and its populace, rather than serving themselves and their own selfish narrow minded greed and ideas.

8 comments:

hobby said...

Nice summary of the situation.

Your last paragraph says it all - will the thai people and the leaders do the right thing - that is the big question.

Ad said...

I too am getting impatient. When will PM Surayud's government/junta begin to judicially prosecute Thaksin Shinawatra himself (not the cronies, not the wife or children, but Thaksin himself) for at least ONE crime.

Or am I being too hopeful?

Jaime said...

I've enjoyed reading your blog, I just found it this morning and it is quite interesting. I just came back to the U.S. a few days ago after teaching in bangkok for a month (i'm still in school, it was a requirement for my program to teach interculturally for a month) but now i'm really interested in moving back and living there with my fiance and it is fun reading your blog and hearing what life really is like :)

Bangkok Pundit said...

Welcome to blogging.

"1) Thaksin took corruption in Thailand to unprecedented levels."

Not according to Transparency International or the World Bank.

"When he took office - after lobbying judges to forgive him for blatant asset concealment"

It was Prem's lobbying - see McCargo's Network Monarchy. E-mail me if you don't have a copy.

"The Election Commission, the National Counter Corruption Commission and of course the police force was headed by hand picked men sycophantic to Thaksin."

Meanwhile the AEC/ASC is run by people who make Thaksin=Hitler comparisons so we have obviously improved on things. The junta have appointed itself to state enterprises and are funnelling money back into state enterprises.

"(NB Thaksin seemed unconcerned that he was publicly declaring a breech of constitutional rule by showing favour to provinces that voted for him)"

Yes, it was a mindlessly stupid thing to say, but it is no breach of constitutional rule. Government MPs in western countries make sure more money is spent in their districts than in opposition districts. It is hardly a unique thing to Thailand.

"and the rural masses, subject to populism and manipulation, prone to sporadic bursts of violence and given taxpayers money to parade their support of Thaksin."

And the military is not prone to sporadic bursts of violence. Your contempt for the rural population astounds me.

Red and White said...

Thanks Bangkok Pundit, this isn't my first blog though.

TI Don't generally interfere in politics. It will take a while for the true depths of you - know - who's corruption to come to international light, and even longer for that to be reflected in corruption perception indexes. Given that nobody has yet been tried for the mass corruption at Thaksin's brainchild Suvarnabhumi , I think it would be a tad harsh to use TI or the world bank as substantiation.

Thaksin lobbied the courts like hell, as did many others. Everything was manipulated. Public rituals, greeting the crowds outside the court and portraying himself as a modern leader victimised by an archaic system. He said to the masses : "The people want me, they have chosen me, who should I serve? Them or the courts?". If that's not lobbying, tell me what is. I don't dispute Prem may have played a part also.


Your problem with the ASC as you have stated several times is that they MIGHT be bias. They have not yet taken one single bias action. Meanwhile the old NCCC and the ECC have repeatedly performed disgraceful actions against their own people to make Thaksin richer. If the ASC dislike Thaksin but do not let that effect judgement, than nobody can complain. Nam Yimyean in particular seems to be a good judge and resistant to patronage.


His comments to the two provinces were a promise of a constitutional breech. If you really dispute this and I can find a copy of the constitution, I will reference it for you.


What part of my comment on the rural masses showed "contempt"?

They are prone to populism (see wikipedia on populism it specifically states "farmers") b) A minority of them have used violence on several occasions:- The meeting in Khon Kaen, the student ECC protests and Thaksin's visit to Paragaon. They were given money to set up camp in Bangkok as a counter protest.

Everything in that statement was fact. I don't mean to insult or patronise the good people in any way, they are the cream of Thai society, it's just telling it like it is.

Bangkok Pundit said...

"He said to the masses : "The people want me, they have chosen me, who should I serve? Them or the courts?". If that's not lobbying, tell me what is. I don't dispute Prem may have played a part also."

I wouldn't quite see it as lobbying or at least what I think is lobbying. Yes, he is placing pressure on the court, which I have some difficulties with.

"Your problem with the ASC as you have stated several times is that they MIGHT be bias. They have not yet taken one single bias action."

There is such a thing as apprehended bias which should rule many of the ASC members out particularly when they seem to see themselves as having a quasi-judicial role by seizing assets for breach of a law when no court has yet established a breach of the law.

Here is a quick definition of apprehended bias:

"The reason, a reasonable observer could have concluded that the trial judge wasn't listening to the arguments with an open mind. In other words, he displayed 'apprehended bias'."

But then again judges in Thailand like to tell defendants that they are guilty/should resign before the case is over so this is hardly unusual for Thailand.

This is the part which I think you show contempt for the rural population.

"and the rural masses, subject to populism and manipulation, prone to sporadic bursts of violence and given taxpayers money to parade their support of Thaksin."

The middle classes are just as suspectible to manipulation by political figures yet you single out the poor.

"His comments to the two provinces were a promise of a constitutional breech. If you really dispute this and I can find a copy of the constitution, I will reference it for you."

Yes, I dispute this. I look forward to your constitutional reference.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with bangkok pundit that you have contempt for the poor who are the majority of thai voters.. My girlfriend is a poor shopworker from isaan , she told me that Thaskin had given her family clean piped water , a concrete road and cheap health provision ,so he gets her vote . That is understandable I think .Shouldn't politicians look after the poor?
His other dealings may or may not have been corrupt but that is a different argument.
I do enjoy most of your blog though !

Red and White said...

Anonymous, thanks for your comment. I don't have any "contempt for the poor" and I think it's harsh to suggest I do. However, maybe my prose mistakenly gives that impression so I shall have to consider that carefully.

I do firmly believe that people in low income professions in Thailand are more vulnerable to manipulation as they have less access to independent media. Also, it was the same demographic who resorted to violence on several occasions during the Thaksin protests, a tactic the anti - Thaksin groups did not resort to. Of course, it was only a minority who used violence.

Your girlfriend explains herself well but I do believe that the Thaksin regime made far greater profit from their tenure in power than they spent on facilities. Also, I suspect that the TRT were very good at taking credit for other people's work.