Friday, December 28, 2007

Thailand's BIGGEST LIAR: the saga continues

I refer readers to my first blog on this situation.

Since then, the manager who seemed helpful refused to return several calls as to the status of my Xbox 360. On Christmas Day, he finally returned our call. His news was this: we could either replace the melted chip at a cost of 5,000 bhat wit a guarantee of seven days or replace the entire board at a cost of 15,000 bhat.

Naturally, my response was "I am not paying a single bhat, you will cover the costs. In any case, your storeman told us the repair price was 1,500 baht"

The manager responded that his shop would not pay. We could pay for the new chip at a "discounted" price of 3,000 bhat (still double the original price quoted) or....wait for this.......we could sell the Xbox 360 back to the store for 7,000 bhat!!!!

Yes that's right. The system I bought for 25,000 bhat from the shop that worked for four weeks, they were now planning to buy back from me at a loss of just 18,000 baht!

My wife told them to go back and arrange a free fix for us. Today he rang again, and offered a fix for 2,500 bhat. My wife accepted on condition they provide a guarantee of far more than one week. He refused. My wife responded that we would go to the Thai equivalent of Trading Standards, he replied "Do what you want" and hung up.

And it still doesn't end. We managed to contact the repair company and were told that actually the repair charge for a chip was 3,000 bhat. The manager's quote of 5,000 was another con.

It's now been four months since my system worked. Since then I've been cheated and lied to and nothing else. Sadly, we will have to take this further.

The problem is, I've lost the original receipt. Probably it was destroyed by my son who loves to play with my wallet. I do have the repair receipt though.

I could use any advice here. In the UK, we have a watchdog group called "Trading Standards" that assist consumers in problems like this. I understand there is a similar group in Thailand but nobody can seem to translate the name. Can anyone help?

Any ideas for my next action? I'm planning to contact the police, the manager of The Mall Bang Khae , post a message on and write to every newspaper. Perhaps my best tactic would be to hand out letters in Thai to customers in The Mall but of course then things could get nasty.

It's a real disappointment that this has happened but we either let these people get away with stealing 25,000 bhat from me or we fight it out.

Oh and by the way NEVER BUY ANYTHING FROM PS BOX IN THE MALL BANG KHAE unless you want this to happen to you!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Thaksin COULD return.......

Given that Samak and his PPP have finally set themselves up for a coalition government, it appears that amnesty for the one hundred and eleven banned Thai Rak Thai executives is coming soon.

Now here's an interesting point: the new constitution stipulates (part 9) that cabinet members cannot vote in house motions. So, if Samak uses his PPP members in a cabinet, his coalition is dangerously low on majority.

Can you see where this is going?

It is conceivable that Samak could form his cabinet entirely from former TRT execs!

How long would it take for the amnesty to take effect? A new senate must be appointed first (and may fight the move) but then, a new senate is needed to approve a new PM anyway.

Is it conceivable that Thaksin could come to the cabinet? He is under summons but has not been found guilty. (However, section 96 of the constitution does state that a minister cannot be appointed if he has had property confiscated by court for being unusally wealthy.)

How would opponents of the government - in all their guises - react to this? Could the military accept this slap in he face?

This is not a thought to be scoffed at. It makes perfect sense for Samak. He strengthens his coalition, increases his party's popularity, gains expertise and gives the proverbial finger to the military.

The controversy would be huge, surely? Could it happen?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Thailand, for whom the bell tolls

Latest exit polls show that this man is likely to be the next prime minister of Thailand:

"You smack me and I'll smack you back"
To corruption investigators

"Did you have sinful sex last night?"
In the holy language of Sanskrit, to a journalist

After the Thammasat Massacre of 1976, Samak happily ordered the banning of some 200 plus books that were a ....yep, you guessed it......."threat to national security".

One of his close aides in the party is Chalerm Yoobamrung.

The thoughts of Anek Laothamatas ring loudly in my ears. I find it hard to keep hope, but it is the rape of democracy that got us here in the first place.Now the people have given the biggest possible middle finger to the military and their aides (hidden or not) , but in doing so, have given the military a perfect incentive for another ku. they have elected the most arrogant, incompetent and "allegedly" corrupt proxy possible. Thaksin without any of the intelligence.

So Thailand faces four years under this man - as well as Thaksin getting away scot free for his crimes and being welcomed back as a hero - or the army and other forces (who cannot be named despite their role in this farce) wait for the PPP to show their corruptness and incompetence and then stage another coup to take us back to stage one.

Is there any way out? Only if a coalition is formed between ALL the opposition parties.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Thailand takes the vote

Thailand goes to the polls tomorrow. I have already blogged about the candidates here. Both have turned up the heat in their campaigns. Abhisit has taken a pragmatic approach, although a little vague he has stuck to policy issues and the bigger picture. However his appeal has remained primarily with the middle and upper class.

Samak has made his party Thai Rak Thai march 2 - albeit with second choice staff - and ran through the north east, pledging to bring back Thaksin, parading his offspring and (allegedly) buying votes. Samak has remained loud mouthed and obnoxious.

The military ostensibly remain neutral amid strong allegations they will ensure PPP do not get a majority.

The AEC have gone curiously quiet.

The stage seems set for something, but what?

Will PPP get a clear majority?

If so, will the military allow it? Such an event would make an even greater mockery of the coup and replace Thaksin with someone who has all his arrogance and greed but none of his brains.

If Abhisit gets in, will he have the courage and freedom to take Thailand forward?

Will a coalition government be as weak as its predecessors?

What will happen to Thaksin? Will he be off the hook if his friends get in?

Will the army be able to keep out, especially in light of Prem's comments?

So many questions so little optimism. So much undecided.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The bridge to democracy: papering the cracks

I could think of many different analogies to describe what the NLA has done over the last couple of weeks. We English can probably best relate to the old idiom of the boiling frog. The idea being that if you have a frog in a pot of water and that water suddenly becomes scorching, he will jump out. But if you turn the water up slowly - fraction by faction - the frog will not realise until it is too late.

Then we have the real life tale of my school. Our delicious continental breakfasts were popular with staff but very expensive to the school. Knowing our farang habits of complaining and stubbornness, the school took a deviously smart plan. Bit by bit, they took away our morning feast. The orange juice disappeared, then the cereal next week, then the fruit a couple of weeks later and so on. When we realised what was happening, they agreed to return just a couple of items. By then, we were so sad to see our breakfast disappear, we agreed to the hefty compromise.

And that is exactly what the NLA have done to Thailand with their behaviour this week. Knowing that all eyes are on the election, the unelected executive branch have staged a silent coup. Just three days before they step down forever,they have passed a bill allowing extreme breeches of human rights and freedoms without almost zero opposition. That's right, just eight men objected to the travesty. How convenient.

Of course, this massive bestowal of power on the military only comes into play if there is a "threat to national security". Yes, it's that phrase we know and........well, we know it well. A video on youtube was once "a threat to national security". So were a few posters on a university web forum. So were a few student protesters handing out leaflets. A "threat to national security", it seems, can mean anything the military want it to.

And just like the teachers who were so happy to get a tiny bit of their breakfast back, the people stopped resisting the ISOC law after the NLA agreed to hand some power over to the PM, not an army general. The fact that the PM looks likely to be the choice of the army and privy council leader general Prem is overlooked. The people won a compromise, and they stopped fighting except for Jon Unpagkorn's few.

In my outsider's view, this is a clandestine coup. The Thai bridge of democracy has been blown up so many times and the people are sick of paying for the repairs. Knowing this, the military employed a cunning plan. Instead of blowing the bridge up once more, they chipped away at its foundations, pulling out a brick at a time, and replacing it with paper.

Timing was crucial. The military know that while all our eyes are focused on festivities and the race over the Democracy Bridge - will the winner be the handsome man or the plump, old school politician? - it doesn't really matter who takes the victory. The bridge's paper foundations would be washed away by the first heavy storm. Then the uniformed elite would, once again, set up their blockade on the bridge. A hefty toll is levied for anyone wanting to pass.

The PC Christmas message (h/t Simon Darby)

"Happy Holidays" and other Festive Greetings to You and All :

Please accept (without any obligation whatsoever, either implied or implicit, attaching thereunto) my very best wishes for an environmentally-conscious, non-polluting, socially-responsible, non-addictive, gender-neutral and fully inclusive celebration of the Winter solstice holiday, practiced with or without the secular practices of your choice, or traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, (whilst respecting the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their reasonable choice not to practice any religious or secular traditions at all); as well as a fiscally-successful, personally-fulfilling, and medically-uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year "2008", but not without due respect shown for the calendars of choice of cultures whose cultural contributions and enrichments of British society by way of the present unprecedented flow of immigration is working to make Britain great (which is not to imply that Britain is necessarily "greater" than any other country or region, or those countries or regions from which any cultural groups or individuals of such groups may or may not have emigrated), and without regard to the race, creed, colour, height, weight, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual orientation of the wisher.

This wish is limited to the customary and usual good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first. "Holiday" is not intended to, nor shall it be considered to be, limited to the usual Christian religious celebrations or observances, or to the activities of any other organised, or ad hoc, religious community, group, or individual.

Please Note : That by accepting this greeting, you are accepting the following terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all. This greeting is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. This greeting implies no promise by the wisher actually to implement any of the wishes for the wisher her/himself or others, or responsibility for the consequences which may arise from the implementation or non-implementation of same. This greeting is void where prohibited by law.

With my sincerest best wishes,
Your Licenced Authorised Religious Representative.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Taking Thailand forward: Abhisit at the FCCT

Abhisit Vejajiva began late at the FCCT, stating that he had lost his voice but was lucky to be alive after his car crash yesterday.

"Thai people have faced hardship for the last three years due to bad economic practices. People lost their voice after the coup"

"Samak puts politics first and people second. Debate is important not for us or PPP but for the people. Samak has refused every offer of a debate"

Abhisit enquires whether Samak was invited to the FCCT. MC Jonathon Head says he was, but was unable to attend so he is now serving food fro the kitchen tonight (laughter).

"The Democrats have a ninety nine day plan, it is not a gimmick. It includes polices such as free education all through school, an end to corruption and reversal of confusing policies for foreign investors"

"We will happily form a coalition with anyone.....(pause) ......except the PPP" [laughter]


1) Have there been any kind of deals or agreements between the Democrats and the military?

AV: No. Why would the Dems spend so much money on pre coup elections if they knew what would happen? Why do the PPP/TRT suddenly become so in love with democracy when they have lost power?

2) [A foreign election monitor volunteer] There are allegations of vote rigging by the CNS in Chang Mai

AV: Report it to the EC. However, these elections are fairer than 2005.

3) Why are parties putting politics before people?

AV: The party hopping mentality is to blame. Nobody can take politics seriously when people move freely between parties. There are some encouraging signs that this mentality is changing.

4) (The Nation) What do you think about the undemocratic aspects of the constitution and security laws?

AV: I have pushed for amendments in the past and I wish to remove undemocratic aspects of the new constitution such as half the senate being unelected. I hope the NLA don't pass the security law. My message to the NLA is "take a break".

If they do pass the law, I have four issues to raise including a definition of ""threat to security" (a reference to part of the new law which gives emergency powers to the military at any time of "threat to national security").

The military have learned a lesson, now they know seizing power was the easy part of the job.

5) (UN representative) We need a debate on human rights. Will the Dems check on human rights abuses in the south?

AV: There was a debate on human rights a few weeks ago by the Human Rights Commission of Thailand. All party leaders were invited, I was the only attendant.

The troubles in the south are complex. The old hierarchy in the south is no more. The old leaders do not have a vertical line of command. We will encourage dialogue but it is a local problem, we have extensive plans to resolve issues in the south.

6) (Bangkok Post) Polls show a swing to PPP. Will heads roll if the Dems don't get in? If you get in, what are the first three issues you will tackle?

AV: I advise Bangkok Post not to do internet polls [laughter]. There is a group of full time political operatives on the sixth floor of a building in Wangtonla who are hired by a certain party.

We have set standards in the party, I expect those standards to be met.

The first three issues I will tackle are economic confidence, reducing the cost of living and stimulating the economy.

7) Are there family ties between the Shinwatras and the Vejajivas?

AV: Thaksin's mother in law made this claim [that there were links between the families about three generations ago] but I have checked and there are no blood ties.

8) (A Thai teacher) We are not happy about the situation with universities being pushed to become autonomous.

AV: My colleague Wijit supports this motion. I disagree with him. However, autonomy is not the same as privatisation.

9) What is the meaning of the Democrat logo? [A woman washing her long hair]

AV: It is a goddess, we like to think she is washing out political dirt [laughter].

10) Would you form a coalition even if the PPP win a clear majority? When will we know the shape of the government?

AV: If PPP win outright, we will work hard as the opposition. If not, we will form a coalition.

We should see shape of government by Sunday evening, if there are issues with red cards, etc. it could take thirty days. There is a quorum but it is not a full house quorum.

11) What will you do to sway those who are still undecided?

The indecision is due to political noise. I believe the undecideds will focus on the real issues when voting.

12) (Jonathon Head) What is your stance on privatisation?

AV:The privatisation of EGAT and PTT by Thai Rak Thai was illegal.This has spoiled a policy that can benefit the nation. Thailand has underutilised assets.

13) (Japanese press) Why do so many rural folk still go for TRT/PPP and Thaksin after eighteen months? Why have the Dems not reached out to these people?

AV: They have sympathies with the one hundred and eleven TRT execs who are banned. I have sympathy with some of them as they didn't know what was going on with the crimes committed.

Apart from the south, we had just fourteen seats in the previous house, now we are very competitive. This shows we have made gains.

14) Would you consider autonomy for Pattiani under any circumstances? Previous coalitions have always been weak, can you be sure yours won't crumble?

AV: Our research and that of the investigative group led by Anand has the same conclusion: autonomy is not a demand from people in the south. What they want is justice, including corrections to past injustices. Autonomy for Pattiani would not help other states. De-centralisation is the key.

Previous coalitions were corrupt and/or incompetent. We will not be. A good government cannot be toppled.

15) What is your stance on the PPP using Thaksin's image and name? If the PPP was dissolved for electoral malpractice, what would your stance be?

AV: PPP candidates have every right to use Thaksin's image and name, however they [the 111 dissolved TRT execs] should not interfere with the running of PPP.

I hope the EC will not destabilise politics by any bias actions. I don't believe PPP will be dissolved.

16) [Narcissus] What is your position on Burma? Should ASEAN do more?

AV:I am appalled by the actions of the junta in Burma. ASEAN should do more but they should take careful actions.

17) There is too much rubbish in the Bangkok canals!

AV: I'll tell Apirak! [Laughter]. It's not as bad as it used to be and I will get the council to do more.

18) Is there a political ideology for the labor movement in Thailand? Do the Dems have a separate section to deal with this?

AV: No labor focused ideologies really exist in Thailand. Some attempts to set up a labor party have failed. Dems take a balanced approach between labor and service sector approaches.

19) The new constitution has strengthened the opposition to prevent another TRT style government stranglehold. Will this weaken a coalition government?

AV: Don't over estimate constitutional power.The previous constitution had more human rights than ever but resulted in more abuses than ever by TRT.

There will not be many medium sized parties from now on, maybe none atall. Thailand is moving towards a two party state. [Re-iterates reasons why his coalition government will be stable].

End of questions. I get a couple of pictures with the man himself.

My verdict: Abhisit is slick, highly articulate and progressive. However it is easy to see why he does not appeal to certain Thais. He lacks that abrasive spark or traditional Thai political demeanour that some sections of Thailand go for. He also likes to talk technically - albeit with the usual vagueness of politicos - and that will simply turn some people off.

A good politician for sure, but one that will only appeal to middle or upper class Thais. A clear class division in Thailand is still evident in the people's political choices.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Me, the Xbox360 and Thailand's BIGGEST LIAR

About two months ago, I decided to treat myself to a new Xbox360 games system. After checking a few stores, I decided to purchase my system from a shop inside The Mall Bang Khae that for now shall remain nameless.

I emphasise this was an indoor shop near the IT section and not some dodgy, outdoor market outfit. Still, I should have sensed something was wrong when after taking my credit card, swiping and presenting me with the receipt, the man handed me another bill for 600 bhat and said "This is the extra charge we add on to credit cards".

I explained I had only paid by card to avoid the two minute walk to the ATM, I insisted he reverse the transaction and allow me to pay by cash but alas, nobody in the shop knew how to reverse a basic transaction. My wife had to talk them through it.

But it was all forgotten when I got home and - like the overgrown kid I am - started to enjoy my new games. All was well for about a month, until my Xbox 360 started to freeze more and more often, until eventually it died completely. I was disappointed but I had read that it was a well known batch problem and had cost Microsoft one billion dollars in repairs already. There is no Microsoft office in Thailand so I had to rely on the seller for support.

I took my system back to the shop and was surprised to discover they expected me to pay for the repair myself. "It's only a one month guarantee so it has expired" the man told me "We'll call you when we know the repair cost".

Two days later I got a call telling me the cost would be 1,500 bhat. I couldn't be bothered to argue so I agreed to pay. "We'll send it to Chinatown for repair and call you when it's done" I was told.

So I waited......and waited.....and waited. I visited the shop three times, and each time I was told "Yang mai set". Finally, after six weeks of waiting, I got my wife to call and get to the bottom of it, and that's when the lies really started to flow.

We were told that the repair was serious. It was not covered under any guarantee and a new part had been ordered. They had tried to call me several times to let me know (no missed calls showed on my phone). The new part would definitely arrive but it might take some time so I could come and pick up my system in the meantime.

We would eventually find out that not a single one of the things we had been told were true.

Sensing something amiss, I went to the store to pick up my system. The man in the shop (it was the same man we spoke to every time) actually told my wife "Your husband tried to use the system on the internet and that's what caused the problem. The chip has melted". Anyone who knows anything about Xbox systems or computer systems will know how laughable that line was. We were also told that if we didn't want to wait for the new part to arrive, we could take the system to Sapham Lek and get it repaired ourselves. (So why didn't they take it themselves then?)

By now, I knew that we had been cheated and lied to. But as unsatisified as I was, I also knew that if I could get it repaired myself it would save a lot of hassle. So, on my next day off, I took a little trip to Chinatown to hunt down a repair man in the Hong Kong style Sapham Lek Market, and sure enough I found one.

It took about thirty seconds for the repairman to open the system, look at the mainboard, laugh and tell me that someone had already tried to repair it and had burnt the ram insert to a crisp. A repair now would be impossible, my system was ruined. You can probably guess how I felt.

My wife asked around and found out the name of the shopman at the sales store in Bang Kahe and, usefully, the name of the owner. That same night we marched to the shop (my wife is so cool when she gets ticked off!) and demanded to speak the manager. After getting his number my wife made the call.

I already had my list of promises ready. If I didn't get a refund or replacement, I was going to write to every newspaper I knew, make leflets and hand them out to people walking into the shop, and tell all my new friends in the Thai Police and the manager of The Mall shopping complex. I still had the receipts from both the sale and repair of the system and they knew it.

To my relief though, the manager was a lot more helpful. He told us systems had a guarantee of six months from the shop and repairs were done through a contact at an electronics company in Chit Lom. When told that the storeman had mentioned a repair at Sapham Lek, there was concern. "Mr. Manager" promised to investigate and call us back.

Thirty minutes later the call came. Mr. Manager sounded worried. He confirmed that indeed my Xbox had been sent to Chinatown when it should not have been. The damage had been confirmed as serious but a replacement had not been ordered. Mr. Manager also apologised for the storeman suggesting I pick up the system and take it to be repaired myself. This should not have happened.

Obviously, the storeman had let me wait six weeks while my system sat in his cupboard in the vain hope I would forget about my computer. When that failed, he told me a bare faced lie about a replacement part on its way and when that lie failed too, he simply tried to get me to go away and deal with it myself.

Mr. Manager seemed apologetic and promised to meet my wife today. But the storeman was still not finished. Today my wife got at call saying "Sorry, the manager wanted to meet you today but he can't make it, can you cancel and come another day?". My wife agreed but - based on past experience - called Mr Manager to check. Surprise, surprise, Mr Manager knew nothing about the cancellation and was looking forward to meeting my wife as arranged!

And that's where we are now. But my question is this: just how stupid are some people?

Just how moronic is the storeman to think that telling us a whole string of shameless, bare faced lies was going to get him out of trouble? Did he really think that if he didn't call me I was eventually going to forget that he had my computer? Did he honestly conceive that we are going to believe that I melted my Xbox's chip by "using it on the internet"? Did he really think that we wouldn't check about the "extra part order"? Did he think atall?

I have become accustomed to Thai businesses having "laid back" ways of doing things and I am familiar with the concept of a "kind lie" in Thailand, but this is the only the second time I have been told an entire string of shamless lies to my face. It has never worked on me and it never will. All it does is make me lose any shred of respect and grows my contempt for the person telling them. What makes things harder is that as I'm in a foreign country it is a lot more difficult for me to use the usual methods of recourse I would use back home (contacting media, watchdog groups, etc.).

I'd be interested to hear from Thais and farangs alike about any similar experiences in Thailand and how they were dealt with (if at all!)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

My new blog.

A good blog usually focuses on one topic and lately I have not been doing that. To avoid this happening again, I have now launched a new blog dedicated to exposing the hypocrisy of the far left in the UK and the US.

Please drop by here. Reallifethailand will continue as usual.

Friday, December 14, 2007

"Coup, Capital, Crown" . A report from the FCCT

My actual notes from last night's FCCT meeting. Everything is paraphrased and shorthanded for conciseness.

MC (Jonathon Head): "As a journalist, it's very frustrating not being able to discuss the monarchy, but we must respect the law and be restrained in what we say."

"His Majesty The King is now eighty , he will not be around forever. In private at least, Thai people are talking about the monarchy."

"Democracy, the military and the monarchy are deeply linked and we have four people who have contributed to two major works on this topic"

The panel are introduced:

- Professor Kevin Hewison, University of North Carolina;

- Professor Pasuk Phongpaichit of Chulalongkorn University;

- Dr Porphant Ouyyanont of Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University;

- Ukrist Pathmanand of Chulalongkorn University.

Each person speaks about one of the two books featured tonight. They are: "Thai Capital after the 1997 Crises" by Pasuk and Baker, and "Journal of Contemporary Asia Special: The Thailand Coup" edited by Kevin Hewison.

Kevin: The conservative agenda in Thailand is challenged and the heaviest challenge comes from the rural poor, hence Thaksin's immensely successful populist policies.

Porphan: CPB valuation in 2005 was twenty billion dollars in assets alone. This figure is likely to be higher now the dollar is weak. During the reign of Rama V, the CPB owned almost one third of land in Bangkok. Three quarters of the CPB wealth was lost in the crises but recovered for a variety of reasons (which he explains). The CPB was fully recovered by 2002 and stronger than ever.

Ukrit: Further confrontation between the "groups" involved on either side of the coup could be ahead due to the popularity of the PPP.

(My note: Porphant and Ukrist are like their boss Pasuk, down to earth, almost deprecatingly so. Nothing like most of the Thai high-so when they speak at the FCCT. I like these guys.)

Audience questions:

[My note: I have paraphrased all questions, some people love to ramble]

1) What is the difference between the King's personal wealth and the CPB?

Porphan: There is a separate office assigned to manage His Majesty's personal wealth. The CPB funds are funds for the whole institution of the monarchy.

2) a) Why have the AEC charges against Thaksin seemed to have little impact, why are there no new revelations of corruption? b) Some people say the NLA has been progressive, do the panel agree? (My note: I have not heard anyone say this)

a) Kevin: Probably because it was all so predictable, everybody got what they expected from the AEC.

b) Pasuk: The NLA is conservative with a few liberals thrown in as a bargaining tool to the people. Most powerful laws passed by the NLA have not been progressive or liberal

3) Is the CPB a Public limited company?

Poprphan: Its classification translates into English as "state unit" , however nobody on the panel- three scholars and an investigative journalist - knows what this means.

Pasuk: It has been established in court that CPB funds cannot be transferred by a court judgement.

4) Are some "old money" powerful families part of the think tank behind the coup?

Pasuk: One theory says that the military wanted to make a comeback and engaged the support if some business groups frozen out by Thaksin.

Ukrit: Certain figures like General Saprang were crucial to the legitimacy of the coup.

Kevin: Look at the financial data for Thailand. Pre - coup the biggest profit makes were in the telecom sector, such as the Thaksin owned Shin Corp. Post - coup, the biggest profiteers were those in the land and hosing sector. It is interesting to look at people such as Privy Council head General Prem and see where they have listed directorships.

5) What are your hopes and fears for the next eighteen months?

Pasuk: I hope PPP get a lot of seats simply to send a message to the military. However, I fear the coalition government will be weak and will collapse or be dissolved within one year. The possibility of violence cannot be ruled out.

6) Was Thaksin a threat to the monarchy?

Kevin: Yes. His economics - such as the use of SCB in the Shincorp sale - could be an issue. Also, Thaksin appealed to the same demographics in Thailand with a very different message: work your way into business and city life.(capitalism, compared to sufficiency economy)

7) Did the AEC fail?

Pasuk: Depends on what theory you believe. Theory one is that they want solid evidence to make a real case, so this takes time and they are working on it. Theory two, it was all just a show, a bargaining tool by the junta. To be fair, they have charged Thaksin's wife and children but has all gone remarkably quiet, which seems strange.

8) [I didn't understand the question. It concerned judges in Thailand]

Kevin: (Jokes about getting himself in trouble). It is strange that judges suddenly seem to have become eyed as saviours of the nation.

9) Is popular sovereignty on the rise?

Kevin: No. People in the north east are becoming purposely disenfranchised. Election campaigns are huge in Bangkok and nearby - where Abhisit is popular - and non existent in former TRT strongholds. The election will not progress democracy.

Pasuk: We do not want a regime that killed 2,500 people ("war on drugs" reference) but sadly more violence may be ahead.

MC: Based on personal interviews, rural people don't care about Samak but they think a PPP vote will bring Thaksin back.

Kevin: People should also consider the human rights record of Samak (it's poor).

MC: The VCD's of Thaksin are "very slick". Thaksin seems to be purposely copying the speaking style of the King and it is a powerful message that the rural folk are being exposed to in a campaign where the military have already attempted to disenfranchise rural voters.

Questions end, night is over but for the beers. Abhisit Vejajiva is here on Tuesday.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Thai coups, past, present and......?

"We have a neo-feudal society in the 21st century, which is anachronistic and incompatible with the new trends, new expectations and new demands,"
Thitinan Pongsudhirak

Will we ever learn?

Articulate blogger Ginola recently described the previous Thai coups as "easy to manage for the junta". I disagree, I think each coup in Thailand has been a tip in a power struggle. To demonstrate my reasons for thinking this we first need to ask: what really causes coups in Thailand, and why?

It was only fifteen years ago that, not for the first time, the Thai military opened fire on its own people. Their crime was protesting against the manipulation of constitutional law by the junta for the single purpose of making one of their own the next PM.

So serious was the fall out from the 1992 disaster that a social bargain had to be made. The state drew up a new constitution, a document so crucial that it became known as the "people's constitution" for it really seemed to be handing over some power to the masses. It featured new regulations, independent checking bodies and a new independent news channel to compensate for the antiquated style of media that had reported so meekly on the tragic events of the uprising.

It all seemed that change was in the air. The world was becoming globalised, Thailand's economy was getting on track and now the people had some real way of checking on the ruling elite, even if they remained so much richer than the masses.

For a while it stuck. The economic crash of '97 rocked the economy but from the ashes stepped forth Thaksin Shiniwat, a man who promised to lead Thailand back to the promised land. Democratically elected, he even became the first PM to serve out a full term. But as titanic as his rise to power was, his fall from grace was even more spectacular.

Who were the faces behind the coup of 2006 and what were their motives?

The official line of course is that the military - led by General Sonthi - made the decision independently to power forth and remove Thaksin for the sake of national unity. When that same military has control over every TV outlet and a large portion of other media, such convictions could become gospel truth for many.

But therein lied one of the very first problems for the military. The man they had removed was widely admired by the same masses they now professed to have liberated: the rural working class. The junta were painfully aware of their own poor welcome in the north east and imposed a martial law on the provinces lasting almost a year. The voices of anger were stifled but not completely silenced.

It could be argued that imposing martial law was a mistake, for it created hundreds, maybe thousands, of angry workers who found a new group of heroes to let them vent their anger: the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD). Led by Jakrapob Penkair, the DAAD led protests outside the residence of the octogenarian General Prem, the president of the privy council. The numbers of protesters may have been relatively small, but their family and friends were watching.

It was a tense situation. "Pa Prem" was so well respected in the palace that he had - subconsciously, perhaps - become more than the military man he really was in the eyes of many. But Penkair and his team broke taboo of speaking publicly against Prem (something Thaksin never managed). "He allowed the coup to happen. He was a good leader for Thailand but now he must go. Nobody can expect a man his age to behave rationally" said Penkair to 'The Nation'. Penakir went one step further when speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and suggested that a judge in the trial of the former EC commissioners had had an affair with Prem.

It all seemed bizarre. The dissenters had found a direction for their rage but did they really believe that a man of Prem's age had orchestrated a military coup by himself?

Chulalongkorn University lecturer and committed Marxist Ji Unpagkorn believes that a key factor in the coup was Thailand's middle class. Ji argues that Sondhi Litmonkul's feud with former friend Thaksin Shiniwatra could have signalled the end for Thai Rak Thai. As Sondhi rallied his business contacts and appointed himself the leader of the middle class protesters - who never cared much for Thaksin anyway - he also formed alliances with some members of the working class and royalist members of the elite. Ji speculates that without the rebellion from Bangkok's new middle class, the military would never have felt confident enough to lead the coup.

But like Ji, nobody seems to believe the middle class of the 'Big Mango' wielded enough power to actually orchestrate the coup, since they lacked the mass base below them or the financial clout above them. Rather, the Bangkokians lent legitimacy to the ouster.

So if not General Sondhi and his unit, if not Prem, if not the middle class from the capital, then who?

The answer is revealed in the men we saw paraded in the government line up after the coup, not only for who they are but for how they behaved. What we saw was a group of men painfully, woefully anachronistic in their outlook. Men who seemed to belong to a past age, an age when family ties mattered more than work rate, when military rank was respected more than poverty plans for the masses, and a time when people simply shut up and accepted what was happening because those doing it were of a higher social order.

The truth is there was no "one force" behind the coup. It was an alliance of the "old money", social groups who saw that - for all his faults - Thaksin was leading Thailand towards the age of technology and populism, a time when the poor understood the power of their vote and most crucially a time of globalisation. The latter was something that could spell ruin for some members of the 'old money'.

The coup of 2006 was the brainchild of aged, elitist cliques that saw their power - and thus their wealth - falling under threat. Faced with danger, they responded in the only way they knew how, by seizing it back and clinging on.

But make no mistake, Thailand has suffered heavily from this. Our Land of Smiles is conflicted. It is heading towards the age of globalisation and free media , worldwide fashions and international stock exchanges yet those looking to steer them through the cyber age look more akin to generals from World War Two. Moreover, the international community views coups and military rule with scepticism.

To see why, we only have to look back at the track record of the junta. As Sittichai Yoon said: "I give the junta an 'F' grade across the board". The antiquated junta ruled 2007 Thailand like it was 1907 Siam, and it was a sham.

But how can we be sure this will not happen again? Thailand may have survived this time, but if the old ginger decides to snatch power once more ten years down the line, what might be different?

How another coup would affect the Kingdom is not a question anyone but the Thais can answer. All I can note is that the working class - the class Maxheadroom describes as "meek" - were the only class that were not considered by anyone to have played a role in the removal of a democratically elected government. When hurt, some surprisingly chose to vent their anger at a surprise target.

It looks to me like the rural folk fully understand the power of the vote. They might be apathetic, but only because they sense that all politicians are corrupt liars. But when pushed hard enough, the masses might just get ticked off enough to send the old ginger a message, and that might signal some major changes for Thailand.

It has happened before. In the nineteenth century Thailand's working class rebellion forced the abolition of unpaid Labour. In the seventies, a long series of strikes saw the elite reluctantly agree to pay manual labourers a living wage. The working class doubtlessly faced the same intimidation then as they do now, but they survived.

Education is slowly but surely becoming widespread in Thailand. A famous politician once said "An educated electorate is much harder to govern". Such an axiom is something that elite classes around the world are all too aware of.

Ultimately, the coup of 2006 was a battle of wills. On one side is the will of those who cannot and will not accept the reality of modernisation, of a world without a wealthy ruling class calling the shots, a world where the army are not heroes for marching in and seizing power at will, a world where everyone is educated to some degree and a world where money is earned through business acumen and not only family heritage.

On the other is a new middle class and a developing lower class, fighting for the opposite.

Right now, the power lies with the old guard. One of the biggest weapons in their arsenal is a patter line of pseudo patriotic ideals. That somehow a coup is part of a great Thai tradition, that Thailand has some "special" style of democracy which any true patriot should take pride in. It's a propaganda tool the junta have utilised many times.

Thailand has many great traditions, but the above is not one of them. To end the power struggle between the old and the new, in my humble opinion, Thais will have to ask themselves some questions. Some of them may be agonisingly difficult to answer. But answer them we must, because reality will not wait for us.

Today, blogger Ian put up a blog asking simply "What's wrong with England?". He put his thoughts, and I put mine. Ian and I both know that criticism of our country is not considered unpatriotic in our culture. On the contrary, it is almost considered a duty to be constructively critical. We are not bound by restrictions on speech other than common law, there are no people protected from criticism and English media is not subject to censorship. All these things help us to ask difficult questions and find answers they will believe can help everyone in our country. It is not a uniquely western concept and it does not make Ian or I better people, it is simply a privilege that has been fought for and won by generations before us.

I wonder, if a Thai put up a similar message, what would happen? I fear that some might accuse them of being unpatriotic, others would not say what they really feel and others still might be unwilling to criticise, perhaps because they feel guilty for doing so.

Thailand like all nations is in exciting and fast changing times. In such times we may feel that our history, culture and identity helps us to feel secure in such unchartered waters. But let's not allow that fear to stop us from learning. And learning is how any mistakes in our past are prevented from repeating over and over again.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The sort of people involved in Thai politics Pt.3

When you are paid a salary that puts you in the richest ten percent of country and you are doing a role that you have been bound by constitutional law to do and you knew exactly what the role involved when you applied for the job, it's still OK to throw your toys out of the pram if somebody says something to make you cry.

I'm talking about Sodsri Sattayatham, a member of the EC (Election Commission). Sosdri began her role by publicly accusing the voluntary People's Network for Elections (PNET) of misspending 80 million bhat of tax money. PNET responded fiercely, by threatening to sue Sodsri if she did not make a public apology. Sodsri refused, did not attend a meeting with PNET and PNET made good on their promise of removing all their volunteers from election monitoring.

Things got better. Sodsri drew up some new election rules for the forthcoming election that were widely criticised for being too harsh. She was due to attend a public forum with her colleagues on the issue but tragically fell ill (no diagnosis was made public) and could not attend.

And then today with news that Sodsri and the EC may press charges against the PPP (People Power Party) for allegedly distributing VCDs of Thaksin Shiniwatra making promises that (to paraphrase) "A vote for [PPP leader] Samak is a vote for Thaksin" and also closing down a pro Thaksin web site, Sodsri took some criticism for her EC being "biased" in the eyes of PPP leader Samak.

So, how did Sodsri respond? With valour? With a passionate commitment to do her well salaried job as she is required to do so? At least a calm explanation that in fact, she is simply fulfilling her job description by investigating electoral misconduct?

Of course not, instead, we get this ........(full piece here)

Election commissioners are under a lot of pressure and may stop taking action against political parties in connection with the Dec 23 election and let the parties in conflict fight their battles in the courts, she said.

In other words "Stop saying nasty things or I'll stop doing my job at all".

An interesting night at the FCCT and an article on the CPB

Thanks to fonzi and pundit for the heads up.

This Thursday at the FFCT promises to be interesting. In attendance are four authors, including my favourite Thai professor Pasuk Pongpaichit.

However, I would guess that some of the most interesting questions will be put to

Professor Kevin Hewison, University of North Carolina and Dr Porphant Ouyyanont of Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University;

For Hewison has just published a compilation of articles on the 2006 coup, including an article discussing CPB finances by Porphant. Porphant's article is discussed in this week's Asia Sentinel and provides a very frank analysis of CPB wealth.

It should be a most interesting night at the FCCT. Perhaps the most interesting night since the appearance of Sitthichai Pokaiudom who promised he had introduced new legislation ".....ensuring that MICT cannot block web sites alone, they need a court order to do so."

MICT blocked this week.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Should prostitution in Thailand be legalised?

Happy Father's Day everybody! I wish good health to all caring fathers in Thailand.

My planned piece on class politics in Thailand has been delayed by this stomach bug that hit me today (why today, of all days??!! :-)).

So instead I have a short piece and a question to ask you all as per the title:

Should prostitution in Thailand be legalised?

In 1998 the total direct revenue generated by prostitution (i.e. for actual sex services but not drinks, bar fines, etc.) was one hundred billion baht. An estimate at the number of active prostitutes of Thai nationality in Thailand set the number at two hundred thousand. For obvious reasons, this figure is an informed estimate. (Phongpaichit et all , 1998)

Although there is a well known adage in Thailand that 95% of men have hired the services of a prostitute before age 21, this figure is likely to have decreased dramatically following the increase in
AIDS cases during the nineties. The latest figure (1993 is the best I can find) puts the ratio at 10 percent. (D'Agnes, 2001) I suspect the real figure may be higher but nowhere near 95%, and this is only my own presumption.

Let me say right away that my outsider's opinion is that yes, prostitution in Thailand should be legalised. Here are my reasons:

1) It ensures greater safety of the workers. By allowing them to legally register and join unions, etc. the sex workers can move towards elimination and exposure of mistreatment such as blackmail, physical abuse, etc.

2) It generates extra revenue. Remember the revenue figure of 100 billion? If we tax that at just three percent we can generate three billion baht, enough to set up a new school in an underprivileged area. With the reduction in illegal fines and kickbacks, the workers themselves should not be deprived of any income due to that tax either.

3) It deprives corrupt authorities of kickbacks which are paid by all massage parlours and similar places (Phongpaichit et al again). Of course it won't become corruption free but by taking the service above ground, subversion will be reduced. It could even have a 'knock on' effect and force law enforcement authorities to reform.

Of course there are many arguments against legalisation and I would like to offer my response to them.

1) "It condones 'immoral' behaviour" . I think this attitude is in decline but still held by many. My feeling is that a) People have the right to do with their body as they wish provided it harms nobody else and b) Prostitution is already here, we all know that. Making it illegal has not made it go away, regardless of anyone's moral principles.

2) "It increases demand and HIV risks". I have never met anyone who bases their behaviour towards prostitution based on its legality. People either do it or don't , they either think it's moral or immoral. The reason legality does not come into it is because we all know that prostitution is widely available regardless of the law.

The HIV risk is a genuine one. Thailand has already seen massive awareness and pro condom campaigns that have significantly reduced the number of HIV infections in the kingdom but this campaign needs to continue. It is not only sex industry workers at risk though, it is everyone.

3) "It will increase the number of child or immigrant prostitutes." Some people seem to think that legalisation will send out the message "It's OK to have sex with anyone". I've never understood this. With registration of prostitutes, surely age and immigration checks would become easier? The problem of child prostitution could be segregated from the adult prostitution issue and targeted by police.

So these are my views. I hope it is clear I am not looking to make judgements of any form on the sex industry or anyone involved in it. I am simply looking at things from a practical and political preservative. I would be interested to hear what others think.