Friday, February 29, 2008

Thaksin's perfect PR

Whether you like him or not (I don't) there can be no doubting that Thaksin Shiniwatra is one of the best media manipulators of all time. Should the telecommunications tycoon ever seek a new challenge, he could surely become a billionaire all over again as a PR consultant.

The publicity stunts are nothing new to him, of course. When Thaksin first came to power in 2002 and suddenly became charged by the NCCC for his "honest mistake" , the PM would actually arrive some distance from the courts and walk the rest of the way. This was so he could be mobbed by cheering supporters and accept their gifts before delivering one of his stirring populist speeches. In a country with judicial systems and checking bodies still being developed, it placed serious pressure on those who deliberated over his future. One judge admitted he had felt "heavily pressured".

Perhaps it was a learning experience for the PM, as he played the style of the benign victim extremely well whenever he came under pressure. During the class clashes of '06 Thaksin would frequently rally his supporters in the north with talk such as: "I want to supply a computer for every kid in school! Do you think that is cool?".

Still the best was saved for the international audience after the coup. In Jan 2007, as CNN cameras rolled, Mr Shiniwat sat looking almost like a school kid as he told the interviewer "I don't believe that this can happen again in the 21st century". The former leader has understandably never sounded his most confident when speaking English but there seemed to be extra shyness in his voice that day. Viewers must have felt great sorrow for him.

And finally of course, who could fail to be moved by the sight of the prodigal son kissing the ground in delight as he stepped on Thai soil yesterday? I guess he managed to hold his delight until the cameras could film him, or maybe the carpet of the VIP room at which the former fugitive was dropped off just didn't seem as tempting.

Yet the master stroke was still to come. Thaksin must have smiled to himself as he launched a 'coup' of his own, the ultimate PR stunt. Behind his entourage , immaculately suited, came Manchester City players Casper Schmeical and Kelvin Etuhu. The former may not be as legendary as his father, but the sight of EPL players was all that was required. They waved and smiled to the crowd who returned the compliment with cheers and shouts of delight. I swear, if you didn't know better you'd think it was an FA Cup victory parade. A perfectly crafted moment reached its pinnacle when the duo announced they had come: "to coach Thai children".

And who was the man responsible for this? Who did the duo describe as: " a good man who loves Thailand"? Why, the same man who the old elite want to charge with corruption! The message was lost on nobody.

Populism has been around as long as politics, but I wonder if anybody has ever quite embodied and epitomised it as well as Khun Thaksin. Whatever anybody thinks of his antics, his public relations finesse can never be denied. The only question is : does he put that genius to use for better or for worse?

I wonder if a certain senior statesman was so impressed with the show, and how much did it cost Mr Thaksin for that show to take place at all?

Seri the next victim

Seripisut Temiyavej used to have a fan club, it was called "Friends of Seri". Why did a policeman have a fan club? Because he was one of the few that people felt they could trust, Seri was the only policeman I'm aware of that people even attempted to believe when he once said "I have never taken a bribe".

Seri had a reputation as a man who would take on figures considered above the law. He once told a tale of how he attempted to arrest a local Jao Pho:

"As soon as I arrived they telephoned and sent telegrams to the minister, the Prime Minister and the MP's. The police director general changes his mind and gives me only five extra men. Apart from my personal secretary, everyone who is meant to be on my side are their men".

Despite this, Seri made it to the top of his profession and announced to corrupt officers: "I'm coming after you". For that, he was today rewarded by being moved from his post without explanation. The PPP personnel purge continues.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Non news

Today's big news is Thaksin's return. The plane made a special stop outside the VIP lounge of the airport for the man who is charged with - and has strong evidence of - corruption.

The biggest non shock is that he was granted bail on both charges. Who would ever have thought?

Events in the past year have gone something like this.

1) Thaksin and Privy Council head Prem have a public war of words.

2) The coup.

3) Prem refers to Thaksin as "evil" or various other unflattering terms at every opportunity, mixed in with his usual nationalist rhetoric.

4) Thaksin says he wants to "make amends" with Prem.

5) Thaksin's wife returns home and gets bail.

6) Thaksin's wife consults a "respectable senior figure" over the formation of a new government (h/t Bangkok Pundit)

6) Thaksin returns home and gets bail.

Go figure.

Incidentally, do not be fooled by Surapong's request to Thaksin to be a "economical advisor". This is a ploy so that Thaksin can make a very public refusal and this will be held up as proof that he truly does not want to return to politics.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

So what has been happening?

Apologies for my lack of blogging as of late. There have been rumours - I can nether confirm nor deny them - that this is due to my second purchase of an Xbox360.

  • Chalerm has given a job to one of his charming sons.
  • Yongyuth "the refrigerator" Tiyapairat has been charged by the ECC for vote buying.
  • Thaksin is due to return now that the undermining of the judicial system has begun.

Note that the 'old money' elite have been deafening by their silence during all of this. This is not due to their love of democracy or patience with the PPP. This is simply waiting for a chance to strike. Anupong Paochinda's call for everyone to allow Thaksin to return simply echoes of Sondhi's promise that there would not be a coup.

Also of note is Pracha Prasopdee's threat to drive PAD leaders out of Thailand if they protest again. Prasopdee says this would be done for "stability", his verdict is an interesting contrast to the constitution's promise that people can protest peacefully, weather Prasopdee likes it or not.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Litigation culture

So General Saprang "I'm a hero" Kalayanamitr is threatening to sue the Manager Group for documenting his alleged corruption and poor performance of his two executive positions.

Nothing new there of course, It's all part of high society mind games to threaten lawsuits. But what would be truly interesting is if the court involved (presumably the civil court unless there is a higher starting point for the level of damages being claimed) actually took the case seriously and actually put the onus on the Manager Group to prove their allegations.

Such a case would involve critical and open analysis of General Saprang's performance being played out in public. It is something done very, very rarely for military men, and could potentially set a precedent for all military staff who hold directorships. Such a case could encourage others to be a little more diligent and transparent in their work.

Sadly, all these considerations are the reason why the lawsuit threat is probably only a threat. Unlike that of his brother.

Has there been a precedent to this type of case in Thailand? I am not aware of any.