Nothing Profound   drive-by writing by bkkRon

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Thaksin's Tax Sin Toxin Torpedoed

I've held my tongue...oh, how I've held my tongue.

Actually, I've held my typing fingers, but I've been vocal to a few friends on Bad Boy Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's holding onto power over the last two months of growing demonstrations against him. But now, it's time to add to the comments that pepper the inter web.

I'll say this for him: he's a smart motherf$*&#@! With his stepping down as PM on April 4 after an audience with the respected King of Thailand, he remains an elected member of parliament who can now let things cool down, and then stick around long enough to wield power yet again. Mark my words!

Start with this New York Times article to understand the recent basics, if you're not up to speed.

The Nation and the Bangkok Post are two English-language dailies published in Thailand. Both are highly influenced and censored by Thaksin and his government, but can sometimes produce biting commentary. Many media associations in Thailand regularly complain of subtle censorship to outright harassment. The 'comments' link above is to the Nation's web board.

"Thais are corrupt." There's a refrain you hear daily. Bullshit. Their society is no more corrupt than any other. It's no longer an excuse for all (bad) things that occur there. (Whether they are lazy is still open for debate.) Their government is far less corrupt than those of their neighbours in the region, and no match for the geniuses in the White House. (Why do you think Thaksin venerates the Americans?) Where the Thais have differed compared to the more developed nations of the west is in their level of sophistication. Although a country of high literacy and no hunger, Thailand is still a majority of elementary-school-educated farmers. Thaksin knows this well and talks to the masses in a condescending tone not considered insulting in this class-based culture. His blatant buying of votes has won him two elections.

However, the fast-growing Bangkok middle class is catching up to the billionaire tycoon in education, savvy, and knowledge of the parliamentary and business systems that Thaksin had taken over with his abrasive style of know-it-all governing. When I first heard of the large protests planned for the streets of Bangkok a few weeks ago, I expected fatalities resulting from government-led, military oppression. To my delight, the anti-Thaksin demonstrations were well-organized, safe, peaceful and ulitmately effective at ousting a leader revered like no other just two years ago. Who knew that democracy worked? And in Thailand! 'Cause it doesn't in Canada. Up to half a million people at a time joined these street rallies with policemen and soldiers helping keep the peace and even handing out water and helping those overcome by heat. This showed a new civility in Thailand, one that pleasantly surprised the participants in Bangkok, as well as many observers around the world.

There's been enough said and documented about Thaksin's corrupt, CEO-style political leadership. Most of this is not believed by the innocent poor in Thailand. As Thaksin reminded the media over and over in his "I'm stepping down" speech, 16 million Thais voted for him. That's more than half the electorate, and his party, Thai Rak Thai, won the election. Change in policies is not coming. Again, for the lower-class, this is perceived as a good thing.

Ten million people marked the abstention box or "no vote" on the ballot. For those who successfully ousted him, made up largely of academics and business leaders not previously benefitting from Thaksin's cronyism, their fight may not yet be over. Who will replace him is not yet firm. The anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) was led by Manager Group owner Sondhi Limthongkul (founder of Manager Magazine—some articles in English). He's not interested in a political career, and would have a hard time garnering votes if he did due to his controversial, anti-Thaksin remarks over the last few months. He has just been sued by Thaksin yet again for slander.

If either Commerce Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, an obscure former academic and marketing expert who lacks popular resonance in the rural countryside, or Bhokin Polakul, a constitutional lawyer and former House Speaker gain the party leadership, now that Thaksin has unofficially stepped down, detractors claim it will still be Thaksin who is pulling the strings. Read Shawn W Crispin's Asia Times Online article on what has happened since Thaksin's fall from grace, and what might happen in the coming weeks, months and years.

Probably, if Thaksin chooses, he will remain closely connected to politicos even if he goes back to being what he's really good at: a corrupt, rich, businessman. For now, he's running away to London, England to accompany his daughter who is returning to school. And he won't be back in Thailand until after Songkran, the Thai New Year, which is celebrated April 13 to 15.

This evasive move continues to annoy the PAD. It seems only his unequivocal retiring from politics will appease the growing movement against him.

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