Some Truths about Thaksin

So, John, you work for Khun Thaksin, even if you have never met him (although he did walk by on his way to meet more interesting and important people as few weeks ago). Answer me these important questions, entirely according to your own opinion:

Q. Is he going to buy Ronaldinho and is that a good idea?

A. It certainly looks like he will try. I doubt it would work out well because Ronaldinho has attracted a reputation for being a workshy party animal who is unlikely to value new manager Mark Hughes and his approach to football highly – Blackburn were not given the nickname Blackeye Rovers for nothing.

Q. Was it a good idea to sack Sven?

A. Not in my opinion.

Q. Where does his money come from, anyway?

A. He achieved success through securing a government license to operate in the telecommunications and satellites industry. This turned out to be enormously profitable – much more so than previous careers in the police and computer retail. As the money mounted, his company diversified into a variety of different fields – real estate, hospital ownership, media and others. He divested himself of shares in the company so as to be permitted to become Prime Minister and his family subsequently sold them to Singapore’s Temasek. That left a lot of cash, some of which has been invested in Manchester City, a much smaller amount supports Shinawatra University and, presumably, there are other investments about which I have not been notified.

Q. How about these corruption charges?

A. Well, after the military coup, the junta put its best people and a lot of resources in trying to justify their action by bringing corruption charges against Dr. Thaksin and his family (especially his wife and children). The results have been negligible – some trivial charges about the Phaholyothin land sale which will soon disappear, complaints against government policy to make a loan to Burma and to manage the lottery which the government, overwhelmingly supported by the electorate, seems entirely mandated to have done. Some members of the Electoral Commission, also supported by the junta, are themselves in prison because of the way they tried to find evidence of electoral wrong-doing.

Q. Any truth to the human rights abuses?

A. More than 3,000 people were killed during the War against Drugs, which is the issue most commonly raised. Khun Thaksin was certainly PM at the time, the policy was very popular (the new PM Samak Sundaravej was thinking of reviving it) and it seems to have had a positive effect in removing drugs from schools. Khun Thaksin made some intemperate comments but there is no smoking gun linking him directly to any extra-judicial killing – and the extent to which he was able to control the military, for example, was shown when he was ousted in a military coup.

Q. Other people completely disagree with your views, don’t they?

A. Yes.

Q. Are you writing this column without sources because the network is so desperately poor that you have no choice?

A. What do you think?

A Little Less Gambling, A Little More Kicking

Lumpini Park is best known for being the national capital for Muay Thai – the eight-legged form of martial arts unique to Thailand (although some Cambodians argue that it is just an adaptation of an older Khmer form).

It is called ‘eight-legged’ because fighters are allowed to strike with two fists, two feet, two elbows and two knees. This could make the fighting very deadly. The roots of Muay Thai, like most martial arts, appear to have been low cost ways of providing means of defence to poor peasants and villagers who were subject to the predations of bandits and wild animals – and were too far away from the authorities to expect any protection from them. Knowledge was, it seems, most commonly passed on to the local people by Buddhist monks – which supports the tradition of the fighting monks in Shaolin style which is an important shared point of East Asian culture.

Well, this is all very good but it appears that Muay Thai, notwithstanding the big strides it has made as a participative sport internationally, is failing locally. Lumpini Park management are concerned that it is only foreign tourists and local gamblers who are turning up for events. Worse, the influence of the gamblers is making the spectacle of fights boring for most spectators.

The problem is that gamblers want (understandably) to make sure that their ‘investments’ are as safe as possible and so wish to minimize the risk of losing. They identify the stronger fighter in the bout and then somehow influence that fighter to adopt a very conservative style of restricting the movements of the opponent through the early rounds and then throwing him down for the clinching points in the last round. This means all fights become very similar, dull and lacking in flair or wild kicks or other unexpected events. The result is that events at Lumpini Park only may embrace new rules to make them more entertaining –although there will be no rule changes in the rest of the Kingdom or internationally.

Muay Thai is still very popular – go to any university, for example, and the security guards can be found whiling away the tedious hours watching it on the telly and bantering with their friends.

No End to the Violence in the South Is Likely

Two police officers were wounded by a bomb blast in Pattani yesterday. The officers had been guarding school teachers on the way to school, which is part of their regular duties. It is presumed that, once again, the very familiar modus operandi signifies another success for the insurgent terrorists who have contributed to the more than 2500 deaths in southern Thailand since 2004.

The separatists are part of the Muslim majority in the region – while in Thailand as a whole the population is around 95% Buddhist. The three provinces concerned, Narathiwat and Yala as well as Pattani, were an independent state a century or so ago existing between Thailand (then known as Siam) and what is now Malaysia to the south. The King of Siam annexed the region – it is potentially rich – and governments since then have made efforts to integrate the region into Thailand by dispatching Buddhist farmers to colonise the land. Thai language has been used as the official language replacing the local Jawi dialect and numerous campaigns have stressed the need for all genuine Thai people to respect the royal family and Buddhism. Not surprisingly, the Muslim inhabitants of the region have become alienated over the years.

Since the region has, according to rumour (albeit quite well-established rumour), been used as a dumping ground for low-performing police officers and civil servants, there have been more immediate causes of complaint. Since the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, additionally, many younger people have become radicalised politically and there have been unknown numbers of foreign Islamic ‘teachers’ visiting the region and young people studying in overseas Madrassas. The result has been an efflorescence of violence affecting the whole of the region.

Atrocities have taken place on both sides. The Krue Sa Mosque massacre saw nearly a hundred people gunned down by officials after a demonstration and numerous examples of what appear on the face to be extra-judicial killings have taken place (police often blame gangsters and drug-smugglers for provoking armed confrontations – which may sometimes be true). The insurgents have responded by blowing up, shooting and beheading symbols of the state – police officers, teachers, Buddhist monks, civil servants and the like. Bitterness has reached high levels on all sides and it is difficult to imagine that reconciliation will take place in the foreseeable future.

The government has tried getting tough and it did not work. It has offered to talk to leaders of the insurgency but, like Al Qaeda and other loose network structures, there are no real leaders to whom they can talk. The current democratically-elected government, which has been in power just a few months and its power hobbled by the junta’s constitution and mob action by anti-democracy activists in Bangkok, seems to have no solution.

Another Crushing Defeat

With inflation at a ten year high, the Stock Exchange of Thailand taking another big hit yesterday, problems among the police (and also this), as well as doubts that democracy itself can be sustained, let us turn to the world of sport, which so often gives us reason to exalt in honest endeavour and triumph over adversity.

Or not, as the case may be.

Last night Thailand’s bid to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was dealt an almost certainly fatal blow – a 3-2 home defeat to Bahrain means the Kingdom now has zero points from three games, which is nine points behind the visitors. The best that can be hoped for now is to win the three remaining games (not very likely) and hope for the best with results elsewhere (also not very likely). Almost certainly Bahrain and Japan will qualify for the next stage of the competition.

Despite all the money and interest shown in sport, especially football, in Southeast Asia, the quality remains disappointingly low. Last night, Southeast Asian champions Singapore were crushed 7-3 at home by not so mighty Uzbekistan. Yes, Uzbekistan are not a bad Central Asian side (although I thought Kazakhstan had more potential in the long run) but to be swatted aside like this is close to humiliating. Can you imagine Qatar or the UAE (which have similar resources) being beaten at home like this? True, those countries play the typically Middle Eastern style which it destroys the soul to watch with the endless murder of football but that is just sensible deployment of resources (and no, not allocation to the referees).

So why is football so bad here, despite the number of people playing it? First, there is no proper national league. Instead, teams from Tobacco Monopoly, BEC Tero and Bangkok University, among others, contest the league. A national league was launched a few years ago but attendances were so low it stopped after one year – yet it offered genuine opportunities for people to support their home town teams. Perhaps Thais would prefer to support Manchester United instead.

Second, the players are not fit enough, both physically and mentally. Last night, the team played spiritedly enough in the first half but then faded in the second.

Third, inconsistent and short termist management. The coach and the coaching structure are relentlessly changed with no thought to long-term development. A few years ago, Peter Withe was in charge and was making real progress – then he was sacked because the FA refused to pay the rent for his apartment. Since then, regression, no matter who gets the chance to be in charge. Sven-Goran Eriksson would understand this.

No Coup This Weekend At Least

Well, we survived the weekend without another military coup but it was touch and go for a while. The problem continues to be the anti-democracy mob which wrongly calls itself the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). This group, which receives enormous support from the media, is holding the country to ransom. The group is led by convicted criminal Sondhi Limthongkul, who openly advocates removing the vote from the poor.

Bangkok witnesses plenty of protests and demonstrations throughout the year and life continues but this one is different – not because the mob is baying for democratically elected Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to resign but because certain people behind the scenes are using the mob to create tension and perhaps violence to provide a pretext for the military to step in again. The PM was (as is often the case) a little intemperate over the weekend and these remarks are being taken as a reason for intensifying demonstrations. So far, cool heads are prevailing and the mob is being left to sit in the rain for a while.

If ABACpoll is to be believed (and based on its track record that is a big ‘if’), the majority of residents believe not just that the situation will get worse. Also, 94% of people want peace to prevail in the country – who are these 6% people who do not want peace? What kind of a question is that anyway? Do you want peace to prevail in the country? No thanks, I’d rather there were violence and misery on a daily basis.


Khun Somchai Madeupname writes: Well, John, you work for Shinawatra University and Khun Thaksin pays your wages. Why should we believe anything you say?

Reply: well, Khun Somchai, I certainly do work for Shinawatra University but I have never had any interference with anything I want to say or to write – on the other hand, this is Thailand and everyone who works here has to practice a fair amount of self-censorship. I will certainly write what I think as much as I can but, from time to time, topics arise which it would be potentially dangerous to write about honestly and, in those cases, I will remain silent.