Treated Like Mushrooms


Here is the Thai way of doing things: step 1, denounce the actions of previous political leader as corrupt, immoral, demonic etc. Step 2. Cancel contracts legally entered into by previous regimes on the basis that they are corrupt, immoral etc. Step 3. Pretend that there is no need to compensate contract partners who have been cheated out of their money. Step 4: After a few weeks when things have died down a bit, bring back the original scheme in as close to an exact replication as possible except that, this time, it is honest and good-intentioned and everybody will be happy. And so to the meat puppet’s new scheme to run an alternative online government lottery … I wonder whether they (the establishment) really think we will not notice this or whether they really do have such contempt for the people they just don’t care.

Wild Gaur Gores Three, Is Barbecued; Court Starts the Same Way


Finance Minister Dr Surapong Suebwonglee has ruled out a reduction in VAT from the current 7% to 3%, on the basis that the government has made a number of changes in the tax system already and had decided to postpone increasing VAT to 10% for at least another two years. However, it is not clear how much longer Dr Surapong will be in his job after the latest extraordinary decision by the Supreme Court to proceed with the junta’s case against the democratically-elected government’s policy on the lottery.

It has been quite difficult to work out what the Cabinet and so many other top officials are supposed to have done wrong in this case but the end of this story provides some not very clear details. The junta’s Asset Scrutiny Committee (now disbanded) has apparently provided sufficient evidence to convince the Court that there is a case to answer – although I have not seen what evidence there is. Ministers involved have uniformly denied doing anything wrong – indeed, there is something curious about trying to prosecute a democratically-elected government with enacting a policy that it would seem to have had every right to do so – however, no doubt there are intricacies in the law which escape first inspection and the junta’s proxies perhaps have scared up some sort of evidence. Still, this is how it works.

Meanwhile, in Cambodia, a rare wild gaur has gored three people, one of them seriously – before dropping dead, apparently of exhaustion. The ‘rare but angry bovine’ emerged from the scrub, startling the villagers, most of whom had never seen such a thing before – they are large and frightening looking things. Police suspect that the gaur had, subsequently, been reassigned to dinner duties. It is not hard to imagine that there is in reality slightly more to this story than immediately meets the eyes.

Yala Murders; Hmong Repatriations; Lottery Arguments


Three people have been shot dead and five more wounded when terrorists opened fire on a tea-house in Yala. M-16 and AK-47 rifles were apparently used in the shooting, undertaken by two men on the back of a pick-up truck. More than 3,000 people have now been killed in the insurgency since weapons were stolen from an army base in 2004. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has blamed the army for blocking an enquiry into the death of Imam Yapa Koseng. So many people have been killed, according to the Rights group, that there should be some strong evidence in some cases at least and this would be an opportunity for the army leadership to show its good faith. It has, consequently, failed to do so. The army launched a military coup in 2006 and many people have been killed and disappeared over the years without prosecutions being brought.

215 Hmong people will be repatriated to Laos on a more or less voluntary basis. UN observers seem to have found the treatment provided by Thai authorities acceptable, although the Hmong did burn down their own shelters the other day in a protest against their treatment. Many of the Hmong fear (with some justification) persecution by the Pathet Lao government for having fought on the side of the US in the Second Indochinese War (as we are going to call the Vietnam War here).

More controversy about the lottery: hundreds of ticket vendors have been protesting in front of the Finance Ministry concerning new arrangements and Minister Surapong Suebwonglee has promised to look into it all again. The vendors make their money as intermediaries in the sale of tickets, wandering from place to place with the wooden folders of tickets around their necks. People buy two tickets for 100 baht, when their actual cost is 80 baht but pay the extra because the vendors come to them and because they can choose the numbers they like. It was a previous attempt to regulate the lottery properly that has been used as one of the nuisance charges brought by the junta-appointed Asset Scrutiny Committee to try to persecute democratically-re-elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Superstition Trumps Rationality


Former Prime Minister has urged people to be patient in the current climate and that the situation will improve when Mars leaves the vicinity of Saturn. It is the closeness of the two planets, apparently, that is causing so much of the trouble the Kingdom is currently facing. A well-known astrologer, Khun Luck Rekhanitade has, meanwhile, announced his own prophecy of the future, which includes the fact that July 2nd this year will be the scariest day of the last thirty years and that there is likely to be violence in Bangkok which will reach a peak on the 6th of the month.

It is all too common for Thais (and politicians from the rest of the region) to place their faith in magic and superstition of all sorts. Khun Thaksin was among those who visited a certain Cambodian monk who had a reputation for magic and the sudden disappearance of some high-profile statues from the front of buildings has been attributed to the preachings of such monks. The junta, during the recent disastrous dictatorship, regularly flew off here and there to consult with whoever they thought would tell them they were doing a good job. Luckily it has not reached the extent of Burma, where one former leading general had the currency denominated in multiples of 87, since he believed that was his lucky number. Even so, nearly every politician is either willing to seek magical help or permit being shown doing so in the media. Superstition of this sort is closely linked to religion here.

My wife has a cousin who owns a house in Bangkok but was posted to work in the south. To deter burglars, he installed an anti-theft system which would turn on the lights in the evening and turn them off again in the morning. When he returned from his duty, he was rather surprised to find incense and offerings of food to the house, since neighbours believed it was haunted and could, potentially, reveal the secrets of the lottery.

The True Spirit of Euro 2008 Emerges


At least some of the Thai people have embraced the true spirit of Euro 2008 and have opened betting schemes. 99 people have been arrested for illegal gambling activities, although the amount of cash apparently recovered seems a little low. Thais, to generalize, love gambling and there are all kinds of ways in which they can seek to gain instant fortune. Young people are starting even younger, if this research is to be believed. A few years ago, when football was shown on the television people could text in to predict the final score and the man of the match (they don’t show women’s football) – there would be a lucky draw from those who predicted correctly and the winner would receive a new mobile telephone or a buffalo or something. This has all now been stopped because it promotes gambling and, for reasons it would take too long to explain here, we are currently going through a moralistic phase in society, in public at least.

No doubt we will shortly start seeing newspaper stories blaming late night football watching for students falling asleep in class, being disrespectful to parents and teachers and having sex with each other. By this time next week, I would have thought.

Anyway, people use all kinds of pretexts to gamble. Any time a famous person is hospitalized, for example, people try to find out the room number in the hospital concerned and use that number for the lottery. People will use the date on which people die as another message from heaven or just about anything which can be even loosely construed as a sign (it is, incidentally, a bad tactic to follow, assuming that these messages are not genuine because if then umber does come up, you have to share the winnings with all the other people who followed the same sign. Then again, reasons for certain numbers cropping up are often difficult to understand. This is Thailand).