Poor Suffer Most from PAD

The courts have ruled that it is not defamatory to call someone either a criminal or a ‘ghost.’ Let’s try it out, shall we? So, you khun P….. Right.

A study by the UTCC forecasting unit projects losses of between 154-215 billion baht from the airport losses – although the situation is so volatile these numbers are subject to radical revision, I would have thought. More concretely, the tourism industry is set for enormous job layoffs in the first quarter of next year. Tourism was already very weak this year, given the continuing PAD problem, high oil prices earlier in the year and the ongoing financial crisis. Now it has plunged to disastrous depths.

Jobs in the tourism industry tend to be low-skilled and low-paid. They include hotel maids, drivers, restaurant waiting staff, travel agent assistants and the like. Anyone who has travelled around Thailand will know the importance of labour migration – people move from one part of the country (most commonly Isan) to another to find work. This leads to some equalization of supply and demand of jobs but also has the effect of suppressing wages overall because the migrants lack protection in the workplace and are often obliged to accept low wages, even below minimum wage levels. It was in part to help counter labour migration that the Thai Rak Thai administration introduced regional development programmes such as OTOP and village loans.

Why? Well, once the people lose their jobs, they must either return to rural poverty and under-employment (research showing that the unique kindness of Thai people in the aftermath of the 1997 crisis somehow overcame this problem has been contested, not least by me) or else will be vulnerable and more likely to enter into ‘risk-taking behaviour ‘ which, I hope, I do not have to spell out.

These are the people who most directly suffer from the far right PAD movement’s selfish and self-important actions –but then we already know what the right wing thinks about the poor in Thailand.

Update on Possible Coup or Police Action

Action seems set for tonight. There are numerous rumours of a coup and people claim to have seen tanks on the streets – an army source replies that they were Scorpions (a different kind of vehicle) and were just returning to barracks after a particularly badly timed exercise. In any case, many people were sent home early for work and people are bracing themselves.

PM Somchai has said there will not be a coup and he does not intend to remove army supremo General Anupong Paojinda and others – however, it seems most likely that a state of emergency will be (possibly already has) declared at the two airports and some authorities will be sent in to reclaim them. Police, presumably. 30 emergency crews have been prepared to deal with injuries.

IT seems the ASEAN Summit has already been cancelled or at least postponed – a conference I was due to speak at next January has just been cancelled (or, at least, etc). Suvarnabhumi will be closed until Saturday 6pm at least.

Illegal Airport Occupation Continues – Bloodshed Seems Increasingly Unavoidable

There has been no improvement overnight – the PAD remains in illegal occupation of Suvarnabhumi airport and have also forced the closure of Don Mueang. A few diplomats and officials are getting in and out via U Tapao military airport but thousands of passengers, mostly tourists, are stranded not just in Bangkok but across the country. Economically it is a disaster. Thousands of jobs will be lost and the poor and working class will of course suffer the most.

The likelihood of force being used to end the occupation increases by the hour – PAD ringleaders are refusing to obey court orders to leave the premises and refuse requests by the army chief to vacate the airport (although it is not clear exactly how much help PAD continues to receive from at least some factions in the military).

The government is obliged to do something to restore the rule of law – numerous foreign governments, including the EU, have called for non-violent means to resolve the situation but nevertheless said that the situation must be resolved. Many of the PAD’s useful idiot class seem quite happy to die as ‘martyrs.’ Bloodshed seems unavoidable (of course there are still gunfire and low level explosions going off – possibly by PAD elements to keep the temperature high).

No meeting between PM Somchai and HM the King has taken place, despite reports yesterday – perhaps no such meeting was ever scheduled or communication took place by telephone? Who knows how these things are managed? Well, someone presumably but not me.

PAD ringleaders continue to spout diatribes against the elected government and its supporters , including the most offensive insults. Whatever happens now and in the future, there are going to be thousands of people remaining who believe that this stuff is true and that the politicians really are the terrible people falsely portrayed by the demagogues. That is going to represent a serious threat to public order and security for years to come.

Thai Democracy and Rule of Law on a Knife Edge

I cannot see anything good coming out of this. Army chief General Anupong Paojinda has called upon the government to resign – let us hope Khun Somchai will remain resolute because dissolving parliament now would lead to chaos and, it seems likely, increased bloodshed on the streets. Looks like 18% of government budget plus being one of the most powerful people in the country is not enough for General Anupong to do his duty.

PM Somchai is back in the country, apparently and has gone to Chiang Mai. He was summoned for a meeting with HM the King but it will take him a while to get there, presumably. There is a bit of a lull at the moment – perhaps people are awaiting news of the meeting? I cannot imagine anything other than a personal meeting being suitable.

By the time I post again, I expect the PAD will be responsible for more deaths and misery.

What could happen? Impossible to imagine the PAD thugs just going home. Will some police/military unit loyal to the democratically-elected government clear out the PAD after tourists have been evacuated? Possible. Will nothing happen apart from a stand-off with a few bombs/beatings? Also possible?

Eventually the government is likely to have to call more elections, assuming that the recent trend of judicial decisions continues and the ruling parties are dissolved on some pretest (verdicts are due ‘in a few days or a few weeks’). The likelihood of being able to amend the Junta’s Constitution prior to that is receding.

Whatever happens, it will be worst for the poor and the workers, as most people well know.

Twitchers, Touts and the Slow March of Progress

I had a twitcher last night – a taxi driver who kept twitching his neck and shoulders and jerking his body about in a way that made me wonder whether he had self-medicated something to keep him going through a long shift. It is not impossible.

Taxi drivers come in all shapes and sizes – I once got in the cab to see a driver so fat he had difficulty reaching the steering wheel. Others seem to be incredibly old, especially the Sunday drivers who borrow a car for the day to make some extra money. They tend not to drive as fast as the regular guys. You can generally tell when a driver is a regular because his (rarely her but it is not impossible) photo on the dashboard matches his face.

Many of the drivers have migrated from Isan or other regions and, when they first arrive, their geography may not be the sharpest. But they soon learn. Many are sympathetic to Khun Thaksin and the pro-poor government and take a leading role in demonstrating in favour of democracy. Others are not – there are so many that generalization is not a good idea.

Now that the new airport has opened, the new taxi system is much better than at Don Mueang, although there are still plenty of touts in and outside. Now, there is a queuing system and people collect a ticket from the desk where they tell the people where they want to go. The ticket is then taken by the taxi controller and the next driver takes the passenger – there is no more of this haggling through an open window and refusing to take people where they want to go, although that does sometimes happen to me if I want to go home to Ladprao at rush hour. Most cars are reasonably new and clean. Only twice have I had someone try to cheat me coming back from the airport, both times by apparently fixing the meter either to trip too quickly or to register a longer distance than was actually travelled. Things are not perfect but they are, slowly, getting better.