Possible Worst Case Scenarios for Thailand

Now that the election has gone quite well, it should be noted that there are still some ways things could get nasty in Thailand.

The Return of Thaksin

For example, the winning Pheua Thai party, could bring back Thaksin to Thailand, giving him amnesty, and maybe even try to return part of the money seized from his fortune. If this happens, there’s a high likelihood that something would put Phuea Thai out of power. Could be a series of yellow shirt street protests (and the many colors they have adapted since), followed by a military coup, or other a “judicial coup”.

It pretty much depends on what Thaksin wants – if he can contend himself with pulling the strings from abroad, things could go well. The thing is, with a man like him, you never know.

The Elite Toppling Election Results

It’s no secret that the elite, the Democrat party, certain elements of the palace and the army aren’t happy with the election results. And some of them might just pull some strings that put Phuea Thai out of power.

The Democrats are currently trying to abolish the Pheua Thai party on legal grounds. To be more precisely, one Democrat member says Yingluck was cooking rice noodles during her campaign, and handing it out to her supporters, which would have been illegal.

But the Democrat party also recommended the Election Commission to abolish Phuea Thai because banned politicians (particularly Thaksin and Chaturon Chaiseng) participated in the campaign.

There are also other “plans of attack” how Phuea Thai could be ousted – and one might feel as if those who want them out of power are assembling a collection of trump cards that they can play out to undo the election results.

One main difference though is that Yingluck and many of the lawmakers around her aren’t executives this time – thus, they could reform a new government under a different party name (seems like someone thought ahead). Yet, before we get involved in subtle nuances of the law too deeply, we should remember that in Thailand “where there’s a will there’s a way” when it comes to those kinds of matters.

If this would happen, it would revive red shirt protests and escalate the conflict, probably to levels of violence.

Two kinds of stupid

Now both things – Thaksin returning, or abolishing Phuea Thai – would require probably an equal amount of stupidity and recklessness that could throw Thailand into mayhem.

The next Defense Minister

A lot of it depends on who will be the next defense minister, and who will be in charge of the military power in Thailand. One of the main reasons why the 2006 coup happened was because Thaksin was trying to fill up high military ranks with people loyal to him.

There are rumors of a secret deal being made between Thaksin, the army and the other one, and hopefully that will be the way things go – they find a way to share the pie without tearing the country to pieces.

Whereof We Can and Cannot Speak

The main reason why the aristocracy-establishment so hates Thaksin and his government cannot be mentioned – by the establishment because they refuse to admit that it exists.* Instead, refuge was taken in the Treason of the Intellectuals. In Thai Democracy in Crisis: 27 Truths, Chaturon Chaisang cites Kaewsan Atibodhi’s description of the so-called ‘Thaksin Regime,’ which supposedly had these characteristics (p.8):

“1) Hijack the constitution, amend or change it so that it works for the businesses you are interested in or provides hidden benefits for your own group. 2) Seduce people with a new capitalism so that they forget the nation and build a capitalist mainstream so that they forget the roots of their Thainess. 3) Defraud the nation through many uncorrected corruption problems and conducting secret businesses. 4) Put an end to peace in the country and instigate divisions in the nation.”

Although the slant of attacks is different, the methodology is roughly the same for the ways in which the extreme right is slandering President Barack Obama: he is accused of being a ‘Communist,’ a ‘socialist’ and a ‘Marxist’ (also simultaneously he is a ‘Nazi’) who has a secret plan to sell out the country and the soul of the country for the benefit of a shadowy and ill-intentioned conspiracy. He is also accused of failing to protect the American people by his foreign policy and, therefore, ending the ‘peace’ enjoyed under the previous administration. He is further accused of recklessly spending money with a view to causing long-term problems for the USA and of squandering the nation’s resources for his own aims. The similarity is marked.

Related tactics have been used in the effort to justify the military coup against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, with its talk of ‘criminal’ acts, ‘tyranny of the majority’ undermining democracy and the constitution and so forth.

* Of that whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must pass over in silence, or something like that. Good old Wittgenstein, eh?

The Level of Debate

It is happening slowly and, as economist say, from a low base, but the reporting on the political situation in Thailand is starting to become a little more sophisticated and accurate. Of course, there will still be plenty of lazy stories following the ‘red shirts are all Thaksin supporters’ nonsense still being peddled by discredited sources such as The Nation and the Abhisit regime. 

An article on the BBC website by Jonathan Head shows (about time) a willingness to penetrate the surface and actually speak to people outside of Bangkok. Their concerns are expressed and their relationship to political figures assessed. The absence of true democracy in Thailand is the principal reason why the poor are so frustrated by the elites and the Invisible Hand system.

This is not a simple rural-urban split either: many people in Bangkok are sympathetic to the need for fairness in the country and are not well-disposed to the Invisible Hand, which is now being characterised openly as led by the Privy Councillor Prem Tinsulanonda. Many more, of course, are migrant workers in Bangkok – holidays such as Songkran make it clear just how many migrants there are when the trains, buses and cars are full of people heading home to celebrate with their families. In some ways, they can be more disposed to support change than people in rural areas in the same way that inequality becomes more of a problem when people are forced on a daily basis to confront the injustice of the system. On the other hand, there are no doubt plenty of poor people who are willing to vote against their own best interests owing to Thailand’s version of the Culture Wars. Thai society is just as divided by different beliefs and ideologies as any other and, insofar as this is used as the basis of rational debate, is an entirely healthy thing. Ensuring that it is jaw-jaw and not war-war is the important issue. The government should be setting a better example.

Red, Yellow and Brown Frauds

Some 70,000 people dressed in red and descended on the Rajamangala Stadium to demonstrate their support for democracy. The good-natured and wholly peaceful crowd also had the opportunity to listen to a phoned in speech by exiled and ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who was said to be in Hong Kong for the purpose. Khun Thaksin spoke of the global financial crisis and Thailand’s part in it and also said he would not be able to return home for ten years unless there was mercy from the royal institution or ‘people’s power.’

It was all quite a contrast to the PAD mob’s illegal occupation of government house – PAD thugs shot another innocent unarmed individual overnight. The PAD mob and its celebrity sponsors can scarcely muster 10,000 useful idiots to parade in the streets these days – there is no doubt that the will of the people calls for democracy in Thailand.

PM Somchai Wongsawat has confirmed that the government is willing to hold talks with the PAD mob, with a view to ending the ongoing protests. PAD ringleaders appear to be divided over this – some will talk and some will not. One interesting story in the Bangkok Post yesterday described the Santi Asoke Buddhist sect – there are more than 10,000 of these brown-clad frauds, apparently. They have been expelled from the Sangha – the world body of Buddhist monks, which is the oldest social organization there is. Although they masquerade as Buddhist monks, they are not recognized as such in law and could be arrested and defrocked by police, although this is sadly unlikely to happen in the near future. The movement supports the PAD mob and a spokesperson has said: ”Thailand needs going back to that period of political upheaval in 1932 and starting its new democracy … It is not a backward move if we go back to the old system, living in the same way as the followers of the Buddha walking barefoot with no air-conditioning.” That’s exactly the kind of clear thinking we need to ward off the global financial crisis.

Thaksin Convicted of Acting as PM while being PM

It is illegal to criticize court decisions in Thailand and I am certainly not going to do so.

From the Bangkok Post:

The landmark verdict is quite significant in the sense that even if there is insufficient evidence to nail a political office holder on graft charges or malfeasance in office, the court can still fault the person in question for breach of political ethics in accordance with the anti-corruption law.”

So, the need for judges to have evidence in reaching a verdict is now definitively rejected (as it appeared to be in the case of the three lawyers who were thrown in jail during the disappearing million baht in a khanom box-gate – the judge said he saw the three lawyers talking so that meant there was a conspiracy).

These were the relevant decisions by the nine person panel of judges:

9-0 – The 1999 anti-corruption act is effective.

9-0 – Appointment of Assets Examination Committee is constitutional with authority to investigate cases.

9-0 – Financial Institutions Development Fund, the land seller, is a government agency.

6-3 – The prime minister has oversight of FIDF.

5-4 – Thaksin Shinawatra violated the 1999 anti-corruption act.

7-2 – Khunying Pojaman Shinawatra is not guilty and her arrest warrant will be cancelled.

7-2 – The Ratchadaphisek land plot and transaction money will not be confiscated.

9-0 – Thaksin is sentenced to a two-year jail term.

(Thanks to Bangkok Pundit for posting this – it comes from the vile Nation which makes me feel dirty just looking at the website these days.)

Interesting split decisions, especially given how the judges were selected for appointment and how they are recompensed. Charges against the Khunying were dropped on a 7-2 decision on the basis that she was not a government official – presumably the minority opinion was that she was a secret government official? Perhaps there was another explanation.

Gambling Prisoners Leads to Inactive Post; Crimes and Coups

Prison officer Withoon Promdee has been re-assigned to one of the notorious ‘inactive posts’ following the broadcasting of mobile phone camera footage of prisoners in the high security zone for which he was responsible playing cards. Gambling is suspected. Debate continues as to who took the footage and how it came to be broadcast in the way it was. An inactive post is exactly what it sounds like: the affected individual is given a desk and expected to obey office hours but must not actually do anything – no work, yes but also no reading the newspaper, chatting with friends. Just sit there being ‘inactive,’ at least so it has been explained to me. No doubt conditions vary.

Avoid, my friends, at the risk of sounding like repulsive hypocrite John McCain, avoid being sent to a Thai prison. No doubt, conditions vary.

Speaking of which, a raft of court activity is expected today and over the next few days. The Ratchadapisek land case verdict is expected for 2 o’clock today, while the Department of Special Investigations has recommended reopening the case against TPI PLC founder Prachai Leophairatana and relatives for embezzlement and former PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s lawyers will bring proceedings against convicted criminal and ringleader of the violent PAD mob Sondhi Limthongkul for repeated violations of a court order not to slander Khun Thaksin. Demonstrations are expected today by both pro- and anti-democracy protestors and probably will intensify after the ceremonies for the royal funeral are completed. It is more likely than not that violence will break out sooner or later, although the PAD mob did not attack the police again yesterday.

Army chief General Anupong Paojinda has moved to consolidate his power by having chosen protégés take over key military positions in Bangkok. Presumably this means that he has much more ability to control whether or not a military coup takes place in the capital and, hence, the whole country. It is generally believed that the other leading military officials have been trying to persuade General Anupong to launch a coup which he has so far declined to do.

Watch Out, Beware, Trust No 1 etc

It would probably be wise for foreign tourists to stay away from central Bangkok over the next few days and instead visit sunny Koh Somewhere. First there will be numerous traffic problems as a result of the funeral ceremonies for HRH Princess Galyani Wadhana, which will continue through the week. Then there is projected to be a meeting of various factions tomorrow, when the right wing PAD mob will (perhaps) be confronted with pro-democracy demonstrators from outside of Bangkok. There is due to be a verdict tomorrow concerning the Ratchadapisek land deal, which was brought on evidence-light terms (unless there is evidence that has not been brought into the public domain) against the wife of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and the man himself. Junta cronies spent so much time and money trying to scare up some evidence (any evidence for anything) against Khun Thaksin that there is a need to justify all of that work (not to mention the 2006 coup) by bringing in some guilty verdicts. Some dissent about the courts is beginning to emerge.

The anti-democracy movement is currently reported to be blocking traffic around Central World and handing out anti-police propaganda to passers-by – wonder who paid for all that? Convicted criminal Sondhi Limthongkul? Why have his assets not been frozen? Eh? Oh. There was some talk over the weekend by a senior police officer of seizing government house on Wednesday, after the funeral, and scattering the PAD mob which has illegally occupied it for some months. That might prove not to be such a good idea, we shall see how it turns out.

Meanwhile, in an in-no-way xenophobic scaremongering story, the Bangkok Post has identified a new threat: Latin American burglars. So, watch out for anyone wearing a sombrero, Zapatistas, Sven Goran Eriksson impersonators and other ethnic stereotypes.



Do these three leaders really have anything in common?

All three came to power as a result of innovative research techniques – the extensive use of focus groups to determine the response of different groups of people to various policy suggestions.

All three sought – with great electoral success – to bring together a broad coalition to install in power a set of core principles which had not been electorally popular before. In the USA, the Republican party has dominated presidential office throughout the twentieth century, while in the UK the Labour Party had not been in power since 1979. Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party brought together a very wide range of interests centred on the desire to enact pro-poor policies redistributing resources from Bangkok to the rural poor – a policy that had never been seriously implemented previously.

All three faced legal challenges by right wing opponents unable to defeat them electorally (Clinton was, disgracefully, impeached over the Lewinsky fiasco and huge amounts of money and time were spent trying to find something wrong in his personal dealings, Blair was faced by threats of war crimes and corruption that have also failed to produce substantive evidence, Thaksin has been placed under a court empowered by the military junta that ousted him).

All three were highly charismatic individuals who reached out to the public, occasionally over the heads of governmental institutions when they considered these to be obstructive – Clinton had to deal with the unpleasant Gingrich factions that controlled much of government, Blair was impatient with many British institutions, Thaksin too had those problems which led of course to the military coup when he tried to make institutions such as the army subject to civilian rule.

Clinton left office very popular and was succeeded by Al Gore who failed to get elected. Blair was succeeded by Gordon Brown who seems set to lead the Labour Party to a disastrous defeat. Thaksin’s successor – discounting the disastrous junta regime of General Surayud – was Samak Sundaravej who has been removed from office by a court decision, although he did lead the PPP to electoral success.

Clinton-Blair-Thaksin- their enemies loathe them with irrational intensity.

Policies Not Personalities – with Thai Characteristics

Former PM, as we must now refer to him, Samak Sundaravej has apparently withdrawn his name for re-nomination and hopes to stand down from leadership of the PPP. This is unfortunate, not for the sake of Khun Samak himself who can be replaced (and whose personal politics are not edifying) but because it represents another blow against the people’s clearly expressed will and gives more heart to the right wing PAD thugs, who will accept nothing less than the disenfranchisement of the rural poor and working classes.

The broad coalition established by Thaksin Shinawatra to enable electoral victory for the Thai Rak Thai party was always going to fray over the course of time – seven years of electoral success is unprecedented in Thailand and unusual for many countries. Initially, it contained policy-makers who had previously supported the Communist movement in the 1970s alongside the domestic capitalist class and representatives of the labour movement. It was inevitable that there would be internal conflict between some of these sectors over the issues of globalization, free trade agreements and privatization, among other issues. That is the very stuff of politics and (thinking optimistically) it represented opportunities for representatives of different sectors to frame their positions logically and clearly and establish new settlements for the mutual benefit of each – this is easily and often unfairly characterised as politicians just being in it for themselves and out for what they can get.

However, it is that coalition which enabled the establishment for the first time ever of a policy platform that was pro-poor and pro-redistribution in nature. It was not perfect but it was better than before and has now become a central part of Thai politics. The central political issue of the day is whether this pro-poor policy position remains in force or will be allowed to dissipate – which is what would happen with a so-called ‘government of national unity’ – or disappear forever, which is what the right-wing PAD mob is committed to achieving.

People come and go – policies are what really matter.  

Judges Obeying Their Nature Is No Story

It is the nature of a dog, as Aristotle observed, to bark. It is not surprising, therefore, that it is the nature of a right wing judge to make decisions in line with their beliefs. Hence, having recently written the junta’s constitution, the judges of the Constitutional Court have ruled that democratically-elected Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej must resign because of his TV cookery show, since they deemed him to be an employee of a corporation and, hence, subject to conflict of interest issues.

Coalition MPs have promised to back Khun Samak for re-nomination but the press is still in a ferment for secret plots and conspiracies and who is it going to be next? As ever, ‘academics’ and ‘business executives’ have been found to claim that Samak must never return – in fact, three have been found to support this claim, one of whom is a faculty member of the dismal science at Chulalongkorn University and whose opinion may be judged accordingly. Having spent some time interviewing international business executives, I can reveal that they never stop complaining about one thing or another.

The Bangkok Post gets itself into a bit of a twist by trying to claim that a 0.3% drop in the SET yesterday was caused by fear of the return of Khun Samak to PM. Does that also explain this morning’s decline – or is it loss of confidence in the market because we no longer appear to have a Prime Minister – or is some international factor responsible – or is the movement of a stock exchange subject to an enormously wide range of factors many of which cannot be accurately predicted?

From a personal point of view and setting aside all the important issues, this all does reduce the psychological stress that I and my colleagues, who also work for one of Khun Thaksin’s institutions, for the rest of the world to start to realize what is going on here. Cheap jibes in the press are not the sticks and stones which may break my bones of course but they can have an effect on morale. For that reason, I was also quite pleased to see the Abu Dhabi guys take over at Man City.

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?