Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cultural Centre team resigns in protest

A 125 million dollar project starts off with the usual squabbling among committee members before the first bids are in. Worse than toddlers.

All five committee members in charge of a Bt5.8-billion project to turn the Thailand Cultural Centre into a comprehensive cultural complex have resigned in an apparent protest against interference by Acting Culture Minister Surakiart Sathirathai.

Pao Suwansaksri, the dean of Chulalongkorn University's faculty of architecture, yesterday said he and four others submitted their resignations to Surakiart last Friday.

"We are upset by changes to the project criteria as well as the committee," Pao said.

He was joined by Architects Council board member Prof Decha Boonkham; Group Captain Avudh Ngernchuklin; Associate Professor Pinyo Suwankhiri; and the dean of Silpakorn University's architecture faculty, Wasit Imsaengjan.

Last Wednesday, Surakiart removed Pornsek Kanjanajaree, the vice minister for culture, as the project's chairman and added members to the committee.

The move came despite the fact the committee had met on February 20 to review proposals submitted by bidders.

Surakiart, who also serves as deputy premier, took over the helm of the Culture Ministry after Uraiwan Thienthong resigned from the Cabinet on February 3.

In a related development, the Culture Ministry's deputy permanent secretary, Kriangkrai Sampachalit, said the announcement of three finalists for the project would be postponed from yesterday until March 27.

He said the project had attracted 20 bidders.

Rapid bus service runs out of steam

The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service, a pet project of Bangkok Governor Apirak Kosayodhin, is likely to flop due to several setbacks, especially the lack of money, demand and governmental support, a city official said yesterday.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is planning to shelve the Bt2.7-billion project and blame the government for its lack of support and deliberate delay in granting an operating licence, the BMA source said. [ed. typical-- blaming the central gov when the BMA itself is at least 6 months late on the initial planning stage, see below]

The BMA's Traffic and Transport Department has been assigned to plan the exit strategy. [ed. ironic]

The source was referring to the initial findings of a meeting of officials at the Traffic and Transport Department and divisions under the BMA's Public Works Department on Wednesday. Apirak's secretary Sukij Kong-thorranin called the meeting.

Officials agreed it would be difficult to persuade motorists to switch to the BRT, the source said. The BRT was one of Apirak's most high-profile campaign pledges. Its goal was to cut traffic congestion.

Under the plan, special buses would run on the lane beside the median strip of certain streets. Unlike city buses, the BRT buses would have doors on the right to allow passengers to board and get off at stops on the median strips. [dropping passengers in the middle of the road? does that sound like a good idea?]

Traffic Police, however, complained that the loss of one lane to the BRT would only worsen traffic congestion while the BMA has yet to decide whether to buy or lease the first batch of BRT buses. [ed. good idea, block 1 out of 3 lanes on Bangkok's busiest roads]

The first two routes - Nawamin-Kasetsart roads and Chong Nonsee-Ratchaphruek roads - were to open last October.
[typical -- late as hell and planning stage not even completed]

The Highways Department, which oversees the Nawamin-Kasetsart route, was reluctant to support the BRT project because the median strip on this route supports columns for a section of a raised expressway that is being built.

Officials were afraid that BRT commuters could be injured or killed by falling debris during the expressway's construction. [ed. very likely, at least they thought of that, uinlike when the skytrain was being built and people died from falling debris on sukhumwit]

The Interior Ministry, which supervises the BMA, recently issued a directive asking it to put the BRT project on hold while it consults other government agencies on the BMA request to obtain a permanent operating license for the BRT service.

The BMA source also said Sukij was satisfied with progress on the extension of the Skytrain's Silom route from Sathorn Road on the Phra Nakhon side to Taksin Road on the Thon Buri side. [ed. not open and no projected date for completion]

The 2.2-kilometre elevated railway viaduct was built solely with the BMA funding.

Jeerawan Prasomsap

The Nation

Poll boycott threatens to polarize Thai society

from The Nation:

the telecom tycoon-turned-politician is the embodiment of the worst possible malady that could afflict a fledgling democracy like Thailand. An autocratic leader who bankrolled his way to the highest political office by pandering to the unprincipled wants and needs of the attention-deficient, politically apathetic masses, who then proceeded to maximise personal gain at the expense of public interest.

The Thai middle class were mostly asleep at the wheel during the last election but now it is becoming very much en vogue to blame the rural poor for supporting Thaksin. While it is true that the mentality of country bumpkins has always acted as a brake on Thailand's development, what has the childlike and greedy Thai middle class done to encourage a renaissance in the provinces? Without education and sustainable income it is ridiculous to expect these people to evolve. But Bangkok office workers just want cheap rice. So now they might have to deal with farmers marching on Bangkok in support of the only prime minister who has ever done anything for them.

boycott may nullify new Thai poll

From The Nation:

If the opposition parties, which have flip-flopped over the past two days regarding the boycott plan, manage to stand their ground, Thaksin's crisis will reach epic proportions. Since every MP is legally required to be elected by at least 20 per cent of voters in his or her constituency, there is a good chance the April 2 snap election will not produce 500 MPs, as required by the Constitution. Whether an "incomplete" House of Representatives can elect the next prime minister could become a big constitutional issue.

The Democrats' strong support in the South make it very likely that, if the ruling Thai Rak Thai Party decides to go ahead with the poll unchallenged, it won't get the much-needed 20 per cent backing for many of its candidates. The same might also happen in some Bangkok constituencies.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Thai education officials waste time on regressive policies that do nothing to further education in Thailand

Only in Thailand would a ban on gay university students actually go into effect for a full year, only to be disbanded with a lame excuse like "we used the wrong word in our regulation, it was an accident, and since it was an accident nobody's human rights were trifled with."

They let this rule run for an entire year, banning gay students from enrolling, until the school simply couldn't take the heat anymore. The technique used to deny accountability after the fact (i.e., "blame-it-on-the-paper") is as dishonest and disgraceful as it is commonly Thai. Most people would be appalled to hear a small child utter such inanity and these are two grown men in charge of one of the larger university systems in Thailand.


The Rajabhat Institute, which operates 36 Thai teacher colleges,has lifted its year-old ban on gay students, "apparently under pressure from foreign ... non-governmental organizations," reported the Bangkok Post.

But the institute simultaneously proposed a new rule banning "sexually abnormal" people. Rajabhat Council member Wanlop Piyamanotham said sexual abnormalities include copulation with inanimate objects, exposing oneself in public and deriving pleasure from sadomasochistic acts.

The earlier gay ban resulted from a misunderstanding of the nature of sexual deviance, Wanlop said.

"The institute misunderstood and used the wrong word," he said. "That's why it seems to violate human rights. The best way is to single out sexually abnormal people."

To do that, the institute will use a sexual-abnormality screening test that Wanlop claimed was developed by the World Health Organization.

"Sexual deviants are not always sexually abnormal," he said. "Sexual abnormality is worse. They can't be good teachers -- they're emotionally abnormal."

Comments on the proposed new policies can be e-mailed to Mr. Sukavich Rangsitpol, Minister for Education and Chairman of the Rajabhat Institutes Council Ministry of Education, at; and Mr. Charoon Choolarp, Secretary General of the Rajabhat Institutes Council, at Both men can be reached by fax at 011-66-2-282-9241.

iTV false reporting provokes backlash

9:57 pm: ASTV reports that some 10 border patrol policemen are deployed to keep law and order at the iTV station head office at the Shinawatra 2 building.

Now put that on the news.

crowd counting at anti-Thaksin rally, ITV told to go home

from The Nation's 'live' covergage of the Feb 26 anti-Thaksin rally

6:50 pm: The number of demonstrators is estimated at over 50,000, occupying about half of 68-rai area of Sanam Luang.

7:30 pm: Some demonstrators surround a TV crew from iTV station after the reporter announces on its Camera that there are only 6,000 demonstrators. Samran Rodphet, a spokesman, asks the crowds to be calm so the demonstrators allow the iTV crew to retreat from its coverage area in front of the Emerald Buddha Temple and asks the station not to cover the rally.

No surprise as Thailand's government controlled television stations continue to ignore or downplay the massive anti-government protest here in Bangkok, execpt when something negative happens (asin the case of a small electrical fire) then they tune in and give it coverage beyond all belief:

8:20 pm:
A power generator of the protest organiser catches fire. The fire is broadcast live on Channel 9 and 7. The fire is brought under control quickly.

Voter education in Thailand must continue so that the people (esp. the rural population) are no longer simple-minded enough to fall for these tactics.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Opposition parties consider extraordinary boycott of election

excerpts from an unusually good editorial in today's The Nation:

The Democrat, Chat Thai and Mahachon parties said they would decide today whether to boycott the election.


With money politics continuing to be the name of the game, the table is tilted heavily in favour of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party, which possesses an unparalleled electoral war chest. The widely held perception that the Election Commission cannot be relied on to ensure free and fair elections must also be one of the determining factors.


Thaksin must have thought that he had it all figured out when he took the calculated risk of dissolving the House of Representatives to pave the way for a snap election. He fully expected that he and his ruling Thai Rak Thai Party would be returned to power again with an ample parliamentary majority.

He may well be right given the broad-based popularity that he continues to enjoy among the uncritical, politically apathetic masses, who have acquired a taste for instant gratification thanks to the Thai Rak Thai Party's populist policies.

But Thaksin could not be more wrong if he thinks that scoring another major victory at the polls will absolve his many transgressions against the nation's democracy committed during the previous five years, or help him regain his legitimacy to rule. Yet that appears to be what the incumbent prime minister is thinking.


There is a better alternative to boycotting the election: an impartial caretaker government that could first implement political reforms through constitutional amendments with broad-based participation by the public. Then we could proceed to free and fair elections.

Watchdogs anticipate "dirtiest election in history"

from today's The Nation:

Corruption Watch, Poll Watch and other oversight groups vowed yesterday to tightly scrutinise campaigning for the April 2 general election amid fears of the biggest vote buying spree in history.

At a press conference, Poll Watch Foundation for Democracy and the People's Network for Elections in Thailand said they would join forces with the new PNET Task Force to monitor electioneering for 50 days until after the Senate election on April 19.

Saiyud Kerdphol, vice president of Poll Watch, said PNET anticipated the election would go down as the dirtiest on record but it would do its best to catch graft and abuses of authority, particularly since the public lacked trust in the Election Commission's ability to conduct elections fairly.

PNET volunteer coordinator Somchai Srisutthiyakorn condemned Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's decision to dissolve the House and call a poll as it was not made with a democratic conscience but with the aim of gaining a political advantage.

The task force would hold a policy debate among political party leaders at Thammasat University on March 24, he said.

Corruption Watch Group held a separate press conference pledging to also monitor the election.

The group would check on candidates' finances and their freedom to appear in the media, the benefits given to civil servants, and the caretaker government's use of authority, especially during the last 30 days, said Warakorn Samkoset, rector of Dhurakijpundit University.

Tortrakul Yomnak, president of the Engineers Society of Thailand, said his group, the Auditor-General's Office and other agencies would look out for sweetheart deals like concession approvals or any contracts made in exchange for favours.

They would work harder in the final week prior to the election - proven to be the most likely time for corruption, he said. In the last three days, the group would air bulletins on ThaiTV 2 every day from 10pm-11pm.

Network member Narong Piriyaanek predicted the media would be totally under the influence of a certain party [ed. Thai Rak Thai - the ruling party, since most TV stations are government owned], while Weera Somkwamkid questioned the EC for setting the election date on April 2, which was too early and gave the government the upper hand.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Thaksin dissolves parliament calls snap election for April 2

some snippets from The Nation

PM puts semblance of faith in democracy

On the surface, [dissolving Parliament] appears to be the best option. Since the whole political crisis revolves around one man, why not have a public referendum about him?

Why not have the Thai people decide whether Thaksin....should continue to rule? Is there a fairer or more democratic solution...?

Thailand's political reality is much more complicated than that. The present trouble stems from Thaksin's exploitation of a badly weakened system to maximise gains at the expense of fair play and democratic principles. Even his bitterest foes admit there is no way to challenge Thai Rak Thai in the snap election, scheduled for April 2. This somehow represents one big irony: in fearing his return through an election, democracy advocates - most of whom have become Thaksin's sworn enemies - are doubting the very power of democracy itself.

As for Thaksin, it's a desperate, risky and yet tricky move. Often taunted as democracy's worst enemy, he has tried to put an expanding alliance, hell-bent on toppling him in a rather awkward situation.

He attempted to blur the line between being a defender of democratic values and its destroyer. Last night's message was designed to portray a prime minister who wants to play by the rules but is harassed by rivals who don't respect them.

Some truths were missed though. First things first, the supposedly pro-democracy speech failed utterly to recognise the rights of those who had justifiably questioned his legitimacy by voicing their resentment through public protests. He called them a mob, a bad element trying to bring down an elected administration, without mentioning the reason why the growing movement of middle class citizens, intellectuals, activists and students so badly want him out of office.

The speech was peppered with words brought straight from the dictionary of past military strongmen: "provocation", "infiltration", "possible violence" and "third party".

He failed to mention that the previous two major gatherings at the Royal Plaza were perfectly peaceful, despite the largest turn-outs since the 1992 May Crisis. The protesters were all but described as troublemakers whom a very patient government could not reason with.

Strategically, Thaksin has in effect abandoned Bangkok, whose voters will most likely switch back to the Democrats in the snap election. In other words, he has cut loose Thai Rak Thai Bangkok MPs in a bid to save himself, or, even less nobly, buy more time as the House dissolution is by no means an end to the national crisis.

The April 2 poll won't resolve two key issues: the controversial Shin Corp take-over and the urgent need for political reform. His likely triumph will mean a nightmarish deja vu of conflict of interest, policy corruption, destruction of checks and balances and the deterioration of political morals.

All his opponents can hope for after the election is a shaky Thaksin government that can be knocked out in one punch, if the opposition has enough parliamentary strength to censure him directly. But it seems the present alliance doesn't want to wait until that day. They want to end it at Sanam Luang, whether or not it will be perceived as compromising democratic principles.

To the alliance, Thaksin came to power at the expense of those principles to begin with. To put it bluntly, if a leader who once declared "democracy is not my goal" is to be neutralised in a somewhat undemocratic manner, it sounds like fair deal.

Two major problems of Thai democracy:

1) unchecked vote fraud in the provices (many newspapers ran stories last election of direct payouts to villagers of 400-600 baht each for pulling the lever for TRT). It was commonly known, reported by some, and disputed by none. When Thai Rak Thai was on a roll, it did not feel it even had to respond to such allegations. Calls for an inquiry went nowhere.

The million baht village fund and other ludicrous handouts were also deployed to ensure provincial support.

2) procedural rules which prevent potential candidates from running if they have not been affiliated with a specific political party for 90 days prior to the election. This keeps current MPs from switching sides and contesting the upcoming snap election under a different party banner.

King now asked to intervene in Orangutan case Thailand

Photo of Orangutans at Safari World Bangkok 2004-- an endangered specie snatched from the jungle and forced to perform in some kind of 'Thai kickboxing' show for gullible tourists. Really illustrates the cretinous mentality so common here.

letter appearing in The Nation:

While bureaucrats shuffle their feet, endangered apes are left to die in Thailand

The article on the confiscated orang-utans shows that many people worldwide are still following the case of the smuggled apes, although within Thailand there seems to be hardly any interest in this scandal. [ed. little surprise there-- Thais are notoriously blase about human and animal rights issues ] This case is considered the world’s biggest illegal wildlife case involving great apes. It has been almost two years since the owner of Safari World confessed to the illegal possession of the orang-utans to the commander of the Forestry Police, Major-General Sawaek Pinsinchai, and almost 1,000 days since the initial raid on Safari World [ed. in Bangkok].

It is a complete mystery as to what will happen to the confiscated apes. Will they be returned to Indonesia as stipulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) of which Thailand is a signatory; or will they end up in substandard zoos around the country to attract visitors? Strangely enough, five have recently been “borrowed” by the Chiang Mai Night Safari and another five given to the Lop Buri Zoo.

Soon, there will be only a few, if any, left to repatriate; over the last two years, more than 22 of the 75 orang-utans have died or disappeared from both Safari World and wildlife slaughterhouses in Saraburi and Sai Noi district of Nonthaburi.

The deputy-general of the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants (DNP) claims to be working closely with his Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts on this matter, yet the Cites office in Jakarta says they posted their demand to return the apes more than a year ago and have received no response, despite issuing import permits for repatriation.

Over the past 10 years, the illegal trade in wildlife has grown exponentially throughout Thailand. DNP and forestry officials have been aware for several years that Safari World was collecting orang-utans in large numbers and did not act on any complaints. Her Majesty the Queen asked for a crackdown on the illegal wildlife trade on her birthday, August 12, 2003, following which Maj-General Sawaek undertook a raid on the zoos and slaughterhouses, uncovering this scandal further. Yet in late 2004, the director-general of the DNP informed the Forestry Police commander that he felt no laws had been broken, and the orang-utans should stay with Safari World. If more time is lost, help will be too late for the orang-utan babies.

[ed. it should be noted that after the initial raid on Safari World, 41 of 110 orangutans 'disappeared' and were claimed dead by the parks' owner. It is presumed that they were killed or moved to prevent DNA testing which would have conclusively established their Indonesian origin and illegal importation by Safari World into Thailand]

Edwin Wiek

Director and founder, Wildlife Friends of Thailand; Thailand representative, cross-border trade in orang-utans, Borneo Orang-utan Survival Foundation


Monday, February 20, 2006

Thaksin calls 'extraordinary' joint session of parliament to answer allegations

PM scurries to restore trust in joint session

The government will convene an extraordinary session of Parliament in response to the threat from veteran politician Chamlong Srimuang to bring a massive group of supporters to the next anti-Thaksin rally.

Government Spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee said yesterday the Cabinet agreed during a two-hour meeting at the residence of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that it would ask the Parliament’s president to convene a special joint session of the two chambers.

The spokesman said the government would use the session to listen to the nation’s problems and address the crisis that has besieged the administration.

Surapong said Thaksin held

a special Cabinet meeting last night to discuss the political situation.

“The Cabinet discussed the current situation as the government is under attack, causing inaccurate reports and misunderstanding among the public,” Surapong said.

“Some news has been distorted, so the Cabinet resolved to hold a special meeting.”

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the public was being misled and the special session could find measures to re-establish trust with the electorate.

He said the Cabinet agreed that a special parliamentary session, to be held early next month, would be the solution.

Wissanu said the government had held special sessions to discuss the situation in the restive South.

A source at the meeting said the prime minister proposed holding the extraordinary session and shared his interpretation of the breakdown in his relationship with Chamlong.

The source said that Thaksin said Chamlong had always seen the premier as his inferior. In the past, Chamlong had asked for financial support many times. “Sometimes Thaksin refused and that might be the reason why Chamlong got angry,” they said.

The session is being called under Section 213 of the Constitution, which says a prime minister can call such a debate during a crisis, when comments from both chambers are required.

A source said yesterday’s announcement by Chamlong to join the anti-Thaksin movement had increased pressure on the prime minister.

Thaksin hoped the offer of a special session would stifle the growth of the movement against him, the source said.

All Cabinet members attended the meeting at Thaksin’s house, except Tourism and Sports Minister Pracha Maleenont.

Piyanart Srivalo

The Nation

Watchdog investigates alleged disclosure violations in Shin Corp deal

Commission follows offshore trail of Shin trading, says still no explanation for apparent disclosure violations

As the Securities and Exchange Commis-sion (SEC) pieces together the puzzle of who really owned the Shin Corp Plc shares moved around by offshore agents, the finger increasingly points to violations of disclosure laws by the prime minister’s children.

“We have contacted the custodians and asked them to confirm their holdings of Shin shares. They also have to clarify if they traded Shin shares,” SEC secretary-general Thirachai Phuvanart-naranubala told a press conference yesterday.

Within a week, the watchdog should have the answer on the movements of Shin’s stock among the custodians’ holdings, he said after a SEC board meeting at which the investigation was reported. Finance Minister Thanong Bidaya, who is the SEC chairman, was absent from the meeting.

The Democrat Party earlier asked on whose behalf did Vickers Ballas & Co, a Singaporean stockbroker, and UBS Bank Singapore Branch, a custodian, conduct transactions in Shin shares between themselves and with the Shinawatra family’s Ample Rich Investments Co Ltd.

The Thai telecom holding company was recently taken over by Temasek Holdings of Singapore.

Back in August 30, 1999, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra sold 32.92 million Shin shares at Bt10 apiece to Ample Rich, incorporated in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. But in July 21, 2000, Ample Rich’s Shin stake was reduced by 10 million shares to 22.92 million shares. The 10 million shares showed up in Vickers Ballas’s account. Vickers Ballas was also found to have bought 1.56 million Shin shares from July 21 to September 1.

The Democrats found that Vickers Ballas held the 11.56 million Shin shares for only eight months before the broker’s name disappeared from the authorities’ share registration record.

Subsequently, a company referred to as Ample Rich (“English”) in a Thai document and UBS AG Singapore Branch emerged on the scene. In April 10, 2001, Ample Rich (“English”) held 10 million Shin shares, while UBS AG Singapore Branch had 5.4 million.

Last week Suvarn Valaisathien, the Shinawatra family’s lawyer, said Ample Rich had never traded the Shin shares but admitted that it had used Vickers Ballas of Singapore as a broker to hold the shares, before changing to UBS Singapore Branch for custodial services.

He also issued a statement denying the existence of a second Ample Rich. On Tuesday, Thanong said there was only one Ample Rich.

Democrat MP Korn Chatikavanij said yesterday that, as a brokerage, Vickers Ballas trades stocks, while UBS Singapore Branch is a custodian.

“Are they custodians? By their behaviour, they are not,” he said. If they were the names of the investors who parked their shares with the brokers would be disclosed to the Thailand Securities Depository Co Ltd and not recorded in the names of the brokers, he explained.

The SEC’s tracing of the transaction trail could clear up outstanding questions. If Vickers Ballas is a custodian, why did it receive only 10 million Shin shares, and not all the 32.9 million shares that Ample Rich owned? And if UBS is a custodian, why in 2001, did it inform the SEC that it bought 10 million shares from Ample Rich at Bt179 per share? A custodian’s job is limited to storing an investor’s shares in the investor’s name.

“In what capacity did Vickers Ballas and UBS act and whom did they serve? If they served the Shinawatra family, the beneficial owner must be Panthongtae. Then, it is worth asking where he got the money to buy those shares [from Ample Rich] and to where the proceeds from selling the shares went. Is there proof that the money was really wired to Panthongtae’s account?” Korn asked.

The SEC said that aside from reaching a conclusion on the custodians’ role, next week it would also rule on the number of firms named Ample Rich involved in the deals and whether Panthongtae and his sister Pinthongta ignored tender offer requirements.

“It is not yet determined if both companies are a single entity. There is also a possibility that they [Panthongtae and Pinthongta] breached the law [Article 246]. If they are found breaching the law, they will be fined,” Thirachai said.

The SEC demands a public filing for every ownership change of five percentage points in a listed company. Violators are subject to a fine of Bt500,000 plus Bt10,000 a day from the day the offence was committed. As both failed to report the ownership change in 2000, the accrued penalties are estimated at about Bt20 million. Thaksin’s wife Pojaman was fined Bt6 million for a similar offence.

Earlier this month the SEC cleared the two children of insider-trading allegations tied to the Shin Corp sale.

The SEC probe comes at a crucial time when senators and the opposition are delving into Thaksin’s involvement with Ample Rich. The Constitution Court will today decide whether it will rule on the senators’ claim that, because of his control over Ample Rich, Thaksin is no longer qualified to be prime minister.

Siriporn Chanjindamanee

The Nation

Thaksin has a record of promising much, delivering little


Letter from today's The Nation:

PM has a record of promising much, delivering little

About 10 years ago there was an up-and-coming politician. He claimed he would get rid of Bangkok’s traffic jams within six months. He gave the “best police station” Bt50,000 each month. They must have thought he was joking. That was just a drop in their petty-cash box compared to their “unofficial” income. After those six months he hadn’t achieved even a minuscule improvement, but of course he had known that would be the result. It was important only that the people wanted to believe him. Now what can you expect from a politician who came up with this, and many other, public-relations stunts?

When he now says that 19 million Thai citizens voted for him, I translate that into him saying that he has the financial means to pay enough so that 19 million people vote, or are made to vote, for him.

Thailand uses illegally imported Indonesian orangutans for Chiang Mai Night Safari

Thailand treats animals very poorly. This is a fact that even the most casual visitor to any of the nation's neighborhoods or zoos could not fail to notice. Dusit Zoo, the national zoo in Bangkok, is one of the worst animal ghettos I have ever seen. The animals there are in universally bad shape, kept in inadequate enclosures and subjected to various forms of wanton cruelty and neglect. The image at left shows some of the debris vistors are allowed to pelt the animals with at the Dusit Zoo in Bangkok. The pens are littered with coins, candy wrappers, rocks, and the like.

Against this background of zoo mismanagement, the Chiang Mai Night Safari opened to widespread skepticism on the part of animal rights activists and quickly proved their worst fears well-grounded. Although plans to serve meals featuring endangered species at the zoo restaurant have been shelved, there have been reports of widespread maltreatment of animals not destined for the dinner table.

Another issue is the "stolen orangutans" being kept there. These animals were illegally captured and exported from Indonesia. When they were seized in Thailand several years ago, the Thai government agreed to return them to Indonesia. This has not happened, though extensive preparations on teh Indo side were made for their return.

Meanwhile, these orangutans went on a 'zoo tour' of Thailand and have now turned up at the government sponsored Chiang Mai Night Safari. The Thai government refuses to respond to Indonesia's requests to have the surviving animals returned.

Frankly, the mistreatment of animals in Thailand is not just a governmental issue but stems from the mentality of the people themselves. I have rarely seen a dog petted in Thailand, only taunted and kicked. The myth of the 'gentle buddhists' begins to implode when you've spent a little time here. Most Thais are anamist and superstitious but hardly Buddhist at all. One goes to temple not to learn about or internalize Buddhist teachings (such as the correct treatment of animals) but to chuck a few coins in the till and wish for 'good luck'. The idea that Thailand is a Buddhist country is a huge 'guidebook lie'.

From a letter to The Nation:

I wish to express my anger about the way Thailand is dealing with the confiscated orang-utans held at the Safari World zoo.

These orang-utans should have been returned to Indonesia two years ago, but they have become the victims of political power games and greed. Thailand has no right to keep these orang-utans. They are highly endangered primates, and all international agreements state that these orang-utans should be returned to Indonesia. This case gives Thailand a very bad name, which is so unnecessary. Protests worldwide are being organised to demand the release of these primates. Why are they still being kept inside the country, and why do letters remain unanswered?

Internationally, governments should cooperate to end the illegal wildlife trade, and returning these orang-utans to the rain forests in Indonesia would be the first step Thailand should take right now.

Femke den Haas

Director, ProAnimalia International


Sunday, February 19, 2006

The problem is not Thaksin, but the people who voted for him

Excerpted comments from a letter to The Nation:

Ousting PM won’t rid us of entrenched societal ills

...there seems to be no clear agenda as to what we are going to change besides the dubious PM. What follows the slogan “Thaksin auk bpai”, (Thaksin get out) I am still waiting to hear.

...We can’t expect that by changing one person’s job, we can make all societal ills go away.

There will still be mafia-like police and police-like mafia.

...Even without the prime minister, Thailand would still suffer from the arrogance of a few “privileged” people who will find all sorts of excuses to abuse their powers.

...We will still see selfish people on the road and in public spaces, who think that the rest us are here solely to serve them.

All the ills of the society we see today that I am so fed up with do not come from the PM, but from PM-wannabes who elected him. Unless these people change their minds and attitudes, and unless the youths of this country are educated on correct morals, values and ethics, Thailand will again end up with a PM just like the current one.

Chul “Cho” Chang

Nakhon Pathom

Saturday, February 18, 2006

simple-minded anti-foreigner rant in today's Nation

From today's 'Opinion' section:

Economic liberalisation is good in theory. In reality, Thais will be ripped off in the end. A country where most of the 63 million people are poorly educated, live in the agriculture sector, and try to make ends meet, won’t stand a chance against the capital, the technology and superior management brought by globalisation. You must have an educated population and skilled workforce before you accelerate the pace of economic liberalisation. Otherwise, liberalisation must be done cautiously in a gradual and calculated pace. Foreigners help the Thais to prosper, but they can also take away everything. --Thanong Khanthong

Comparing Thailand to Argentina is an old standby of knee-jerk op-Ed pieces and just as dumb now as it was the first in print. By the author's own description, Argentina faced regional trade problems that were the cause of its undoing, not privatization itself.

Thailand is not a poor country, just poorly managed. The fact that Thais are still dirt poor and badly educated in 2006 is NOT a good argument for maintaining the status quo where the country's resources exist only for the benefit of the corrupt and decadent Thai ruling class. To say that changes should occur slowly is a joke. Change has been slow enough.

And how exactly could the "capital, the technology, and superior management" brought by foreigners be a bad thing for the average Thai? Maybe a bad thing for upper-middle class Thai managers who have historically gotten by on skin color and daddy's connections, because now Thai consumers won't have to accept the so-called 'Thai' way of doing things.

Hypocritical really, all this foreigner bashing, given that shopping for imported fashion items at tacky uber-malls like Siam Paragon is the number one pastime of the rich and spoiled of this country, not one of whom would actually buy a Thai made product or invest in a Thai company over a foreign one if given the chance.

Finally, it is important to remember that doing things more efficiently and with less corruption adds value to the whole economy, creating a bigger pie for everyone. More liberal foreign participation in the Thai economy would raise standards (including journalistic ones) and increase the net wealth held by Thai citizens, not the opposite.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

the Thai stare; 5 Thai food vendors convicted of manslaughter in Malaysia

Aggressive staring is an annoying personality trait common to Thais. Having been the recipient on numerous occasions, I can tell you it is on a level of obnoxiousness that would quickly provoke a physical confrontation in the West.

Another Thai trait is a propensity to group violence over the most minor affront to "face," especially when they feel their simpleminded nationalism has been impugned.

This mix of provocation and violence usually works well against non-Thais in Thailand, and apparently these 5 Thai 'laborers' thought it could be exported to Malaysia as well -- justifying their group attack with sticks and chains against an upperclass Malaysian citizen. Oops, I guess not.

Murder convictions all around and the subsequent imposition of the death penalty would have been too hot to handle, politically, but good to see they were forced to plead guilty to manslaughter and will now be pulling a long stint in a Malaysian prison with nary a friendly face in sight. I sincerely hope they do not survive it.

Five Thais plead guilty to killing law student

KUALA LUMPUR: The five Thai foodstall workers who were originally charged with the murder of law student Darren Kang Tien Hua have pleaded guilty to an alternative charge of manslaughter.

This would reduce the punishment from a death penalty to a maximum 10-year jail term or fine or both for the five.

Senior Deputy Public Prosecutor B. Sarala Pillai told the High Court here yesterday that the prosecution had agreed to the reduced charge following a representation filed by the defence.

When the new charge was read to Sulkifli Muso, 20, Wae Yusoh Wae Salae, 25, Abdunloh Maming, 21, Abdul Torleh Yama and Masukri Che Mae, both 24, they all pleaded guilty.

A quarrel ensued between Kang and several patrons of Warung Uncle Don.

This led to some shoving and an exchange of punches.

Kang was said to have scolded the patrons for staring at him.

The five accused attacked Kang who, in his attempt to defend himself, retaliated with kicks.

Kang, a Sheffield University student, was then said to have gone to a nearby club for help and returned with three of his friends, which resulted in another brawl.

Kang was said to have collapsed on the road after being punched, kicked and assaulted with sticks and chairs.

He was taken to University Malaya Medical Centre where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Counsel Hazman Ahmad and Mohamad Fozi Zain asked the court to fix a date for mitigation, saying they were unprepared as they had only found out about the outcome of their representation on Monday evening.

Justice Mohtarudin fixed today to hear the mitigation.

The Star/Asia News Network

Monday, February 13, 2006

bangkok taxi drivers are dangerous assholes

An educated Thai friend of mine recently remarked in awe: "It's fascinating because the way they drive, you can tell they don't care about getting into an accident or anything, and so many of them do."

The Nation

Re: “Taxi ordeal followed by tuk-tuk nightmare”, Letters, February 13.

The letter from A Concerned Thai Resident prompts me to add a few words to his or her description of the shabby treatment many (most?) foreigners are subjected to in Bangkok by unscrupulous, unpleasant and often reckless taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. What are the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and Thai Tourism Authority doing to rectify this outrageous situation? Don’t they hear or see anything?

Why not launch a courtesy campaign to teach these people the basics in decent human behaviour and also, by the same token, have them take some driving lessons and teach them the geography of Bangkok? (So many of them are at a loss finding their way around.) Don’t the municipal and tourist authorities realise that these guys give a bad image to the travellers? They are the first Thais dealt with outside the airport. Or does the fact that some big shot courts them by organising lotteries and distributing cash to them place them out of the reach of the law? It is a real shame.

I, for one, never fail to warn my friends and colleagues coming to Bangkok to be on their guard when taking a cab; brace themselves (no seat-belts in the backs of taxis), because speed limits are no obstacle; check that the driver turns the meter on and get out immediately if he refuses to do so; and make sure to carry small change, to avoid being short-changed.

Of course, you occasionally meet a nice and honest driver, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule. As for the police, tourist or not, I wouldn’t bet 10 satang on them (although again, there are exceptions). Bangkok, you still have a long, long way to go before hoping ever to become a hub a la Singapore, and no amount of pretentious commercial centres or six- or even seven-star hotels is going to change that as long as nothing is done to improve services at street level.

resident vs 'tourist' dollars

The letter below is absolutely excellent. I am so tired of hearing this government bullshit about so-called 'tourist' dollars. Most of these so-called 'tourists' are actually residents who are forced to mimic a tourist entering and leaving the country every 30 days in order to remain in Thailand.

Yet foreign 'residents' are universally disparaged, depsite the fact that anyone with sense would realize that a resident spends many times more over the course of 6 montsh or a year than the most flash 2 week tourist. And the best part is that this is often money the resident is bringing into the country from abroad, not locally generated income.

FYI if you make your money abroad, there is currently no way to qualify for a long stay Thai visa unless you are willing to purchase an overpriced condo unit or marry a local. Even then, there are no guarantees and no path to residency. There are many people who have lived here for 10+ years who still do "visa runs" every 30 days or, at best, spend a full day 'reporting' to Thai immigration every 90 days like a paroled convict.

Frankly I think the immigration law is there to serve a racist elitist ruling class, thereby keeping Thailand 'free' for them to exploit, but also to buff up the tourist numbers which benefit quite a few people with their hands in the government subsidy till.

The Nation:

Some repeat visitors come here 12 times every year

The “real” tourist market is small when compared with the permanent resident “tourist” market. A long-term Thai visa is so difficult to acquire that many expats just make “the run” every month. Nearly half of all tourist visas are issued to permanent residents. Permanent in name only, that is. Just send a reporter on one of the well-advertised bus runs to the border and have them count expats and “temporary tourists”.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

High-profile publicity stunts don’t solve the underlying problems in the Kingdom

great letter from today's The Nation:

Dozens of civic groups have joined to force PM Thaksin out. That’s fine with me – so long as they do it within the framework of democracy. That means, for example, a no-confidence vote or impeachment.

Then, without him, two questions still remain.

First, who should replace him? Remember, TRT swept Thailand with the largest majority in history. What’s to prevent them from doing it again? To what extent have the provinces learned (a) that they made the wrong choice, and (b) how to make a better choice next time?

Second, and more important in the long run, have we learned that we should put our faith in robust systems and institutions, rather than trusting to the goodness of a particular person?
If so, how have we strengthened our democratic institutions, so that Thaksin’s successor will put national interests ahead of his own?

Alas, we get the government we deserve. What have we done over the past five years to deserve better than PM Thaksin? Until we’ve changed ourselves, including our provincial brethren, we should think twice about changing leaders at whim.

Anti-Taksin coalition gains momentum

live reporting from The Nation website:

At press time, the situation at the Royal Plaza remained tense as more than 1,000 police and security officers had gathered inside the nearby Dusit Zoo, standing by to ensure that the massive crowd dispersed after midnight.

A plainclothes policeman at the nearby Metropolitan Police Bureau was upset by the treatment of his boss, police chief Kowit Wattana, who was surrounded by protesters when he tried to enter the rally site, as well as the abuse and shouts of hatred against Thaksin, a former police officer.

“We should do it like Black May. Set up termination teams, put them on the back of pickup trucks and they can just press [the gun triggers],” he said, referring to the death squads sent out to liquidate or kill protesters after the clash in May 1992.

Incredible, this blithe admission of murder. The Thai police have never been questioned or brought to task for the events of May 1992 when thousands of Thai citizens were injured, killed, or 'disappeared' by roving gangs of soldiers and police in downtown Bangkok. Several westerners attempting to return to their residences or hotels were deliberately shot by soldiers at close range. These events have been swept under the rug for the past fifteen years.

Friday, February 10, 2006

American tourist stabbed in Pattaya by bargirl and her boyfriend

American tourist stabbed and injured by bar girl, boyfriend

Chon Buri - A 44-year-old American tourist was assaulted and stabbed on Pattaya beach by a bar girl and who appeared to be her boyfriend early Saturday morning, police said.

Pol Maj Sirapop Sukkasi of Tambon Pattaya police station, said Tony Lindsey was severely injured during the attack at 2:30 am.

Lindsey suffered several knife wounds on his stomach, right side and right arm, Sirapop said. He was also hit at his face.

Sirapop quoted a witness as saying that he saw the American walking hand-in-hand from Soi 7 across the road to the beach.

While the two were sitting on the beach, a Thai man arrived at the scene on a motorcycle. The woman and man were then seen as assaulting the American with fists and knife before fleeing the scene on the motorcycle.

Sirapop said police had yet to interrogate Lindsey and police thought the woman might lure him to be robbed by her boyfriend at the beach.

tourists treated like animals for one day visa overstay in Thailand

RANONG: -- Twelve foreign tourists were pulled off a “visa run” bus just 40 miles from Ranong and confined to a jail cell overnight for overstaying their visas.

The company that arranged the tour claims that the arresting officers, from the Tourist Police and Highway Police, demanded 5,000 baht from each of the overstayed tourists in exchange for letting them go. The police strenuously deny this.

Six officers waved over the well-known “Big Bus” run by Phenpat Co Ltd at about 11 am yesterday morning in Ranong’s Kapoe District. The officers inspected the passports of the 34 foreign passengers and found that 12 had overstayed their visas.

They separated the 12 from the others, who were allowed to continue on to Ranong. The 12 were taken off in a police truck and confined in the local police cells.

Jutarat Payonchart, an emplo yee of Phenpat Co Ltd, told the Gazette from the Ranong courthouse this afternoon that the police had overreacted by incarcerating the visa runners.

“Why did they have to keep them overnight in a cell? These aren’t illegal aliens trying to hide out in the country,” she asked, adding that most were just one- or two-day overstays. The maximum overstay was just 12 days, she added.

K. Jutharat said she was preparing to pay fines for those who had not brought along enough money to cover the unexpected expense – but by 5:30 pm the following day they were still at Ranong Provincial Court trying to pay the fines.

One of those arrested, a 31-year-old Australian man whose 30-day tourist visa expired the day before, told the Gazette: “It was terrible. I am so dirty now – I need to change my clothes. We didn’t have any information.

“It was crap. The pol ice are hospitable in a way, but they don’t give us any information. They say we broke the law and all this stuff.

“In my case, on Tuesday I went to [Phuket] Immigration and said, ‘This is the last day of my visa, it expires tomorrow, what should I do?’ and they said, ‘Go and do a visa run tomorrow and pay a 200 baht overstay.’

“That’s exactly what I [was doing], but then we get pulled over by the Tourist Police and Highway Police and they make a huge problem for us,” he said.

He added that he found it dangerous and embarrassing to be forced to squat in the back of a cramped, hot police truck, which transported the overstayers along the highway with a police escort, sirens blaring.

The unexpected delay had also caused him to missed his flight out of the country, he said.

Pol Maj Songproad Sirikul, the new head of the Ranong Tourist Po lice, told the Gazette that his office had received a report that a business was assisting illegal aliens by bringing them to Burma. He said he ordered his men to check into this and, when they did, it turned out to be true.

“The police arrested them because they broke the law,” he said.

He denied K. Jutarat’s claims that the officers asked for 5,000 baht from each tourist in exchange for letting them go.

“I think that’s impossible. I can guarantee that the Tourist Police officers did not ask for money because we are not in trouble [financially] and I constantly remind them to not do that.

“If the visa runners have any witnesses or other evidence as to which officer asked for money, they should contact me direct,” he said.

Source: The Phuket Gazette 2006-02-09

Interesting that the tourist was told to simply do a visa run and pay the overstay fine. I believe this as the same erroneous advice is often blithely handed out at Thai Immigration main in downtown Bangkok whereas they should simply follow their own rules and allow you to purchase a 10 day extension for 1,900 baht.

Thai Immigration will either not mention this option or tell you doing a visa run and getting stamped back in for another 30 days is cheaper. This is stupid as well as dangerous, of course, as any visa run from Bangkok to the border and back is going to cost at least 1,900 baht, before you even calculate the overstay fine of 200 baht / day, and getting caught with any overstay in your passport will guarantee a stay at the jail behind the very office that told you a short overstay for tourists was OK. Do not believe them.

Some spot-on follow up comments from others:

"Pol Maj Songproad Sirikul, the new head of the Ranong Tourist Police ... denied K. Jutarat’s claims that the officers asked for 5,000 baht from each tourist in exchange for letting them go.

'I think that’s impossible. I can guarantee that the Tourist Police officers did not ask for money because we are not in trouble [financially] and I constantly remind them to not do that.'


Two more candidates for a minister's seat in the Thaxin Cabinet of clowns and morons!
They have all required qualifications!"

"Be aware that you are in Thailand. Foreign people have less rights and have to pay much more than Thai people. They will throw you in the prison with others. 140 people in one room is normal and you spend time between killers, transvestites, aids patients etc.

Note it's hardly individuals who are too lazy or untogether to get their visa sorted, as Thai officials don't see it as a problem either.

So how would the average tourist know?

Amazing Thailand"

"I went to immigration in Chiang Mai to extend for 2 weeks or 10 days or whatever it is they give you. I was going to be pretty busy for just 6 days past the last day of the visa. They told me I should go to Mae Sai and pay 1200 baht in overstay fees instead as it would be cheaper for me.

Some of these guys were given the same advice, then they end up in jail for the night."

"I overstayed 5 months in Australia - unintentionally. Didn't even know about it before I was walking through passport control at Brisbane airport when they pulled me over. Nothing happened except I was told orally that I couldn't return to Oz for 3 years. No papers signed or anything, just a discussion of why it had happened.
(I was a student and extended my studies by one semester and forgot to extend the student visa - my mistake)"
[quite civilized way to handle it, actually-- strict yet humane]

"It sure seems like the powers that be don't want to have tourists visit this place. Everytime you turn around, there's a new story about tourists being murdered, abused, raped, thrown in jail, yada, yada, yada.

LOS - Laughing's Over Siam"

It gets worse, here's a followup:

Overstay 12 still in jail, face deportation

RANONG: A group of 12 foreign tourists arrested for overstaying their visas have spent their second night sleeping on the floor of a jail cell at Ranong Police Station.

Ranong Immigration Police, who have announced that they will deport the group, say they are only following “standard procedures” and will send the 12 to an Immigration detention center in Bangkok “soon”.

The group were arrested by a team of six Highway and Tourist Police officers at about 11 on Wednesday morning while on their way to Ranong and Burma for a “visa run” in the well-known “Big Bus”.

The bus was in Kapoe District, just 40 kilometers from the Ranong Immigration office, when it was stopped and the 12 were separated from the other passengers on board and placed in custody.

The most that any of the 12 had overstayed was six days.

Speaking from his prison cell, one of the detainees, a 31-year-old Australian man on his second trip to Thailand, told the Gazette:

“I can’t believe what has happened. The want to send us to the Bangkok Detention Center, from where they will deport us to our home countries – all because of a one-day overstay [in my case].

It was our second night sleeping on the dirty floor, with mosquitoes. I am black and brown from dirt.”

Some members of the group had contacted their embassies, he said, but been told, “Sorry. You are being deported – there is nothing we can do, it’s all part of ‘due process’.”

He said the group members had thought they would be released after paying 1,000-baht fines at Ranong Court yesterday. But they had been misled.

“The public prosecutor told us that if we just admitted to the Court what we did and paid a 1,000-baht fine, they would let us go to Immigration and we could complete our visa trip. We paid, but when we got to Immigration they fingerprinted us and said, ‘You’re being deported – immediately’.

Jutarat Payonchart, an employee of Phenpat Co Ltd, which runs the visa run service, told the Gazette from the Ranong courthouse this afternoon that the police had overreacted in incarcerating the visa runners.

“Why did they have to keep them overnight in a cell? These aren’t illegal aliens trying to hide out in the country,” she said, adding that most had overstayed by just one or two days.

Speaking from his prison cell, the Australian told the Gazette, “We sent money for the tsunami problem. We like the Thai people and want to visit – and then we got s**t on.

“We are part of one of their tours, where everyone makes money. We spend money in Phuket, we want to stay here. It’s good for the economy, good for everyone. And now we are just being s**t on.

“We’ve been treated like animals, sleeping on the ground. I’ve never been locked up before in all my life. It’s absolutely disgusting. You cannot trust the Tourist Police anymore. They are supposed to be on our side, helping us. But now they have gone against us and made a big problem for us.

“This is absolute crap, of course. They must have another agenda. Only they know what it is; I can only speculate. This is completely wrong. I have spoken to other tourist police and they say, ‘This is unbelievable.’ There are a few bad apples involved and they have created major, major problems.

“I’ve lost flights, lost my money … it’s ridiculous,” he said, adding that he did not want to give his name “at this stage” as it might jeopardize any remaining chance of regaining his freedom and avoiding deportation.

Those chances appear slim, however.

Pol Capt Weerachai Phugkesorn of the Ranong Immigration Office told the Gazette that all 12 foreigners were arrested because they had overstayed their visas.

Among those facing deportation were English, Korean, German, Vietnamese, French, Italian and Swedish nationals, none of who had overstayed by more than six days, he admitted.

He stressed that the arrest, confinement and deportation of the tourists did not reflect a change in Ranong Immigration’s long-standing and relaxed policy when it comes to overstays.

“It’s true that if people arrive at our office and have overstayed their visas we just fine them 200 baht per day of overstay. But it was [another police division] that arrested them, not us. If they hadn’t been arrested, we would have just fined them as usual.

“The case went to court, where the judge rendered a decision. They were sent to us by the police and we are just following the provisions of the Immigration Act by transferring them to Bangkok for deportation,” Capt Weerachai said.

Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, Assistant Director of TATs Region 4 Office in Phuket, said he believed the arrests would have no impact on tourism as long they were legal.

Foreign tourists would be more confident of their safety if they knew they the police were carrying out their duties strictly according to the law, he added.

Source: The Phuket Gazette 10-2-06

Imagine the stories they will tell back in Farangland - is this the image Thailand wants to give abroad? Don't forget that these people were coming from Phuket which is still trying to recover from the Tsunami.

Just to describe how bad it can get:

"Should you be stopped going to the airport with an overstay or before then thats when the problems start. Firstly if it is on a Friday YOU WILL FIND YOURSELF IN JAIL ALL WEEKEND AT BEST. Then once you have appeared before the authorities and they reach a decision you pay your fine and PROVE that you have a ticket to leave the country. If you missed your flight that ticket is not valid. Ensure that you have a good friend that will help you out should this happen. Until you show this ticket they will not release you Viscious circle then starts, no ticket, no release no release, how do you get a ticket?? Hence the need for a good "friend" to get you ticket

My advice is do not do it if you do, then use the airport and hope for the best never attempt to pay the overstay fine on a visa run using land border crossings. This is very bad advice avoid land crossings if you have overstayed."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

police officer murdered at desk

Police Sergeant Major Satote Seubchart of Khorat, lies dead after being shot with a 9 mm handgun in the hands of a fellow police officer.

The incident arose from a dispute concerning distribution of bribe money within the police station.

Things like this happen quite often but are rarely reported in the English language press. The reasons are obvious: a pact of silence to make Thailand appear sweet and palatable for touristic consumption.

You average Thai would not find a news report like this shocking or unusual.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

photos from anti-Thaksin rally

These are mine, taken between 1-4pm on Saturday as the rally was just starting to gather momentum.

They're not great, but feel free to use them on your websites, blogs, whatever. No link backs or attribution required.

Anti-Thaksin rally at Rama 5 draws 100,000 people

from The Nation:


Published on February 05, 2006

Biggest anti-government demonstration since the bloody 1992 ‘May Crisis’ throws his future and legitimacy into uncertainty

Thaksin Shinawatra, the embattled premier, yesterday suffered the biggest setback of his political career as nearly 100,000 Thais gathered at Bangkok’s Royal Plaza to demand his ouster in the largest anti-government rally in over a decade.

At the biggest show of people power since the bloody May 1992 uprising, which overthrew the Suchinda government, Thais of all walks of life from the capital and around the country chanted: “Thaksin get out. Thaksin get out”.

The largely peaceful protesters, many of whom wore yellow shirts, included disgruntled teachers, labour and community activists, environmentalists, provincial people affected by government policies and members of Bangkok’s middle-class.

Sources said up to 30,000 protesters came from the provinces, while the majority were middle-class and working people from Bangkok and nearby areas. Many protesters came with their families.

With the massive rally stretching from the statute of King Rama V to Rajdamnoen Avenue, protest leader and media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul said Thaksin no longer had the legitimacy to govern and the country was heading toward a crisis.

In another blow to Thaksin, Sora-art Klinpratoom, the information and communications technology minister, yesterday became the second Cabinet member to call it quit.

On Friday, Uraiwan Thienthong, the culture minister, citing the lack of political ethics over the Bt73-billion Shin-Temasek deal, tendered her resignation.

Sources said last night more Cabinet members could resign in coming days as public sentiment towards the government appears to have worsened.

For Thaksin, the political downturn has progressed rapidly over the past two weeks following his family’s Bt73-billion tax-free sale of 49 per cent of the shares in Shin Corp to Temasek of Singapore.

Besides the tax issue, the share sale has been severely criticised on other ethical and legal grounds, especially with regard to Ample Rich Investment Co, the tax haven set up by Thaksin in 1999.

Having learned that more Cabinet members would likely resign, Sondhi said the move could be seen as the TRT party’s tactic to prepare for Thaksin’s exit by dissolving the House.

Last night, sources said the Assembly of the Poor, which groups together about 20,000 people who say they have suffered from the government’s economic policies, and other non-governmental groups were planning to join the Sondhi camp in pressuring the premier to quit.

Pipop Thongchai, chairman of the Campaign for Popular Democracy, said he hoped the leadership for the anti-Thaksin rally would widen to sustain the momentum of “people’s power”.

Chaiyant Pholpoke, a former October 14, 1973 activist who joined yesterday’s rally, said he was surprised to see many people from different age groups and diverse backgrounds at the rally.

Sondhi, who handed over a seven-page letter to HM the King via an aide of General Prem Tinsulanonda at about 9pm, returned to the Royal Plaza to continue his leadership role.

According to his schedule, a videotape show highlighting the allegedly corrupt practices of the Thaksin government was to be screened at around 1.30 am after which the media fire-band would go on stage again to criticise the premier.

At 6 am, Buddha Issara was scheduled to deliver morning prayers and there was to be a merit-making ceremony for 99 monks. Sondhi said he would end the rally at 8am.

Thaksin and lese majeste

Thaksin said in his weekly radio programme yesterday morning that he will only quit if requested by the king, and that he would immediately do so if such a request came.

This puts the onus on the king to ask Thaksin to leave and unacceptably seeks to entangle the monarchy in the current political fracas. This is in clear violation of the lese majeste laws in Thailand which prohibit not only statements directed against the monarchy but any attempt to involve the monarchy in politics.

media blackout for yesterday's anti-government rally at Rama 5 statue

from The Nation, 05 Feb 06

MEDIA COVERAGE: Almost all TV stations avoid live broadcast of events from Royal Plaza

Those who wanted to follow yesterday’s anti-Thaksin rally had to depend on the radio or Internet for real-time updates.

No television stations, except the Manager Group’s ASTV satellite channel, broadcast the events from the Royal Plaza live.

They sent mobile units to cover the event and showed scenes during their hourly news programmes.

Prachai Liaopairat’s FM 92.25 and Manager Group’s FM 97.75 carried the protest all day, while Manager and The Nation posted breaking news on their websites.

Tourism down in 2005

The number of visitors to Thailand actually shrank 2.5% last year, a far cry from the government predicted 10% growth. Hotel occupancy in Phuket was 40% last year and still devastated Khao Lak 10%.

Up to and including the day of the announcement, the government continued to insist that Phuket was fully recovered and tourism was actually on the increase, unaffected by tsunami, floods, lack of rebuilding due to misallocation of government funds and refusal of foreign aid, political instability, human rights abuses, crime wave against foreign tourists, and highly restrictive alcohol policies.

Thaksin as so-called 'CEO': Where Are His Deliverables? What Has He Done?

Thaksin asked the people to sacrifice democracy for CEO expediency in solving the nation's ills. The people, being Thai, and with little experience of democracy, agreed. Thaksin failed to deliver anything, and has thus lost whatever thin mandate he had to rule.

BTW the upcountry vote buying that went on with impunity during the last election, combined with the stupidity and apathy of middle class Bangkokians who reflexively voted for TRT, is the root cause of the current impasse.

Interesting letter in The Nation today:


Published on February 05, 2006

Thaksin is clinging to the very system he has been bent on destroying during his rule

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra should consider resigning from office now that he still has time to do so. He has not had the legitimacy to rule for a long time.

Thaksin has been using the loopholes in the current Constitution for his own benefit instead of protecting and upholding the charter for the nation’s good as intended by the charter writers.

He has been trying to steer his government in the opposite direction to that intended by the writers of the Constitution. The Parliament has been turned into a tool of the government instead of an independent legislative body and a checks-and-balances mechanism. The independent organisations meant to monitor the performance of the government and ensure transparency and fairness have also been rendered ineffectual.

In short, instead of protecting and upholding the Constitution, as is his duty as the head of the administrative branch, Thaksin has been undermining the governing charter all along.

Now, after five years of twisting and contorting the principles of our Constitution beyond recognition, he is using the charter for his own survival and protection. That is utterly unfair to all the people he purports to serve but has failed to do so.

He has thus betrayed the Constitution and the people of Thailand, and should resign.

Chavalit Van

Chiang Mai

Shin Sale Fallout: Two Ministers resign

"Thaksin has faced criticism over his family's 73.3 billion baht ($1.88 billion) sale last week of a controlling stake in telecommunications conglomerate Shin Corp to Singapore's Temasek Holdings.

The sale, the biggest ever of a listed Thai company, triggered outrage amid media accusations of insider trading, tax evasion and even national security threats." The Nation, 5 Feb 06

Friday: Culture Minister Uraiwan Thienthong announced her departure from the Cabinet, saying her decision was based on the need to uphold good governance. This is the bitch who banned Bangkok Inside Out after it had received numerous accolades from both Thai and foreign newspapers and with no explanation or opportunity for public comment. Good governance in a democratic society is served by her resignation. Good choice!

Saturday: Information and Communications Technology Minister Sora-at Klinprathum has tendered his resignation from the Thaksin Shinawatra Cabinet. Sora-et, in a failed bid to curry favor with Thaksin, banned an unprecedented number of political websites in Thailand and offered kudos to China on their policy of internet censorship. As these moves had more to do with an outdated and misguided paternalism than any real ability to lead Thailand in a democratic direction, Sora-et's decision to leave can only be welcomed. Excellent resignation!

Friday, February 03, 2006 is back has returned after their original host, ThaiDreamHost, caved to threats and pulled the site abruptly. There is now some kind of redirect in effect and the pages are back up on the web. Check 'em out.

'expert' academic opinions aside, banning websites is certainly permissable under Thai law

Blackout of online stations 'limits rights' - Bangkok Post, June 28, 2005

..."Besides, there are no laws which permit the ICT's internet inspector to close down websites, not even pornographic sites. The government can only sue the owners.''

In Thailand, 'authority' still creates its own law, even after more than a dozen years of democratic rule. Partly this is due to ignorance of basic civics concepts by the ruling elite, and partly due to arrogance and laziness when it comes to actually looking up the law-- they don't.

And neither do newspaper editors.

1) Production and dissemination of porn is in fact against the law in TH, and a section in the penal code states exactly that. Interestingly, the penal code does not criminalize possession. Furthermore, criminal courts are empowered to issue injunctions (such as a demand that a website hosted in Thailand be shut down) based on evidence provided by the police that a violation is occuring. The injunction does not require a full hearing but may be lifted (reversed) at a later date. This is normal and follows international legal norms.

2) Thai ISPs agree not to host porn or seditious sites as one condition of being licensed to operate in Thailand. Hosting porn on their servers could be considered a violation. Enforcement (banning) would logically fall under the discretion and jurisdiction of the ICT ministry, though as I haven't read the ministerial charter I cannot say for sure.

So in fact, yes, the ICT ministry and police DO have legal authority to close down websites in Thailand, the only issue being 'which ones' and how this is to be weighed against any 'free speech' rights granted by the current Thai constitution.

There. Now that we've cleared up the argumentative ground, have at it.

The word is 'sue' is often used here to denote both civil and criminal proceedings. The concept of civil and criminal is also mixed in Thai law itself, not just the Bangkok Post's tangled understanding of it. This is oneof many present day holdovers from a feudal system which was so barbaric and arbitrary that foreign nations often refused to allow their nationals to be tried in Thai courts.