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  • Living in Thailand Blog February 2006

 

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Living In Thailand Blog

Monday 27th February 2006

I'm cracking up and it's due to some old failings. The world is full of evil people and wrongdoers. I have a moral conscience and a fairly good awareness of the difference between right and wrong. When I see or hear about things that I know are wrong, it upsets me. When I see or hear about things that are wrong on a grand scale, it upsets me a lot.

What has been going on in the Thai political scene these last five years is very, very wrong and thus, I get very upset.

However, it is dangerous to our mental well-being to get too emotionally involved in things that we have no control over. In short, we should not allow situations outside our own sphere of influence to affect us. There is no point because we can't do anything.

I have tried in the past to forget about Thai politics but the recent fervour got me caught up in it again. I was hoping for an end to the madness but now, once again, it looks as if Thaksin has been too clever for his opponents.

By dissolving parliament he has been able to completely ignore calls to explain the Ample Rich deal. Further, if he gets re-elected in the April 2 election (which he probably will) the pro-democracy movement will be silenced. He will claim he was voted in democratically (as he did before) and therefore has the mandate of the people.

Unfortunately, what seems to have got lost in Thailand, is the meaning of democracy. Democracy doesn't stop after an election. Democracy isn't about someone being voted in and then doing whatever the hell they want for the next four or five years. I found the following online:

It is the idealistic nature of Democracy that has created a world where, at least in theory, people have human rights of protection under the law, equal access to education and employment, and the freedom to attempt to fulfill (sic) their individual destiny, regardless of their birthright.

In Thailand will the poor, naive rural folk who vote for Thaksin in the hope for an end to their poverty have the same equal access to education and employment that middle-class Chinese Thais in Bangkok or Chiang Mai have? I don't think so. And will a bright girl from a poor Isaan village with an IQ of 150 be able to fulfil her individual destiny or will she end up moving to Phuket to work in a bar so she can send money home each month?

We should also remember that true democracy does not involve buying votes, either directly or indirectly but with a huge war chest which has been inflated by the recent sale of Shin Corp the vote-buying process will already have begun in preparation for the April 2 election.

So, where does this leave me?

Once more, I need to try to force myself to ignore what is going on. I get upset not only for the reasons mentioned above but because I have lots of hard-working, honest, decent Thai friends who deserve better leadership.

The time I spend reading about the lies and corruption and the mental energy I spend getting angry is better spent on more positive pursuits. Once again, goodbye Thai politics and this time I really hope it is for good.

Mmmm, just a few hours after saying goodbye to Thai politics I caught the latest story on the BBC. The opposition parties know that Thaksin is more slippery than the most slippery Mekong catfish and realise what he is up to.

They made some demands which he didn't agree to and they are are boycotting the April 2 election. At the election there will be no candidate standing against Thai Rak Thai. The only satisfactory outcome is for Thaksin to resign.

My knowledge of Thai constitution is limited, I'm afraid, and I'm not quite sure what this means. There is currently no parliament. If only one party contests the election will they win by default?

Perhaps my farewell to Thai politics was premature. With all this excitement going on how can I ignore it? I can't ignore it but I can't afford to let it get to me any more. Further, I had underestimated the political skill of Thaksin's opponents but this is an admission I am pleased to make.

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Saturday 25th February 2006

There are a million and one conspiracy theories in the world, some more credible than others. I have spent some time reading about them and have to admit that some are quite believable. A popular one concerns the Illuminati and New World Order which is an attempt to have one set of very powerful people governing the entire world.

Theories surrounding this vary from quite far-fetched (reptilian humanoids who shape-shift) to more credible evidence of powerful people belonging to the same secret societies. Both George W Bush and John Kerry belonged to the same Skull and Bones secret society at Yale University.

Theories about hand signals also abound as being evidence of membership to these secret societies. I'm not sure what to think but after after reading something about this recently I almost fell off my chair when I saw the picture of Thaksin on the BBC web site today.

If this doesn't mean anything to you may I first suggest Wikipedia and then maybe the Jesus Is Saviour web site. Or it could be that Thaksin is a heavy-metal fan?

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Friday 24th February 2006

It's been a busy day running around getting passport stamps and work permit extensions. My day started when I got up at around 6:30am and I didn't get back home until 4pm. This is something I have to do every 90 days and it is always at exactly the same point that it all seems so silly.

The point it happens is when I enter Malaysia and then turn round straight away to exit Malaysia to re-enter Thailand. I spend about two minutes in Malaysia because Thai immigration - despite giving me a one year visa - insist I leave the country every 90 days. Why?

In fees and transportation charges it costs me just over Bt1,000 which isn't a big problem but I resent wasting the best part of a day.

There were signs up at immigration today to advise that the overstay fee is increasing from Bt200 to Bt500 a day from 15th March. It didn't say whether the maximum fine was also increasing from Bt20,000 to Bt50,000.

I have only overstayed one time for one day. I knew I had overstayed but I was about to leave the country and figured that it would easier and cheaper to pay Bt200 than make a run to the border. The new charge is something to be aware of though.

In the evening I notice on the BBC web site that Thaksin has dissolved parliament. I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing; I was rather hoping he would resign.

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Wednesday 22nd February 2006

Revenge is sweet. After all the fuss about Bird Flu in Thailand not so long ago, Thailand has now banned poultry imports from Europe for fear of the H5N1 virus.

At first I couldn't figure out why Thailand was importing chickens because I always regarded the country as a big chicken exporter. The reason, according to the BBC web site, is the Thais import breeder chickens.

Whatever next? Perhaps Thailand will decide to stop trading with countries that have corrupt governments?

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Sunday 19th February 2006

Just back from a weekend away at Khanom Beach in Nakhon Si Thammarat province. It was a good weekend. The area is pleasant with very few tourists. The best thing for me though was seeing my students in a social environment. They are such a nice bunch.

I hardly had to lift a finger all weekend. Whenever I sat down at the dinner table, people served me food and whenever I didn't have a drink in my hand I was passed a glass of water or something. The Thais are such a kind, generous race. Everything was paid for and I was invited even though I only work part-time for six hours a week and I get paid very well for the hours I work.

I see that the anti-Thaksin movement has been given a big boost by Chamlong Srimuang telling Thaksin to resign. He is a senior politician who was once Thaksin's mentor and was responsible for bringing the government down in 1992.

The student movement against Thaksin has really grown in recent weeks as well. This has got him worried and apparently he summoned the rectors of all Thailand's universities to lay down his version of the law. I heard that the rector of the Prince of Songkhla university refused to speak with him.

It is said that every cloud has a silver lining and some good may come out of this eventually. Greed and corruption ruins people and it ruins societies. From what I can gather there are a lot of good, honest Thais who have just about had enough.

There are now calls from the community and from leading monks such as Phra Pisal Visalo, abbot of Wat Pa Mahawan in Chaiyaphum province, for a return to Buddhist Dhamma values and for morality to prevail over materialism.

Come on Thailand, you can do it but you need to get rid of Thaksin first.

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Monday 13th February 2006

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister who bears an uncanny resemblance to Thaksin (multi-billionaire, megalomaniac and idiot), has compared himself to Jesus after last week comparing himself to Napoleon. Thaksin isn't the only joke world leader; there are others. What chance does the planet have when we have policy-makers like this?

Ten easy steps to selling a country.

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Saturday 11th February 2006

Yet more corruption allegations. Remember, Thaksin was the one who was going to put an end to corruption in Thai politics but he has been one of worst offenders ever - if not the - worst offender. The country is a joke.

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Friday 10th February 2006

Watch out Thailand. While the people running the country try to pull the wool over everyone's eyes while amassing personal fortunes for themselves, it appears that other countries in the region are tackling the issue of development the right way.

Vietnam has been concentrating on its socio-economic development process and, by all accounts, has been doing a good job. There is an English proverb that Thaksin and his cronies would do well to acquaint themselves with. "You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can't fool all the people all the time."

Lies without substance and flawed development policies always get found out sooner or later. What is so sad is that they don't learn from past experience. You only have to go back nine years to the last economic disaster in Thailand but because of the outrageous greed of a few people all the ingredients are there once again for another huge economic collapse.

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Thursday 9th February 2006

This rotten cold has started to get better, thankfully. I am hoping for a full recovery within the next couple of days.

My brief resurgence of interest with Thai politics has waned again. It's not really that I'm not interested, it's just that I completely fail to understand the Thais. The evidence against Thaksin is damning. It's Enron all over again but involving a country rather than a corporation.

Everything has been widely reported in the Thai press and there are no longer any secrets. Ample puzzle grows. Explanations have still yet to be offered and what looks likely is the whole thing will fizzle out and everything will be forgotten. The Shinawatra and Damapong families will just walk away with their ill-gotten gains scot-free. Amazing.

What is even more amazing is that people are actually marching in support of Thaksin - someone they put their trust in to take care of the country who then robbed them of billions.

It's difficult to understand from a Western perspective but Thailand isn't a Western country. There are still plenty of people alive now who were living in the country under the rule of absolute monarchy. Democracy is a relatively new concept and many people still haven't grasped it.

Thais are used to living in a strictly hierarchical society where they all know their place. Those people at the bottom of the food chain don't consider themselves to be the equal of people higher up and there is actually an expectation that those in positions of power will use their power to benefit themselves.

It is impossible now to think that Thais don't understand what has been going on. They know full well but the fact that Thaksin is still in power says that many endorse this kind of corruption and abuse of power.

The country still confuses me enormously. When I speak with university students and when I read comments written by Thai intellectuals it gives me hope for the future of Thailand. However, when I observe the reaction of Thailand's poor, rural underclass I don't see any hope because I see no end to the corrupt manipulation of the very poor.

When will it get better? Will it ever get better? Who knows? Until that underclass has the means to stand on its own feet and make decisions that are based on logical reasoning rather than the offer of a few hundred Baht, it will never get better.

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Monday 6th February 2006

My cold is getting worse. Never mind, these things need to run their course. There have been yet more deaths as a result of violence in the south. The problems flared up again just over two years ago and over 1,100 people have been killed. Over 100 schools are currently closed - teachers being a favourite target for the separatists - so children are missing out on their education as well as facing all manner of other problems.

For as long as Thaksin remains in power I can't see and end to the problems. Once again he has just arrogantly dismissed last weekend's protesters as 'idiots' and threatened to move next weekend's planned protest.

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Sunday 5th February 2006

Some good news and bad news from the Internet this morning. West Ham's winning streak continues and the team is looking better than it has done for many years. Happy days are back at Upton Park and I'm pleased for all the fans that persevered through what was a very black period for the club. Well done Alan Pardew for what you have done and for coming through all the crap you had to endure. Football supporters are a fickle bunch and it can't be easy being a manager, as Graeme Souness has discovered this season.

The bad news is that Thaksin is still there. Yesterday's protest in Bangkok drew between 50,000 and 100,000 people depending who you listen to. It went off peacefully and although it's good that no one was harmed I feel that some bloodshed might have sped up the process.

Meanwhile Thaksin is defiant as ever. I find the arrogance of the man unbelievable. He keeps insisting that 19 million people voted for him last year so he must be write. As usual, his logic is totally flawed. In fact, using the words 'logic' and 'Thaksin' in the same paragraph isn't a very good idea at all.

We should first remind him why many of those poor voters from desperately impoverished areas of the country voted for him. They were paid to do so. Secondly, he may have got 19 million votes but that still means the majority of voters didn't vote for him.

Thirdly, democracy isn't about being voted in and then acting like a tyrannical dictator for the next four years. Being elected is the first part of democratic leadership. The more important part is acting in the best interests of the electorate after coming to power, not just looking after your own and your family's interests.

Once again he has dragged the good name of the King into his messy affairs. In a typical staged performance he said tearfully that if the King whispered he should go, he would prostrate himself at his feet and resign.

Despite all the facts he still has supporters and this I find just incredible. He makes a point of going to the poorest areas of the country and acting like some Thai Robin Hood character, dishing out Bt1,000 notes.

This is an old Thaksin tactic. In the past his TV station has focused on the plight of one individual with a hard luck story and then provided some money to fix the problem. What foreigners should realise is that some people in Thailand are so desperately poor that to fix all the problems in their life costs about the same as buying a new bicycle.

He milks these publicity stunts for all they are worth yet they must be the cheapest (and tackiest) form of PR ever seen. Are poor Thais really that stupid to think that they will be the next person to benefit from this individual treatment? They may as well just buy a lottery ticket.

Two of his cabinet ministers have resigned which shows at least that not all Thai politicians are morally bankrupt. Some people seem to be supporting him just to stop the country's economy from going into free fall.

Others support him of course because of this mentality in Thailand that if you can cheat and get away with it, it is a good thing and something to be applauded. I was told this by an expat who heard it from a long-term expat. It seems to be very true.

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Saturday 4th February 2006

This bug I picked up is getting worse; I feel like crap. So many of my students had already gone down with it I guess it was inevitable it would come my way.

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Friday 3rd February 2006

Sometimes I really have to question my reasons for being in this country. I have tried to build this web site to share some of the good things about Thailand (and some of the bad things) but 95% of visitors arriving at these pages come looking for 'sex trips in Thailand'. I'm not joking and it gets me down.

When I look at farangs visiting and living in Thailand there are many who are obviously only in the country for one reason. The country also attracts sex perverts. Only yesterday I read about a 31 year-old Australian in Chiang Mai accused of raping the two year-old daughter of his Thai girlfriend.

And on top of that there are the Thai politicians who continue to rape the country. Sometimes it's difficult to believe that there is anyone in the country who isn't a crook or a prostitute but the vast majority of Thais are good, honest, hard-working people with good ethics.

'Amazing Thailand' the tourist authority claimed in a previous advertising campaign, and it really could be, but first some changes are required.

The latest political crisis surrounding Thaksin is now pretty serious but all I can say is that I am pleased that the Thai people are finally waking up. I have resisted buying a newspaper but there is lots of Internet coverage. What I've read so far is incredulous. His two children have been cleared of any irregularities in the recent deal despite clear evidence of insider dealing and corruption.

When Thaksin came to office in 2001 the first thing he had to deal with was wealth concealment allegations. Anyone with any political nouse knew that he was concealing assets but naturally no irregularities were found.

It turns out he had set up an offshore investment company called Ample Rich which was registered in the tax free haven of the British Virgin islands. This was done in March 1999 and 32.92 million shares of Shin Corp were transferred to Ample Rich. He did not declare this asset.

Just before he came to office in 2001 he transferred all of the shares invested with Ample Rich to his son, Panthongtae. In May 2005 20% of this asset was signed over to his daughter, Pinthongta. Shin Corp had reduced the value of the shares from Bt10 to Bt1 so the holding became 329 million shares.

On January 20 2006 these shares were 'sold' to his two children but I can't quite work out how they were sold something that already belonged to them. He must also be quite generous with their pocket money.

Three days later 1.4 billion shares of Shin Corp were sold to Temasek Holdings of Singapore for Bt49.25 a share. No tax was paid for a variety of very flaky reasons. When asked why the shares were 'bought' from Ample Rich just a few days before the sale to Temasek, after sitting there for five or six years, the response given was it was just a coincidence. Yeah, sure.

Also, the transaction didn't go through the Thai Stock Exchange, which might have noted a few irregularities. When asked about this, the comment came back that they had accidentally put a tick in the wrong box on the form. Ah, OK then, no problem, we all make those kinds of mistake, don't we?

It seems the worst that might happen is Panthongtae will be fined by the SEC but however much he gets fined the amount will be completely insignificant to the Shinawatra family. Completely insignificant.

So, what's the situation now? Well, the anti-Thaksin movement has peaked, or will peak tomorrow when another Sondhi-led rally takes to the streets of Bangkok. The United States Embassy has urged American citizens in Thailand to stay clear as they expect it will get violent.

If this had happened in any other country I would have said that Thaksin couldn't survive but, having seen what he has survived already, I don't know what the outcome will be. If he does survive it means basically he is bulletproof; that he can do absolutely anything in Thailand and get away with it, as he has been doing ever since he came to power.

He still has his supporters. He was throwing around Bt1,000 notes in Isaan last week, apparently, and Thailand's poor love that. A few Baht in their pockets means something but they don't care about corruption at government level involving billions of Baht.

As ever, The Nation is the best source of accurate information for what's really going on in Thailand. There are lots of articles such as this one.

Meanwhile, the arrogant one is totally defiant. 19 million people voted for him a year ago, didn't they, and that to him means he can do whatever he wants with no accountability.

I'm depressed once more and it's Thai politics again. I try to ignore it but I can't. How can so many people in Thailand suffer in life so much while a few people cheat and connive to get more money than any of us can possibly imagine. It's just not right.

I have no desire to be rich myself and I have absolutely no problem with people who have got rich by working hard and/or who have made the world a better place for other people but this kind of thing is evil. To be elected to serve the needs of the people, especially in a country where so many people need help, and then to abuse the position of power and trust in order to increase an already huge fortune is sinful.

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Wednesday 1st February 2006

This may seem a bit crazy, but a lot of the news I get about Thailand comes from the BBC news web site. There are reasons for this. The first is that I don't have a television. The second is that reading English language newspapers in Thailand - although very good - was making me depressed. Every single time I picked up a newspaper there was yet another story about corrupt politicians and it was making me so depressed I had to stop buying them.

The latest BBC story is another about Thaksin. The already hugely wealthy Prime Minister has just got slightly richer by selling part of the family business - the mobile phone division - for almost two billion US dollars. Not only that but it seems that no tax has been paid.

When the story first appeared he said it was because his children had asked him to do it. They were tired of people accusing poor daddy of being corrupt and having conflicts of interest between running the country and running a huge business empire so they suggested that he sell part of his business.

He likes mentioning his family as this makes him sound like a nice human being. He has joked before about making mistakes and being told off by his wife. The truth is, he is controlled by his wife and guided by his astrologers.

It now transpires that his kiddies (the same ones that were worried about their daddy) bought millions of shares in the phone company just before the deal and sold them just three days later - after the deal - at 50 times the original price. Not a bad little profit for doing nothing. If that's not a case of insider trading I don't know what is.

An offshore investment company, previously set up by Thaksin, sold shares in Shin Corp to his kids for Bt1 each. They then sold the shares for Bt49.25 making a healthy Bt15 billion.

Thaksin is a master of wealth concealment and since coming to power has transferred much of his wealth to his family and even to his personal driver.

The anti-Thaksin movement has been growing stronger and stronger since Sondhi's rallies started and this latest scandal will only fuel the flames. Up until now Thaksin has been Teflon-coated - a bit like Tony Blair - but the seeming invulnerability he has can't last forever.

I honestly can't see him lasting much longer but he has done a pretty good job of surviving up to now. The Democrat party are trying to get him impeached apparently. Thailand may finally have abandoned the longstanding Coup d'état mentality as a way of getting rid of unsatisfactory leaders.

The story is even worse in the context of his promises to poor Thais. He has used vote-buying and populist policies to secure the votes of Thailand's rural poor population and one of his promises was to eradicate poverty; an absolutely ridiculous thing for any politician to say.

On a recent publicity stunt he slept in a tent for a few days in a poor area of the country. There were hundreds of hours of TV coverage allocated to cover the event and it was blatant PR. While the poor remain poor it is only the PM's family, friends and cronies that get richer and not just by a little, but massively richer.

At least now the country is waking up but the Thais should have woken up long, long ago.

So, why does this kind of thing make me upset, emotional and depressed? Isn't it just another piece of Third World nonsense in the same league as the African dictators who buy fleets of new BMWs for their many wives while their people are starving?

For starters, Thailand isn't a backward country. There are many very talented people in the country who deserve better. Secondly, I know a lot of Thais personally. They are kind, generous, clever, hardworking people who don't have an easy life.

Most Thais struggle through life making the most of what they've got. They work a lot of hours with little time off. Most cannot afford to explore their own country, let alone travel abroad. Travel is still something in Thailand that is reserved for the middle classes.

But it could all be very different. The country has lots of natural resources, attracts millions of visitors each year and has a talented workforce. The education system lets a lot of them down, producing graduates who aren't really qualified to compete in the outside world, but some of the Thais I know who have been educated abroad are as sharp as anyone I've met.

With the right government in place making sensible, long term policies, their lives could be so much better. Instead, they vote people in on the strength of false promises only to see those people then abuse the position of power to their own advantage.

Thaksin now has the country's top tax lawyer trying to get him (and his family and his brother-in-law's family) off the hook. If he comes through this unscathed does it mean he was innocent all along, as he claims to be?

No, it just means that the new constitution that was drafted in 1997 (a blueprint for participatory democracy) as a result of the economic crisis and designed to prevent another such crisis, isn't working. If, once again, no action is taken it means that the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) and other such regulatory bodies set up to stop abuse of power are in the pockets of the politicians.

Will this situation ever improve in Thailand? For more on the other story see The Nation.

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