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A Week in Review: June 12-18, 2010


This Little Piggy Went to Market

Judging by the events of the last week, life in Thailand seems to be returning to normal. Displays of greed, police inaction, political amnesia and rampant corruption suggest that no lessons have been learned from the recent tragedies. Read our week in review here...

Last weekend, Silom Road was once more closed to traffic and turned into a huge market to support vendors who had been affected by the pro-Thaksin red shirts’ occupation of downtown Bangkok and the subsequent arson attacks and looting.

With literally tons of pirated goods on offer at huge discounts, Bangkokians couldn’t resist and the first two events had been jam-packed with bargain hunters. The success hadn’t gone unnoticed, however.

In order to be assigned a stall, all the vendors had to do was prove they had been affected by the demonstrations and then register with the BMA.

Last weekend, however, hundreds of opportunist traders turned up early and claimed 500 of the stalls for themselves. Trouble flared when the registered traders arrived and the squatting vendors refused to give up their stalls.

The police were either unable or unwilling to eject the unregistered traders. By way of a compromise, an extra section of road was closed off and the vendors for whom the event was actually intended were offered alternate stalls on the edge of the market.

There can be no surer sign that life is back to normal in Bangkok when selfish greed tramples all over collective compassion while the police stand idly by.

In other news, there were tentative steps towards reconciliation last week with talk of an amnesty for most of the red shirt protesters. The government announced that only those accused of more serious crimes, such as terrorist activities, were likely to be charged, while the foot soldiers would probably be pardoned.

It is a proposal that has the full support of Naked Farang because punishing the peaceful majority of the protesters would make them double victims after they had already been manipulated and exploited by the red shirt leaders. Showing leniency – and indeed common sense – is a must for building long-term stability. However, by the same token, the red leaders and armed militants must be held accountable for openly inciting hatred and committing acts of terrorism.

In the aftermath of the troubles, five committees have been set up to promote reconciliation and national reform. In addition to the well-publicised inquiry into the deaths and injuries that occurred during the demonstrations, there are also committees for media reform, constitutional reform and national reform, with a fifth panel set up to establish a Thailand Reform Assembly and conduct a national poll serving national reform.

There are, unsurprisingly, varying degrees of suspicion and distrust from non-government sectors, but all the committees are to submit final reports by October and the government will announce its Thailand Reform Blueprint on December 1.

One of the five committees is looking into media reform and the government announced on Tuesday that it was considering buying back Thaksin’s former satellite company ThaiCom, which he sold to Singapore government-owned Temasek Holdings amidst much controversy over issues of national security and tax evasion when Thaksin was prime minister.

The government says the purchase is a matter of national security but sceptics claim it is a measure to control Thaksin’s PTV channel, which broadcast many inflammatory and distorted speeches during the recent troubles. Some Puea Thai MPs even claimed that the announcement was financial and that two MPs with the initials K and S stood to gain 300 million baht through manipulation of stock prices.

Sure enough, the day after Finance Minister Korn’s announcement, ThaiCom shares rose 29%. The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) began investigating the shares for irregularities but it is likely to be forgotten in a few days.

And finally, the government is continuing to investigate 86 individuals and companies for allegedly financing criminal activities during the red shirt rally. More than twenty names have been eliminated from the list, but those that remain include Thaksin’s family members, past and present pro-Thaksin MPs, UDD leaders, ex-police and military officers and a number of businesses.

Bank records show that suspiciously large transactions were made through the individual’s and company’s accounts on an almost daily basis during the rallies. While the foot soldiers were getting 500 baht a day, the leaders were on a good deal more it seems with average surpluses of between 1 and 2 million baht and the chief executive of PTV received 50,000 baht a day.

Greed, police inaction, political amnesia and rampant corruption – back to normal it is then.

Paul Snowdon – June 19, 2010

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