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A Week in Review: January 1-7, 2011

There is an old saying that no news is good news. If we follow this maxim, then it has been an outstanding beginning to the new year in Thailand. Find out why here…

It may be a New Year hangover, but the first week of 2011 in Thailand has been decidedly underwhelming in terms of news with melodramas rather than crises prevailing.

To underline this point, the two main stories so far this year have involved the ongoing controversy over the fatal accident involving a 16-year-old driver as reported in This is Thailand last week, as well as the detention by Cambodian authorities of seven Thais who were arrested in a disputed border territory and accused of trespassing.

Orachorn Thephasadin Na Ayudhaya reported to police last week and was promptly released on bail after being charged with reckless driving causing death and driving without a license. As very eloquently pointed out by Arglit Boonyai in his weekly article in the Bangkok Post this Saturday (see here ), there have been a number of equally, if not more, tragic accidents over the New Year period, yet none have merited anywhere near the same amount of perverse public interest.

The real tragedy of this story is that public attention has been focused on a very serious issue. However, instead of rationally analysing the situation, learning the lessons, and implementing – as well as enforcing – meaningful change, a volcano of anger will be doused by a tsunami of indifference in a couple of weeks as the matter is quickly forgotten.

The other main story in Thailand last week was the ongoing drama of the Sa Kaeo 7. Following a complaint by local Thai villagers and pressure from the yellow shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the seven Thais were part of a team led by a Democrat MP on a government-approved fact-finding mission into the problems of Thais living along the disputed area of the Thai-Cambodian border.

The group also included prominent members of thePAD, which has, as usual, pumped up a blind national pride to create more problems than it has ever solved.

While the PAD (in particular its ultra-jingoistic ally - the ‘Thai Patriots Network’) has succeeded only in straining the already tense relations between Thailand and its eastern neighbour, it has also created additional concerns for the very people it claims to be supporting. Thai border villagers in Sa Kaeo now fear that their livelihoods will be affected if the border is closed as a result of the whole sorry incident.

Speaking on the issue, Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, announced that although he didn’t believe that the seven were either trespassing intentionally (if at all) or intending to spy as claimed by the Cambodians, he was also surprisingly frank in his criticism of the PAD.

Abhisit explained that if the government revokes the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding and withdraws from the World Heritage Committee meeting, as requested by the PAD, Cambodia would not only be free to manage its side of the disputed area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple, but also stand unopposed in getting everything it is asking for at the World Heritage Committee meeting scheduled to take place in Bahrain later this year.

Abhisit finished by saying, “Since the PAD views any people who disagree with them as traitors, it is difficult to see how we [the government and PAD] will reach an understanding.''

Let’s hope there is some real news next week.

Paul Snowdon – January 8, 2011

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