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A Week in Review: March 26 - April , 2011

Mad or genius?

There’s a fine line between madness and genius it seems and it’s certainly no different in the world of Thai politics. But which side of the line are the PAD leaders on?

Thailand’s recent legacy of wasteful military spending continued last week when Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva approved the Royal Thai Navy’s request for 7.7 billion baht to buy six obsolete submarines from Germany.

While the Germans had been set to decommission the aging submarines after 30 years of service, they will now see out their remaining 6-7 years of useful service in Thailand where they are expected to be kept in storage before being sunk to form artificial reefs.

Of course the submarines are vital to Thailand’s defence (for the next 6 years anyway) and the budget approval has nothing to do with maintaining military support for the government in an election year. Indeed, rather than wasting taxpayers’ money on education or health, the 7.7 billion baht can now be put to good use defending Thailand’s sovereignty.

Rumours that the Thai Patriots Network (TPN) is petitioning the government to use the 6 subs to patrol Preah Vihearn Temple and protect it from Cambodians remained unconfirmed as of April 1st.

One thing that is for certain is that the submarines will form part of an impressive fleet of underused Thai naval vessels that includes HTMS Chakri Narabuet.  Thailand’s very own aircraft carrier finally made it out of port again last week for its primary function of rescuing stranded tourists from the islands of Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui.

For once it wasn’t insurgents but the weather that was wreaking havoc in Thailand’s south. Floods and mudslides caused by heavy rainstorms battered Thailand’s southern provinces leaving at least 35 people dead with several more unaccounted for.

One mudslide in Krabi province killed at least 6 and wiped out an entire village with locals blaming the rampant deforestation which has seen the mountainside’s once dense jungle transformed into rubber plantations over the past decade.

In total, an estimated 1 million people have been affected by the floods with 732,655 rai (290,000 acres) of farmland flooded. Damage to crops, private property and the tourism industry is estimated by the economic and business forecasting centre of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce to be between 5 and 7 billion baht (enough to buy between 5 and 6 antique submarines).

One of the side effects of the flooding was the lack of quorum in parliament as several Democrat MPs took the opportunity to turn crisis into opportunity by racing south to have their photographs taken inspecting the damage or handing out government relief packages. Or maybe they were just being good and caring representatives of their constituents. Oh, the cynicism.

While Democrat MPs were taking the chance to do a spot of early electioneering, Phuea Thai was also getting into the election swing. Chiang Mai’s famously homophobic red shirts set up a new political party under the name Phuea Tham as a contingency plan in case Phuea Thai is for any reason dissolved by the impartial Thai judicial system.

Phuea Thai’s leadership uncertainty also continued with Thaksin keeping everyone guessing as to who his next proxy will be. Meanwhile, there was good news for Thailand’s main opposition party as Pracharaj Party leader Sanoh Thienthong agreed to form an alliance with Phuea Thai for an undisclosed fee.

And in a week when the results of an Asia Foundation poll of 1,500 Thais indicated that 76% of the nation has no affiliation to either the red or yellow shirts, the PAD was forced to squash rumours of its impending demise.

The Asia Foundation survey also revealed considerable internal diversity and factionalism within both the red and yellow shirt movements, with no consensus among Thais regarding the primary objectives of either group.

The yellow shirts in particular seem to have been running out of steam and losing both direction and credibility in recent months. The once powerful movement that brought down three governments even found itself having to deny rumours that it was about to disband.

Three of the PAD’s five leaders – Sondhi Limthongkul, Chamlong Srimuang and Pibhop Dhongchai – took to the stage of their protest site at Makhawan Rangsan Bridge to reaffirm their commitment to the cause, rally their troops and promote their campaign to have their supporters cast a ‘no vote’ at the upcoming election.

The ‘no-vote’ campaign is part of the PAD’s master plan to have no elections for 4-5 years during which time it wants an unelected government to oversee political reform.

Justifying this position, Chamlong Srimuang said of politicians on both sides of Thailand’s political divide: "They have no interests in protecting territorial sovereignty or overcoming peoples' economic hardships.  Most of them bought the votes needed to get elected and are interested in only corruption, to make enough money for the next election.”

While it is hard to disagree with that assessment, the question remains whether installing an unelected government would really be a better alternative for Thailand and its people. Many people – myself included – felt that Thailand would wipe the slate clean and enter a period of improved democracy following the 2006 coup, but the status quo of corrupt, self-serving politicians soon returned.

With no end in sight to the never-ending cycle of corrupt governments and anti-government protests, the idea of complete political reform may be sound, but it begs many questions.

If an unelected government is to oversee political reform in Thailand, who is the man or woman to lead it?

How can we ensure transparency? What is to prevent another Thaksin buying his way to power and then abusing the system again?

The ultimate question is: should democracy in Thailand be allowed to evolve naturally, or does the system need a complete overhaul?

I personally fear that until education improves and the culture of corruption changes, we are doomed to see Thailand’s political history repeated.

Are Chamlong, Sondhi, et al power hungry madmen or political reform geniuses?

Paul Snowdon – April 2, 2011

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Have your say...

David Donald
02 Apr 2011, 04:43
Maybe ban from public speaking for LIFE on national business, every person who has ever held political office over tambon level, all their blood relatives, and any one they ever employed or paid a check to... And then ban them and their descendants from ever holding elected office again for 9 generations.
02 Apr 2011, 09:12
genius is socially accepted insanity.

Taking over airports was 'insane'. PADS recent comments are 'simple' observation. 1. Elections will solve nothing, duh 2. The whole System needs overhauling, and dummber. While I have been a vocal of PAD [and UDD} I am opened minded enough to begrudge them stating a couple of facts, same same facts I have been publishing for nearly FOUR years!

They say, appointed Government for 4 or 5 years. < won't work with their 'hidden' agenda.

I say appointed Govt for 6 months to 3 years. < WILL work because of a fair and stable system ready to GO.

ALSO, I have an 'ingenius' way to select the appointed Govt which I will, only, reveal if they ever decide to listen to me. [There is a false notion a military coup will work like the last dozen. NOT THI
02 Apr 2011, 20:16
ROFL great writing BTW! oozing with facts and dripping with sarcastic tidbits. I don't know if Thais get sarcasm tho?
28 Nov 2015, 04:17
9f0Peter, interesting pectpersive but I don't buy it. While I agree that we do have to deal with it because no amount of whining will change such a deep-held belief, it doesn't mean we have to agree with it or support it.Your basic argument is the same one that Thais use to justify double pricing farang have more money than Thais, so they can afford to pay more. While your second argument that it's based on sensible economics' is certainly worth more discussion, the entire scheme is based on assumption and profiling, and upon closer inspection, the whole argument falls apart. While I am indeed fortunate enough to make more money than some Thais I know, other Thais I know make much more than I do, and certainly come from families that own property, land and large businesses that pull in more money in a month than I'll see in my lifetime. Following your argument, they should pay more than me. How much? Is it a sliding scale? Should we show our pay slips?Further to that, what if two Thais go to the same attraction Somchai from Bangkok and Pimporn from Buriram. Should Somchai pay more because people from Bangkok have a higher average income than people from Buriram? How finely do you slice it there are poor people and rich people in Bangkok too do you divvy it up by neighborhood? And how would the gate attendant of an attraction decide who pays more? Just as they know I'm a farang by my white face, can they assume that because Pimporn has dark skin more commonly seen in Isaan that she from Buriram? What if, say, the London Eye charged one price for locals and 3x that price for Thais visiting the UK. Well, they can afford to travel to an expensive country, so shouldn't they pay more than some local high school kid?I'm not saying there's an easy answer I certainly don't have one I'm just saying the practice if ripe for abuse, and it's a slippery slope to full-on discrimination. Greg
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