Thai people, uncannily resembling gullible American bible-belters, tend to fall for fairy-tales and superstition when it comes to electing leaders. Samak Sundaravej, using his populist-style TV cooking/chat show to propel himself into the public eye, promised to be a carbon-copy of ousted former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, the corrupt and shamed billionaire who illegally obtained multi billions of baht in the underhand manner of Suharto and Marcos.
"I don't like Samak's mouth. He's always chewing people out. But I like Thaksin," said taxi driver Prawut Panto, who like many cabbies in Bangkok comes from the rural heartland that supports Thaksin. "I voted for Samak because we know Thaksin is backing him." Cultural genetics has kicked in - Thai people desperately wanted to believe in the tradition of the 'God-King', a long-standing stereotype in Thai-Khmer legend. That's why there has been a resurgence of nationalistic fervour in the mass adoption of yellow t-shirts representing Thailand's ageing King Bhumibol (pronounced 'Puu-mee-pon'). More than anything, that child-like dependence demonstrates that the public, desperate for reassurance about the future of Thailand, has been grasping at straws during Thaksin's years and even more during the 16 months of the post-coup Saryud government. Their 'Beloved King' is all they've got left in their psychological self-help armoury, apart from their treasured protective amulets.
Thailand's politics-weary public is cynically hoping that this new prime minister Samak would become their fabled Rescuer, carrying them away from poverty and the eternal enslavement of the daily grind.
In a culture where ghosts unquestionably exist and actively prey on unsuspecting victims, it is not at all surprising to observe the PM reverently placing a small ceramic elephant on a Spirit House for the benefit of media cameras. Symbolism (and bribery) moves Thais more than logic, actions or policies.
Sigh. Only in Thailand... ... and a few more 'old-boys club' ministerial appointment atrocities: * The new Interior Minister (Chalerm) made a fortune in gambling, which is (thankfully) illegal in Thailand, a Buddhist country. Chalerm was once charged with a gambling offence but never indicted. One of his sons killed a policeman in a bar-room brawl, but inexplicably got off. * Sanan, one of Samak's deputies, was once banned from politics for 5 years for forging a loan document. * Wives of three men similarly banned from politics have now been elevated to high positions even though they are totally inexperienced. * Surapong, the new Finance Minister, is a doctor and close Thaksin friend, but has no experience of finance. His incompetence is already being questioned, even within his own party. (Gee whiz, if this is the case, then the competence of the PM himself must also be queried, as he was the one who nominated the cabinet). * Sompong, Thaksin's boyhood classmate, is now the Justice minister.... and so forth...
OK, now I'll examine some things PM Samak has recently said and done:
Translation: 'The government was correct - those student activists deserved to die'. Samak's right wing beliefs convinced him, like President Nixon, that Asia was going to fall to the Communists, so his became a strategy of 'any means possible'.
2. Samak defends Thaksin’s 73 billion baht sale of the state-owned ShinCorp to Singapore's Temasek Corp. Samak: "Put it this way: corrupt or not corrupt, huh, in the olden days, when anyone invested in this country, you can hold only 25%, for the rest must be nominees, or any kind of thing. But he [Thaksin] decided to change that from 25% to 49%. Now when he made this change he could sell his shares, it costs 73 billion, and then he pay no tax because by law he doesn't have to pay tax. This is corrupt or not? Some say it's corrupt, but for me I say no, this is by law. This is he might take this opportunity. It must be his wisdom that he can do the trade".
But I'm so not surprised, given the example of ethics set by Thailand's own leaders. Plus ca change...