11 February, 2008

A mini-bio of Samak, Thailand's new PM.
You simply won't believe some of this.

...............................'Dog-mouth' Samak Sundaravej.
......... The-Thaksin-you-have-when-you're-not-having-a-Thaksin"

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.

One of Samak's party candidates actually appeared at a rally wearing a Thaksin mask! Samak, now that he is confirmed as PM, is back-pedalling furiously. He said yesterday: "No, I am myself. I'm the leader of the party. I run this country: it's me. I have my own thinking". Thai people, particularly the rural poor and politically powerful taxi-driver lobby(!), willingly swallowed Samak's pro-Thaksin spin in spite of his nasty personality:

"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.

(Incidentally, I note that many farmers, enthusiastically promised debt relief by Thaksin, are continuing to protest en masse outside Bangkok's Parliament House. Utterly deluded and sadly naive. They still believe that Thaksin was there to help them rather than himself. Otherwise, why would they vote for his avowed proxy, Samak? They don't even like the guy.)

..Farmers still petitioning for debt-relief outside Bangkok's Parliament House.

In Thailand, there's an even more blurred distinction between politics, legend and superstition than in the West, and opportunistic politicians are quick to tap into it:

.......A Thai-Chinese ghost. Yes, one lives in a Spirit House or tree near YOU.
............Hmm, the eyebrows look uncannily like John W. Howard.

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.

The 72 year-old Samak has a sharp tongue and short temper, and has been described as belligerent, aggressive, uncompromising, folksy, profane, confrontational. One of his most colorful recent remarks was to a female Thai reporter, who inquired about rumors of infighting within his party. "Did you have sinful sex last night?" he snapped back. His penchant for vulgarity has earned Samak the nickname "Dog Mouth" among critics.

He is widely accused of having fomented anti-communist sentiment in 1976 that prompted mobs to storm a Bangkok university, killing dozens of leftist student activists. The massacre came after Indochina had fallen under communist rule and Thailand was deeply polarized between right and left. Samak, who was deputy interior minister at the time, subscribed to a motto of the extreme right-wing, "It's no sin to kill communists."

He was linked to another bloodbath in 1992 now known as "Black May." Dozens were killed when the army fired on street protesters in Bangkok demanding the resignation of Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon, who had become prime minister in a coup the year before. Samak, then deputy prime minister, said the demonstrators were troublemakers who needed to be controlled. He has never expressed contrition for the killings, just like Thaksin has silently steered clear of responsibility for the 2500+ extra-judicial street killings during his terrifying murder spree euphemistically labelled as the "War on Drugs". More like "War on Political opponents". Hey, all politicians now know that wars on abstract nouns make fabulous smokescreens. Thanks, George.

Even longer ago, in the October '76 student uprising, Samak was strongly implicated by his encouragement of right-wing mobs in Bangkok, resulting in at least 41 deaths.

And Burma's junta generals are probably smiling over the appointments recently made in Samak's so-called "Ugly Duckling" Cabinet. Get this: Thailand's new Foreign Minister is no less than Thaksin's own former lawyer, Noppadon. PM Samak, himself still under investigation for corruption, awarded himself the Defence portfolio, presumably to short-circuit the likelihood of another coup. Somchai, Thaksin's brother-in-law is now Deputy PM...
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...

................ (P.S. I'm not making this up... really).

OK, now I'll examine some things PM Samak has recently said and done:
1. He has weakly attempted to distance himself from the 41 murders of the October 1976 massacre, saying he had been an 'outsider' by then. Astonishingly, he went on to claim that there had been only one death, despite the glaring facts of history. Of the uprising, he said "Actually, it was a movement of some students. They didn't like the government".

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".

Asked if prime ministers should be allowed to make money, Samak replied: "For me, for me, I have nothing of that kind. But for him, it's his business. He does business, and he wants to get rid of the shares he held. To be or not be right or wrong is up to him. I think it's right."

Translation: It's OK to abuse your influence as PM to change laws in order to gain personal financial advantage. Immorality is OK if you can get away with it. Who am I to dictate morality to others? But now that the laws have been changed, it opens the way for me to profit too. Yippee!

This isn't leadership. This isn't immorality. It's exploitation and amorality. So much for the Buddhist precept of Loving Kindness. I worry for Thailand. But i suppose the same could be said for America and the 10 Commandments...

It isn't unlike the complete absence of moral or ethical understanding demonstrated by a travel agent near us who is trying to cash in on foreigners' attraction to 'green' issues such as forest conservation, clean air, etc. A link on her website implying a green issues webpage takes you straight to her business page with further sub-links to 'green' pages. Never mind that the travel industry is inherently not at all green.
But I'm so not surprised, given the example of ethics set by Thailand's own leaders. Plus ca change...

No comments:

Post a Comment