Friday, October 31, 2008

Caught with his pants down?

This is supposed to be a man who looks very much
like Premier Somchai Wongsawat.

He is the "star" in a sensational 25-minute video clip that shows him with a number of "girl friends" on various occasions...and one of the clips had this man driving a BMW to a love motel after picking up a woman from a house on March 24, two years ago.

In another part of the clip, the man, wearing glasses, is shown parking his white Lexus SUV at a restaurant where he had lunch with his wife. The "wife" in the clip is said to look very much like former Premier Thaksin Shinnawatr's sister, Yaovapa, who happens to be the present prime minister's wife.

Naturally, when reporters met the premier yesterday, he was asked about the steamy clips. Somchai just smiled and promtply walked away.

The fact that the premier refused to deny that he was that man in the footage has of course fueled a new round of speculation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New violence this morning...Bombs thrown at PAD guards, Judge's home

I woke up this morning, even more depressed than the day before.

At around midnight, a bomb was hurled into the house of Charan Pakdithanakul, a well-known Constitutional Court judge who had come under attack by pro-government groups on state-run NBT television channel.

At 3.20 am, M-26 grenades were thrown into a group of guards of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) at Makkawan Bridge. At last report, at least nine persons were injured, one seriously.

A while later, gunshots were heard fired into a PAD rally, at a nearby location
(Chamaimaruchet Bridge, near Government House.)

Who's behind this new escalation of violence? If the Somchai government is serious about law and order, it won't be too difficult a question to answer. But if the government remains "neutral" as it has claimed all along, accusations of government-sponsored violence against anti-government elements will fly high and thick today.

It's also interesting to note that this latest seires of violent incidents took place just a few hours before the PAD was scheduled to hold a rally in front of the British Embassy to pressure the British government to extradite former Premier Thaksin Shinnawatr who has been sentenced to two years in jail for "conflict of interest" when he allowed his wife to take part in a bidding for a piece of land put up for auction by a government agency.

Just as you thought things couldn't get any worse, they did.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thaksin may lose his rank, passport..and his shirt

Former Premier Thaksin Shinnawatr may soon lose his rank of lieutenant-colonel for his conviction in the controversial land purchase case. Police say they are looking into all related laws and regulations. The National Police Act says that a commissioned officer found guilty of corruption or sentenced to jail could be stripped of his rank.

Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat has also said that his office is looking into regulations that a former premier found guilty of a criminal charge should be deprived of the special privileges granted under a diplomatic passport.

Will Thaksin also lose his appeal to "unfreeze" the estimated 70 billion baht worth of assets ordered by the court so far? We shall see whether he will also lose his shirt. Or whether he will get back a jacket after losing his shirt.

Monday, October 27, 2008

In tense Thailand today, Yellow versus Red as Green looks on, nervously

Monday morning, Oct 27...and the signs aren't good.
In fact, all indications point to
a deterioration of the political confrontation here in
this "Land of Smiles."

It seems, sadly, that Thais don't smile that much,
or that sincerely anymore, these days.

The ongoing show-down between
the pro and anti-government camps could turn into a bloody
civil war, if no workable solutions are forthcoming.

The anti-Thaksin "Yellow" versus the pro-Thaksin
"Red." Somewhere in between is "Green" -- the military which
has vowed to stop any bloodshed should the first two groups
engage in violence.

A "third force" has emerged over the weekend. A coalition of
academics and social activists, calling themselves "Santi Prachatham
Network" launched its "Three Stops Campaign" urging all groups to
put a halt to stirring up the public's sentiments.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD -- yellow) continues to
occupy Government House. The pro-Thaksin United Front of Democracy
against Dictatorship (UDD, red) will hold a major rally on Nov 1,
with Thaksin promising to call in from London for a live interview to
mobilize his supporters.

UDD and former deputy police chief, Police Gen Salang Bunnag, have
threatened to suround Government House to force the PAD out. Salang
has since backed down from the plan. But he says anything could happen
from now on.

The PAD responded by building up walls of tyres to keep out any
possible invaders.

Military leaders have met to discuss contingency plans for any possible
violent clashes.

No signs of a compromise or peaceful solution just yet. Things will
get worse before they get better. Hope I can report more encouraging news
in my next blog.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thaksin's extradition: Lengthy and complicated

BBC's Michael Dobie says the procedure to extradite Ex-Premier Thaksin Shinnawatr can be "lengthy and complicated."

Thailand and Britain have had an extradition treaty since 1911. For the request to succeed, the UK extradition courts must agree that Thaksin's crime can be considered one in Britain as well.

But British authorities will have to consider whether the cases against Thaksin are "politically motivated" as claimed by Thaksin all along.

Extradition lawyer Clive Nicholls was quoted as saying: "If it appears the request to extradite is in order to punish him for political opinions, extradition is barred."

The BBC correspondent adds that the UK courts will also look at whether Thaksin has received a fair trial and if there is the possibility of a retrial or a challenge to the conviction if he is returned.

Of course, the Thai prosecutors will argue that the latest Supreme Court's verdict to jail Thaksin for two years without a suspended sentence was based on an anti-corruption clause in the Anti-Corruption Act that is aimed at punishing politicians pursuing "conflicts of interests" activities.

Is "conflict of interest" a serious issue in British politics?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Be warned: Don't talk politics with Thai may get killed

I am not joking. Three friends were having a drink
last night in a restaurant on the suburbs of
Bangkok. One guy ended up stabbing one of the
two friends, because they started arguing over
who was right or wrong about the ongoing political

Thai society is split right down the middle between
those passionately in favour of Thakin Shinnawatr,
the ex-premier, and those strongly against him.

Police quoted the suspected killer as testifying:
"We were having a nice drink when things turned sour
because we started to discuss politics. One of us
said he was against the protestors. When we criticized
his stand, he became enraged and started shouting
angry words at me. He said I was stupid and politically
ignorant. I knew he was drunk but I got mad all the same.
When he left the table, I followed
him and pulled out my knife to stab him...until he
couldn't breathe anymore..."

Police didn't say whether the alleged killer was also

So, if you are Thai, be warned. Don't talk trash about
politics with friends when you want to have a good
time together. Even husbands and wives, brothers and
sisters are said to have split up because of the current
political stand-off in Thailand.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Elephant gets killed on Bangkok street?

Believe it or not, elephants do get killed on Bangkok streets in traffic accidents. Just the other day, an elephant was knocked down by an oncoming van. It died instantly. A man standing close by was also killed. Police rushed to the scene of the accident but didn't know how to handle the case. The elephant wasn't supposed to be walking on the streets of Bangkok. The car driver was obviously caught off-guard when he saw a huge pachyderm right in front of his speeding car. Non-government organizations against cruelty to animals have been protesting against the use of wild animals for donations in the city. But nobody seems to be able to stop the trend.

So when you are driving in Bangkok, apart from being on alert for intoxicated drivers, be aware of the fact that you may run into elephants at the next turn.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thai politics: From hand clappers to foot clappers

The anti-Thaksin protestors have been using hand clapppers to cheer up one another. Now, the pro-Thaksin protestors against protestors have come up with their "foot clappers" in retaliation.

It's the symbol of hands of PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) against that of DAAD's feet (Democratic Alliance Againsti Dictatorship).

It's yellow against red.

It's "new politics" against "old politics."

The introduction of "foot clappers" into the divisive political atmosphere is particularly interesting since foot has always been considered a sign lowly gesture. Thais don't use their feet to point at things. Thais don't put their feet over things they consider respectable. "My foot!" is considered a rude expression.

When you get mad, you may slap others with your hand. But it's when you getting really worked up that you kick somebody else with one of your feet.

The introduction of politics of "foot" therefore indicates that Thai politics has been plunged to a new low indeed.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bangkokians' concern: Traffic jam over street violence?

If yesterday's AFP report datedlined Bangkok was anywhere near accurate, then lots of soul-searching is in order indeed. And we shouldn't get angry if your foreign friends say we are still a third-word nation.

The AFP story had this to say: Despite international headlines screaming of turmoil in Thailand, many Bangkok residents see this week's violence between police and protesters as more of a traffic problem than a political one.

In a country that has seen 18 coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, the clashes were treated with concern and sadness, but the sprawling capital mostly carried on as if nothing was amiss.

"Politics in Thailand is not stable," shrugged an unconcerned commuter on the ultra-modern light railway who would not give his full name.

Two people were killed and more than 470 injured when police clashed with thousands of anti-government protesters who stormed parliament on Tuesday.

As with previous political violence at nearby Government House this year, the fallout was localised.

"The first factor is the traffic for the people who work in that area," said Sinisa Lungrung, 32, who works in marketing. "The second factor is the uncertainty that affects people's lives."

Student Kantapat Tepinpria, 16, goes to school near parliament. The unrest added 30 minutes to his commute, he said. When asked if there were any further effects, Kantapat thought for a moment, then shook his head: "Just traffic."

Just traffic? Well, who can argue with the wisdom of the so-called "man on the street" especially conducted by a foreign correspondents on the Bangkok streets.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mr Prime Minister, you are playing a dangerous game

Click to watch my video comment on the arrest of protest leader, Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang, just as he was casting his ballot in Sunday's Bangkok governor election yesterday. The domestic political temperature suddenly soared to new heights.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Phallus as national souvenir? Sir, you must be joking!

Never a dull moment in Thai politics. The new culture minister, Worawat Ua-apinyakul, hardly in office for a week, has proposed that local amulets in unusual shapes such as phallus charms, Nagas, and buffaloes will be made into Thailand's pride as cultural souvenirs.

It's a sick joke, screamed well-known culture academic Srisak Wallipodom, who declared that the minister has no understanding of culture.

Simply put, if the idea was ever taken seriously, he said, it would plunge the country into a "crisis of culture."

The minister had also suggested that his new, innovative "national sovernirs" would include the mythical serpent-like creature naga, also known as "kwai thanu." It's a well-known folk talisman in the shape of buffalo, used by local villagers to protect them against all kinds of evil powers.

"We can turn local amulets with phallus symbols and buffalo statuettes into key chains and sell them to tourists," a dead-panned Minister Worawat said.

He will even provide certificates of authenticity to show that their wares were properly made.

If a lot of Thais think he has gone bonkers, the minister insisted: "Don't you view this new idea of mine with contempt. This is a real innovation."

Well, all I can say is: Sir, you probably have better things to do.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Confused in Thailand? Get used to it!

I don't blame any foreigner who says he or she is totally confused about what's happening in Thailand these days? We Thais are arguing over what's the real meaning of it all anyway.

President of the Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) Munenori Yamada told us during a roundtable discussion last week that Japanese investors had been baffled by the protest movement here.

What is the whole theme of the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) in the first place, he asked.

"We tried to understand the political conflict here. But unlike protests elsewhere in the world, there is no clear theme on what is the cause of the discontent. For instance, in the US, people protest about whether they want a centralized government. But here, there's no clear explanation as to why protestors have turned against the government. So, Japanese investors are perplexed by the situation," Yamada said.

My advice to Yamada is first to pay a visit to the Governnment House. That's the first confusion. Why do people go to the Government House to understand the protestors? Well, if you are in Bangkok, you know the answer to that question.

Second, read up on "Thaksinomics." Third, get Sondhi Limthongkul to answer some of the "questions you were afraid to ask."

If you are still confused, then, just get used to it! That's part of the fun. For Thais, once we get to understand what's it all about, we would begin to get bored. And getting bored in a democracy is a dangerous thing.