Daily Archives: January 1, 2007

Winning the hearts and the minds

(The following blog was published 30 Dec at ‘The Nation’. Here below, however, is the originally submitted un-edited version)

Though they may be men of integrity, the leading generals, after three months in power, haven’t exactly swept the nation off their feet in sheer awe and admiration.

So, what is obviously needed for the new year, to really boost their popularity ratings, are some populist policies and ideas aimed at seriously winning the hearts and minds of the people.

Let’s start with the capital and the now pretty much defunct Don Muang Airport. I would advise that this great colossal waste of space be converted into free accommodation for all the victims of relentless slum fires. The poor folks, after having to cope with Victorian era-style slums, have next got to tolerate living under Bangkok’s over-head walkways or in local temples – to the distaste of the resident monks. Then, with plenty of area left over, Bangkok’s despised and most neglected – the flea-ridden stray hounds could also be given shelter. However, if it is found that there may be a million of them, they could also be relocated on mass, to that place with an enormous amount of free open space – Suwannaphum Airport.

Now, Bangkok isn’t exactly one of Asia’s most beautiful cities and the thousands of huge billboards are a complete eyesore. The pedestrian population would really breathe a sigh of relief if they could walk the streets safely without living in fear of being crushed by a falling dilapidated billboard advertising ‘Armpit Whitening Lotion’. And talking about beauty products. The generals would truly win the hearts and minds of many Bangkokian female university students, if big nose-jobs were offered on the 30 baht health scheme.

Mentioning the cheap health scheme, even though Thaksin didn’t think the idea up, it has gone in history as one of his most popular policies. So, why doesn’t the government just simply take one step further and offer a splendid 20 Baht health scheme? Two unfortunate trips to the hospital would, however, guarantee a grand saving, worthy of purchasing a mini bottle of illegal moonshine. The upcountry male population would be delighted at such a fantastic proposal!

You would have to agree that Thaksin really knew how to the achieve the thumbs up from the rural villagers, so isn’t it about time that the generals put on a sarong and vest and spent two weeks a month living with the locals, eating spicy papaya salad and fermented fish? Cut the military budget by a fraction, and they’ll be able to promise a truly free education system which would include uniforms, shoes, books, stationery and ice-cream. On top of that, instead of the ‘One village one million baht’ policy, which is eagerly received by hungry village headmen before distribution – how about a ‘One motorbike one family’ project? Now, that would really win the hearts and minds of the people!

Everyone knows just how much the upcountry folk love the Lottery, and if the government wants to continue with any kind of clampdown, then they are only shooting themselves in the foot. Gambling on the lottery is a social norm. They, the government, have no hope of converting the people to a life without their 2-3 digit lottery, and it would be an utter waste of time for them to even contemplate the idea. Any crackdown on the lottery system would only, once again lead to it all being controlled by underground heavies. A wiser more strategic move by the government to win the hearts and the minds of the people, would be to introduce a weekly lottery! Should the masses wish to blow their cash even more than before, then that ought to be their problem. Perhaps, have the draw even more frequently, say on a daily basis. Then, if it were divinely possible, they could even become bored of gambling – I would doubt it though!

Gambling is well and truly engrained within Thai society and the government ought to admit it instead of doing the usual Thai thing, which is kicking the problem under the carpet and attempting to believe that it doesn’t exist. We have seen many of the land’s monks up-in-arms, aghast at how a Buddhist country could possibly legalize gambling, but just how many of they themselves make stacks of cash prediciting, hocus-pocus style, the lucky lottery numbers for the local villagers?

A really popular policy to help win the hearts and minds of the male youth would be to legalize ‘gambling on the football’. Since half the young male population gamble on their favorite teams every week anyway, it is quite useless to continually allow the underground system to go on unabated. The only decent choice the government seriously has, is to either permit the local mafioso and other influential uniformed figures to continue making billions, or legalize the entire industry and forward the proceeds to the national budget for the poor.

(Demanding a complete ban on alcohol ads – but is this seriously getting to the heart of the problem?)

If gambling is considered an awful sin in Thai Buddhist society, then how come you can buy official lottery tickets any time of the day, but you can’t do the same with beer? Another popular policy, a return to old ways, would be to completely scrap those idiotic time regulations concerning the sales of alcohol. What sense does any sane individual see in a law which allows you to purchase a beer between 11am – 2pm, but not 2pm – 5pm? It is suggested therefore, to sensibly abolish childish regulations which dictate to mature adults when and when they can not have drink – during the day. Besides, if you can’t get served at a fancy Western sounding mini-mart anyway, you can just whip around corner, pop into a small soi and you’ll soon find a local shopowner selling what the heck he wants, completely indifferent to any nonsensical regulations.

I would also recommend abolishing all those laws concerning severe restrictions on the advertising of alcohol. Some people may cry out “We are a Buddhist country, how can we allow such a thing?”. But again, this kind of mentality is the same as sweeping the problem to a corner and trying to forget about it. If the government are truly serious about solving such social matters, then they would need to delve into the heart of the problems. As for drink-driving, then that has be dealt with by proper law enforcement. Thais love watching sports, especially football, but they don’t exactly appreciate having to watch an event or a match with half their screen meaninglessly blurred out because of a ban on alcohol ads.

The government also needs to realise that the Thais, are by nature, a rebellious race who don’t like being told repeatedly what and what they can not do. Make a daft law, and the locals will go out their way to break it. The government needs to see that the people don’t enjoy having to put up with laws and regulations which make them out to be immature children.

And finally, how about the founding of a groovy new bank dedicated to those who never get acknowledged for their tremedous deeds to rural economics – the lovely ladies who work the bars and Internet to attract monthly payments from their various foreign lovers? With the setting up of the ‘Thai Lovers Bank’ the account holders could recieve handsome special interest rates and be offered ludicrious incentives to sponge even larger monthly payouts from their darlings. It would help the government’s popularity immensely, if they showed their appreciation to the ladies who have triumphantly managed to import billions of Baht into the rural economies.