Author Archives: herbert langthaler

Reasons for popular discontent

Reasons for popular discontent:
(and what happened prior to the protests)
Matthijs Cornelissen

As a student of Ramkamhaeng University at IIs, sophomore year I’ve tried together with my fellow students to find the essence of popular discontent and to give some general information on the reasons why some people would oppose Thaksin. However I just wrote down my own perception and thoughts of the political situation. As an outsider I don’t mean to offend anyone. I’d be eager to receive your suggestions and additional informations.

Feb. 21 2001 – Thaksin Shinawatra was in his favorite situation last week: declaring victory. The superconfident prime minister of Thailand stood before television cameras to announce that he had handily won the country’s Feb. 6 parliamentary election—just minutes after the voting booths had closed. “The numbers are more than enough to establish a one-party government,” he boasted, citing exit polls. Thaksin’s cockiness—as much as the fact that his ruling Thai Rak Thai Party had, in fact, scored the biggest election victory in the country’s history, winning more than 350 out of 500 seats—was more than his opponents could bear. “He’s as arrogant as ever,” sighs Surin Pitsuwan, a senior member of the main opposition Democrat Party. “It’s not very Thai.”

His Majesty

In his majesty’s birthday speech on December 5th 2005, held at the royal grounds or “Sanam Luang”; king Bhumphol Adulyadej has criticised the prime minister over the lack of ethical leadership of the nation and also addressed the growing culture of greed and materialism. Prime Minister Thaksin has been advised by the country’s revered king on 05/02/2005 to be more open to criticism. The king spoke at length that Sunday in his annual birthday speech about Thaksin’s inability to handle criticism, adding that even the king has made mistakes, and it is better to know if one has erred.

“Anyone in a very high-profile position must be able to take criticism lightly,” the king said in the speech, which was broadcast on radio and television and lasted more than an hour.

He also reminded Thaksin, who is one of Thailand’s richest men, to think before speaking and not to act on his emotions, otherwise he would regret it later. He acknowledged making many mistakes before he became king, but seldom afterward because he was cautious.

“If I weren’t careful, I would probably be dead already. This is the nature of politics or being in the public eye,” he said. Thaksin, who has filed massive lawsuits against his critics, should not sue them because it will only cause him further problems, the king added.

The most recent target of Thaksin’s ire has been outspoken publisher Sondhi Limthongkul, who has stirred up the biggest political crisis facing the prime minister in his nearly five years in power. At mass rallies, Sondhi has accused Thaksin of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the monarchy. The public clearly understood this speech to be a reference to the way in which the prime minsters runs the country. Prior to that, in 2003, he showed even greater dissatisfaction when he refused to sign a bill on education reform, sending it back to parliament, for minor flaws, for the first time in history. Although his signing of bills is merely ceremonial, it was seen as a major rebuke to Mr. Thaksin’s government. The king has rarely intervened in politics, but in recent years, he has used the speech to make thinly veiled criticisms of the government — specifically of the prime minister.

Thailand Thaksin’s company

Before getting any deeper into what caused popular discontent there are the grassroots of uneasiness over the way in which Thaksin Shinawatra has ruled the country. Many critics has labeled him as running the kingdom of Thailand as a company, where the ‘owners’ seek profits and where only those who keep the system running are rewarded for their efforts. This phenomenon has been described as “Thaksinomics”.

*Thaksin Quote: “We must accept that the global economic landscape in the new millennium is much different than in preceding decades.”

*Thaksin Quote: “Where in the world is a single-party government called a dictatorship? What’s wrong with it when people have faith in me?”

Apart from the economical aspects there are other sensitive issues and not merely one of them is the unrest in the south, the pressure of the free press and numerous scandals ranging from airport scanners to the use of public aviation materials for private parties.


Thaksin’s handling of the bird flu outbreak was another milestone in the demise of proper public information and further exposed the protection of his crownies and his friends in the poultry industry. What so many feared was that it was known that mysteriously chickens in factories died but it was kept secret from the public because it was feared it would bare economic consequences and some of his supporters were those big players in the poultry industry.

The harshest rebuke was delivered by the European Union whose statement virtually accused the Thai government of resorting to lies to protect the country’s highly lucrative industry of chicken exports. Thailand is Asia’s largest exporter of chickens.

”Given the unfolding events in Thailand on 27 January 2006, the admission by the Thai prime minister that things were not as the public was led to believe, an independent verification of these measures and its impact in Thailand will have to take place,”

”In these circumstances of non-transparency and complete reliance on Thai assurances does not seem to be the best way to go forward. We believe credibility and trust can only be rebuilt by confidence-building measures,” added the EU.

*Thaksin Quote: “The guy was infected with bird flu because he took a sick chicken, slaughtered it and then ate it,”

Tax for the plain people

Anger is also directed at tax evasion when Mr Thaksin sold his telecommunications empire, the Shinawatra Corporation, to a Singapore company for 73.3 billion Thai baht (more than €1,5 billion) without paying any tax, due to a loophole in the law. This was one of the most shameless acts of Thaksin. Not only were noodle vendors surprised that they do pay tax over the noodles they sell at the roadside, but it is the main link to which university professors, students and intellectuals, the middle class and the poor began to attach this act as ‘unethical’. It testifies of the greed of a man already so rich he could literally spend 10 baht per second.

*Thaksin Quote: As of Sept. 30, 2005, the tax collection alone showed a surplus of 60 billion baht, even after taking into account the midyear supplementary spending,”


What Thaksin is often blamed of is his supposed disrespect to the monarch and his un-buddhist persuit of running the nation as if it was a business with stocks and shares. Also he’s been accused of bluntness and his lack of sensitivity and human interaction. Another sore is his alleged ‘selling out’ of Thailand; the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with the USA and the continuing privatization of for example EGAT (Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand), and the ongoing liberalization of businesses and ministerial departments such as that of the ministry of education.

*Thaksin Quote: “The government is humbly taking the advice of His Majesty the king to use the gentle approach and allow local participation in resolving the problem,

Victory over a bloody campaign

The ‘successful’ war on drugs a signature campaign of the Thai Rak Thai party has been described by many human rights watchers as ‘dubious and bloody’. So many people have been killed in this campaign. Worries arise over extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests. [Link to US-Department]

Public transportation and infrastructure

More and more Bangkokians and people in rural Thailand are getting frustrated over the delay of progress in public works. Extensions of subways and sky trains become more and more desirable for Bangkok commuters and residents as Bangkok streets are clogged and the need for clean transportation expands. Ironically though the prime minister, over a row with Bangkok governor Aphirak, has delayed the extension of the sky train from Sapan Taksin to the Wong Wian Yai intersection, across the Chao Phraya-river. A delay which causes many commuters to be stuck on the infamous Taksin-bridge (named after a king not after the PM) or as other option squeeze themselves in ponds and ferries or other unreliable sorts of boats.

*Thaksin Quote: “I’m commuting and rotating around in the region.”

Deterioration of living environment

Pollution is on the rise in major industrial cities across Thailand. Mining companies and those chemical factories have once again been guilty of spills and dumping waste. As was reported in the news recently; those companies were intoxicating rice paddies in Tak province and in other provinces there were scams of waste dump.

As Thailand’s economy expands Thailand’s resources are more under pressure. Logging in national parks, elephants on Bangkok streets … they’re just few of the many example of Thailand’s environmental deterioration. Under the current administration there’s little to no attention for these problems. As major cities boom, and population expands, water shortages continue. Take Chiang Mai or Pattaya, for example, one cannot just ignore the huge water problems in the forested northern town of Chiang Mai or in the popular seaside resort town of Pattaya. As construction continues to wriggle throughout Thailand, irrigation and draining remains in a poor state, Thailand will face greater problems to nourish its people with the life source being water.

*Thaksin Quote: Natural rubber is but one of the many natural resources that are found in abundance in our diversely rich region. Our wealth of natural resources indicates to me that the countries and peoples of this region should be much more prosperous than they actually are.”

Sources: 1)Greenleft Weekly Organization 2) World Association for Christian Communication, 3) Quotations of Thaksin Shinawatra by, 4) Time Asia Magazine, The Common Touch. Jan. 31, 2005, by Michael Schuman | Baan Dongsaensuk, 5) The Washington Times: Monarchy at crossroads by Julie Chao

Three of my fellow Thai students have actually asked the students at the law faculty their opinions about Thaksin and the Tai Rak Thai Party. They came up with a short interview which you can read on page 2…..

The political devide of a nation

As daily demonstrations carry on in Sanam Luang and as the crowd swells on (as witnessed on Tuesday, 14 March at the Sanam Luang Park), protestors against Thaksin show no sign of fatigue and their protestors spirit is only seemingly fuelled by the stubbornness of Prime Minster Thaskin who sees no reason to quit while leaning on the broad support he has gained from provincials in the dominantly northern and north eastern provinces of the kingdom.

Apart from Bangkok residents, intellectuals, monks, women’s organizations and anti Thaksin protestors from else where joined a majority of southerners whom flocked to the capital in great numbers for Tuesday’s evening protest. Some of the protestors came with their entire families, wives and children.

The mood was less cozy than during the very first demonstrations previously held at the royal grounds. Not only was it pressingly hot and humid, the atmosphere was more demanding, almost suffocating. Policemen smiled less and the presence of special arrest units and even sniff dogs created a rather obnoxious atmosphere. Maybe this was enhanced by the chanting of monks at the side of the Fine Arts Dept. and opposite of the grand palace white walls.

The crowd on that particular Tuesday evening thickened and brought about many curious people, vendors and the die-hard protestors. One thing is for sure, it was a ‘golden opportunity’ for motorbike taxis, car taxis and vendors to make a fast bath. And although traffic seemed to flow quite orderly it was still a nuisance for people who work in the area to reach home. Thus most commuters were forced to squeeze on the public transportation hence buses were thoroughly overloaded with passengers.

A Chinese-opera style (propaganda) play took place on stage and the accusations about Thaksin pampering the north and neglecting the rest of the country was emphasized on. With impressive sounds that usually also accompany a real Chinese Opera. Imagine the swelling of the crowd with its beggars and poor people, teenagers and spectators, chanting monks through speakers. Huge TV-screens showed close-up shots of the crowd and the news broadcasted on other channels. The crowd was hectic, it was moving in all directions. Not many seemed to be willing to sit. There was a sense of impatience and anxiety as well as frustration and exhaustion. This could be a dangerous cocktail for a protest starting peaceful but eventually ending violent.

However with the new information age and all the technologies available to capture a protest, and not unimportantly the international attention Thailand currently enjoys, the whole world is watching and wondering if a similar bloody protest referred to as “Black May” could happen again.

Thais are known as peace-loving people inspired by not only Buddhism are reluctant of resorting to violence. However it needs little to plunge the situation into crisis. Anywhere are ill-intentioned people plotting their filthy schemes.
In any case it should be emphasized that what has kept Thailand together for centuries was its “unity in diversity”. The strength of Thailand lies in the co-operation of fellow- Thais to keep the enemy out. That’s also how Thailand could withstand colonialism.

It would be morally just for Thaksin not to think of keeping office in the first place even though lawfully he’s still the PM of the kingdom. He should question the morality of tax evasion which handled about billions of Thai baths was too much to bare in a country where the average labor salary is registered at 184 bt. per day. That would be the first step. Secondly he should contemplate if the hurt southerners feel over his policies and sayings about people living in those southern provinces weren’t a bit (soflty put) blunt. If Thaksin is a man of reason, his first concern should be the unity of the kingdom, which was actually sealed for quite a few years already. It’s not a fight of who should be in power, it’s a fight of how we interpret democracy. Where one portion of the Thai nation favors the Thai Rak Thai choosen leader and on the other hand there are those Bangkokians and southerners alike who would rather see the PM resign.

The divide between the North and South must stop. The divide between the intellectuals and the poor must come to an end. It’s all so easy for Thaskin if he wasn’t so stubborn.
We don’t need a divide, what this country needs is reconciliation

Now Bangkok braces itself for Friday’s pro government rally and pro Thaksin league Provincials have already gathered in Patum Thani province and will set to Anandha Samakhom throne hall, preferably addressed bluntly by the press as ‘Government House’.

I sincerely hope that they can also stage their support for Thaksin as this is a key fundament to democracy. However we should be more sensitive towards cultural and religious institutions. I’d hope that any protestor would look deep inside the core reason of joining a protest, regardless in favor or against the PM. Also I’d like to add that if the monks decide to join protests they should be aware of their impact they have in Thai society.

We need to be rational, sensible and honest. Also let us use respect for each other even if we disagree on political stands. All people have emotions and feelings. We should remain righteous whenever we accuse someone or whenever we hear gossip or whispers. Facts should be presented so we could proof and establish whether someone’s wrongdoing was indeed severe. Thais have a saying for ‘calm down’ it’s concept is even wider than just cooling down, it could also mean come back to your senses. It goes like this “Yai yen yen!”
When the body is too hot the brain cannot function nor reason sensibly.
A further personal note towards Thaskin and his opponents, I wish him wisdom in his decisions and I hope he’ll concentrate on the unity and dignity of the Thai people. (And for the anti Thaksin protestors) Indeed how many people’s powers do we need and wasn’t it the same people’s power who brought Gloria Macapgal Arroyo president of The Philippines to power in the first place; in a similar power struggle as in Thailand? Only join a protest if you’ve reasoned why you should join, and investigate the accusations and not just follow the gossips or commonly perceived thoughts of people. This will give you a better insight on issues that you want to address. Knowledge is power after all. Both parties need to accept that stubbornness is not the way to a democratic process.
And after Thaksin who’s going to be the right leader for the country? Question yourself always and try to find the pure solution, which will work for not only you but the rest of the country also.

Matthijs Cornelissen

Political Crisis In Thailand

We are a group of journalism students at Ramkhamhaeng University Bangkok. We worked out some articels about the current political situation in Thailnad and want to present them on this blog. Please feel free to give any comments !

SANAM LUANG, 26TH FEBRUARY 2006. We, six journalism students and their professor from a local state university are standing in the middle of the park, 300 meters south of the infamous tourist destination Kao Sarn Road.

Unlike Kao Sarn Road, the park is empty.

Masses of people we expected, carrying banners and yellow t-shirts, calling for the Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to resign. Sanam Luang, the traditional place to gather and show the leaders of Thailand that they are not wanted anymore, has a long history in past uprisings.

In 1992, ten thousands of people gathered here to release their anger and frustration about the military government of General Suchinda. In the 1973 insurgence 77 people were killed and 800 injured at the nearby Democracy Monument when the government put down a demonstration.

Tonight the wide place is empty. The stage where activists yesterday called for Thaksin to step down looks smaller than in the television. The day before the park was crowded with people, now only some die-hard opponents of the prime minister and homeless people sit and sleep at the few spots were still grass grows. The big demonstration was moved to the 5th February.

A bit lost we stand in the center, looking for a sign of the political crisis that keeps the Kingdom of Thailand busy for the last few weeks.
Triggered by the sale of Shin Corps, the telecommunications company owned by Thaksin, to Singapore, more and more people join the “Alliance for Democracy”, led by Sondhi Limtongkul, a former friend and business partner of Thaksin.

The sale of Shin Corp. brought the Shinawatra family 73 billion Baht, around 1.9 billion dollars. Not a single Baht tax was paid. Although not illegal, allegations of nepotism and corruption grow louder. Especially since the law that allowed the deal to be tax-free was passed a few days before by Thaksins Thai Rak Thai (Thai love Thais) party. The prime minister finds himself under more and more pressure; he dissolved the parliament and set the date for a new election for April the 2nd.
The other three major parties in parliament, Democrats, Chat Thai, and MahaChon Party agreed to boycott the election. They want Thaksin to step down.

We decide to leave Sanam Luang when we see a hand waving at us, belonging to a middle-aged man standing in a stall built with anti-Thaksin banners.
“Have a look”, he says in broken English and points to a sign attached to a banner, reading “Overlapping interests. Corruption. Sale of Motherland. Thaksin get out”, and a cartoon of Thaksin, depict with a square head, the horns of a devil and red eyes.

The activist, who says his name is “Small”, wears a black headband, saying: “People for Democracy”. This, he explains, shows that he is a member of a hardliner group, involved in the 1992 uproar and willing to fight.

He holds out with two other men and a woman, they hand us bottles of water, “sorry – no have fridge”, they say when we drink the warm water on this hot, humid evening in the heart of Bangkok.

Corruption, sale out of public property, not holding promises, that’s why they are here Small explains. “He talks in a good way, but bad things follow.” His face is angry.

Quickly they print more headscarves; we have to hold them for two minutes until they are dry. Two for each one of us. Than we pose for a picture with the little group; I wait for the feeling of being used to come, but it doesn’t.

How far would you go in your resistance, we ask them. After the demonstration of the 5th, something has to happen, Small says. A kite is flying above us in the dark sky with fast moving red clouds. And if it turns violent? His face remains uncompromisingly. “Something must happen.”

Short biography of Sondhi and Chamlong

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