Reasons for popular discontent:
(and what happened prior to the protests)
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.”
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 thinkexist.com, 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…..