Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Red Mob in Bangkok

I’ve gotten a lot of emails lately about the current problems in Thailand and so I’m going to do my best to explain what I believe to be going on. Now I am putting together 3 local news paper articles, one TV panel discussion translated to me from Thai by Nan, and the word on the street from 3 of my better informed Thai friends. So this is a simplification at best because I myself have little interest in politics, but living in the middle of this turmoil these last few years I’ve been exposed to a lot and will do my best to give a simplistic look at the problem.

   Everything does come back to Thaksin the former prime minister of Thailand, self-made billionaire, and now self-exiled globetrotter. He was found guilty of vote rigging or buying, conspiracy, tax evasion, and if he were to return would face a grocery list of other charges, which is why he is in no hurry to return while the current government – his rivals – are in power. They would certainly prosecute him to the utmost of their ability. So Sim, if he’s a billionaire why doesn’t he just go off and enjoy his cash? Well the Thai government has confiscated nearly 1 billion dollars of his cash and assets in the Kingdom. Simplistically put, he wants it back. He needs a government in place that would see him as a victim of a cue and of a conspiracy to take his cash rather than a criminal who was run out of town after taking far too much from the national cookie jar. When he became PM people thought here is a man above the bribery and back dealing of previous administrations because he was already so rich, but the people failed to look at the obvious oddity of this man. He was a police general in the north of Thailand, clue here being golden triangle, before somehow amassing millions of dollars, on that robust 200 dollar a month pay cops get, and buying his way into the media business until he had satellites providing services to his phone companies, TV stations, radio stations, and well to put it mildly his media empire. During his first summer in office more than 700 alleged drug dealers were killed by the police without trial and the citizens of Thailand cheered this, but some were asking the question who was choosing which drug dealers to die. Allegations were made that in general these were Thaksin’s rivals from his old days of northern POLICE WORK. A nationally sponsored vendetta massacre, well some believe so. This was the first red flag.

   Another came much later as rumors of bizarre land schemes leaked to the press. Here was how it worked, Thaksin’s plan has always been to sway the common man, the poor, and the uneducated. Thailand has an amazing amount of wealth, but as most emerging nations it is controlled by a very small group of rich elite. Of course the poor workers have nothing to lose following Thaksin, he does help them at times, but usually when it helps him more. The land deal was very crafty. They went to farm areas close to the city and offered the poor FREE LAND for having worked this land. The government provided these lands and again the people cheered this generosity. Then these new land owners were told an amount their land was worth, pennies on the dollar of course, and then select wealthy families were told that for a set amount to the Thaksin people these lands could be purchased for half their value from these poor farmers. The deal was so smooth, the poor got a lump cash payment, the rich families acquired land at a huge discount and with the means to develop it, and of course the Thaksin people got their big cut.

   This deal included too many people though and the press picked it up and ran with this story. Well the list goes on and on, but lets focus on TODAY. The power struggle is dire for the following reasons. Thaksin’s followers are not limited only to the poor and uneducated, although these minions are certainly the ones we saw dressed in communist red outfits and rioting in the streets. He also has connections back to the police and navy. These two branches still would probably lean to supporting Thaksin if he could stage a return. The Army is made up of hundreds of generals each with personal alliances and agendas. There really is too many leaders in the branches to understand the complexity of this chess game. We know this, the red shirt mob was trying very hard to pick a fight with the current government. The current government and new PM showed an amazing amount of restraint and did not fight back. The red mob spun out of control, killing 2 citizens and wounding many others. The Thai nation is now grumbling angrily about this chaotic and violent display.

   So our problem as it stands. The red mob went home, vowing they were not done, and sure enough two days later, they shot one of their rival’s political leaders in the head and as I write this, we don’t know if he will live or die. Thaksin is furiously looking for an opportunity to return. There are loyal generals to the current government, but believe me many are still loyal to Thaksin. Only action exposes which way they will swing and so it can be very difficult to know until the moment is at hand.

   We know this, that loyalty to the King has kept the peace in this Kingdom for decades and so we can only hope that this loyalty will keep the peace again today.

   Is it safe to be in Thailand? I would take my chances here over say The Bronx or South Central Las Angles, nearly every African nation, Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Houston, Detroit, probably Moscow, so safe is a relative term. I feel safe, but I’m not naïve enough to think all is calm in the kingdom of smiles, big money can buy a lot of loyalty and a lot of trouble. Picture a Hollywood movie where two rival gangs were going to war over 1 billion dollars and you have makings of a blockbuster right, well there you go. Life is always crazier than fiction. But one thing is for sure, whether it is in a movie or it is a political struggle if you want to know what is going on, look for who is going to benefit, who is getting that CREAM and you’ll find the spoon that stirs the pot. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) Most importantly, if you want to find the source of the trouble, figure out who’s going to lose their CREAM if they don’t fight. 

   Examples, gun lobbyists, cigarette lobbyists, fossil fuel lobbyists, and the list goes on. If change might take away your $$$$ not to many people will accept this without a fight.