Sunday, October 08, 2006

Letter from Bangkok

Uncle's latest article on Thailand. Dad has also written a little bit on Thailand -- Thai conundrum and Thai coup. And a bonus item is a forwarded e-mail -- political asylum to Thai leader. :-)

Uncle's letter from Bangkok:

I think it is quite safe to assume that most of my readers have been to Bangkok if not to other parts of Thailand. The rich and not so rich, and even I dare say the poor have always found Thailand to be an exotic place. Apart from the “mainland” (and Macao is part of the “mainland”) Thailand must be the most popular place for Hong Kong people to visit partly because it is still an extremely inexpensive country.

So, many of us were no doubt greatly surprised to learn of the military coup in Bangkok. My friends who were in Bangkok when the coup struck tell me that they hardly noticed any changes in the hours and days following the coup.

By the standards of previous coups in Thailand and in other countries this coup must rank as one of the smoothest and gentlest coups ever experienced. And by the standards of a coup in a developing country it must rank as one of the most successful coups because no western democracy, let alone any totalitarian state, has condemned it in strong terms. Protests by Australia and the United States were notable for their gentleness which bordered on feebleness.

There are two questions which bother me? First, in a democracy how can it ever be right for a democratically elected leader, as Thaksin Shinawatra surely was, to be so easily thrown out of office by the say-so of an unelected army general and in contravention of Thailand’s rule of law?

Secondly, why have the countries that so ardently preach the supposed massive advantages of democracy been so silent and reluctant to condemn the Thai generals?

Just imagine for a moment that the military coup had occurred not in Thailand but in another country which was not on such friendly terms with the western democracies. What would have been the reaction of those same western democracies? They would have protested loudly, condemned the leaders of the coup, possibly threatened economic sanctions and perhaps advised against tourism to that country.

Please do not misunderstand me! I am not for one moment recommending sanctions against Thailand or saying we should cancel our holidays visits to Patpong. I just want to point out the hypocrisy and double-standards of the western democracies.

Meantime, we all no doubt wish the Thai people a very happy and democratic future. It will be interesting to see if this coup marks a brief interruption on Thailand’s march to a fully stable democratic system, or if it marks a return to less stable times. After all King Bhumibol’s reign has experienced 18 military coups, 15 different constitutions, and 21 prime ministers.

Most important of all, if a new future prime minister wins a big popular mandate (such as the one Mr Thaksin enjoyed), will the events of the last few weeks come to be seen as the beginning of the end of the monarchy’s constitutional role? The coming months are crucial for the futures of both the monarchy and democratic government not only in Thailand but also possibly in the Philippines and Indonesia whose democratic systems are also at a formative stage.

Finally, what of Mr Thaksin himself? He may be politically neutralized but he remains financially very secure since he sold most of his telecom empire to the Singapore state investment company Temasek for nearly HK$15 billion in a clever tax-free deal. Temasek itself must be less happy as it has seen the value of its purchase drop by nearly 50 percent or more than HK$6 billion.

Mr Thaksin is famously very intolerant of criticism, and maybe his greatest mistake was to have shown the king insufficient respect. But if he wishes he can watch events in Thailand from the safe distance of his home in London and enjoy an unexpected, early and luxurious retirement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

more importantly how to ask thaksin's daughter out?