Monday, February 5, 2007

AL Jazeera: Thai Peasants Speak in Support of Thaksin

Thaksin: Demon or Monkey?

In a traditional Thai dance called the Ramakien, Hanuman the monkey general leads the king's army into battle against an evil demon named Tosakanth.

But in Thailand's modern-day political drama, it's Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister, who's been cast as the bad guy by the country's military.

The generals who overthrew him in a coup last September blame Thaksin for nearly all of Thailand's problems - from the bloody fighting in the south and the New Year's Eve bombings in Bangkok to the cracks in the runway at Bangkok's new airport.

But for many Thais - maybe most - Thaksin isn't a villain. He's still their hero.

Enduring popularity

When Al Jazeera's David Hawkins travelled to Thaksin's political heartland in Thailand's north to see how much support remains for the former prime minister amongst the rural poor who voted him into power, the results were surprising.

Khankaew Wutisin, a fruit vendor said: "I'm a poor person. Thaksin made us feel important, like we had a voice."

Saenjan Wora-on, a shopper, said: "The good thing about Thaksin was he helped people. He gave us a healthcare scheme. He paid Thailand's national debt. No one else can do the things that he did."

Tong Panchompu, a trishaw driver, said: "I want him to come back. I don't think this government will be around long."

Thaksin is especially popular in Chiang Mai. After all, it's his hometown. But he won two national elections, both times by a landslide.

For sign painter Charin Jompo those were good times - the martial law imposed by the army has hurt business, he says.

Jompo said: "We don't do any political work anymore. We'd get into trouble."

He's thrown away all his pro-Thaksin banners, but the ex-prime minister's picture still hangs on the wall.

"We've had more than 20 prime ministers, but no one made a difference like Thaksin", Jompo said.

But Thaksin's detractors say he's still a corrupt and conniving political opportunist.

Panitan Wannatayagorn, a political analyst, said: "Hitler was popular, you know. Mussolini was popular. Marcos was popular, you know. Fidel Castro was popular - is popular still today. Some of these people are good. Some are not good. Thaksin is essentially falling into that category."

There are 23 ongoing investigations into the alleged corruption of Thaksin's government, but so far he hasn't been charged with anything.

Even though Thaksin says he isn't planning a comeback, hardly anyone in Thailand believes him.

And perhaps they're right. Since the coup, Thaksin's managed to stay in the media's spotlight and keep everyone guessing about his intentions.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Thaksin said he would still be prepared to help the country's army chiefs restore democracy.

Thaksin said: "They have to return power back to the people. They cannot hold power forever.... This is the first time they have staged a coup against a popular government.

"So if you stage a coup against a popular government you don't have to waste the time to justify the coup but you should take the time to reconciliate the difference of people of the two sides."

In the Ramakien story, the king's army wins in the end, defeating the Tosakanth, the evil demon.

But the Thaksin Shinawatra story isn't over yet. Thailand's former prime minister might still make monkeys out of the generals who threw him out of office.

I wonder if we are going to hear a week's worth of editorials and columns from The Nation and Bangkok Post railing against Al Jazeera and the Thai peasantry.

Will these newspapers condemn Al Jazeera and their own people for "loving" and "praising" Thaksin or will they continue to chase after the phantoms and demons in the Western media like the hypocrites that they are?


Anonymous said...

Thsi would be less depressing if you thought that the Surayud Govt was able to do more than talk a good game.

Fonzi said...

Is this a rhetorical statement or do you mean it literally?

Regardless, I make a distinction between what the government should do internationally and domestically.

Unfortunately, the Surayud Government is bungling every which way.

I still have some hope that these problems are the growing pains of a new government and eventually things will get back on track. If a new Constitution goes through and elections are run smoothly and without controversy, I have a sliver of hope everything will be reconciled one way or the other.

I didn't rail against Kavi over at The Nation, because I agree with most of his recommendations.

I also agree with Prasong.

Sonthi needs to crack some skulls.