Monday, February 19, 2007

Thaksin Speaks : Interview in Australia

Correspondents Report - Sunday, 18 February , 2007

Reporter: Karen Percy

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Thailand's former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has been enjoying the sun and sand down under this week, as he plays golf and visits friends.

He's also in the market for a house and has Sydney's Eastern Suburbs in mind.

But while Thaksin Shinawatra might want to call Australia home, he's unlikely to call Thailand home for some time yet.

The military junta that deposed him in September is still determined to keep him out.

Our South East Asia Correspondent, Karen Percy, reports.

KAREN PERCY: Since being forced out of office in September's military coup, Thaksin Shinawatra has had time on his hands, and he's been travelling the region.

Sydney, Melbourne and Perth were on the itinerary this week.

During a lengthy interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation while in the harbour city, the former prime minister spoke of his past and his future, and threw in some advice for Thailand's military junta as well.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: Don't worry about me. If they take good care of the people, it means that that much the King and the Queen will be very happy, because they love their people.

KAREN PERCY: Despite being toppled from power, Mr Thaksin can still claim to be Thailand's most successful elected leader.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: Democracy in Thailand has been developed from baby to adolescence, to teenager. It's growing to be a mature person, but it's happened to fall down. When you fall down at that age, you strong enough when you come back. You can stand back and you have moved forward. You are not turning back to baby again because you are strong enough.

So, I think, after this year, the regime have to return the power back to the people, because Thai people love democracy, freedom and liberty.

KAREN PERCY: The generals behind the coup say they acted to end the divisions within the country, which they say were caused by Mr Thaksin. That's something the former leader denies.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: Maybe some elite, they enjoy weak politics; they enjoy interest benefit from me having weak politics.

So, I don't know. But I think that the divisive has been created, not by me, by those who want to trouble me.

KAREN PERCY: He says the elite of Bangkok didn't like him because he was too strong and because helped the poor and working classes.

Mr Thaksin says he's proud of his efforts to assist lower income earners. He made affordable health care available to all Thais and provided loans to farmers and businesses in rural areas.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: Too much big gaps is dangerous, it's dangerous so, I tried to bridge the gap.

KAREN PERCY: But a Washington based think-thank, Business Executives For National Security, describes Thailand as having one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world, with the poorest 20 per cent of the population earning under 5 per cent of the nation's income, while the top 20 per cent earn almost two third's of the nation's income.

Thaksin Shinawatra's told the ABC that he wants to continue to work with the poor, and is considering a research role in academia.

His future will also include more philanthropy, in light of the billions of dollars he and his family received in the tax-free sale of their telecommunications firm Shin Corporation.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: They may ask the family to pay, but if they ask to pay, we'll pay, but we have to protect our right that, by law, we don't have to pay. Why do we have to pay?

But we may spend that money in more charitable activities.

KAREN PERCY: The former leader says by not paying tax, he's maintaining the integrity of the system.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: We have to keep the principle, otherwise the whole principle has collapsed and who's going to trust your system?

Let the system be a system that is trusted worldwide, otherwise no one will want to invest in Thailand.

KAREN PERCY: There are several ongoing investigations into the Shin Corp sale, which took place just over a year ago and was the beginning of the end of Mr Thaksin's time in office.

The fact that the company was purchased by Singapore government interests led many Thais to question Mr Thaksin's loyalty.

Since starting his new life in exile, Mr Thaksin's spent a lot of time and money trying to counter allegations of corruption and cronyism.

He says nobody should be surprised that many of his friends and relations are in the two million-strong public service in Thailand. He says that's because he comes from a large family. As well, he says, he's got deep and long-term ties with the police force.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: I'm the Prime Minister at 51, you know, and ousted at 57. Six years, so my classmates, my family, themselves in the government officials, they happen to grow up and they age.

I'm very strict to the principle, if you look at all the qualifications, it's according to law.

KAREN PERCY: The allegations against the former prime minister have been coming thick and fast in recent weeks because of the many problems that have been revealed at the brand new Bangkok airport.

There are cracks in the taxiways and runways, and there are many problems inside the terminals too.

Thaksin Shinawatra pushed the project aggressively when he was in office, and insisted that it be opened just in time for October's election, a poll that was ultimately cancelled because of the military takeover.

And it's pretty clear now that the $4 billion facility wasn't anywhere near ready.

There's talk of corrupt deals, bribery and a business culture where contractors used substandard materials were used to maintain profits.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: There might be some corruption, but I cannot go into everything in detail as a Prime Minister.

KAREN PERCY: The government that replaced Thaksin Shinawatra has been working hard to restore relations with the people who live in the country's three southernmost provinces, where insurgents and Muslim militants have spent the past few years in intense battles against the military.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: They are killing innocent people. Can you just stay there and do nothing? You have to arrest. You have to do it.

KAREN PERCY: Mr Thaksin says he did not overreact in dealing with the violence in the south

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: I used the concept of both iron fist and whethered cloth.

KAREN PERCY: The current Prime Minister, Surayud Chulanont, this week expressed frustration at the slow pace of progress in the south.

The new government has apologised for the Tak Bai massacre of 2004, where more than 80 people were crushed when they were arrested and piled into a truck.

The families are now being compensated.

Mr Thaksin says he's not responsible, instead, he says, it was negligence.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: They don't have enough trucks, and it's been supervised by low-ranking officials, and they're just trying to protect themselves, not being pushed down into the trucks, so they stack them up.

That is very bad.

KAREN PERCY: This interview with Mr Thaksin hasn't provoked the strong outcry that others have in recent months, perhaps because the generals are trying to look a little less paranoid and less thin-skinned.

But they remain concerned about his influence both inside and outside of Thailand, and as a result they're putting great efforts into countering his message and reinforcing their own.

They worry that Thais might start to believe what they and many others see as Mr Thaksin's rewriting of history.

This is Karen Percy for Correspondents Report.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Government are not winning this little game. They are getting a 5-star hiding.