Friday, March 30, 2007

Washington Post/Reuters: Chiang Mai Still Supports Thaksin

Charges Fail to Rock Thaksin's Hometown Support

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

Thursday, March 29, 2007; 10:55 PM

SAN KHAMPHAENG, Thailand (Reuters) - Despite bringing criminal tax evasion charges against his family, Thailand's generals do not appear to be convincing ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's hometown backers he is a crook.

"I feel sorry for him. He was ousted in a coup and accused of cheating the country and there's no truth in it," said Chei Taepin, a 75-year-old noodle soup vendor who said he knew Thaksin, 57, when he was at primary school in San Khamphaeng.

Chei, like others, reckons the charges brought against Thaksin's wife and her brother this week are a proxy case against the charismatic billionaire who won two landslide elections on the back of massive support in the rural heartlands.

"They are afraid of him returning to politics. They can't defeat him politically, so they have to come up with all sorts of allegations," said Chei, who hangs a huge campaign poster of Thaksin wearing an outfit worn for royal functions in his shop.

The military moved in last September 19, accusing Thaksin of presiding over rampant corruption, abuse of power and cronyism, charges he denies.

A military-appointed panel is probing more than a dozen cases of alleged wrongdoing during Thaksin's five years in office and the tax evasion charges are the first to reach court.

But people in San Khamphaeng, a small handicraft town on the outskirts of the northern tourism center of Chiang Mai, still back Thaksin for policies branded by his critics as populist and aimed at keeping the poor and rural voters happy.


In Chiang Mai, Thailand's second city, people remember Thaksin for large highways, massive government offices and a flower fair which drew almost four million people to the province earlier this year.

"Thaksin is a modern man who got things done very quickly," said Chaba Nosuya, a 34-year-old teacher at a government school.

"His only mistake was being too confident in what he did, which brought jealousy from rivals," she said.

Other programs like cheap health care, annual grants to villages and a two-year war on drugs in which more than 2,000 people were killed keep feelings for Thaksin warm.

"People are grateful to Thaksin," said Supatra Kittawong, a retired teacher and now chairwoman of a million-baht ($28,500) village fund.

"People don't care what Thaksin has done wrong. It is his personal business," Supatra said.

The village funds, which critics alleged were spent on luxuries like motorcycles and mobile phones, had created jobs in her area, Supatra said.

Borrowers invested the money in goods sold at the weekend market in the town, she said.

But Supatra said there were fears the interim government would scrap such projects initiated by Thaksin as economic growth slowed amid political uncertainty.

"We will just have to wait and see what the government will do with the SML Fund," said Supatra referring to the annual grant given to villages in accordance with their population size to use as the communities sees fit.

I thought that this was interesting. This is a story you won't read about in the vernacular press.

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