Friday, November 16, 2007

Asia Times Interview: Is Samak Retarded?

Here are some pieces from the interview:

ATol: Why in your opinion were you chosen to carry forth Thaksin's political legacy? I know you've said that you are not his proxy, but why did he choose you to lead the PPP?

Samak: Thaksin called me and said, "Samak please help me. We have 270 eligible [candidates] to run and if you don't accept they will want to go to smaller parties." Those people would like to run, either as PPP or with smaller parties, so I foresaw the reason. So I told [Thaksin] it's not for you alone that I'm doing this.

I have given him a real helping hand. I have not taken a single baht from him. And I warned him, "Thaksin, I am not your worker, I'm just giving a helping hand." Believe me, I don't really want to be the leader. I'm not power hungry.

WTF? I think his recent outbursts in the media actually prove the opposite.

On respect, the crisis and the Democrats:

ATol: You're a seasoned political veteran that has served in many different governments. Why do you respect Thaksin?

Samak: What respect? I didn't say respect. I just think he did some good things for the country. For instance when you compare him to former prime minister Chuan [Leekpai]. When we had the financial crisis in 1997, Chuan had an opportunity. But after three or four years, he was not successful. He tried to solve the problems through a bureaucratic way.

He doesn't respect Thaksin. I don't get it.

I'd argue that the Democrats actually acted responsibly during the 97 crisis. They had to clean up the mess of previous governments, which Thaksin was part of.

But Thaksin used a commercialized way. Within just two years he earned enough to repay the International Monetary Fund loans. In four years he brought up new policies which he proved could work. The Democrats have only tried to destroy what Thaksin has done.

I think Thaksin took credit for all the hard choices that the Democrats made. The economy was already starting to recover when Thaksin came to power, and I think the Democrats would have paid off the IMF early also.

On the coup:

ATol: What then was the root cause of last year's coup in your opinion?

Samak: The reason the coup was carried out was because eight years ago [Thaksin] called a group of political lecturers to come talk. After that they finished he gave 200,000 baht to each lecturer to have a good time in a Nordic country, Finland .

But when they were talking and drinking, they talked and said that in Thailand the monarch is concerned with politics too much. [They said] it should be more like the Queen of England or the Emperor of Japan where they're just figureheads.

But actually the law is the same here. Thaksin happened to agree with that and supposedly there is a tape on this. Then he was a telecom and satellite tycoon. But one day he became prime minister and some people used this to blackmail him, a group that is very close to [Privy Council President] General Prem [Tinsulanonda].

When Thaksin was in power, people were always talking, "Thaksin is very clever, if he was president and the country was changed [from a monarchy] to a republic we would be more developed." Something like that. [Thaksin] doesn't know anything about it.

Those were the reasons for a coup? Are people in the elite really this idiotic and immature?

On Prem:

ATol: Is it your belief that Prem orchestrated the coup?

Samak: I cannot mention, but that is the understanding of the people of this country. I can say that. Let's put it this way: if you read the history books, he ended his military service 27 years ago. But he still thinks and acts like he's in the service. Twenty seven years after he gave up his position, when he was 60 years old, why does he still interfere in politics? Everybody says he's a statesman, that's OK. But when you are very close to the monarch, you can't do such a thing.

It looks like he thinks Prem is the mastermind.

On foreign policy:

ATol: What are your feelings about how the US has accommodated the coup-makers? Did you feel that Washington was too quick to support their coup?

Samak: The past year of US support for [ Thailand's military junta] was on the condition that they could only stay in power for only one year, on the promise that democracy will be restored. So that's why the US has had patience and that's why the elections are being held on time.

It's OK, they didn't sell them weapons at this time. But the US is still a guarantor of this kind of military movement across the world. They make strong statements when the world is looking, like with General Musharraf in Pakistan now, they tell him you must stop with emergency rule. But the US doesn't say much when the world's not watching.

I agree with this, the US is hypocritical and gets away with it, however...

ATol: So would a PPP-led government approach US relations in a different manner because Washington apparently tacitly supported the coup? Particularly considering the regional competition now underway between the US and China for regional influence and Beijing's overt support for Thaksin while in exile?

Samak: Let me put it this way, what would Thaksin have done? It's a dynamic. If he disagreed with the US , he would go to China , he would go to Russia . If he had a conflict over buying F-16 fighters, he would join with China, join with India. So when you do things like this, it makes things more balanced. And the United States can't say anything. I think it is good.

Is he retarded? If he becomes PM, will this be his foreign policy?

When you compare it to [former Thai prime minister] Chuan he just followed the way of what the bureaucracy said. He wasn't dynamic enough to do anything else. But Thaksin was willing to take risks. Under Thaksin we were on the front line of the [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], both in politics and economics. But now just one year after the coup, we have moved down to the level of [ Myanmar ] and Cambodia . Why? Because everyone else is running and we are standing still.

I don't think this is true. Was Thaksin a respected regional and world leader? I think he was more of a laughingstock. None of his regional buddies came out in defense of him after the coup. The great powers didn't mind and seemingly gave their blessing. Indeed, China and the US seemed to be in love with the junta.; for Japan and India, it was business as usual. The EU made a slight stink; typically, it was all bark and no bite.

ATol: So a PPP-led government wouldn't necessarily be more pro-China at the US's expense because of their engagement with the coup-makers?

Samak: No, no, no. We can balance no problem. They are both colleagues. The US is a little bit far away, but a good old friend. But China is more than a good old friend, we are not far away from each other, we are in the same zone.

This is an interesting, though retarded remark. It looks like there will be a shift towards China. But it is hard to tell when Samak articulates himself worse than George Bush.

I wonder when there will be a Thai leader who can articulate a foreign policy other than, "When one major power makes us angry, we will run into the arms of the other, then let them compete for our affections and loyalty." It sounds more like a soap opera on TV than a foreign policy. Though it wouldn't surprise me if the Foreign Ministry formulated their policies from TV drama theory. That, and the old myth of how King Chulalongkorn outwitted the European imperialists by playing the British and French off each other.


Anonymous said...

Come to think of it Fonzi, Samak Sundaravej did come out sounding like a retard in that recent Asia Times interview, and that was from print. I believe that Samak's oral English delivery during that interview, if we can only actually hear it, will confirm our Samak-is-a-retard suspicion.

And to realize that our next Thai Prime Minister could be Samak Sundaravej, may heavens have mercy on all of us, amen!

Thai Observer said...

Samak is the ideal person to lead and be spokesman for PPP. he should ensure that they do not get elected.

He is remarkable though. A curiosity. The capacity of his mouth appears to exceed the capacity of his brain.

Bangkok Pundit said...

I'd argue that the Democrats actually acted responsibly during the 97 crisis. They had to clean up the mess of previous governments, which Thaksin was part of.

I think they acted responsibly to a certain extent, but they didn't manage people's expectations so I agree with Samak when he says that Chuan was not successful.

I don't think this is true. Was Thaksin a respected regional and world leader? I think he was more of a laughingstock.

There was a time in 2003/2004 when Thaksin seemed to have come clout regionally (ASEAN), at least, it appeared more than the previous government, but after the violence in the South, Malaysia and Indonesia weren't happy with him.

Perhaps, I have low expectations of when Samak and other Thai politicians speak, but he wasn't as bad as I what I expected. At least, he wasn't obnoxious which really seems to be the bar for when Samak speaks these days. They will give him a Deputy PM position so he twiddle his thumbs and feel important. Given others in PPP will be responsible for formulating foreign policy, nothing he says now means much.