Am I Paranoid?
Do you know how to tell if you are a real paranoid?
That’s when you say, “I know I’m paranoid…..” and then you look around furtively and ask, “But am I paranoid enough?”
Talking to some of my Thai friends lately, I’m beginning to wonder who is really paranoid. I keep getting emails from people warning me that the government is planning another pogrom against us farangs. No specifics. Just a warning to be prepared for more. More what? They don’t say. But it doesn’t sound good. It looks like the Interior Ministry edict about foreigners setting up nominee companies to buy property may just be the tip of the iceberg.
We foreigners are an easy target. After all, we can’t vote. We have no say in how the country is run. All we do is provide the knowledge and money to keep a large part of the economy running.
I’m beginning to look around furtively.
The signs of discontent started just after the Singapore deal, even before the street demonstrations in Bangkok that forced Taksin to step down without actually saying he was resigning. I was at a golf club having a meal with some Thai colleagues. One of them was a Mom Rachawong. I was startled when he started criticizing Taksin, accusing him of being the most corrupt despot Thailand has ever seen. An outburst like that in public from an MR was unheard of.
Since then, I have met many Thais from all walks of life who have complained about the political situation, and Taksin in particular. One taxi driver complained that ever since Taksin authorized another 8,000 taxis for the streets of Bangkok it was extremely difficult to make ends meet. He wasn’t angling for a tip. He was speaking passionately in Thai and what he had to say must have had Taksin’s ears burning. I gave the driver a tip anyway.
Then I met this week with a couple of my clients. One is a mid-thirties businesswoman, successful and usually totally uninterested in Thai politics. This time, however, in the middle of a general discussion she let go a broadside against Taksin I couldn’t believe. It’s obvious that the PM has upset a lot of people. She accused him of screwing the country, of being corrupt, of damaging ordinary people with his policies, and on and on. I sat there with my jaw hanging down. I’d heard a few Thais complain before, but this usually quiet and unassuming lady lashed out with a venom that was amazing. She was obviously upset.
We had been discussing the state of the economy. I was bemoaning the rising cost of gas and the effect it was having on business. That’s when she started.
She said that after the demonstrations against him when he was forced to step down, she was hoping he would get out of politics completely. After all, he was super rich. Why did he need to have so much power? She couldn’t believe it when he just resumed business as usual, even after His Majesty had spoken to him.
She pointed to the obvious corruption and cronyism going on at the new airport. But what really gets her blood boiling, even now, is the Singapore deal. She said he had blatantly manipulated the system for his own gain and avoided paying any taxes. Even though technically what he did was not against the law, the Thai people didn’t see it that way. She asked, “If he can do that, why should I be honest and pay my taxes? I’ll tell you why! Because I am Thai and I don’t want to hurt my country or my fellow citizens. But Taksin has made a mockery of everything we Thais stand for.”
Strong words indeed.
I had a meeting today with another Thai who has been my friend almost from the first day I arrived in Thailand. He has a lucrative concession business out at Don Muang airport. I asked him how his business is. That unleashed another round of harsh criticism. He pointed out that it should have been easy to transfer his concession to the new airport. Instead, he didn’t even know who to talk to. He did manage to talk to one of the top brass, but all he said was that they are ‘consolidating’ the concessions and the one who wins the bid will then farm out the contracts to successful bidders. The potential for extreme corruption is obvious. You have to ask who will win the consolidated concession, don’t you?
Then he raged that even if he did manage to get a concession, the terms of the contract will state that he has to implement his business within one week. That was when he started going ballistic.
“How can I possibly scout the airport to figure out where to site my concession stalls?” he asked. “They won’t even let me on the premises. I had to pay out 6,000 Baht for a flight ticket I didn’t even want on the day Taksin flew in to test the airport just so that I could get a pass into the terminal.”
He went on, “There is no way I can possibly set everything up in one week. I have to print all my sales and marketing materials again with the correct information. I have to hire people to install my concessions. I just can’t do it. So I am seriously considering just closing down the business and walking away. I have already started laying off my staff because I can’t afford to keep them while I wait to resolve this mess. The airport will lose the 3 million baht I currently generate for the airport authority at Don Muang as well.”
Then he started talking about all the other problems he felt Taksin has caused. He said that the crackdown on bars was hurting the entire tourism business and driving away the very people Thailand relies on for so much of its national income. He said he couldn’t understand why the entertainment owners didn’t all band together to present a united front.
“One way to fight this stupidity is to shut down the whole industry and send all the staff back home to tell their families that Taksin’s policies are responsible for putting them all out of work. That would send a very strong message, and it might even open his eyes to the damage he is doing to the country.”
My friend also accused Taksin of using taxpayer’s money to go up to Isaan to hand out money to ensure he will be re-elected in October. “That is our money he is spending for his own gain.”
When I asked him if he thought the Democrats might have a chance of forming a government after the next elections, he laughed. “Khun Abhisit challenged Taksin to a debate similar to the debates they have in real democracies. But Taksin wouldn’t accept the challenge. He only likes to get up and talk alone. He couldn’t win a debate and he knows it. The problem is, the Democrats are not strong enough in Isaan, and so there is no way they can win enough seats to form a government.”
He went on, “Taksin won’t get a majority in the next election though. He might win 300 seats, so he will need a coalition partner like Banharn. This wouldn’t be so bad if Taksin would let Banharn be PM, but that won’t happen. Taksin wants to keep the power firmly in his hands.”
Won’t that generate even more unrest, I asked?
He said that for sure the people would come out onto the streets again and the problems could continue for a long time. Not a scenario to look forward to.
I told him about an experience I had a couple of days ago. A Thai businessman had come down from Udon to visit a colleague at the apartment building opposite my house. He parked his pickup outside my house for the night because by the time he finished his business he couldn’t drive home. The gas stations are all shut at night on Taksin’s orders. The next morning, this chap came out to find that thieves had stolen his expensive spare wheel and tried to steal his headlights as well.
The poor man stood there in the street screaming so that all the neighbors could hear, “This is all Taksin’s fault! If the gas stations were allowed to open 24 hours a day like before I would have driven home last night.”
It’s always the little things that end up bringing down the high and mighty. It will be interesting to see how many little things it takes before we see a resolution to the current political mess we are in. Or will Taksin prove he is a statesman before that and step down so that the country can regain stability?
My experience with Bangkok Thais is that many are anti-Taksin, and some very strongly so. But I have to say that many people use him as a scapegoat too, like your friend whose car was tampered with. Sorry, that was not Mr. Taksin’s fault at all!