The Cancer Within
I’m writing again about the political activists who closed down Bangkok’s airports, because of what I’ve been reading on various forums, blogs and newspapers. There are people out there who believe that, because Thailand “recovered quickly” from the Tsunami, it will also recover quickly from the terrorist attack on the airports by thousands of lawbreakers.
There is no quick bounce-back from this one. It took a good year to recover from the Tsunami, but that disaster drew the sympathy of the world and people were happy to play a part in the recovery (although let's not forget that, Thai-style, much of the money donated went 'missing'). This time people, foreigners, have been held hostage by an unelected mob with no protection from the police, government or anyone else. Businessmen thinking of investing in the country, providing jobs for Thais, have been scared off and no doubt some already here will leave. Holidaymakers have countless alternative options, even in the region where more enlightened countries are happy to welcome rather than restrict visitors. The Thais, in their bubble, cannot see that. Thailand will quickly become bankrupt, with few visitors and companies wary of doing business in a country that has no effective rule of law. And there is no sign at all of the situation getting better, only worse. Much worse. And it is the Thais who will suffer, not foreigners. Foreigners can choose not to visit the country. The locals are stuck with whatever they dig themselves into. Still, the closing down of the airports doesn’t only affect Thai businesses. I have had to cancel a two week trip to Spain, Germany and Finland, with me losing my money on the inter-European flights and the hotels there losing my bookings with them.
It isn’t as if the government wasn’t warned. Having already closed down airports in Krabi, Phuket and Surat Thani in August, inflicting short-term damage to tourism and the economy, the peace-loving but heavily armed PAD threatened again and again that they would close the main international airport in Bangkok. What did the authorities do to guard against the threat? Absolutely nothing, as we can tell. I don’t know how many people have been affected by now. There were reportedly 3,000 trapped on the first night, but that number didn’t include all the daytime flights out so the figure must be huge now, maybe 18,000 or more who have been delayed, and rising daily. And an equal number of arrivals who can’t arrive. Thai Airlines are now sending planes to Phuket to evacuate people from there back to Europe and Scandinavia. Sounds like a war zone, doesn’t it, evacuation. But that’s what it is. These thousands of people, who only came to enjoy a holiday, are having to be rescued because there is a group of people in Thailand who haven’t realised that, when people come to Thailand on holiday, they actually want to be able to go home again.
This could be a great country, but it isn't because of the corruption that infiltrates every part of society and there is NO RESPECT FOR THE LAW (unless there's money in it for someone). That is exactly why we have the situation we have now. The courts have ordered the PAD out of the airports, and that rule has been treated exactly the way any law is in this country if someone doesn't like it. The police have been ordered, through a state of emergency, to re-open the airports, but so far have refused. Their only job, their ONLY job, is to uphold the law, and instead they are breaking it, en-masse. If they don't want to do their job then disband the police and let them go home and grow rice. They'll need to, because the ultimate result of this situation will be that countless thousands will lose their livelihood and if you have no job in this country then you're on your own. There is no social security back-up. You live on the street and beg, or starve to death.
This entire situation has arisen because of the cancer within Thailand, corruption and lack of respect for the law. Right from the time kids of eight or nine ride motorcycles (with no helmet of course) and are allowed to do so, they learn that the law is there to be ignored. Everyone just gets away with everything they can, and no-one sets an example. The police? They are the biggest crooks of all, universally best known for lining their pockets as a result of intimidation (which is a crime, in case they haven’t been told). But I’ve written about them before so enough of that.
I’ll tell you something interesting that I discovered while my wife was trying to change her Spanish visa for a German one. Malaysian and Singaporean passport holders do not need a visa to visit Germany. They are trusted. Guess whether Thai passport holders are trusted. It takes a week to check if they are being truthful on their applications because, as they and we all know, Thais have a certain flexibility with the truth. If telling the truth doesn’t suit them they don’t. Same with obeying the law. If it doesn’t suit, they don’t. If the PAD don’t want to obey a court order to disperse, they don’t. If the police don’t want to obey the PM’s order to enforce the state of emergency, they don’t. Eventually that slack attitude bites back, as it is now. If people are allowed to do whatever they can get away with, then they will.
The PAD are doing what they’re doing because of the cancer, the corruption. There is not a day that the news – TV, radio, newspapers – does not have some mention of a corruption involving this, that or the other, usually involving a politician. Every day there are endless discussions, accusations, counter accusations, threats, promises, denials. Can you imagine the amount of non-productive energy and time that is taken up with something that is so entirely negative. All these people could be spending their time trying to do something that is actually useful and could even benefit society, instead of being involved in endless rows about who took what from whom and when.
The entire reason, the entire reason, that Thailand has been embarrassed in the eyes of the world, beginning with the street demonstrations that have been going on since May, is corruption. Even ex-PM Thaksin announced to the world, as his defence against corruption charges, that the entire Thai court system is corrupt. Great image for the guy to promote to the world, hum? And that despite the fact that three of his own lawyers are in jail for trying to bribe the court. Someone, and that someone was HRH, had a meeting with the judges earlier this year and told them to be honest in their work, and they listened. The scum that have embarrassed Thailand and kept it one of the most backward-looking nations in the region finally, finally, know they are unlikely to get away with so much in the future. It's a start, but only a start.
And it’s too late, because it is ingrained into every aspect of society. Corruption will not disappear, because the population expects it, is resigned to paying up when necessary, and it’s dog eats dog. If they can jump the queue, gain an edge over their neighbour with the transfer of a few baht or by knowing the right person, then that is what they’ll do. I believe I remember that in a recent survey of young people over 70% said they thought buying the attention that should be their right was an acceptable and correct thing to do. That’s the young people, the future of the nation, folks. Want a house built? Buy the materials yourself, because otherwise you’ll pay for the best and they’ll buy the cheapest and pocket the difference. It’s of no concern to them if the place falls down in 10 years, or tomorrow. And places do fall down. People die, entirely because of corruption, when an illegal extension is built, floors are added which officials are paid not to notice. Parents set a great example by buying their kids pass marks at school, where instead of learning how to be honest citizens they are taught that they can get anything with minimum effort.
No one anywhere really warms to politicians, but in Thailand many of them are little short of thugs. Let’s not even mention one, who as well as his own anti-social leanings raised two sons who were famous for intimidating people wherever they went, before one night out predictably ended in murder. Then there is another, who made his fortune from massage parlours (read prostitution), had his thugs tear down and destroy businesses on land he wanted to redevelop, and then during a TV show knocked down a newsman he didn’t like and then kicked him in the face while he was laying on the ground. He said afterwards that he felt good doing it. And you know what? He came third in the elections for Bangkok governor. People actually voted for him. That’s all you need to know about the standard the Thais aspire to. Talking of Bangkok governors, the current one recently resigned over a corruption scandal. He drew praise because he actually quit instead of whining and clinging on to power like grim death like most of them do.
All these goings-on only served to lay the ground for Thailand’s final meltdown, the Suvarnabhumi Siege. Too many people have got away with too much for too long. And do you know how the PM reacted when he arrived back in the country from a summit? With the world wanting to know what he was going to do to defuse the situation, he used much of his address to the nation to announce he had been decorated by the Peruvian government, and his plans for making Bangkok’s streets free of dirt. Oh, and by the way I’m not resigning and would you leave the airport to paying passengers please.
I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering if this is the last straw in a country that has never felt welcoming and may now be getting downright dangerous. I’m going to look into the possibility of becoming Bali Barry. It’s cheaper than Thailand, and the people are more friendly. There are western supermarkets although the infrastructure is way behind, but then so is the pollution. And it isn’t too far away for my wife to visit her family now and then. Seems to me it’s worth a look.
I think the number of people affected is FAR greater than you suggest. Depending on where the figures are, we are to believe that Suwannaphum handles 700 flights or 125,000 passengers a day. That means that half a million people have been seriously inconvenienced already. Some more than inconvenienced. Some have waited all year for their Thailand holiday and now cannot get here.
While the PAD's passion is to be admired, they have bitten off far more than they can chew. Thailand's reputation has taken a hit of mammoth proportions.