Watching From A Safe Distance
As I watch events in Bangkok unfold from the safety of my television screen, I am trying to decide whose side I am on.
What little I know is as follows: The protagonists are relatively easy to identify. There are the Redshirts who are supporters of deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (TS), and the Yellowshirts who are opposed to him. TS, though democratically elected, was deposed by a bloodless military coup whilst visiting the United Nations.
Following a period in exile, he returned to Thailand to face charges of corruption whist in office. His wife was also charged with tax evasion. The amount involved in the alleged corruption is in the region of €1.8 Billion. TS would not be the first politician to be removed in a coup, and then put into a show trial to establish the “credibility” of the coup plotters.
Normally, I would be suspicious of these charges. TS is one of the richest men in Thailand, and quite clearly had no need for the money. However, over the years, I have learned that if there is one species of human that can be affected by the sickness of pathological greed, it is the super rich, especially when they have the keys to the treasury in a third world country.
The Marcos family in the Philippines is one example; another is Mobotu who was President of Zaire. In his time he managed to loot about $6 Billion from his country, and though in terms of mineral wealth, it was one of the richest countries in Africa, the people were amongst the poorest. In one famous TV interview, it was put to him that one way he could help his country, was to lend them some of his money (that he had stolen from them) so they might develop infrastructure. Mobotu’s reply was “I would happily do this, but they could never afford to pay me back”.
I have never been able to understand the pathological mind of a multi-billionaire who can never have too much money, and always wants more. I recently read that the 400 richest people in America own as much as the poorest 50% of the country. For those of you who don’t appreciate the wealth involved, these 400 people have as much wealth as the poorest 155,000,000 American citizens.
How they have managed to keep such wealth is no great secret. Basically, they have used professional lobbyists to throw money at politicians who will pass fiscal measures that give them tax breaks in return for these donations. The thing about this is that if the super rich are using their money to avoid their fair share of taxation, then it is the poorest that have to make up this deficit.
America has recently developed a habit of giving legislative bills, soubriquets, which should in effect reflect the intent of the bill. One Education bill was famously nicknamed the “No child left behind Bill”. One of the bills passed by Bush Junior, gave so many tax breaks to the super rich, it was nicknamed the “No Billionaire left behind Bill”.
As far as TS is concerned, I can’t see why he should want to steal because he is fabulously wealthy in the first place, but on the other hand, it appears that even though they can’t take it with them, the super rich can never have enough money. To quote Socrates “He is richest who is content the least, for content is the wealth of nature”.
Anyway, TS is put on trial, while his wife is also facing tax evasion charges. Though the trial isn’t going particularly well for him, he and his wife are given permission to leave the country to attend the Beijing Olympics, even though he has no official standing on behalf of the Thai government. The prosecutor has indicated on more than one occasion that if found guilty, he will be pushing for a heavy sentence as well as a recovery of the money TS is alleged to have pocketed. Of course, if he returns and is convicted, he will not be able to leave the country until he has done his time as well as having repaid the money. On the other hand, if he goes somewhere where there is no extradition with Thailand, such as the UK, he gets to keep his money and his freedom. Sure enough, his destination when he left Beijing was not BKK, but LHR.
I do not criticise him for this, because to be honest with you, I don’t know whether he is guilty, or the victim of a show trial. What I do believe though, was that the government was becoming increasingly aware of the internal difficulties that a jailed TS might represent, so he was “allowed” to skip bail.
His supporters, the Redshirts are, I understand, mainly the rural poor, and to whom he is regarded as some sort of saviour. His opponents, the Yellowshirts, are representative of the more affluent middle classes. The redshirts are demanding new elections and have threatened to demonstrate until this is achieved. Assuming democracy continues in Thailand, the Redshirts threat will eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So far, the news in the UK has only shown clashes between the Redshirts and the Security Forces. One news clip showed the current Prime Minister ordering the Army chief to take firmer action against the demonstrators, to which he is said to have replied, “Perhaps there should be early elections”. The irony is not lost on me, that these problems stem from the removal of TS by the Army, and they now appear reluctant to support the government in making sure that TS cannot return. Personally, I am pleased with the Army’s response. I have for some time now taken a view that if violence is the answer, it must have been a very stupid question in the first place.
However, the scenes from Thailand are such, that I fear that the Army will have to act sooner or later. As well as the comments from the PM and the Army Chief, the interview also quoted a spokesman for the Yellowshirts, demanding the Government and Army take action, or they would deal with the Redshirts.
During the meantime, TS is not averse to accepting the hospitality of Hun Sen in Cambodia, with whom Thailand has a border dispute which has occasionally turned into a shooting war. In the best traditions of Machiavelli, TS appears to have adopted the stance that his enemy’s enemy is his friend.
As I said, I don’t know whether he is guilty or not and I would never recommend that anyone tries self-martyrdom to prove his innocence. If TS is being framed, then I think there is too much institutional corruption for him to get a fair trial. However, his involvement with Cambodia damages his credibility in my opinion. Worse still, people are now dying because of him.
In my view, the time has come for TS to show true leadership and abandon self-interest in order to prevent the further loss of life. As I said, eventually, there will be elections and maybe the redshirts will come to power, and maybe they won’t. TS has the chance to take the moral high ground, by calling upon his supporters to avoid the violence, and will be able to point to the fact that the current government were prepared to turn the Army loose on its opponents.
As for myself, I have been watching the Irish Foreign Ministry’s website for updates for several weeks and the advice for weeks has been that it is safe to visit Thailand, as long as you avoid BKK, and the city centre in particular, which was what I thought in any case. So having already booked my flight, I recently booked all my hotels as well as a couple of internal flights. The day after I did this, the Foreign Ministry upgraded the alert level to “Avoid all but necessary travel”. Unfortunately, most of my bookings are special offers with a “no refund” policy. Oh well! Such is life.
To comment on the last point you make first. Yes, it could be dangerous but for the most part it is ok. For sure, one could find themselves caught up in something uncomfortable if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
One point to note is that it is not about siding with the reds or the yellows. Most people are somewhere in the middle and many people don't like either the yellows or the reds!