a rare glance by someone other than tony cartalucci at thaksin and yingluck shinawatra

In Thailand, Power Comes With Help From Skype
Thomas Fuller, NYT, Jan 29 2013

Millions of people across the globe have cut the tethers to their offices, working remotely from home, airport lounges or just about anywhere they can get an Internet connection. But the political party governing Thailand has taken telecommuting into an altogether different realm. For the past year and a half, by the party’s own admission, the most important political decisions in this country of 65 million people have been made from abroad, by a former prime minister who has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 to escape corruption charges. The country’s most famous fugitive, Thaksin Shinawatra, circles the globe in his private jet, chatting with ministers over his dozen cellphones, texting over various social media platforms and reading government documents e-mailed to him from civil servants, party officials say. It might be described as rule by Skype. Or governance by instant messenger, a way for Thaksin to help run the country without having to face the warrant for his arrest in a case that he claims is politically motivated. His remote-control return to power, even if somewhat limited by distance, is a remarkable turnaround for the brash telecoms billionaire who was deposed in a military coup in 2006, the catalyst for several years of brinkmanship between critics and supporters that led to four changes of government and violent street protests that left nearly 100 people dead. Officially, his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is the prime minister. He nominated her for the job in 2011. But from his homes in Dubai and London, from the gold mines he owns in Africa and during regular visits to nearby Asian countries, Thaksin has harnessed the Internet and mobile technology to create one of the most unusual ways of governing a country. Charupong Ruangsuwan, the interior minister and secretary general of Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party, said:

We can contact him at all hours. The world has changed. It’s a boundless world. It’s not like a hundred years ago when you had to use a telegraph. If we’ve got any problem, we give him a call.

To illustrate the point during an interview, Charupong took out his iPhone and scrolled through a list of phone numbers for Thaksin. Thaksin gives different numbers to different people, often depending on seniority, party officials say. Thaksin himself declined to talk by phone, or Skype, for this article. The day-to-day governance of the country is carried out by Yingluck, who is genial, photogenic and 18 years younger than Thaksin. She cuts the ribbons and makes the speeches. Yingluck has on occasion sought to play down her brother’s role. Soon after taking office, when Thaksin joined a weekly cabinet meeting via Skype, reporters asked who was really the head of the government. Yingluck insisted that she was in charge and said Thaksin had joined the discussion to offer “moral support.” She has since consistently said she is in charge. But if there is one thing that allies and enemies of Thaksin agree on, it is that he is the one making the big decisions. Noppadon Pattama, a senior official in Thaksin’s party who also serves as his personal lawyer, said:

He’s the one who formulates the Pheu Thai policies. Almost all the policies put forward during the last election came from him.

Sondhi Limthongkul, a leader of the “yellow shirt” movement that has taken to the streets many times to demonstrate against Thaksin, agreed, saying:

He’s running the whole show. If you want a huge project in Thailand worth billions of baht, you have to talk to Thaksin.

Besides Skype, Thaksin uses various social media applications, including WhatsApp and Line, to keep in touch with the leaders of the party, senior party members say. Many of the Skype sessions are reported in the Thai news media. This month, Thaksin had a video chat to discuss coming elections for governor in Bangkok. The one-hour video chat made news because party officials reported that Thaksin had told his colleagues that it did not matter whom they nominated because even a utility pole would defeat the opposition. Thaksin remains a divisive figure. He retains a large and passionate following, especially among people in the Thai hinterland whom he championed as prime minister. His critics among the urban elite are equally adamant. They are still fearful that he and his party will upset the status quo that benefits them, but also angered by what they call his penchant for mixing the affairs of state with the expansion of his business empire and by his domineering personality. But with Thailand’s economy doing well despite the global slump and its vaunted tourism industry doing even better than before the unrest, critics have been less able to drag anyone to the streets, even as they acknowledge that the man they long tried to drive from power is ruling from afar. Thaksin’s political revival also fits in some ways with politics in Thailand, which can be difficult to explain to outsiders because it sometimes sounds too implausible to be true. The general who led the 2006 coup that deposed Thaksin is now a member of Parliament and chairman of the reconciliation committee. And the country’s former “sauna king,” who made a fortune operating illegal massage parlors, is now an anti-corruption crusader who regularly exposes illegal gambling dens. The paradox for Thailand today is that despite its current odd governing arrangement, the country is enjoying what Prof Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University calls “a kind of uneasy accommodation.” He said:

There are two ways you can look at this: you can make it into a farce, a ridiculous situation and the butt of a lot of jokes. The brother is pressing the buttons and the sister is a puppet. But I’m beginning to take a slightly different view. This may be the best way to run Thailand.

Many Thais believe that it might be better both for Thaksin and the country if he stayed abroad so that passions are not rekindled. Charupong, the interior minister, says Thaksin’s distance gives him useful perspective and likened him to the coach of a soccer team (in this case, the cabinet). Elaborating on the upsides of having the brother-sister team in charge, he said:

It’s like we have a prime minister in the country and another prime minister overseas. And we work together. This is our strength.

For some decisions, Thaksin insists on meeting in person. He regularly summons politicians to meetings at his Dubai home and at hotels in Hong Kong, which he visits frequently, and it is a given in Thai politics today that anyone who wants an important job in government must fly to see Thaksin. While Thaksin’s role in making appointments and setting policy is unusual by the standards of other democracies, voters knew what they were getting. His Pheu Thai Party’s widely publicized slogan during the 2011 election campaign was:

Thaksin thinks; Pheu Thai does.

7 Comments

  1. Sarte
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Quite interesting. Where would parliaments be in the future?

  2. Sarte
    Posted February 1, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I keep returning to this article, because it give a whole new meaning on how personal characters are changed in a society by the internet, when you read David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd. Not only are we become more individual, but the agents who shape our character are multiplied.

  3. Posted February 7, 2014 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    Thaksinomics subsidy shambles.

    … The fiasco began with the government’s attempt two years ago to manipulate the world’s rice market.
    Thailand was at the time the largest exporter of rice, which is not just a staple in the country, but an object of respect.
    The plan was to buy local rice harvests for as much as 50 per cent above market rates to drive up global prices.
    But the market saw it as a clumsy attempt at price manipulation.
    Rice exporters such as Vietnam and India stepped up their production while Thai exporters responded by investing in emerging producers such as Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos.
    Global prices stayed low and the Thai government amassed stockpiles rather than selling overseas at a steep loss.
    Thailand effectively priced itself out of the market.
    Warehouses across the country are full with rice stockpiles estimated at 18 million tonnes, 17 per cent of total global stocks.
    Its quality is deteriorating the longer it stays there and there are reports some is already rotten. …

    Don’t ask me why the west is backing the Thaksin/Yingluck bandwagon, I wouldn’t have a clue. 🙂

  4. niqnaq
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    So is this strange man Vltchek, in Counterpunch:
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/02/03/west-manufactures-opposition-movements/

  5. Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Well the author thinks the Shinawatras are the bee’s knees,

    … Thaksin Shinawatra, while he was PM himself, attempted to bring in a modern capitalist system to this submissive and deeply scared nation. And not only that: he housed the poor, introduced an excellent free universal medical care system (much more advanced than anything ever proposed in the United States), free and very advanced primary and secondary education, and other concepts deemed dangerous to the world order, and to the local feudal elites, as well as the army. …

    and that the west is supporting the “feudal”/military proxies that make up the opposition.

    … Fascism is raising its ugly head, once again. And the West is fully aware of it, and in fact it is openly supportive of the regime that is now de facto governing Thailand from behind the curtains. Because it is the regime it helped to manufacture. …

    Perhaps it is the case that the west is divided about what is in its best interests regarding who runs Thailand. So the matter of who is a victim of western meddling is yet to be settled. To add to the intrigue I get the impression RT seems to have a soft spot for the Shinawatras.

    P.S. I used to read Counterpunch years ago but gave up on them due to psycho-babble concerns. 🙂

  6. niqnaq
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Ah well, if you have a specific story on RT in mind, I shall have a look on RT also, because on Moon of Alabama, I am trying to argue the case that Russia is engaged in various propaganda efforts, and this may be one of them. Aha, perhaps you mean this, by a certain David Marx:
    http://rt.com/op-edge/thailand-ongoing-political-crisis-364/

  7. Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Yes Mr. Marx at RT gives us a glowing assessment of the Thaksin legacy. Note however that RT have also published comments that refute all of his claimed achievements.

    On the other hand, the NYT article does seem pretty relaxed about Thaksin’s government by remote
    control. That’s what the people voted for, didn’t they? 🙂

    I don’t know, perhaps it is just the doings of Thaksin’s well connected PR flack.

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