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Thaksin traipses Asia and media gag orders are rescinded

Updated On: Jan 16, 2007

Despite the announcement of the revocation of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s and his wife Potjaman’s diplomatic passports, Thaksin nonchalantly continued on his jaunts around Asia.

According to the Bangkok Post, this “revocation, which was made on Jan 10 and will take effect from Jan 25, means the former prime minister will have to switch to a normal passport [and] apply for visas to enter most countries”.

Nonetheless, Thaksin “flew to Singapore shortly after the Foreign Ministry announced it was revoking [the] diplomatic passports”. While in the city-state, he ate at a famous pork rib soup eatery where he obliged tourists and locals who wanted to “shake hands and have their pictures taken with him”, the Straits Times reported. Additionally, Thaksin has also called upon Singapore’s deputy prime minister, Prof. S. Jayakumar. As it was deemed a personal social visit to an “old friend”, the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs had “no further comment”, Channel News Asia noted.

As Thaksin left Singapore for Japan, it is said that Thaksin’s high-profile travelling is viewed “as a test of relations between the military-installed interim government and the countries [Thaksin’s] choosing to visit”, according to the Bangkok Post. The endless globe-trotting has caused the considerable ire and consternation of the incumbent Thai authorities who seem unable to prevent Thaksin hogging the limelight and limiting his movement despite the passport revocation. Thaksin’s actions enable him to remain in the public consciousness, especially his supporters –vital for any political comeback. Yet, Thaksin would strenuously deny this.

In an interview with broadcast on CNN on Monday evening, he repeated that he has retired from politics and would not seek to regain his old job.  Earlier on, the Wall Street Journal also carried his interview published on Monday which highlighted that he would not try to return to power, and criticized the interim government’s handling of economic policies.

As a sign that the military would not hesitate to apply their media gag order, which was supposed to have been rescinded, the CNN interview was blocked in Thailand for those viewing CNN over the UBC cable television network, though they did not block those who receive CNN over direct satellite broadcast.

The media gag order announced last week was a bid to dilute Thaksin’s influence further. The junta, through General Winai Phattiyakul, threatened punitive action if broadcasters did not desist from news coverage of Thaksin. This was heavily criticized from all quarters, and Bangkok’s key English paper, The Nation called the action “foolish”. It added that although Council of National Security (CNS) head General Sonthi Boonyaratglin rescinded Gen. Winai’s order by saying that it was “the military’s way of asking for media cooperation”, the damage is done.  People can now see that the CNS fears “the media taking up a watchdog role” –frankly preferring a supportive media that promoted “national unity, harmony and sufficiency economy” and avoided their checks and balances duty.

The Bangkok Post editorial also castigated the CNS, saying that it should not be afraid of a free media but that it must learn from recent history where the pressure from restricted information flows caused Thaksin’s downfall. It suggested that a more intelligent method for the CNS would be to use it to clarify the abuses of the Thaksin administration and display the efforts of the current government to restore the kingdom’s stability.

Incidentally, the King’s concept of a “sufficiency economy” for Thailand “has become a university course in economics and scholars are planning to expand the programme to community colleagues across the country”, the Bangkok Post said. Kamphaeng Phet Rajabhat University will be the first such institution to teach the “philosophy that stresses a middle path as the overriding principles for appropriate conduct and way of life –according to a definition given by the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB)”.

This may be an astute move to national reconciliation as a recent ABAC poll showed that more than “88 per cent of the respondents said in a recent poll that they were enjoying life after adopting the sufficiency-economy principle initiated by His Majesty the King”, according to the Thai News Agency. Ironically, though if too general a classification, 53.5 per cent of the 4,215 people interviewed professed not to follow the King’s philosophy strictly, and were assumed not to be “having a happy life as a consequence”.

Sources:

Thaksin says he won’t try comeback (Straits Times Interactive, 15 January 2007)

With an ordinary passport, Thaksin embarks on an extraordinary tour (Bangkok Post, 15 January 2007)

Thaksin quickly forgets his past (Bangkok Post, 15 January 2007)

Thaksin heads off to Japan (Bangkok Post, 15 January 2007)

CNS should learn from nation's history (Bangkok Post, 15 January 2007)

The changing role of Thai media following the coup (Nation, 15 January 2007)

Thaksin-Jayakumar Meeting Purely Social And Private, Says S'pore (Bernama, 14 January 2007)

MFA says former Thai PM Thaksin was in Singapore on a private visit (Channel News Asia, 14 January 2007)

ABAC Poll: 88% people happy following sufficiency-economy principle (Thai News Agency, 14 January 2007)

Sufficiency-economy creates happiness (Thai News Agency, 14 January 2007)

Royal concept adopted as varsity course in economics (Bangkok Post, 13 January 2007)