Saturday, January 26, 2008

The people’s guard dog


ALONG a hectic Bangkok highway there’s a billboard showing the angry face of Chuvit Kamolvisit, his left eyebrow raised and his right index finger pointing accusingly.

The message, in Thai, proclaims: “This country doesn’t want people like you who don’t keep your word and are unclear with your moves.”

“The message is for a person who lies to the people. Most people – 80% to 90% – know who this person is,” says a smiling Chuvit, who is famous outside Thailand as the massage parlour king who unsuccessfully ran for Bangkok governor in 2004.

His billboards, Chuvit says, reflect the public’s thoughts. “I am the middleman to bring out that message,” he explains.

Last week, Chuvit put up three billboards in the Thai capital after he got wind that Banharn Silapa-archa, the leader of Chart Thai Party, would ditch the Democrat Party to join the coalition government of People Power Party.

“Banharn keeps on reminding society he’s as slippery as an eel,” laments the 46-year-old politician, who resigned as Chart Thai deputy leader just before the Dec 23 Thai polls as he disagreed with Banharn’s decision to place him second on Chart Thai’s party list for Bangkok constituency.

The first time the maverick politician used billboards – each costing RM20,000 to RM30,000 a month, to advertise his political messages – was in 2004.

His 2004 billboard showed a less angry Chuvit. Through the years, the politician said, his facial expression on his billboards have gotten more and more angry.

At that time, his message, in Thai, read: “Choose Chuvit to be governor of Bangkok,” with word “governor” marked out and the word “servant” written underneath.

That year, the owner of massage parlours such as Emmanuelle and Victoria’s Secret plunged into politics after going public about having to repeatedly bribe hundreds of police officers in order to protect his business.

The billboards idea came from a friend who told him that a picture spoke louder than 1,000 words.

Chuvit’s facial expression on his billboard is atypical of Thai political posters – a smiling politician surrounded by smiling children. His trademark is an aggressive expression.

“People have told me to smile. But I want to show I’m angry. I want them to know that my message is serious, and that I’m not kidding,” he explains with a cheeky smile.

Since 2004, the Chuvit billboard has been a much-awaited event in Bangkok. There’s even an English-language, Thailand-based blog,, keeping track of them.

In June 2006, there he was with his arms stretched out and saying: “I love you. Let’s love each other. We are all born in Thailand.”

In November 2007, although he was not contesting in the Thai election because of Banharn, he installed a billboard featuring a fierce German Shepherd facing an equally fierce Chuvit.

His message read: “I’m a guard dog for the country. When you cheat, I’ll bark. When you’re involved in corruption, I’ll bite you.”

His favourite is a January 2005 billboard showing a fuming Chuvit clutching a sledgehammer with the message: “Quash the cheating people, expose the evil people, and do not fear the influential!”

“At that time nobody could do anything against Thaksin (Shinawatra, the then Thai prime minister). My message was we would not compromise just because of his money,” recalls Chuvit, who later won an MP seat for Chart Thai in the 2005 Thai polls.

Contrary to speculation that his latest billboard is inspired by a desire to run in the 2008 Bangkok governor's race, the man who was born in the city’s Chinatown says:

“No, the last time I ran, I used 25 million baht (RM2.6mil) and that does not include expenses that I paid for without receipts.”

On the accusation from some people that he bankrolled the billboards because he sought fame, the politician says: “But I am famous enough. Everybody knows me.”

What Chuvit wants is a little bit of respect. “People respect me for paying for something (billboards) without asking for their votes,” he says. “People are bored with politicians who lie just to get their votes.”

His next billboard? “Wait and see!” growls Chuvit.

(Published in The Star on Jan 26, 2008)