Saturday, September 27, 2008

Steamed bun the latest rallying cry

Thai Takes

NOW that former Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is history the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has a new villain to vilify.

Take this for PAD-style vilification: “In her past life, she must have made merit by offering salapao (steamed bun), that is why her face looks like two salapaos.”

That was heard at Bangkok’s Government House, which the PAD have seized, a few hours after parliament elected Somchai Wongsawat as prime minister on Sept 17.

The khunying (Thai slang for a woman which the Lonely Planet characterises as having “Imelda Marcos helmet hairdos, jewel-toned Thai silk and thick pancake make-up”) with cheeks resembling salapaos is now the PAD’s favourite figure of hate because she is married to Somchai.

And - this is what makes the blood of the PAD supporters boil - she possesses the same DNA as Thaksin Shinawatra, who is numero uno in its list of villains.

“Blood is thicker than water” has become the cliched mantra of the anti-government protesters, as Thailand’s current first lady is Thaksin’s younger sister.

On the day her husband became the country’s 26th prime minister, Yaowapa, a businesswoman and politician, announced she would assume the role of a housewife.

But not many Thais are convinced she will play a homely role, saying she has politics in her blood.

Yaowapa was an MP and also a leader of the powerful Wang Bua Baan (Blooming Lotus) faction in Thai Rak Thai (TRT), the party Thaksin led. And she was also an adviser to her brother when he was Prime Minister.

In the 2007 elections, she could not contest for PPP (a TRT reincarnation) as she, together with 110 TRT executives, were banned from politics when the Constitutional Court dissolved the party for violating election laws.

Her 61-year-old husband is a political neophyte.

In September 2006, Somchai, who was one of Thailand’s top bureaucrats, retired from civil service. And in 2007 - during the military rule following a bloodless coup that ousted Thaksin - he entered politics, becoming the PPP’s deputy leader.

He was elected an MP in the election held on Dec 23, last year.

His elevation as prime minister is a Thai record - the shortest-serving MP to become premier.

Unlike the razor-tongued Samak, who is fond of vilifying opponents and journalists (for example, “Who did you fornicate with last night?”), Somchai is soft-spoken and amiable.

If not for his marriage to a Shinawatra, the new prime minister would probably be the darling of the anti-Thaksin media (that distinction now is held by Opposition Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, the very handsome Democrat Party leader).

Being the brother-in-law of Thaksin is a good enough reason for the PAD, which has appointed itself as the country’s political guardian, to reject Somchai as prime minister.

“If Samak was Thaksin’s proxy, Somchai is even more so,” declared Suriyasai Katasila, a PAD spokesman.

“They are related, and this is not acceptable to us. It captures the essence of what we are protesting against, that Thaksin’s regime is still in power.”

While Samak, the former prime minister, would have found something sharp to say, Somchai responded: “It is undeniable that I am close to as well as related to him, but it depends on what position I take when I assume the job.

“The public can keep a close watch on me to see whether or not I work in favour of or for the benefit of a relative. My past record has proved that I work in an honest and straight manner.”

The other Wongsawat who is closely watched is the prime minister’s 27-year-old daughter Chinnicha, an MP from Chiang Mai province, where Yaowapa’s hometown is.

On Wednesday, Senator Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, who was responsible for Samak’s disqualification as prime minister for appearing in a TV cook show, petitioned for a graft probe on Chinnicha for allegedly concealing 100 million baht (about RM10mil) in her asset declaration.

If the National Counter Corruption Com-mission decides to prosecute her, and she is found guilty, Chinnicha will be repeating the fate of her auntie - Pojaman, Thaksin’s wife. (In July, Pojaman was found guilty of tax evasion following a case Ruangkrai had initiated.)

And that will be another incentive for the PAD to vilify the Shinawatras and Wongsawats.

(Published in The Star on Sept 27, 2008. Photograph courtesy of The Nation)