Saturday, November 28, 2009

Name change and man of mystery

Thai Takes

IS TAKKI Shinegra, a globetrotting man of mystery, Thaksin Shinawatra?

The Thai vice Foreign Minister Panich Vikitsreth thinks so.

On Wednesday, he alleged that Thaksin’s name on passports issued by Montenegro, Nicaragua and Uganda was “Takki Shinegra”. And the name change, according to Panich, is making his ministry’s attempts to extradite the self-exiled former Thai prime minister — who fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption passed in absentia — difficult.

However, Thaksin, who is arguably Thailand’s Twitter king, tweeted in Thai that “it’s useless for me to change my name since many people know me. I walk in department stores in any country and many people come to greet me”.

“I still use my old name but don’t say I’ve done a sex change. It can’t be helped as you guys are so stupid to revoke my Thai passport that you have no way to trace me through non-Thai documents,” added the billionaire politician, referring to the revocation of his diplomatic passport by the Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government.

This week — which is the first anniversary of the anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirts’ seizure of two Bangkok airports — Takki Shinegra was just a sideshow to two political dramas in Thailand.

Today, the pro-Thaksin Red Shirts were supposed to launch street protests — which they proclaimed to be the biggest show of force — in the Thai capital to force the collapse of the Abhisit government.

Anti-Thaksin forces criticised the planned rally as inappropriate as it was too close to King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 82nd birthday on Dec 5. Ironically, these critics were silent when the Yellow Shirts seized Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport from Nov 25 to Dec 3 last year.

The seizure not only crippled the Thai tourism industry but was also “inappropriate” as it was held too close to the King’s birthday.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who is also the Democrat Party’s secretary-general, alleged that the Red Shirts were recruiting foreign workers to participate in their street rally. And Thepthai Senpong, a democrat party spokesman, had a noteworthy method of sifting non-Thais among the Red Shirt protesters.

The authorities, according to him, will check the protesters’ national ID and those without one would be detained and asked to sing the Thai national anthem.

The Abhisit government also imposed the tough Internal Security Act (which allows the military to impose curfews, operate checkpoints, restrict movements of protesters and act fast if the rally turn violent) from Nov 28 to Dec 14 in Bangkok as it claimed it feared a repeat of the April violence.

In April, the Red Shirts (or, according to the Red Shirts leaders, agent provocateurs masquerading as Red Shirts supporters) turned Bangkok into a battlefield (i.e. hijacking military tanks and petrol tankers and torching public buses).

Two people were killed in the mayhem which was Thailand’s worst political violence since the bloody Black May uprising in 1992.

Facing pressure, the Red Shirts backtracked. “We Red Shirts want to express our loyalty to the king by postponing the rally indefinitely. We will meet to map out our stance after the middle of December,” Veera Musikapong, a Red Shirt leader, told reporters.

If Bangkok was a no-go zone for the Red Shirts, Chiang Mai, the stronghold of the Red Shirts and hometown of Thaksin, was a Thai city that Prime Minister Abhisit could not visit.

The Prime Minister cancelled his plan to preside over the closing ceremony of the Thai Chamber of Commerce annual conference because a pro-Thaksin protest leader made an indirect threat against his life on a community radio station.

“I am sure I will be safe if I go but others including the protesters, security officers and seminar participants may have problems because some protesters want to cause problems,” said Abhisit, who recently returned from Qatar.

After Abhisit’s Qatar visit, worried Thaksin loyalists tweeted to the self-exiled politician based in Dubai their concern that Abhisit had asked Middle East countries to extradite him.

Takki Shinegra, ermm, Thaksin, responded: “I would like to invite Abhisit to eat camel meat here so that he will have a better understanding about things.”

“The government should stop bothering other countries (about me),” he added. “Abhisit should also find time to visit all other member countries of the Asean because it’s a tradition.”

(Published in The Star on November 28, 2009)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The invisible elephant


SO what is really happening (politically) in Thailand?” a visiting American academician specialising in South-East Asian politics asked me.

Instinctively, I glanced to my left and then to my right. It was a habit I picked up whenever I was about to discuss the most taboo subject in Thailand.

On my right in the hip Bangkok cafe was a farang (Thai for “Westerner”) in a business suit with a cliched sexy Thai girl, while on my left were two Thais deep in conversation.

Looks like the coast is clear, I thought. And in a hushed tone I told her what was whispered among Thai political watchers but not discussed publicly, as they did not want to risk charges of lese majeste (a French phrase for “insulting the monarchy”). In the past two years, several people have been jailed for lese majeste.

In 2007, Oliver Jufer, a 57-year-old Swiss, was found to have spray-painted photographs of the King while drunk. He was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison, but subsequently he was pardoned by King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

In 2009, Harry Nicolaides, a 41-year-old Australian writer, was charged with lese majeste for a passage in his novel which briefly mentioned the “romantic entanglements and intrigues” of a fictional Crown Prince.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in jail. Eventually, he received a royal pardon and was released.

In August this year, 46-year-old activist Daranee Chancheonsilapakul (nicknamed “Da Torpedo” for her fiery oratory) was jailed for 18 years for making a series of inflammatory speeches at pro-Thaksin Shinawatra “Red Shirt” rallies. Her remarks, according to The Nation, a Thai English-language newspaper, “were against the 2006 coup but laced with offensive references to the monarchy”.

I also discussed with the academician the recent controversial interview that self-exiled billionaire politician Thaksin gave to The Times (of London). The Times published the text of the interview on Times Online after Thaksin issued a statement saying that the newspaper’s report was “distorted” and “untrue”.

The Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government had banned the Thaksin interview, warning it would take “appropriate action” against media organisations that reported the content of the ousted prime minister’s interview which was “offensive to the royal institution”.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told the media in Bangkok: “I would like to say that Thaksin’s interview violates the monarchy, which is the country’s main institution.”

“I wonder what the hidden agenda was that caused him to make this inappropriate move,” Kasit said, adding that the Justice Ministry would consider whether to charge Thaksin with lese majeste.

On the day I had a chat with the American academician, the police arrested Thatsaporn Rattanawongsa, a 42-year-old Thai radiologist, for allegedly spreading rumours about the King’s health which resulted in a plunge in the Thai stock market in October.

Last month, the stock market plummeted (at one point by 8.22% on Oct 15) over speculation about the health of King Bhumibol, who will be celebrating his 82nd birthday next month. The revered king, who is regarded by most Thais as a demi-god, has been hospitalised for two months for various ailments.

Thatsaporn was the fourth person arrested for damaging national security by posting false information online. In early November, three other Internet users were arrested on the same charge.

One of them was Teeranun Wipuchanin, a former UBS employee. Teeranun had translated a Bloomberg story and then posted it on Prachatai, a popular Thai-language online forum.

“Everybody on that day wanted to know what caused the market to fall. The stock market had already dropped and we did the translation in the evening,” she said.

Interestingly, as Bangkok Pundit in (a Thai political blog) pointed out, the Bloomberg story merely reported that the stock market dropped on speculation over the King’s health.

“Umm, there is a difference between reporting a rumour and reporting an analyst’s opinion that rumours are making the SET (Stock Exchange of Thailand) fall – most people don’t even dispute the fact that the rumours were making the SET fall, but simply reporting this as opposed to the rumour is verboten (forbidden),” he blogged.

There’s an elephant in the room, but either Thais can’t see it or they are afraid to talk about it publicly.

(Published in The Star on November 21, 2009)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A method in Hun Sen’s madness?

Thai Takes

POP quiz: Why did Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen poke Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in the eye by hosting the latter’s arch-rival Thaksin Shinawatra in Phnom Penh and rejecting Thailand’s request for extraditing his guest who faces a two-year jail term back home?

(a) Hun Sen was already in politics when Abhisit was still a child.

(b) Hun Sen is not worried about the Abhisit government shutting the Thai-Cambodian border as Cambodia would reciprocate by not allowing even one pig to cross the border.

(c) In 2008, Thailand’s exports to Cambodia were worth about US$2bil (RM6.75bil) while Cambodia’s export to Thailand was only US$90mil (RM303.8mil).

(d) Abhisit should not fear if Thaksin resides in Cambodia, as Hun Sen had appointed other foreigners (for example, Lee Myung-bak before he was elected South Korean president) as economic advisers.

(e) The self-exiled Thaksin has been travelling around the world, and Abhisit has not taken any action against countries the billionaire visited.

(f) The Red Shirts (a pro-Thaksin movement) support Thaksin’s appointment as Cambodia’s economic adviser, but the Yellow Shirts (an anti-Thaksin movement) don’t, while the other Thais are indifferent.

(g) Although Abhisit warned Hun Sen not to become a pawn in Thaksin’s game, the Cambodian premier is nobody’s tool.

(h) Thaksin is not Cambodia’s tool. Hun Sen really wants to employ Thaksin’s experience to help in Cambodia’s economic affairs.

(i) Hun Sen wants to tackle the origin of the Thai-Cambodian spat, which started when Thaksin was ousted as Prime Minister in a coup on Sept 19, 2006.

(j) Thailand has obstructed Cambodia’s bid (to declare Preah Vihear, a border temple which both Cambodia and Thailand claim is within their territory) and has the nerve to say that it has nothing to do with Cambodia.

(k) Hun Sen received two-thirds of the vote in the Cambodian parliament, whereas Abhisit “stole somebody’s chair” to seat himself in the prime minister’s chair. And Cambodia cannot respect someone who claims other people’s property as his own.

(l) Abhisit is so buried in problems himself that he may not survive politically. He has problems with all the neighbouring countries (Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar); in southern Thailand; and Yellow Shirts, Red Shirts, Blue Shirts, White Shirts and Pheu Thai (the pro-Thaksin opposition party).

(m) Thaksin is Hun Sen’s friend and a friend “cannot feed friends to the tiger”.

(n) In the past, Khieu Samphan and Noun Chea (of the Khmer Rouge) were allowed to live (given refuge) even though Thailand had signed a pact not to support the Khmer Rouge.

(o) All the above.

The answer is (o), all of the above. That’s what Hun Sen told journalists on Nov 8 at Phnom Penh airport, after returning from the Mekong-Japan summit in Tokyo.

At an official dinner there, Abhisit said he did not speak to his Cambodian counterpart because they were seated at quite a distance and there was a vase between them obstructing his view.

What did the Thai media think of Hun Sen’s explanation of the diplomatic spat which has brought relations between the two countries to an all-time low, since the 2003 burning of the Thai embassy and other Thai properties in Phnom Penh after a Thai actress was falsely reported as saying the Angkor Wat temple complex belonged to Thailand?

According to Ploenpote Atthakor, a Bangkok Post journalist, “Hun Sen, playing the Thaksin card, can take a break from questions he has been facing at home about border issues with Vietnam.”

“The arrival of Thaksin (in Phnom Penh last Tuesday) also deflects the attention of Cambodians from the ongoing trial of former Khmer Rouge cadres. After all, Hun Sen knows fully well that without a strong political opponent, his PM’s seat is more secure compared to the shaky one Abhisit is sitting on,” she opined yesterday.

In an editorial on Thursday, the Bangkok Post said there was method in Hun Sen’s madness (to some Thais, Hun Sen is mad to provoke Thailand by appointing a Thai fugitive as his economic adviser).

“As a shrewd politician and the longest-serving prime minister in this region, Hun Sen must have carefully calculated the positive and negative consequences of this game of brinkmanship he is playing with Thailand,” the newspaper editorialised.

(Published in The Star on November 14, 2009)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Roxanne walks on the wild side

Thai Takes

NO. 10, Roxanne Fonseka, Malaysia, the announcer said, and the 20-year-old Malaysian strutted his stuff during a rehearsal of the Miss International Queen 2009 at the Thai beach resort of Pattaya.

Roxanne (not his real name) was among 21 contestants, from countries like Brazil, China, Japan, Philippines, Nepal and the United States, competing to be the world’s most beautiful transvestite/transsexual at Tiffany’s Show in Pattaya (reputedly the world’s largest transsexual cabaret) on Halloween night.

The Penangite was in Pattaya because he wanted to end his cross-dressing fetish with a bang. “Next year I plan to end my life as a drag queen – which means a guy who turns into a woman for just one night,” he revealed.

Pulling down his blouse to expose his scrawny arms, he said, “I plan to go to a fitness centre, build up my body so that I have a male body and then work as a flight attendant.”

Life as an occasional drag queen can be a drag, Roxanne said.

“Malaysia – unlike Thailand and the Philippines – is not open to transvestites, and they tend to look down on pondan and Ah Kua (Malaysian slang for transvestite).

“It will be very difficult for me to make a living,” said the only son of a rich businessman. “I know, as (at the age of 17) I’ve opened a gay massage centre (in Penang).”

“Next year when you become a ‘guy’, will you be a heterosexual or homosexual guy?” I asked.

“I will be a bisexual guy,” revealed the Malaysian, who lives in Thailand as he’s learning Thai from his sleeping dictionary (a 29-year-old closeted gay Thai man who wants to be a politician).

When he was 12 years old, Roxanne, who was studying in a boys’ school in Penang, found out that he was attracted to his handsome classmate.

“And I was thinking, ‘Do I like him, or do I want to be like him as he was handsome’.

“After much thought, I found out that I liked him,” he recalled, adding “I’ve had girlfriends too.”

When he registered for the Miss International Queen pageant, the 182-cm “twink” (which Urban Dictionary defines as an attractive, boyish-looking, young gay man) thought he had a shot at the title, as he was “tall” and “a natural beauty.”

“But when I saw the competition I found out that I couldn’t compete with them, as almost all had plastic surgery, hormone injection and undergone a sex change operation, whereas I am just a guy with make-up,” he explained.

Roxanne has not gone for plastic surgery or hormone injections, as in the future he does not want to face the ugly consequences of transforming into a woman.

“Most of my sisters (slang for transvestite) who are in their 40s regret changing their sex. Yes, you look sexy and beautiful when you are in your 20s, but not in your 40s,” he explained.

To prepare for Miss International Queen, Roxanne competed in three katoey (Thai for transvestites) beauty pageants in Bangkok.

He budgeted RM10,000 (for make-up artist, hair dresser, national costume, evening gown, shoes, accessories and RM1,000 for registration fee) for the pageant.

Where did he get the money?

“I lied. I got it from my parents who told me not to cross-dress in Thailand,” he revealed with an apologetic smile.

On the eve of the pageant I asked Roxanne, who had been participating in Miss International Queen activities for five days, how the experience was.

“It is quite pressured as everybody is beautiful. At first I was enjoying it, but then some contestants tried to sabotage me,” he said.

For example, Roxanne was told that his RM800 evening gown was ugly and its colour (yellow) was not suitable.

“Everybody who enters a pageant knows that yellow and red are the most attractive colour on stage.

“Miss Venezuela wore yellow and she won Miss Universe 2008, and she has the same skin colour as me,” griped Roxanne.

“Don’t you think that jealousy is the reason for such statements?”

On Halloween night, he failed to make the cut for the top 10 finalists. Haruna Ai, a 37-year-old Japanese television host who competed in Miss International Queen 2007, was crowned the world’s most beautiful katoey.

“Perhaps I should compete again next year. And I’m planning to bring a TV crew just like Haruna,” emailed Roxanne.

(Published in The Star on November 7, 2009)