Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chitpas aiming to make a change for Thailand’s poor


Under the broiling morning sun, at a lane where hawkers sell grilled pork and live chickens in a working class area in Bangkok, the 26-year-old Singha beer heiress was door-to-door campaigning.

The heiress, wearing pink sneakers, tight jeans and a white T-shirt with the Democrat party logo, pressed her palms together and bowed to a middle-aged hawker.

“Hello! My name is Chitpas Bhirombhakdi. I am the Democrat candidate for this district. Please don’t forget to vote for No. 10,” said the heiress in Thai, referring to the number the ruling Democrat got for party list candidacy.

The woman returned the wai (a respectful Thai greeting) while clutching a campaign brochure with Chitpas’ photograph and said, “You look more suay (beautiful) in person”.

The rookie politician is contesting in Bangkok’s Dusit-Ratchathewi constituency.

Located in the old part of the Thai capital, Dusit is a prestigious neighbourhood with Chitralda Palace (the official residence of King Bhumibol), Government House (the office of the Prime Minister), Parliament, Dusit Zoo and Boon Rawd Brewery (where Singha and Leo beer are produced).

Ratchethawi is a high-rise building area famous for Pratunam Market (one of Thailand’s largest clothing markets) and Pantip Plaza (Thailand’s Low Yat Plaza).

Chitpas is a scion from one of Thai­land’s wealthiest business families.

“Does your surname carry weight in making the people vote for you?” I asked the heiress while she was taking a break next to a smelly railroad track from her campaigning.

“I don’t think it is going to help with votes. But it helps me in terms of recognition. People recognise my surname. They will say, ‘you are Singha brand’,” she related.

It has always been Chitpas’ dream to be a politician.

“My parents have always told me I was fortunate to be born in a family which can fully support me in my education.

“I was lucky they could send me to boarding school (Godstowe school, Buckinghamshire) in England when I was nine years old. I decided after I graduated that I wanted to help in the development of my country,” said the woman with a bachelor’s degree in Geography from King’s College.

“Isn’t politics too low brow for a hi-so (Thai slang for high society) like you?”

Chitpas said: “I grew up in a society where we like to complain about politics and corruption. And we don’t really do anything about it because we are fortunate enough to get away from all that.”

“But if you let the corrupt politicians run the country, eventually it would affect you – maybe not now but definitely it would affect your children or grandchildren.”

“But,” I said, “wouldn’t it be easier ...” And Chitpas laughed and said “... not to do anything?”

“I have tried to explain to people that you can’t really pick what you are born into but you can pick the life that you want to have and this is the life that I have chosen,” explained the politician, who once told Tattler magazine that she wanted to be Thailand’s first female Prime Minis­ter.

“I am not thinking of myself but the 90% of the population who are not hi-so. If I was going to have a child in the future, I want my child to grow up in a society where there was equality in the quality of life. And I want to close the gap between the rich and poor.”

Chitpas said she was “happy” that she was campaigning in the poorer part of Bangkok .

“Today I am not just walk, walk, walk, introduce myself, hello! hello! hello! When I go home I will write and think what can be done here,” she explained.

On that day, Chitpas said she saw that the community lived in a compact area where there was no room to breathe.

“You have a little room where 10 people sleep and yet everyone has a dog,” she related.

“They have a dog for security. And we are planning to install 200,000 CCTVs around Bangkok and that will improve security and cut down the number of dogs so that the kids can live in a hygienic place.”

In December 2009, Chitpas, a staff member of Thai Prime Minister’s secretariat, was embroiled in a Calendar girl controversy.

She had to resign from her post because she gave away sexy Leo beer calendars at the Government House.

“The lesson I learnt is not to trust people. And that I need to be more careful,” she said, adding it would have been okay if she distributed the calendars outside the August Government House.

In the race to be MP for the Dusit-Ratchathewi constituency, Chitpas is neck-and-neck with the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Pheu Thai party candidate Leelawadee Watch­arobol, a former Miss Thai­land and TV star.

And in the ballot boxes, the heiress is hoping she will be as popular as the iconic Singha beer.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Democrats treading on eggshells as they lose support


IF the ruling Democrat party wants to know why it is losing support of Bangkokians who usually vote for the party, it should conduct its forensic investigation at the supermarket.

Better still, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva could whip out a frying pan and fry an egg while pondering why loyal voters in the Thai capital would abandon his party on the July 3rd polls.

“Never in my life have I gone to a supermarket looking for cooking oil and found none on the shelf,” related Pimrapaat Dusadeeisariyakul, a programme manager with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Bangkok.

Last year, even if cooking oil was available, a family could only buy one bottle each at a price that had tripled. Some families opted to buy the more expensive olive oil.

The fact that cooking oil is produced from oil palm plantations in the Democrat's stronghold in the south aggravated Bangkokian anger towards the party.

The price of cooking oil went down just after Abhisit dissolved parliament.

Last year Abhisit also had an egg crisis. The price of eggs was soaring.

“Eggs used to be cheap. And the (urban) poor could at least buy an egg for his meal,” related Pimra-paat.

The government of the Democrats (which has been stereotyped as elite technocrats who do not understand the plight of the common people) decided that eggs should be sold by weight.

“People made a joke that never in their life they had to by eggs by the kilo,” Pimrapaat said.

Before the price went up, an average-sized egg cost about 3 baht (RM0.30). Now it is about to 4 baht (RM0.40).

After many protests, Abhisit's government abandoned its unpopular egg policy.

The two economic boo-boos will cause the Democrats to lose votes among its supporters.

“The way they handled the cooking oil and egg situations reflects how insensible they are in seeing the people's everyday problems,” explained Pitch Pongsawat, who teaches political science in Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

“People on the streets regardless whether they are (pro-Thaksin Shinawatra) Red Shirts are fed up with the Democrats' handling of the economy,”

Democrat spokesperson Buranaj Smutharaks admitted that his party might lose votes from its handling of the cooking oil and egg problems.

“But the price of goods is rising everywhere in the world. Even Malaysia is facing that situation,” he ex-plained.

Although the rising cost of living is a big issue among Democrat supporters, Pitch says the other reason it is losing support is its clash with the Yellow Shirts.

“Upfront, the Democrats and the Yellow Shirts are bickering over the Thai/Cambodia border issue,” he said. “But some of the Yellow Shirt leaders are angry they were not rewarded for bringing down the government of Somchai (Wongsawat, the brother-in-law of Thaksin) in 2009.”

The Yellow Shirts are campaigning for a “Vote No”. Its posters have the heads of monkey, buffalo, dog, tiger and monitor lizard wearing suits and its message is: “Mark no' so that animals do not enter parliament”.

In the 2007 Thai elections, the Democrats won 30 out of the 33 constituency seats in Bangkok.

Opinion polls show that pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai, which is led by his youngest sister Yingluck, will win 18 seats in Bangkok, Democrats six seat, and the remaining nine seats still undecided.

“My guess is the vote for the Democrat party will go to a smaller party,” opined Pimrapaat.

Among the favourite is Chuvit Kamolvisit, Thailand's angriest politician.

The chatter among Bangkokians aged 18 to 35 on Facebook and Twitter is they are fed up with politics as they perceive politicians to be corrupt.

“When you ask them who they would vote for they would say Chuvit because he is anti-corruption,” noted Pimrapaat.

“It is also because of his appealing campaign message, which echoes the young's anti-politician sentiment.”

The young, according to her, perceive the Democrats as “slow and non-performers” and the Red Shirts (Pheu Thai) as “trouble-makers”.

Last year's bloody political chaos in the Thai capital, which saw 91 people killed and several buildings razed, will play in the mind of the voters.

“People born in Bangkok will remember the tragedy (and vote against Pheu Thai),” related Pimrapaat. “But not those who come from different parts of the country to work (in Bangkok).

Translation: It is a political divide between the Bangkok middle class and the working class from Thailand's poverty-stricken northeast.

Bangkokians red at heart, according to Pitch, will vote for Pheu Thai.

There is no need to convince them that the elitist Abhisit has never fried an egg in his life. If he did, he probably used olive oil.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ex-massage parlour king sends out angry message


THE most striking election posters on the streets of Bangkok are that of an angry politician clasping his aching head. A message in Thai states: “Bored with politics but have to vote. Let me be in opposition to fight corruption.”

Another poster shows the angry politician with his left eyebrow raised and his right index finger pointing accusingly.

Another poster shows him carrying a baby with the message: “Politicians are like diapers, the more you change them, the better.” There’s even one with him shaking hands with a bull terrier (which looks angrier than him).

Introducing Chuvit Kamolvisit, Thailand’s angriest politician.

The 50-year-old former massage parlour king is the leader of a one-man show political party Rak Thailand (Love Thailand). Rak Thailand’s core message is: Chuvit is against corruption.

And voters, disillusioned with politics-as-usual politicians, are expected to vote in the maverick Chuvit as one of the 500 MPs on July 3.

The millionaire with an MBA from the United States is a colourful character. He dared to campaign at where “angelic” politicians fear to tread. His campaign trail includes Soi Thaniya, a lane which houses nightspots exclusively for Japanese, in Bangkok’s famous Patpong. In Facebook, there are photographs of him being kissed by scantily-dressed women of pleasure.

Chuvit also did planking. He had to do “something strange” to get publicity in a race dominated by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and latest media darling Yingluck Shinawatra.

“You can talk all day and all night but nobody can hear you unless you are in the newspaper and television,” he explained.

In an interview at Chuvit Park (which is as controversial as the owner who allegedly forcibly evicted tenants to make way for the park) along the Thai capital’s congested Sukhumvit road, Chuvit said he looked angry in his campaign posters because he wanted to show Thais that their country’s problem was serious.

“I get a headache thinking that there is no way out (of Thailand’s violent political conflict). And then I get angry thinking about politicians who talk about reconciliation but are not honest about it.

“If they really wanted reconciliation they could have done it before the city was on fire,” he explained, referring to last year’s bloody conflict which saw 91 people killed and several buildings razed.

“Now that there is an election they are talking about reconciliation again.”

Is he an angry person in real life?

“I have to admit that I have a hot temper,” said the politician, whose punchline for the 2008 Bangkok governor elections was: “I’m crazy enough to hit a TV news host three days before the Bangkok governor election, so I hope you will be crazy enough to vote for me.”

Recalling the incident, Chuvit said: “That guy had no manners. He was not polite and he should not be in the media.”

The angry politician is running in this polls so that he could sit on the opposition bench.

“I want to show Thailand has a problem because politicians (from both ends of the political spectrum) refuse to compromise,” he said.

Chuvit believes voters will vote him in as they are bored with Thai politics.      

“They want someone who will speak the truth,” he explained. (In the Thai party list seats, he needs about 250,000 votes to make his way to Parliament.)

The Thai 2011 polls, observed Chuvit, was “just a little hole to release the air” in the country’s political pressure cooker.

“We are waiting for the next storm. After this election you will either see a Pheu Thai or a Democrat government. If it is Pheu Thai, then someone will say the party was a nominee of Thaksin Shinawatra and someone will launch the Yellow Shirts to kick it out of government.

“If it is a Democrat government, the Red Shirts will be in the street to protest,” explained the politician, who like many Bangkokian Chinese is a Teochew.

“The Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts are political machines that can be turned on and off anytime.”

What does Chuvit think of the two leading candidates for Thai Prime Minister?

Abhisit, he opined, is a good liar.

“All politicians are liars. But some are bad liars. If Abhisit spoke the truth, nobody will vote for him,” he said.

Yingluck was 100% a Thaksin nominee.

“You can see that Thaksin does not trust anyone except his family,” he said.

However, he concedes that Yingluck – other than being Thaksin’s youngest sister – is a “good politician”.

“Like a new diaper she is still fresh. You will only know after a couple of months or years whether you need to change her,” he said with a big grin.

What with the poster of him shaking hands with his bull terrier?

Dog, explained Chuvit, is a symbol of honesty as it served its master regardless whether he is rich or poor.

“Politicians should emulate the honesty of a dog,” he growled.

(Photograph courtesy of The Nation)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Abhisit out to ‘de-thaksi-cate’

One Man's Meat
By Philip Golingai

‘De-thaksi-cate’ is the latest Tweet word in Thai politics as parties step up their campaigning in the final run-up to the general election this weekend.

FOR a man said to have lost his political mojo, the reception for Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at Bangkok’s Central World shopping mall was nothing less than that for a rock star.

It was 8.10pm on a damp Thursday and with the middle-class crowd near the main entrance of the shopping mall in such a state of near frenzy, one would think U2’s Bono was in the building.

It must have been a Beautiful Day (U2’s hit song) for Abhisit, whose campaign trails were usually disrupted by pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Red Shirts supporters with jeering and egg-pelting.

In Central World, a couple of titillated hi-so (high society) ladies were clutching yellow roses.

Animated teenagers were ready to snap a picture of the Prime Minis ter with their smartphone cameras.

Civil-servant looking males were waiting to shake hands with the handsome politician (though Abhisit looked as if he had gained weight and his worried face had seen one too many bloody protests).

“Abhisit! Abhisit! Abhisit! Go sip! Go sip! Go sip!” the crowd chanted. (In Thai, sip is “10” and the ruling Democrat Party got the number in the lot drawing for registration of party-list candidacy.)

Security personnel protecting Abhisit had to push through the crowd.

The Democrat party leader was on his way to rescue his party’s faltering election campaign.

Opinion polls show Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai party will thump the Democrats come July 3.

Outside Central World, near the Ratchaprasong Intersection, the focal point of last year’s bloody clash between Abhisit’s government and the Red Shirt protesters that ended with 91 people dead, former Thai Prime Minister and a respected Democrat leader Chuan Leekpai laced his plea to the voters to return his party to power with subtle humour.

The Democrat had promised to reveal undisclosed truths about last year’s bloodshed.

A choking Suthep Thaugsuban, the Democrat secretary-general, was tasked to explain what had happened. Nothing new came out of his mouth.

To strengthen his argument that “men in black hurt both soldiers and protesters”, deputy Prime Minister Suthep provided video evidence.

And if you wanted to know how politically divided Thailand was, just watch the response of the Democrat supporters whenever photographs and video of dead Red Shirts were shown. They cheered.

For the Red Shirts and neutrals, the Democrat’s decision to hold a rally in Ratchaprasong was like rubbing salt into the wounds of those killed in the April - May 2010 violent conflict.

Whether or not it was an insensitive decision, a political analyst said that the Abhisit’s party did not have any choice.

“The party is famous for its attack-style campaigning. But this time, they decided to be more ‘prime ministerial’ in its approach.

“However, that is not working and the party has to attack Thaksin to win back voters,” she said.

And attack the Democrat did at the rally in front of Central World where construction was still ongoing after it was partially torched during last year’s riot.

On stage, with a huge Thai flag as backdrop, Abhisit told the converted (the audience was mostly Democrat die-hard supporters) that the election was an opportunity for voters to “detoxify” the Thaksin poison from the country.

Probably a new word was created when someone tweeted: “De-thaksi-cate”.

Abhisit then went emotional. Teary-eyed Abhisit revealed his life had utterly changed after last year’s April 10 clash when 25 people – including five soldiers – died.

“I cried for a long time on April 10. And I knew that no matter what I decided, people would still be infuriated,” he said.

If Abhisit wanted to know whether the people were still infuriated, he could walk to the nearby Wat Pathum Wanaram, a Buddhist temple where six civilians were mysteriously killed on May 19, 2010.

To protest against the Democrat’s rally, Red Shirts staged a planking (a prank that involves lying face down in a public place with photos posted on social networking sites).

In this Thai polls, planking is a craze, with maverick politician Chuvit Kamolvisit making waves with his planking pose.

On stage, at the finale of the Democrat rally, standing on the right of Abhisit was 26-year-old Singha Beer heiress, Chitpas Bhirombhakdi.

If the beautiful young Democrat politician plays her cards right, she will be the future rock star of Thai politics.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Thailand’s Luck-y charm


Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva may have been the poster boy of ‘political freshness’ in the 2007 polls but this time around, it is Yingluck Shinawatra, youngest sister of his fugitive predecessor Thaksin who is stealing the thunder with her natural charm.

IN the streets of Bangkok, on her campaign posters, Yingluck Shinawatra is dressed in a white shirt and black jacket.

The collar of the shirt worn by Thaksin’s youngest sister and the opposition Pheu Thai No. 1 party-list candidate is – in the words of Chris Baker, a Thai politics expert, – “plain and the lapel of the jacket is unnotched”.

“The outfit is more that of a lawyer than a businesswoman. The makeup is unobtrusive. She has no insignia and virtually no jewellery. There is a trace of an earring on her left ear but it is scarcely visible,’ wrote Baker in New Mandala, an online site devoted to the politics and societies of Thailand and Burma.

“The message of the costuming is simplicity and seriousness.”

Baker, who has authored several books on Thailand including Thaksin: The Business of Politics in Thailand, opined that Yingluck’s image has been “sex-down rather than the opposite.”

Yingluck’s poster, according to Baker, was a reminder that Thaksin “has always understood the importance of communication and especially of visual communication.”

In all major opinion polls, Yingluck’s Pheu Thai is leading against the ruling party Democrat led by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the poster boy of “political freshness” in the 2007 polls.

This year, the fresh face of Thai politics is 44-year-old Yingluck. The businesswoman has never run for political office. But since she was revealed as Pheu Thai’s prime minister candidate last month, she has replaced 47-year-old Abhisit as the national darling.

To get an understanding on how a political rookie like Yingluck could rise to rock star status in a short period, I spoke to Suranand Vejjajiva, who served in the Thaksin cabinet. I was also curious to know whether her success was due to political marketing.

“The two factors that you have to consider with Yingluck are the candidate herself and the political machinery behind her,” explained Suranand, who is now a political analyst and the first cousin of Abhisit.

“There is no question about (the effectiveness) of the Pheu Thai machinery. It is the same machinery which Thaksin built 10 years ago – we were there building it. It is a machinery which has won the past three elections – two under Thai Rak Thai (TRT) and one under People Power Party (PPP),” he said.

(After the 2006 coup which ousted Thaksin, TRT was dissolved and 111 party leaders including Thaksin and Suranand were banned from politics for five years by the constitutional court. TRT was re-incarnated as PPP, which was dissolved in 2009 by the constitutional court. The Thaksinites politicians regrouped under Pheu Thai party.)

Suranand points out that the effectiveness of the Pheu Thai political machinery was evident in the party’s campaign posters.

“If you walk on the street and you don’t have any biasness, you will see that the Pheu Thai posters stand out,” he explained.

The message of TRT/PPP/Pheu Thai, according to the political analyst, has always been about hope and opportunity.

“Thaksin has always been keen to convey the message that if you vote for his party, you will have economic opportunity,” he said.

The party’s machinery was also effective in mobilising the masses to its rallies. Pheu Thai’s rallies have more people than other parties, observed the political analyst.

But having a well-oiled political machinery backing Yingluck would not have been enough if she was not a natural campaigner.

“She has got her brother’s charm. She is a natural. She can blend with the common people,” he explained.

This is evident from the photographs of Yingluck in her campaign trail. Take the example of a Reuters photograph of her in Yala, Thailand’s restive deep south. Wearing a red scarf (of course red as Pheu Thai and the Red shirts are the same) she looks so gorgeous and natural as her head leans on a tudung-clad Muslim woman who was taking their picture on her mobile phone.

“She can do whatever a politician can do and . . . she looks better,” said Suranand.

“Being good looking helps but it does not mean you are a natural campaigner. There are many movie stars who ran unsuccessfully for public office in Thailand.”

“You have to give credit to Yingluck as she is able to reach out and touch the voters. The two combinations – Pheu Thai’s machinery and Yingluck’s charm – seem to work and that is why her polls are skyrocketing,” he said.

Suranand shook his head when asked how the political newbie became a natural campaigner.

“I don’t think Yingluck is trained to be that way. She is one of those people who are like Bill Clinton. Clinton can meet anyone and make him feel comfortable. Yingluck has that same quality,” he explained.

“I’ve worked with Thaksin before and he has that quality too. But for his other brothers and sisters, they don’t have that. They (Thaksin’s other siblings) have good personal relationships but not the charisma to draw the crowd.”

I asked Suranand about his personal impression of Yingluck.

“I might be a little biased as I know Thaksin very well. I’ve met Yingluck from time to time, even after the coup. She is always a nice lady – courteous, talks well, lively and very smart,” he said.

Is there a political script that Yingluck is following?

“They (her campaign managers) have analysed that the people are bored with the usual bickering in Thai politics. She is careful not to antagonise anyone or engage in mudslinging,” Suranand said.

“If she starts attacking the Democrats (who are good at counter-attack), it will make the frontpages and she will just be a normal politician. So they (her campaign managers) are trying to keep her away from all this bickering so that she can talk about the future (reconciliation in politically-divided Thailand) without being caught in a shouting match with the Democrats.”

The other advantage Yingluck has over Abhisit is freshness.

“I have a feeling that the people want change and they want to work with a new face rather than stay with a group of old politicians,” Suranand said.

“It is a short campaign (about six weeks) and if she was running in an American-style one-year presidential elections, it might be tough for her.”

Yingluck also benefits from good press relationship.

“Business reporters who covered her as a businesswoman liked her very much and that helps in terms of word of mouth,” said Suranand.

“When political reporters asked about her, the business reporters told them that she is a nice lady and she is down to earth.”

The cable TV and radio talk show host added: “I have not heard anything bad about her from the media covering the campaign trail. I am told she is always nice.”

Going back to the Pheu Thai campaign message, Suranand said the party wanted to reinforce the Thaksin brand.

“Thais – whether they hate or love Thaksin – acknowledge that he is a capable and competent manager and he has been very successful in managing the country. And they (Pheu Thai think tank) have done their surveys and found that Thaksin is still very popular. So they have come up with a campaign slogan – ‘Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai implements’,” he said.

“And when Yingluck (was picked to be Pheu Thai’s No. 1 candidate), the message of the slogan become stronger as Yingluck is Thaksin definitely. If you picked another Pheu Thai leader (to be the party’s prime minister candidate), he would not have been the real thing.”

Comparing Abhisit and Yingluck to a mobile phone, Suranand said Abhisit was the first generation of BlackBerry phones whereas Yingluck was the new version of the smartphone.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Colour still defines

One Man's Meat

Yellow-hearted Bangkokians have turned red with opinion polls predicting Yingluck, Thaksin’s gorgeous younger sister, will beat the handsome Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat party.

ON Saturday morning, rushing for my meeting with contacts in Bangkok, I put on a red shirt. Then I had second thoughts.

In Thailand’s colour-coded and divided politics, it might be politically incorrect to wear red.

I took it off and put on a grey T-shirt instead.

It is election time in the country where Red means you are pro-Thaksin Shinawatra (former Thai prime minister), and yellow shows that you are anti-Thaksin.

If the opinion polls are to be trusted, Pheu Thai, the party led by the gorgeous Yingluck, Thaksin’s younger sister, will thump the handsome Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat party in the Thai capital on July 3.

It seems that most yellow-hearted Bangkokians (who in 2009 voted for a Democrat as governor of Bangkok) have turned red.

“Bangkok’s middle class who voted for Democrats have had a change of heart,” said Worapol Promigabutr, a sociologist at Bangkok’s Thammasat University.

“They thought the coup (which ousted Thaksin) in 2006 would make the country better. But now they realise the situation has not changed and in fact had become worse,” he said.

At a fast food joint in Tesco Lotus hypermart at the Bangkok suburb of Chaengwattana, I asked Worapol about a political killing on Khao San Road, Bangkok’s backpacker Mecca.

I had a personal interest in political violence in the city of Angels (in Thai, Krung Thep) as friends have asked me whether it was safe to visit Bangkok during the Thai polls.

I assured Malaysians that it was safe, Bangkok Dangerous (the title of a Nicholas Cage movie shot in Bangkok during the 2006 coup), notwithstanding.

The only thing they should worry about was getting conned into visiting a “tiger show” in Patpong.

On Thursday, Suban Jiraphanwanich, an influential politician from the province of Lop Buri (about 130km from Bangkok), was shot dead in – to quote the Bangkok police chief – “a well-planned attack by a hit team of possibly career assassins”.

Suban’s wife and an aide were also injured during the incident in which five rounds were fired.

“Don’t worry,” assured Worapol, who had been detained by the police for seven days for alleged involvement with Red Shirt activities during last year’s bloody protest.

“Political killing is not extraordinary during a Thai election,” he said.

Worapol also gave me the lowdown on the Thai polls – it is Pheu Thai/Red Shirts vs the rest of Thailand.

After the sociologist explained to me why the oligarchy could not kill Thaksin politically, a man at the next table eating fried chicken with his daughter interrupted our discussion.

“Are you saying that Thaksin also helped the poor when he was prime minister?” asked Thanee, a 51-year-old civil engineer, in a typically polite Thai manner.

Surprise, surprise. I thought in English-deficient Thailand, someone was eavesdropping on our conversation in English.

“I voted for Thai Rak Thai (Thaksin’s party banned since 2006).

“I have read from both sides – mainstream media and alternative media.

“And now I don’t support Thaksin,” continued the civil engineer, adding that he saw what Thaksin said on the Internet.

“What did Thaksin say?” Worapol ventured.

“I can’t say. But I know what I read. I will go to jail if I say what Thaksin said,” said Thanee.

“Are you saying that Thaksin is not loyal to the King?” asked the academician, who is a royalist.

“Although it (a Time magazine issue which carried the interview with Thaksin) was banned in Thai-land, my daughter printed it from the Internet,” said the civil engineer.

The argument whether Thaksin allegedly committed lese majeste (a French phrase for “insulting the monarchy”) became too hot that I was a bit concerned it would turn physical.

In politically divided Thailand it is still not “safe” to wear your political belief on your sleeve in public.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Eve-n Adam needed it


DO you know why God created a woman for Adam?” asked Obedient Wives Club international vice-president Dr Rohaya Mohamad.

“Eve was created because Adam had needs. Men have (sexual) needs which they can’t control. And if the needs are not fulfilled, men will find another woman. God created them like that.”

The 46-year-old bespectacled, tudung-clad mother of eight continued: “One of the reasons we started the club is because not all women are trained to be good in bed. We want to teach them how to perform better than a first-class prostitute.”

Dr Rohaya is not your typical Stone Age housewife. She’s a high-flying businesswoman with Global Ikhwan Sdn Bhd, a multi-million-ringgit company with businesses spanning Australia, South-East Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

She studied medicine at the University of Wales in Cardiff. She is the third wife of Mohamad Ikram Ashaari, the 45-year-old son of the late Al-Arqam founder Ashaari Mohamad.

“So, how does a woman become a sex goddess?” I asked Dr Rohaya at the Perangsang Templer Golf Club in Rawang, where the obedient wives were preparing for their club’s launch on June 4.

“We will teach them techniques,” said Dr Rohaya without blushing.

Blushing, I asked, “What sex tips?”

“You ask him first what he likes, then you ask yourself what you like. You can’t have two heads in the house,” she said.

Tudung-clad Fauziah Ariffin, Ikhwan Catering & Restaurant director, chipped in: “Our sifu (mentor) Ashaari told us that a wife’s (sexual performance) must be better than that of a first-class prostitute.”

“What is happening now (the Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger sex scandals),” explained the 48-year-old businesswoman with an accountancy degree from New South Wales University in Sydney, “is the consequence of the wife not performing her obligation (sexually satisfying her husband).

“But why did Brad Pitt ditch Jennifer Aniston – who I assume is pretty good in bed – for Angelina Jolie?” I asked.

“Actually if Brad Pitt had a choice, he would have wanted to have both of them as his wives,” said Dr Rohaya, who is Ikhwan Polygamy Club deputy president. “Unfortunately, Western society can’t accept (polygamy).”

“What do you think of (Perkasa president Datuk) Ibrahim Ali’s statement that when a man has the need and his wife is cooking, she has to stop cooking?” I asked.

“I agree with him as God created Eve for the needs of a man,” ex­­plained Fauziah, who is a third wife and proud of it.

“What do you think of the Monica Lewinsky scandal?” I asked.

“(Former US president) Bill Clinton is being a man,” Dr Rohaya said.

Fauziah added: “As a world leader, you are stressed up and one way to release your stress is by having sex.”

“Do you think Hilary Clinton should have stood by her man?” I asked.

“It would have been better if she allowed Monica to be Bill’s second wife,” said Fauziah.

Then both women laughed heartily as if they were sharing a personal joke.

“Most women’s group will say that your club is bringing women back to the Stone Age,” I prodded.

“We expect that as there is always two schools of thought. But what we want to say is: there’s an alternative. We believe one of the core reasons for what is happening in the world – prostitution, rape and whatnot – is because a man is not satisfied at home. So why don’t we give it a try,” Dr Rohaya said.

How about starting an Obedient Husbands Club?

“I will ask my husband if he wants to start one,” she said.

Talking to the obedient wives made me feel as if God had not banished man from the Garden of Eden.

Monday, June 06, 2011

What’s with NY maids?


Sexual harassment of chambermaids does not only happen in RM9,000 a night penthouse suites in the Big Apple. It happens everywhere.

WHAT’S with maids in New York City’s luxury hotels? Last week, another hotel maid was sexually assaulted. This time by Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar, the former head of one of Egypt’s biggest banks.

The 72-year-old Egyptian allegedly assaulted a 44-year-old maid as she delivered tissues he had requested to his room in a posh Manhattan hotel.

The banker’s arrest came two weeks after International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sex scandal. The 62-year-old Frenchman was accused of trying to rape a 32-year-old chambermaid in a luxurious Manhattan hotel.

Why were the maids sexually assaulted? Are maids downright irresistible? I don’t think so.

As I’m writing this article, I’m home alone with two part-time Indonesian maids cleaning my USJ Subang Jaya house. The two sweaty teenagers are on their knees, scrubbing the floor and I did not feel like doing a Strauss-Kahn on them.

Back to the question: What’s with maids in New York City’s luxury hotels?

Perhaps it is the chambermaids uniform (think French maid’s outfit)? Or perhaps hotel maids in New York City resemble Jennifer Lopez in the romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan.

According to twitterer@ATM2U, yeah they look like J Lo – only 100kg heavier.

Sexual harassment of chambermaids does not only happen in US$3,000 (RM9,000) a night penthouse suites in New York City. It happens everywhere.

A recent article by AP news service revealed the daily danger faced by hotel maids.

“Hotel housekeepers say they often feel a twinge of fear when they slide the keycard, turn the door handle and step into a room to clean it. What will they find?” AP reported.

At a luxury hotel in Toronto, housekeepers especially hated doing “turn-down” service (preparing beds for the night).

Some men would put money on the pillow, ask for sexual favours and tell the women they could take the money after they have left, according to the report.

“Others took a more circuitous route to the same end: they would inquire about a housekeeper’s home country and how many family members they were supporting,” it added.

“Then would come some sympathetic-sounding questions about how much the hotel paid them – followed by an offer of money for sex.”

Coincidentally, when I read about the Egyptian banker, I had just downloaded the May 30 issue of Time magazine on my iPad. The cover story was “Sex. Lies. Arrogance. What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs”.

Now I know why I did not behave so badly with the two maids in my house. I’m not a powerful man.

It seems with power comes confidence. And with confidence comes a sense of sexual entitlement.

“If fame and power make sex more constantly available,” according to a study set to be published in Psychological Science, “it may weaken the mechanisms of self-restraint and erode the layers of socialisation that we impose on teenage boys and hope they eventually internalise.”

In the Time cover story, Nancy Gibbs wrote: “We know that powerful men can be powerfully reckless, particularly when, like DSK (Dominique Strauss-Kahn), they stand at the brink of their grandest achievement.

“They tend to be risk takers, or at least assess risk differently, as do narcissists who come to believe that ordinary rules don’t apply. They are often surrounded by enablers with a personal or political interest in protecting them to the point of covering up their follies, indiscretions and crimes.”

How do you stop powerful men from preying on hotel maids?

Female staff at the hotel where Strauss-Kahn allegedly sexually assaulted a chambermaid are now being allowed to wear trousers instead of skirts.

But that’s like faulting a woman for getting herself sexually assaulted. Plus Strauss-Kahn allegedly sexually attacked his second wife’s goddaughter even though she was wearing jeans.

The solution I favour is providing maids with portable emergency communication devices. If dirty old men try to be funny, just press the “panic button”.