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The week that was in Thailand news: Keeping a watching brief on the political situation

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The week that was in Thailand news: Keeping a watching brief on the political situation

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The subject of whether foreigners should get involved in politics or protests in Thailand was to the fore this week after a 52-year-old Russian man was headbutted by an irate Thai leading a “Ratsadorn Pattaya” protest in Jomtien, Pattaya.

According to Narathiwat of “Ken” the Russian had called the protesters “the dregs of society” and a “virus” for damaging Thailand’s economy. Most posters on Thaivisa were aghast that the Russian was getting involved and worse still that he had taken his ten-year-old daughter along meaning she saw dad covered in blood.

Ken was bailed for 10,000 baht after being charged with assault. PM Prayut got involved by condemning the protesters for bringing Thailand into disrepute. Well he would, wouldn’t he. He burbled the usual rhetoric about appreciating both sides of the argument and being in charge of everyone’s safety.

He made no mention of the deplorable scenes on Sunday when water cannon was used on peaceful protesters in the area of Sanam Luang in Bangkok. An event that was far worse for Thailand’s image. Ultimately, he has to take responsibility.

The protesters were on their way to the palace to present a letter asking for reform when they were stopped in their tracks. There was a suggestion that the jet of water was “shot in the air”. But what the PM probably sees as “the great unwashed” got a dousing all the same. This is no way to calm tensions.

As Prayut rambled on about law and order no one asked about his rise to power in 2014. The irony of Prayut’s comments always seems to be missed on him though it is probably because he can’t shake off his army career when everyone saluted and paid deference to him. He usually reacts to criticism by barking orders and blaming the press for asking awkward questions and not having the country’s best interests at heart.

Apart from this column and comments among friends and associates, Rooster is someone who has stayed out of politics. I have never attended a protest and probably never will. I have never voted in any election anywhere. I believe in speaking my mind but not going out of my way. I’m a resident and not a citizen. I once threatened to become a citizen and run for parliament but it was just a pipedream after smoking a pipe. I believe I have the right to say my piece but I prefer to leave the dirty work up to the people.

In 1992 the streets were full of hoodlums smashing things up. My wife at the time was threatened. We stayed in. In 2010 I was riding my motorbike near a protest area that was sealed off. I was cheesed off so I spoke in Thai to complain to someone who was blocking my progress. It marked one of very few occasions in Thailand when I have been verbally abused. I went home and brooded but stayed safe.

These days if I wear red the shirt has Three Lions on it. My yellow shirts are gathering dust at the back of a closet.

In recent weeks I have been tempted to go and see protests near where I live in Ladprao and Kaset but remembering those isolated but unpleasant occasions I have decided to watch on Amarin TV. The football comes on afterwards and that affects my personal equilibrium more.

Meanwhile army Chief Narongphan Jittkaewtae said there was no chance of a coup. All I can say is that we have heard that many times before only to wake to the rumble of tanks coming down the street. In 1985 I was teaching English to some maids at The Regent. The coup was an ideal opportunity to teach them the difference between “Many Tanks” and “Many Thanks”.

Thailand’s continuing tourism slump showed no signs of abating. The week began with pictures of “ghost town” Samui and an appeal from a YouTuber called Beam to visit the holiday island where everyone is suffering. The mobile cabinet meeting is but a distant memory and promoting quarantine is the best that can be expected.

Then a think-tank suggested that it could be 2022 before the kingdom returns to any decent level of foreign tourism. Domestic tourism is just not cutting the mustard. Looking at how the pandemic is gripping Europe, the United States and many other parts of the world that assessment looks about right despite news that Pfizer is on the verge of introducing a vaccine.

The problem with that will be the rich/poor divide and the fact that the anticipated jabs must be stored at very low temperatures making its efficacy in some hot countries questionable. Still, worldwide markets rallied on the news with some stocks in industries like airlines, obliterated during the pandemic, rising instantly by multiple ten per cents.

The volatility in the markets – and it seems all other areas of life at the moment – is a challenge not just for investors but us all. Mrs Rooster has been fretting over whether to buy gold for her mum (with a loan from yours truly) today, or tomorrow or the next day as the price fluctuates.

I think I put her off the idea by mentioning that her mum would be the target of thieves if she wore gold down at the market. She suspects I speak with forked-tongue when playing the part of the concerned son-in-law but it looks like I am saved having to make another “loan”. Tempting fate is something few Thais will do unless they are behind a steering wheel or clutching handlebars.

Health Minister Anutin decided that the 14-day quarantine would not be reduced to 10 after all. This was inevitable given the fact that a Hungarian envoy contracted the virus from a visiting compatriot and foreign minister who was whisked back to Europe.

It has also emerged that a South Korean soldier became positive – probably in Thailand – after attending a Cobra Gold meeting of foreign and Thai soldiers at a hotel in Ban Chang, Rayong.

It would seem that the virus is present in Thailand but at a very low level. Certainly, the test and trace procedures that catapult into place when a case of the virus is announced are most impressive. The response to an Indian man from Krabi who went to Chiang Mai showed that. But it was rather disconcerting that the WHO praised Thailand’s response and mentioned them in the same breath as Indonesia and South Africa!

Cases are showing up daily in state quarantine and at alternative state quarantine but the health authorities said all along that despite multiple testing before and during their incarceration in Thailand this was always going to be the case. On balance the country is to be congratulated for keeping the virus at bay though the impact on the economy has been so disastrous that it provides grist to the mill for the kingdom’s knockers.

Thailand’s early efforts to open up promoting the STV or special tourist visa have been much ridiculed but were only ever going to be a testing of the waters. Likewise, plans are now afoot from tourism minister Pipat and his cronies to get lots of Asians – especially from South Korea – to play golf during their cold winter. They will quarantine at golf courses all over the country if the CCSA gives a pilot scheme the nod. Apparently 1,000 young Koreans are ready to come.

Less sensible – and thus roundly criticized – was the suggestion that an SETV (single entry tourist visa for 6 months) would only be issued to people that have about 500,000 baht in their bank accounts. I remember my first trips to Asia when every last penny was spent on air tickets and travelers’ checks. I doubt many backpackers will be coming any time soon!

Though the country continues to press ahead with plans to roll out the red carpet for digital nomads on “work-cations”.

Biggest outrage of the week surrounded the decision by the Office of Trade Competition Commission (an anti-monopoly watchdog) that decided to approve CP’s $10.6 billion takeover of Tesco Lotus in Thailand (Malaysian authorities followed suit later in the week). CP already owns 7-Eleven and many other retail outlets, not to mention most of the supply chain. Some of the commission’s representatives who opposed the deal spoke out publicly against it.

It looks like another sad day for the consumer in Thailand as the giant that is CP rides roughshod over everyone else with the connivance of those in power. This was shown in all its devious glory when this massive conglomerate was too late for the High Speed Train project bidding but were subsequently pardoned and allowed to proceed.

There are those online who like to belittle Thailand for being a satellite of the CCP or Chinese Community Party. They may need to reassess their criticism; Thailand is being controlled from within by CP.

Charoen Pokphand is run by one of Thailand’s richest families – the Chearavanont’s – and is Thailand’s largest private company and one of the world’s biggest conglomerates. Look on the labels of what you are buying or Google the name of the shops that you frequent. You’ll find you have very little choice when it comes to retail.

In international news the story from Pfizer dominated. Meanwhile the incumbent in the White House continued to claim election fraud and insist he is the victor. Most world leaders congratulated president-elect Biden who pressed ahead with his transition plans. He called the incumbent’s lack of concession an “embarrassment”.

In Australia prime minister Scott Morrison drew ire after he interrupted a woman who was speaking in parliament. Family and social services minister Anne Ruston had been asked if the political culture for women had improved. Hapless Morrison did everything except call her a “Sheila”.

One of North America’s most recognizable faces on TV left us this week with the death of Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, who was 80. The Canadian-American was a charismatic icon who presented more than 8,000 editions of the quiz show since 1984 being named in the Guinness Book. A legend.

In Sports Tiger Woods teed it up defending his title at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia. The event, sans patrons, is being played in November rather than the spring due to the pandemic. It will come to a conclusion in the early hours of Monday morning in Thailand. Video highlight was Spaniard Jon Rahm’s sensational and intentional skim across the pond at the 16th that resulted in a hole-in-one during practice.

Back in Thailand 78 people were dead at the scene of road accidents on Monday, a high figure even for the nation’s appalling roads. It is a number that will stick in this columnist’s mind as I drive off to the wilds of Loei for the family’s annual sojourn with the grandparents. Thai schools are taking a “mid-year” break before commencing again at the start of December. I’m looking forward to it being cool as we usually go there at Songkran when the heat can be unbearable.

Trip Advisor warned its customers about the hotel in Koh Chang after the American man who complained about them was jailed. While it is a pertinent matter, they could have balanced this with observations that the critical poster was in fact being highly obnoxious, defamatory and vindictive, all things he admitted. Six of one and half a dozen of the other in this story with the hotel losing out, something that seemed to please many posters.

There are two notes for your diary for those living in or thinking of visiting Hua Hin and Pattaya in the coming weeks. The fireworks festival will be held in Pattaya on Friday and Saturday 27th/28th November. The “international” nature of the competition has been dropped but it is always a great event.

In Hua Hin music lovers will appreciate the jazz festival set to be held on the beach outside the Centara Grand hotel on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th December. This one is called “international” with performers somehow coming from far and wide.

Top laughs of the week featured a Korat man who posted on Facebook. Koson had decided the best way to get close to his Thai sweetheart was to order a tent for a romantic camping holiday. When his pink colored purchase arrived through the post it was just about big enough to get his head in! It was really for a pet to sleep in.

Finally, the best local video of the week was as Thai as it is possible to get. A motorcyclist chased a hit and run driver for ten kilometers before the fleeing man wound down his window. Sitting next to him was a sheepish woman.

He explained there was a very good reason he had not stopped at the scene of the accident. He had hit his wife.

And this was his “mia noi”.

Rooster

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