January reminds us of Ianus, the two-faced Roman god after whom the month is apocryphally named. (In fact, it’s more likely the month is named after the tutelary god of the month, Iuno.)

Anyway, it must be pretty tough having two faces to preserve. It’s probably just as well Ianus wasn’t born in Thailand, where saving face is a prominent preoccupation.

But first, to another aspect of the Thai character (if such sweeping generalisations can be made): patriotism, or nationalism, or xenophobia. Not quite sure how to label it, but it’s not a particularly pleasant trait. One sign sums it up for me: a few years ago I was visiting Wat Pho, a temple very popular with visiting tourists. There by the gate was a sign in English and Thai, “Beware: Foreign Pickpockets are Stealing Here”. The word “foreign” here is totally redundant. However, it was important to make clear that Thai thieves would never pickpocket in an area busy with tourists, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

This character is also reflected in the refusal to take foreign advice. For example, since 1932 Thailand has had 20 different constitutions (and 18 military coups), and the current junta is in the process of drawing up a 21st. Despite all the evidence that Thailand isn’t very good at drawing up effective constitutions (and this is despite a lot of practice), when it was put to the head of the junta that foreign advisers be engaged to help write the current constitution, he snapped that it was not necessary. Despite the General’s confidence, from what I know of the new constitution, I’m not hopeful it will provide much needed political stability.

This character can also have unfortunate consequences for foreigners living here – particularly the Burmese, Lao and Cambodian migrant workers who are effectively powerless here. Let us consider the tragic case of the British couple murdered on Koh Tao in September 2014. The General first decided to blame the foreign victims saying:

“[Tourists] think our country is beautiful and is safe so they can do whatever they want. But I ask: will they survive in Thailand if they dress in bikinis? [Only if] they are not beautiful.”

He then decided to blame foreign migrant workers saying:

“We have to help take care of [our nation] and not let not-good people mingle with us, such as unregistered alien workers… It’s dangerous and it can cause damage to the country,”

Shortly after two Burmese labourers were arrested. The son of a prominent family on the island, who was (and by some still is) suspected of being the perpetrator, was quickly dismissed as not involved by the police. The police commander who supported these suspicions, was abruptly transferred off the case and all mention of the scion powerful clan ceased.

There are a lot of suspicions about the police’s handling of the case, including:

  • failing to secure the murder site for days
  • poor handling of evidence and conflicting timing information
  • DNA results produced unbelievably quickly
  • shoddy reporting of the DNA results – one page, part of it handwritten with lots of crossings out
  • failure to DNA test either the female victim’s clothing or the murder weapon
  • alleged torture of the labourers to secure confessions.

There’s more, but I think that’s enough for present purposes.

Particularly given the crucial role of DNA evidence in this case and its international profile, it is perhaps surprising that Thailand’s most prominent forensic scientist and household name, Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand, was not allowed to get involved in the investigation. During the trial she did testify for the defence criticising the police handling of the evidence and the analysis.

A renowned Australian forensic expert brought in by the defence was not allowed to testify. It’s not clear why, but one theory is that having a foreigner criticising Thais would work badly for the accused.

Anyway, despite all the question marks hanging over the case, the labourers were found guilty and sentenced to death. And one is left wondering whether things might have turned out differently were it not for Thai patriotism.

Anyway, needless to say the Royal Thai Police have taken a lot of flack in the media for their handling of the case. In response they have closed ranks, with police bigwigs past and present defending the police’s actions and the General also got involved, angrily saying:

“Critics should respect the verdict and that Thailand’s justice system would not bow to public pressure”.


“They have the right to appeal, right? Laws all over the world have this. Or should Thai law not have this? Is it the case that we should release all people when pressured?”

Yes, they have the right to an appeal, but will that change things? Will that make up for the mishandled evidence? For the questionable DNA analysis? Where do a couple of powerless labourers stand when they come up against Thailand’s patriotism and its need to save face?



It’s now been a little over five months since the elected government was overthrown in a coup d’état and military junta installed with General Prayuth Chan-ocha at its head. Since then the country has been under military rule it has been forbidden for anyone to write or say anything critical of the junta. And as the junta works to “restore happiness to the people” who would have any criticism anyway?

The junta has done a thorough job of exposing the problems with the rice pledging scheme initiated by the former government. It’s now been found that 70% of the rice stored is seriously degraded and a further 20% is so rotten it’s only fit for making ethanol. Only 10% is fit for sale. It would appear that a lot of the rice is old stock from somewhere or other which has been used to replace the good new crop which has then been sold off covertly. Genetic testing continues to determine how much of the rice has surreptitiously been brought in from abroad and passed off as Thai. The total loss from the damaged rice alone is estimated at 580-700 billion baht (US$17.8-21.4 thousand million), excluding bank loan interest and storage fees the government has yet to pay.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of negligence or worse by former Prime Minister Yingluck who was in charge of the scheme, none of the responsible bodies seems keen to charge her for her inaction. (And nobody is talking about prosecuting her brother, Lord Voldemort of Dubai, who designed the scheme.)

The government has pledged to cut out corruption. In the area of illegal encroachment into national parkland it’s done an excellent job. Already 500 poor peasants have been evicted. Doubtless it won’t be long before land is also reclaimed from the extraordinarily wealthy people who’ve built expensive resorts and created vast plantations where they shouldn’t.

And thinking of extraordinary wealth, the wealth of government ministers was recently disclosed by The Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. Many of them are extraordinarily rich. General Prayuth, now the Prime Minister, has assets of 128 million Baht (US$3.9 million) which makes him relatively poor compared to some other cabinet members. He says he can explain his great riches, but hasn’t done so yet. Early days, though.

One of the junta’s first actions was to confirm spending US$11.8 thousand million on flood defences proposed by the previous government. I do wonder why that figure hasn’t gone down since corruption and its costs will be eliminated under the junta. Perhaps they’ll build to better quality or do the work faster putting up costs. It’s been three years since the terrible flooding of central Thailand and Bangkok. It’s about time something was done to prevent a repeat.

And in other news, the Thai Navy recently opened its new submarine base and submarine training centre at a cost of 540 million baht (US$16.8 million), even though Thailand hasn’t had a submarine since 1951 and doesn’t look likely to be getting one any time soon. Indeed, some say that in the shallow Gulf of Thailand submarines are easily spotted from the air so may not be particularly effective in the event of war. I wonder if there might be another explanation for the base’s construction.

It’s just occurred to me that this Postcard’s title is the same as a line from a song by a popular beat combo. Now, if only I could remember the next line…


Thailand awoke to another military coup this morning. It was hardly surprising. In fact, for the last few months the feeling has been “let’s just have the coup already” – as summer follows spring, as coup follows corruption, it was inevitable.

The previous coup, in 2006, overthrew the Thaksin regime which was briefly replaced by a government led by the Democrats. However, come the next general election, Thaksin’s puppet government led by his younger sister was installed by popular decree. In other words, the 2006 coup and a new constitution had achieved nothing; Thailand’s government was still headed by a party (now called Pheu Thai) which followed the criminal fugitive’s every whim. As the political slogan at the time went “Thaksin thinks; Pheu Thai acts”.

Thaksin has been hell-bent on maintaining power since this enables him and his cronies to rob the country blind with utter impunity. In political discussions a couple of days ago with General Prayuth (head of the army), with the country already under martial law, Thaksin joined in on speakerphone (or Skype don’t know which). He refused to bend an inch and insisted that his puppet regime remain in power. This triggered Prayuth’s wrath (he slammed his hand down hard on the desk) and the coup.

It’s not that Thaksin is particularly corrupt by Thai standards – just that he’s been more successful at it than most. The number of “unusually rich” politicians, government bureaucrats, heads of state enterprises and senior military figures is quite staggering, but virtually nothing seems to be done against them. And if it is, they just conveniently leave the country until the statute of limitations for their crime expires.

Herein lies the problem: for Thailand to move forward corruption needs dramatically to be curtailed, but those in power (with some honourable exceptions) are the ones who benefit most from it. Much as turkeys are loathe to vote for Christmas, Thai politicians are reluctant seriously to pursue anti-corruption measures. After all, they need the money for, amongst other things, bribing the electorate.

And as long as there is corruption, Thaksin and others of his ilk will be able to bribe the populace to vote for him and his party. Like the previous, the current coup will in all probability amount to nothing. And in a few years it will be Groundhog Day all over again.

In the meantime TV is reduced to a Powerpoint slide of various logos backed by patriotic music on all channels, and there’s curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m..


I haven’t posted for a few weeks. Truth to tell, the news here in Thailand is rarely edifying, and the same sorry stories repeat time and time again.

“Spoiled kid of a rich family kills someone and gets away with it”
Most recently a younger member of the Red Bull family who was allegedly drunk and high on drugs slammed his Ferrari at high speed into a policeman’s motorcycle then dragged him down the road for 200 yards. The policeman died. The heir’s indictment has mysteriously been postponed six times. Immediately before the final scheduled indictment attempt he was allowed to leave Thailand to see motor racing in Singapore. He then developed a sniffle and got a doctor’s note saying he was unfit to fly. The statute of limitations on one of the charges then expired. So, yet another rich kid looks like getting away with murder.

“Drunk policeman shoots tourist dead in fit of pique and gets away with it”
The only twist in this story is that one Chiang Mai policeman who shot a Canadian tourist didn’t actually get away with it. Rather foolishly, he went on to club his new wife to death; she was heavily pregnant at the time. He subsequently pleaded guilty to the murders of both his wife and the tourist.

“Technical college students shoot at/knife each other. Only one or two dead”
Across Thailand there are rivalries between technical colleges. Students arm themselves and attack those from a rival college. Frequently there are fatalities. Occasionally an innocent bystander gets killed.

“Another policeman/soldier/rubber tapper/teacher shot/blown up/beheaded in the South”
The Islamist insurgency continues to rack up dead bodies; pretty much every day there’s a new report of somone’s being murdered. The death toll is now well over 5,000 and the killings continue apace.

“Thailand flooded”
I didn’t expect a repeat of the 2011 floods quite so soon. After all, didn’t the government promise to invest massively in infrastructure to prevent a recurrence? Recent headlines include “Flooding in east Thailand worst for 50 years”, “Thai floods force closure of 17 factories in industrial zone”, “Thailand floods death toll rises to 73”, “Millions affected by floods in Thailand”. Still, no need to worry here in Bangkok; as Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop reassured us “Bangkok will be 100 percent safe unless there is more heavy rain in the North for a couple of days.”

“Government Minister says something ridiculously stupid”
The ability of government ministers to spout total nonsense that anyone with even a single functioning neuron is rubbish is uncanny. They universally appear incapable of distinguishing truth from fiction – or hold their countrymen in such contempt that they assume they will lap up any old rubbish.

“Massive corruption in government project”
Corruption is omnipresent; there’s probably not a single government project that doesn’t involve graft. Many projects such as the rice mortgaging scheme (losses to date estimated at over 400 billion Baht – that’s roughly $13 billion – the government has repeatedly refused to provide accurate figures on the costs and losses) appear to have been specifically designed to facilitate corruption; the poorest farmers have gained very little from the scheme.

With daily news like this, I sometimes wonder why I bother to read the news in the newspaper. Perhaps I should just stick to the cartoons and the crossword.


Winston Churchill famously said in a speech to the House of Commons that:

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

When it comes to Thailand, I’m not so sure. The Pheu Thai government, which holds a large majority, currently has three bills as top priority.

The first of these bills is the “Line Our Pockets at the Expense of the Little People” bill. Basically, the government is planning on borrowing 2 trillion Baht ($62 billion) to fund some vaguely specified infrastructure projects – though a large chunk of the money will undoubtedly disappear into the bank accounts of certain “influential people”. The Thai people will be left with paying off the debt plus interest for the next 50 years so that certain politicians and others can become even more fabulously wealthy.

The second of the bills is the “Get Thaksin Home at Any Cost” bill. Officially the bill (actually a number of competing bills drafted by different brownnosers) is about national reconciliation. Pardon anybody who broke any laws during the unrest of 2010, even if those people are guilty of murder or arson. This would give Thaksin a “get out of jail free” card and allow him to return to Thailand without spending even a day behind bars for his crimes. Understanding how doing something like this will promote national reconciliation is beyond my limited powers of reasoning.

The most insidious of the three bills, however, is about democratic reform. The Senate, which is 50% appointed and 50% elected, provides a check upon the actions of the lower house. Pheu Thai now wishes to make the upper chamber 100% elected and to remove certain current restrictions upon who may become a senator including:

  • Senate candidates must not have been party members or MPs for 5 years
  • Senate candidates are prohibited from being parents, spouse, or children of political office holders or MPs.

The inevitable consequence of this is that the Senate would be filled with the wives, brothers, sons, nephews, uncles, gardeners and maids of sitting MPs; there would be no checks or balances upon the actions of lower house. And where might that lead? President-for-Life Thaksin Shinawatra presiding over a financially ruined Thailand? Think Zimbabwe. Could Thailand be heading down such a path? It’s not inconceivable.

I think Winnie got it wrong about democracy.



Transparency International has just published its annual survey on corruption around the globe. The results for Thailand are, to me, unsurprising. For example:

  • 38% of respondents said that corruption has increased “a lot” over the past two years
  • 74% said that corruption in the public sector was a “problem” or “serious problem”
  • 68% said political parties were “corrupt” or “extremely corrupt”, and
  • 71% said the police were “corrupt” or “extremely corrupt”.

It’s an open secret that corruption has increased massively under the Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration. The kickbacks for government projects are much more than they were under the previous government, and government policies such as the rice pledging scheme appear deliberately designed to facilitate corruption.

However, I then looked at the UK figures and compared them with the Thai figures.

  • 32% in the UK said that corruption had increased “a lot” in two years (Thailand: 38%)
  • 61% said that corruption in the public sector was a “problem” or “serious problem” (Thailand: 74%)
  • 66% say political parties were “corrupt” or “extremely corrupt” (Thailand: 68%)

The differences between the two countries are far less than I had expected. It might be because it takes a lot more in Thailand to be considered “corrupt” or “extremely corrupt” than it does in the UK. However, when I dug a little deeper into the figures it became apparent that something wasn’t quite right.

  • 37% of the Thailand respondents reported they had paid a bribe to the police in the last 12 months (UK: 8%)

The Thailand figure seems possible. Police regularly collect small bribes from motorists – particularly motorcyclists – to turn a blind eye to a traffic violation. And a bribe is usually needed to get any crime investigated. However, 8% having bribed a policeman in the UK in the last year I find unbelievable.

  • 9% have paid a bribe to education services in the last 12 months (UK: 7%)

The Thailand figure again seems reasonable; a large bribe is usually required to secure a place for your child at any of the better schools – but 7% in the UK? Unbelievable.

  • 14% have paid a bribe to the judiciary in the last year in Thailand (UK: 21%)

This is a surprisingly high figure for Thailand; the judiciary has a reputation for honesty here. However, the UK figure is even higher.  At 21%. this is simply not credible.

Much as I admire the work Transparency International does in highlighting the scourge of corruption across the globe, in my opinion there is something very seriously flawed with its methodology; all its figures and conclusions should be taken with the very largest grain of your finest Maldon.

The Transparency report is available at the website http://www.transparency.org


Britain has its fair proportion of politicians known to act in a cringeworthy manner. There’s Mark Harper, the table-dancing Tory Minister who fell off the table and broke his foot. There’s John Redwood (Tory Secretary of State for Wales at the time), pretending to sing the Welsh National Anthem, whilst clearly having no clue as to the words. Ron Davies MP, caught at a well-known gay cruising ground who subsequently claimed he was “badger watching”. (“Todger watching” seems more likely.) And then there’s anything that Boris Johnson has ever said or done. However, Thailand’s MPs do their very best to be cringeworthy to an equally high international standard.

Nattawut Saikua is one of the leading Red Shirt rabble-rousers responsible for the horrendous rallies in Bangkok that resulted in 90 or so dead and shopping malls burnt down in 2010. As a reward for his actions he was made a government minister by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s puppet-master brother-in-exile. In fact, he’s now the Deputy Commerce Minister. One of his functions is to promote buying from traditional shops. He felt the best way to do this was to release a video on Youtube, complete with accompanying dancing commerce officials and shopkeepers.

Needless to say, most of the comments are pretty derogatory, along the lines of (and I translate) “This is retarded” and “Tragic. Can’t they find anything better to do?”

As for me, it just makes me want to curl up and die.


Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop was perhaps more cringeworthy when he decided to take the leading role in a drama about King Mangrai in front of delegates to this year’s Asia-Pacific Water Summit.

King Mangrai founded the Northern Thai kingdom of Lanna in the 13th century and moved its first capital to Chiang Mai when the original capital was flooded.

This was a full-on production with hundreds of extras and full set at the ruined city of Wiang Kun Kam (the first capital).

Plodprasop as King Mangrai

Plodprasop as King Mangrai

Such a fine figure of a man! I’m sure the delegates were thrilled by his appearance and have come to hold Thailand and its fine politicians in even higher regard.


The events three years ago when the Red Shirt rally, which had blocked the major Rajprasong intersection at the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district for more than two months, ended have created a terrible scar in the Thai psyche; more than 90 shot dead and well over 200 injured, two shopping mall torched and destroyed. The Pheu Thai politicians – the Red Shirts’ political allies – talk about reconciliation. Their mouths flap with empty words, and their hearts are equally empty.

On Sunday morning the main photograph on the front page of the newspaper showed a picture of the 3 year “commemorative” Red Shirt rally, blocking again the same intersection for hours, and bringing back many painful memories of what happened. Above it a giant screen showing Thaksin giving an address to the assembled from his home in exile in Dubai via Skype. I felt physically sickened by the sight, and I’m sure many Thai people will have felt the same way.

Even after three years, there’s been no healing, no progress towards reconciliation. Thailand remains as divided as ever. And the square-faced one seems intent on keeping it that way.


A certain blindness to the law appears to run through the Shinawatra clan, and that’s despite the family’s recently-acquired role as the country’s feudal overloads.

It was most unfortunate that former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra fled the country just hours before being found guilty of corruption. But not to worry. One of his sisters – Yingluck was shortly to be granted the role of premier – albeit blatantly as Thaksin’s puppet.

And now it seems entirely possible that the little sister will be tried for and convicted of crimes of corruption and so will lose her positions as MP and PM. So what’s a family to do? Line up another sister – that’s what.

In Chiang Mai – home territory for Thaksin and his clan – a current senior MP has mysteriously resigned without warning or explanation. It’s widely anticipated that Yaowapa Shinawatra will stand for election to his constituency and (undoubtedly) be elected, making her eligible to be the next PM should Yingluck fail and fall. (In Thailand only a standing MP can become Prime Minister.)

It’s perfectly possible that the square-faced one would be very happy with the substitution. Yingluck has so far totally failed to pass legislation that would grant him a “get out of jail free” card. Yaowapa, however, has a reputation as a bit of a political bruiser (even though she’s never stood for political office) and may well be able to secure that card for the country’s most notorious fugitive from justice.

So, if any country is looking for a new Prime Minister – one politically naïve and poor at debate but with a pretty face and a penchant for Burberry boots – then possibly a soon-to-be former Prime Minister will be available for the job.


Thailand’s hopelessly misguided rice pledging scheme has lead to a stockpile of more than 12 million tonnes of ludicrously overpriced rice, much of it of poor quality and decaying, which nobody wants to buy. The nation’s rice warehouses are full to overflowing, yet still the government pledges to take every single, last grain of rice produced by the nation’s farmers. This led to a rather dark joke about the situation.

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe visits Thailand. He sees a vast mountain of rice and exclaims:

“Wow! You have a Mount Fuji in Thailand. And snow, too!”

To which Prime Minister Yingluck replies:

“It’s not Mount Fuji, it’s Mount Rice-Pledging Scheme. And it’s not snow on the top. It’s just the rice that hasn’t gone rotten yet.”