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September 2006


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The toa blog - September 20, 2006

My first coup

It took nine years, but I always knew if I hung around Thailand long enough I'd get to witness a coup, at least on television anyway, and only because I happen to be in Siem Reap at the moment where there was television all night long. It was shut down in Thailand until about 9:00 this morning.

Thailand has certainly proven that if there is anything they can do efficiently, it's hold a coup. With something like eighteen coups in their pocket you would expect a rapid and bloodless military takeover and that so far, has been the case.

The timing was brilliant. With Thaksin in New York awaiting his turn to address the UN General Assembly, the world was watching. On the embarrassment and loss of face scale (one to ten) this ranks about an eleven. Thaksin cancelled his speech. Reportedly his entourage is still in New York but he plans to fly to London where his family is safely awaiting his arrival. Which makes you wonder if he had a sense something like this might occur while he was away? Nice for him that the UK lets foreigners own real estate... and will he have to make visa runs to France?

If I had to guess, "I'm Not the PM Anymore Even If I Say I Am" Thaksin Shinawatra will cool his heels in London until after the next election, could be a year away, will then be let back in to the country, immediately "arrested" and charged with some transgression of which he will be found guilty, fined a bunch of money and given a lengthy sentence. The sentence will be suspended and Thaksin will be left to go about running his business empire with the knowledge that if he ever tries to re-enter politics the suspended sentence will be enforced.

Thailand remains under martial law though the military has stated it is not their desire to run the country and will revert to civilian rule as soon as possible. I expect in the next few days some sort of interim government will be worked out, some sort of temporary constitution will be drafted - they have to suspend the present one since it doesn't have any clauses that authorize a military takeover of the government - the king will make a statement and life will go on.

Reports on the ground in Thailand state that other than it being quiet today - schools, government, etc are closed - it is more or less business as usual. Given Thailand's history of coups, you would expect the general population to be as efficient as the military in coping with it all. Apparently they are.

In reading the internet today I see much about "oh what a sad day for democracy this is," and "but he's a democratically elected PM, this is a disgrace..."

What a load of nonsense.

Thailand has never really had a democracy. And Thaksin completely failed to live up to his end of the demcocracy deal - no matter how you define it, which personally I define as two wolves and a chicken voting on what to have for dinner. He even stated on record that democracy was limited only to elections. Debate, criticism, checks and balances? They had no place in his democracy.

A sad day for democracy?

The sad days for democracy came every day that Thaksin filed a defamation suit against a journalist who wrote something bad about him.
The sad days for democracy came every day that Thaksin fired a publisher or manipulated a news program.
The sad days for democracy came every day that Thaksin rejected any question which he found not to his liking.
The sad days for democracy came every day that Thaksin's election mafia stuffed 500-baht notes in the hands of rural villagers.
The sad days for democracy came every day that Thaksin's war on drugs took an innocent life.

That's a lot of sad days.

A military takeover of the government may turn Thailand democracy (two wolves and a chicken...) back twenty years but Thaksin had already turned it back thirty. So they just moved it up ten.

Still, there's irony in that a highly undemocratic move was used to remove a leader accused of being undemocratic... sort of like Muslims vowing to kill people who accuse their religion of being violent. Lovely world isn't it?

Anyway, the political opposition, the Democratic Party, of course has a brilliant opportunity to become relevant again. Their old style politics of forming sub-committees, scheduling and cancelling meetings, watching the rice grow, etc had worn thin with the Thai populace and paved a smooth road for Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party to take over. Now he's worn out his welcome and the Democrats, with a young charismatic party head and a public begging for something new have no choice but to reinvent themselves and do so quickly.

The rest is wait and see. From a personal standpoint my missus is all smiles. Like most educated urban Thais she grew to despise this man. She wished for his ouster and got it. Not sure if it's appropriate yet to say, "be careful what you wish for..."

Yeah, the whole thing is a mess and it's regrettable. But it's Thailand and it's a Thai problem being handled in a well-established Thai way. Let them do it.

And by the way, if you're hearing rumors of closed land borders they are only half correct. Locals (Thais and whichever neighbor we're talking about) may not cross, the rest of us can. Much like the situation after the anti-Thai riots in 2003. And if you have travel plans I would, for the time bing, not change a thing. Unless of course you were planning to visit some high-ranking TRT officials. They are a bit distracted at the moment... and unemployed.

The toa blog - September 9, 2006

Let's try those electric car thingies again...

For years and years the Apsara Authority has been trying to push through an Angkor transport scheme whereby all tourists are shuttled between temples in these electric (okay, battery powered) cars; something sort of like a long golf cart - you've probably seen them, I don't know, in amusement parks or somewhere. The contract long ago was awarded to a Korean firm.

Why this is good: For years there has been concern that pollution, noise, and vibration, all of which buses, automobiles, tuk-tuks (oh, sorry remorques), motos, etc contribute, are bad for the temples.

Why this is bad: A Korean firm gets the contract and puts a few thousand taxi and tuk-tuk (oops, I did it again, remorque) drivers out of work.

Mix it all together and it's a lot more bad than it is good, especially when you hear the rest of the plan which goes something like this:

Drivers bring the tourists out to the ticket gate and drop them off. For a tuk-tuk this ride might be worth $2. From here the tourists are taken around the Angkor Archaeological Park in one of those battey/electric/Korean thingies, a privilege for which they pay $2 extra as it would be too easy to include the cost in the price of admission. Exit a temple, take a seat, wait for it to fill up, and off to the next temple whether it's one you want to visit next or not. Finish the day and eventually one of these electric cars will get you back to the ticket gate. Now you need a taxi or moto back to town. But will there be one? Seeing as the plan said that taxis would pay $1 an hour to park and tuk-tuks 500 riels an hour, who is going to wait? And if that's not enough, the authorities are actually trying to convince the public that this plan will reduce poverty by bringing more tourists to Angkor. How's that?

Nice plan, huh? Turn your transport infrastructure over to Korea and send a few thousand drivers out looking for new work. What's that about Siem Reap having a low crime rate?

The drivers staged a couple of protests and essentially made the following demands:

1. We do not want foreign tour guides.

2. We welcome any foreign investment to help the developing of Cambodia but not if it is off the back of the Cambodian people.

3. We do not want to pay any money for vehicle parking in the Temple area.

4. We do not want any battery cars to cut down poverty.

Every person who are living in Siem Reap is depending on the Tourism Industry so Khmer people must love and protect each other.

Fair enough. Top to bottom.

Fortunately, smarter heads prevailed and as of Friday September 8, the drivers may continue to ferry tourists around Angkor as before. But the bigger problem is not gone.

More and more tourists are coming to Angkor. They need to be transported. There is not enough room for them all, nor for the tuk-tuks and taxis that transport them. The temples need to be protected. But so, too, do the Cambodians who depend on Angkor for their livelihoods.

...Maybe all the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers have to get battery-powered golf carts? They keep their jobs and the pollution and vibration goes away. Brilliant. I just solved the problem.

Family Values

Another installment of laws the Cambodia government passes which have to be prefaced with "I'm not making this up."

Adultery is now illegal. Yup, cheat on your spouse and go to jail. Don't believe me? Here's the Reuters report:

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia's parliament passed a law Friday which could send adulterers to jail for up to a year.

The vote prompted a walkout by opposition lawmakers who said the law carried echoes of the Khmer Rouge and the Taliban in a country which should be tackling poverty and corruption instead of legislating about morality.

But the government argued the law would help reduce pervasive corruption by removing the temptation for officials to steal from state coffers to maintain mistresses as well as halting what it called a decline in morality.

"This law is also aimed at reducing corruption, because when government officials have more women, they seek more financial sources to support their girls," National Assembly Chairman Heng Samrin said.

Sam Rainsy, chief of his eponymous opposition party, was not impressed.

"The government wants to distract the public from the important issues of poverty and the culture of impunity," he said of a country where 35 percent of the 14 million population live on less than $1 a day and the powerful rarely face justice.

Many married Cambodian men keep mistresses if they can afford them and the government argued that making adultery a criminal offence would help shore up the family.

Some wives resent the unfaithfulness of their husbands to the point of violence.

In the last 7 years, at least 108 cases were reported of women being attacked by acid, some left horrendously scarred, usually by an outraged wife, the Licadho human rights group says.

Few such cases made it to court, most being settled by compensation.

The opposition argued that a law on adultery smacked too much of rigidly authoritarian regimes like the Khmer Rouge and the Taliban for a country still recovering from the Pol Pot years in which 1.7 million people were killed or died of overwork and starvation.

"There are only a couple of countries in the world which prosecuted personal immorality based on their sacred texts such as the ousted Taliban regime," opposition MP Eng Chhay Eang said in the debate.

"They forced people to follow their tradition which cannot be accepted. So did Pol Pot's regime. They murdered people who had love affairs," he added.

This is getting really interesting. "Miss Cambodia" has been banned, 3G phones have been banned, now cheating on your spouse is punishable by imprisonment. I'm still waiting for the banning of internet and foreign television.

Traffic Laws

Cambodia and traffic laws in the same sentence. You can do that now. The National Assembly has passed an 87-article draft law designed to cut down on Cambodia's appallingly high accident rate where an average of four deaths occur every day from a population of 14 million. I haven't seen the full list, but the Phnom Penh Post mentioned a few things, like everyone has to have a license (a novel idea), all vehicles must be registered (another novel idea), helmets, seatbelts, etc must be worn (more novel ideas), driving drunk is prohibited (even more novel still), etc.

And punishments are severe calling for imprisonment of up to three years for certain offenses.

All of this is fine, of course, given how horrible driving is in Cambodia, but it's at the same time pointless if it doesn't come with some serious driver education and the law is not only applied to motodrivers on Dreams and housewives in Ticos but to military and government officials in Landcruisers.

R.I.P. Mark & the Zanzybar

Mark (I'm afraid I never knew his last name) passed away recently back home in Belgium, and with his passing comes the closure of one of Siem Reap's original bars, the Zanzybar. This hole in the wall served for years as one of the few freelancer bars Siem Reap had to offer and seemed to attract the motliest most haggard bunch of girls anywhere. Scary, almost. In more recent times as Siem Reap's nightlife developed several blocks away and of a different character, the Zanzybar drifted nearly into obscurity. I think it is probably at least two if not three years since I last set foot in the place and even then it was for one quick beer as due to my inability to speak French I saw only the backs of other customers and the girls had nothing more to say then, "you handsome man, you like me okay, what your name, let's go."

Even if for many, the Zanzybar had long ceased to maintain even minimal interest, Mark and the Zanzybar were an institution, a throwback to the Siem Reap of the pre-tourist boom 1990s of which there are now so few left. Rest in peace, Mark.


At long last a new writer, Jack Stephens, has been located and the new Talesofasia Guide to Sihanoukville and the South Coast debuted yesterday. Have a look.

Mr. Confident

Anyone see the "I think I'm the PM" Thaksin Shinawatra on CNN the other day talking about the September 28th opening of Suvarnabhumi Airport? After his stint as PM is over that man should give motivational speeches on how to look sure and confident even when the whole world is laughing at you.

Recent Updates on toa

September 19: Revised the talesofasia Guide to Siem Reap/Angkor.
September 12: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
September 9: Readers' Submissions: China/Taiwan : A Day of Rocks and Sea: Kayaking and Climbing in Taiwan by Antonio Graceffo
September 9: Readers' Submissions: China/Taiwan : Taiwan, Foreigners Preserve and Update the Martial Arts by Antonio Graceffo
September 8: Totally revised toa Guide to Sihanoukville and the Soath Coast debuts, by Jack Stephens.
September 8: Readers' Submissions: Cambodia : Trekking with the Rangers of Bokor by Antonio Graceffo
September 4: Updated the Legal section of the Cambodia FAQ
September 1: Pakistan: Married to Injustice by Hina Shahid

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