Paradise lost in Thailand’s political turmoil

Bangkok: They called it the closest place on earth to paradise.
Nanjing Night Net

In 1292 King Ramkhamhaeng the Great declared in an inscription “there is fish in the water and rice in the fields,” a land of justice and of the observance of the Buddha’s teachings.

Over centuries the royal kingdom that is now Thailand, which has never been colonised, overcame periods of war, natural disasters and political convulsion.

In 2005, only months after the Boxing Day tsunami killed almost 10,000 people in Thailand, the country’s national elections were hailed as the most fair and corruption-free in its history, a model for south-east Asia’s authoritarian nations.

Manufacturing was booming, millions of tourists were pouring in and Thailand was one of the world’s top rice exporters.

The country had transformed from an agriculture-dependant nation to become South-East Asia’s second largest economy and an important strategic ally of the West.

But for the first time in Thailand’s modern history its leaders are speaking openly of their fears that the country of 64 million people could collapse amid widespread violence.

After almost four months of anti-government protests, Thailand looks increasingly ungovernable as power slips away from the country’s first woman prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

The economy appears to be heading towards a cliff as politics of hate divide the nation.

Senior military leaders maintain there is no hidden agenda to take over the country in the wake of a disastrous coup in 2006. The country’s frail 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej has not commented directly on the ongoing upheaval.

Anand Panyarachun, a two-time former prime minister and elder statesman of Thai politics, points to stark differences between this crisis and others since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. “In the past it was more or less straight forward, two opposing sides fighting on one issue. But this time it is a much more complicated situation,” he says.

“Now there are two, five or six opposing sides – you can never tell. The issues are multifarious and the players are too many.”

Mr Anand says another difference is that the latest unrest is continuation of a conflict that began years ago while other crises unfolded and ended quickly.

Chuwit Kamolvisit, a former massage parlour tycoon-turned politician, agrees.

“In a normal situation, they protest in the streets for a couple of months and then they start to negotiate. This is something more,” he says.

In broad terms two groups of elite are fighting for power. One is led by Ms Yingluck’s elder brother, ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who is backed by rural masses. The other is dominated by influential figures in a traditional elite and middle class aligned with conservative royalists.

The struggle comes against a backdrop of deep anxiety over the future of the monarchy when King Bhumibol, the world’s longest ruling head of state, passes away. The monarchy has previously acted as the force that pulled warring parties to the negotiating table.

Pasuk Phongpaichit, an economist and professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, says that to understand how Thai politics reached this juncture “you need to understand the drastic changes experienced in Thai society in the past few decades”.

She says Thais today are three times richer than their parents and their aspirations have changed.

“In the past 20 years the many levels of elections that come with decentralisation have also empowered the citizenry, especially people in the provinces,” she wrote in the Bangkok Post.

“They have discovered how the one-man-one-vote system can change their lives for the better, how it has brought more money to their localities.”

But Professor Pasuk said political parties have lagged behind these social changes.

“They still do not adhere to democratic values in their operations and management,” she said.

“They often act like special interest groups which seek political power to benefit themselves.”

Duncan McCargo, a professor of south-east Asian politics at the University of Leeds, says anti-government protesters are failing to grasp that the Shinawatra family is simply the astute beneficiary of seismic changes in Thailand’s political economy.

He says pro-Thaksin parties have locked in the support of a genuine following, especially in the very populous north and north-eastern parts of the country, through populist policies such as health-care programs and village development funds to promote small businesses. These include “urbanised villagers”, many of whom have migrated to Bangkok to work but vote in their home provinces, who account for about a third of the total electorate.

He said the current anti-government protests in Bangkok were the last gasp of Thai dynastic paternalism and they reflected the determination of the old elite and its middle-class allies to check the rising power of the formerly rural electorate by bringing down the Yingluck administration.

Mr Anand, who was nominated in a survey this week as having the most support for the job of prime minister if a neutral person was needed to lead the country out of the crisis (a role he filled after the 1992 political crisis), said it was “obvious that neither side can win” the current conflict. “And neither side is in a position to run the country. No side would be able to function in a full and proper manner because of legal and political restrictions,” he said.

“The intense campaigns mounted by both sides have engendered so much hatred and created, in my view, an unbridgeable gap between the opposing sides.”

Mr Anand told the Bangkok Post that Thailand has bounced back quickly from many setbacks, including the 1997 financial crisis, the 2008 subprime crisis in Europe and the United States and disastrous floods in 2011. But he warned the current upheaval could be a “grievous deterioration” of the national economy.

The country’s financial woes could then result in a lack of action on badly needed political reforms.

The divisions in Thai society have never fully healed from the 2006 coup which removed Thaksin from power and a a subsequent bloody crackdown on pro-Thaksin street protesters in 2010. In recent months there has been a serious deterioration in the security environment.

The crisis has escalated over the past week with a sharp upsurge in shootings and grenade attacks. Army warnings over the danger of civil conflict were reinforced by the emergence of mysterious groups of gunmen aligned to the rival political groupings.

After laying low for months, pro-government “Red Shirts” have become more active. Hardliners announced they would launch a “civil war” in March. They are threatening to target the country’s anti-corruption commission which is pursuing Ms Yingluck over a controversial subsidy scheme for rice farmers. She could be suspended from office by mid-March.

Mr Anand says Ms Yingluck’s government became dysfunctional after it dissolved parliament in December and called new elections, which are now incomplete and disputed. But he says it was not entirely the government’s fault.

“Of course there are political obstacles and economic restraints that have been put in its path,” he says.

Behind-the-scenes attempts to broker talks between the leaders of rival groups this week have so far failed to ease the tension on the streets of Bangkok.

Mr Anand warns time is running out for Thailand. “We cannot afford to have this kind of dysfunctionality continue without any end in sight otherwise we will be courting disaster….we will soon be reaching a tipping point.”

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The moment Thailand’s king defused a timebomb

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej admonishes political rivals Chamlong Srimuang and Suchinda Kraprayoon after bloodshed in Bangkok in 1992. Photo: Screen grab from Thai television Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej admonishes political rivals Chamlong Srimuang and Suchinda Kraprayoon after bloodshed in Bangkok in 1992. Photo: Screen grab from Thai television
Nanjing Night Net

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej admonishes political rivals Chamlong Srimuang and Suchinda Kraprayoon after bloodshed in Bangkok in 1992. Photo: Screen grab from Thai television

It was a moment that stopped bloodshed on Bangkok’s streets and captivated the world.

On the evening of 20 May, 1992, scratchy video footage showed two men prostrated on carpet before Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was sitting stern-faced on a gilt-trimmed sofa.

One of them was Thailand’s then self-appointed prime minister, Suchinda Kraprayoon, a four-star general who two days earlier had ordered combat troops to open fire on protesters, killing scores and wounding hundreds.

Beside him was Chamlong Srimuang, a former military officer, monk and leader of tens of thousands of anti-government protesters.

In a slightly rasping voice King Bhumibol expressed his displeasure at the protagonists kneeling before him.

“It may not be a surprise as to why I asked you to come to this meeting,” the King said.

“Everyone knows how confused the situation is and that it may well lead the country to complete ruin,” he said.

“I would request especially the two of you, General Suchinda and Major-General Chamlong, to sit down and consider together in a conciliatory manner and not in a confrontational manner, a way to solve the problem, because our country does not belong to any one or two persons, but belongs to everyone.”

King Bhumibol said if people got in a blind state of fury and acted in uncontrolled violence, they would not even know what they were fighting about or how to solve the problem.

“If a great destruction occurs in Bangkok, then the country as a whole is also destroyed. In such a case, what is the point of anyone feeling proud to be the winner, when standing on a pile of ruins and rubble?” he said.

Within hours the soldiers and demonstrators had returned home and both Suchinda and Chamlong withdrew from politics.

During his 66 years on the throne King Bhumibol has sometimes chastised errant or corrupt governments or political leaders.

As Thailand’s political crisis has deepened since protesters took to the streets last November, the ageing and frail King has remained at his seaside palace at Hua Hin, 200 kilometres south of Bangkok.

In a speech on his 86th birthday on December 5, the world’s longest-serving monarch stressed the importance of unity and solidarity among Thais and the need for them to work together for the sake of common good.

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Live: Roar v Glory

Live: Roar v Glory
Nanjing Night Net

Good evening folks. Pretty simple stuff tonight as the Roar host the Glory. Brisbane are off the back of a pair of losses and simply must win tonight to show they are the real deal this A-League season. There are seven rounds to go and the Roar have five at home. Coach Mike Mulvey knows there are precisely zero excuses tonight against the battling Glory. Lets see if his side responds.

Away we go and a little bit of room for Perth early. A quick goal would do them a few favours and that was close indeed! A quick grab from Michael Theo off the header from the corner. That could have made things interesting. Just think Brisbane need to be emphatic tonight but here’s another chance for Sidnei! Space galore and Theo with another key save! Great start from the Glory.

What an ordinary start this has been for Brisbane. Minds not on the job. Perth’s bus was an hour late. Maybe Brisbane ducked out for a quick lager to kill a bit of time. Brisbane setting up into their more familiar patterns now and McKay trying to thread the needle with that pass. Perth knock it clear. Two early chances for Sidnei but Theo was up to the mark.

So it’s settled into a midfield game now as the Roar try to eat up the possession and put some concerted pressure on the Glory goal. Perth up to it at the moment and not a great deal of zip in the Roar game just at this point. All going through Broich as usual.

Some action! Free to Brisbane and Broich and Petratos stalking the dead ball. The Glory wall is set, Petratos fires and it just goes high. Needed a bit more dip on that, the young man, and he would have been celebrating. No score at Suncorp but Perth with the best of the early chances. It’s been a largely dour affair aside from that early flourish.

Broich playing centrally thus far and all the attack heading down the right. It just isn’t clicking for Brisbane so far. Broich could shift back to the left at some stage – that’s when he tends to really open teams up. Not much width in the Roar attack and Perth looking fairly comfortable after 25 minutes. No score.

One for the purists, this game. No score after 31 minutes. Not much of anything really. We’re building to something, surely.

The Roar go right, right, right… then circle around the left. And it almost paid off but Petratos was in dream land. Dear oh dear. Broich fires across the flat cross and it burns across the turf. Petratos started his run, then stopped for some reason. He would have been greeted with a simple tap in but it sails past his feet. Massive chance there. Needed to attack that – still no score.

Brisbane just off once again tonight. Had the chance to really push on the counter there but players just dawdled down the field and looked at each other. Nothing doing for the would-be champions on their home turf.

Glory corner has too much carry and Theo can watch it curve on by the far post. What to make of Brisbane here? I thought they may just come out and make a statement in the first half tonight but if anything Perth have done the better. No score at the 44-minute mark and I can see a Mike Mulvey spray brewing.

HALFTIME Brisbane 0 Perth 0.

The Gremlins have hit HQ – Phil will be back in no time with the minute by minute – in the meantime, feast yourselves on the stats in the fully-functional live scoreboard!

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Gai Waterhouse to lay down the law in Silver Slipper

Hat-trick hopeful: Gai Waterhouse is confident Law can give her three successive Silver Slipper wins. Photo: Jenny EvansIt’s not Neighbours but Gai Waterhouse has a Kylie Minogue appeal in episode one, “Gai TV – The Lady trainer” it says on her website. Waterhouse took viewers to Randwick trackwork this week and gives an insight into her energy. “Law is going super,” she said of her top prospect in Saturday’s Silver Slipper at Rosehill. The camera follows Waterhouse during the gallops, picking up horses and reports from her jockeys and staff. The trainer also confides about her diet, displaying dry fruit and almonds that keep her going, good for humans but hopefully horses are on stronger fuel. Law takes on Unencumbered, which is second favourite for the Golden Slipper, and Mossfun, prepared by Team Hawkes. However, Waterhouse is confident the Breeders’ Plate form is best and Law, successful in the Randwick juvenile, will prove too good, giving her three Silver Slippers in a row as she took the past two with Sweet Idea and Pierro. A Star Thoroughbreds colt, Law has had the benefit of a recent win, a condition factor that could prove vital on the rain-affected conditions. Waterhouse has a back-up in Hampton Court who she regards as the danger. Magic Millions winner Unencumbered was the early favourite but four bookmakers in the Racenet poll of leading betting houses made him their “lay” of the day. Verdict: Law.Pitched praise
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Waterhouse reached singing budgie pitch about Ecuador, the hot favourite in the opening event, a benchmark 95 over 1400 metres. “Just how good is he going?” she exclaimed after watching Ecuador workout. “He glided along and then exploded.” Ecuador, a winner on slow, scored first-up over the Rosehill 1400m on February 15 but, at this stage of his preparation, staying at the same journey as last start raises a query. Possibly the son of High Chaparral would be better suited by longer. Waterhouse has Almighty Charge entered in the same race and both are frontrunners, so the stablemates might control the tempo. Verdict: Ecuador.Roca and roll

The big push in the Hobartville Stakes from ”Gai TV” came from stable manager and track rider, Mark Newnham, for Woodbine. “He is one of the most improved horses in the stable,” Newnham enthused on camera. “And I’m sure the 1400 metres will suit him better.” Waterhouse also has Romantic Touch and Liberty’s Choice in a Hobartville that has a strong New Zealand contingent. Perhaps the Kiwi El Roca, with the benefit of a recent win, will prove superior to Atlante, trained by Murray Baker, but Dissident, too, should be considered. Dissident didn’t look as fit as El Roca when beaten two lengths by him in the Eskimo Prince (1200m) at Rosehill on February 15. “El Roca has been backed from $3.15 to $2.80 and punters think he’ll do the job again,” Betfair’s Daniel Bevan said. Verdict: El Roca.Watch weather

Waterhouse reckons it was a “tragedy” Tamariz, a top contender in the last event, didn’t score last start. On paper, the opinion is hard to justify but the trainer is confident about the way he is progressing. Tamariz has won on heavy and after five starts this preparation, he will be well suited if the ground chops up. Waterhouse also has Dormello in support, while Chris Waller has other top chances in topweight Black Jag and the well-fancied Forever Crazy. Verdict: Tamariz.Guineas on a plate

The Australian Guineas at Flemington lacks the Waterhouse pizazz but does have a Cox Plate winner in Shamus Award, suited by the set-weight conditions. Shamus Award is rated 115 by Victorian handicappers while the promising Eurozone gets 98. “Was good first-up before getting tired late,”Centrebet’s Michael Felgate said about Shamus Award. “Worked brilliantly since and has been set for this race.” Ratings are based on what horses have done and not potential, where Eurozone and Hucklebuck figure prominently. Verdict: Shamus Award.

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Hobartville Stakes: Old rivalry rekindled for new wave of Kiwi intruders Atlante and El Roca

Enzedder: Hugh Bowman sticks with El Roca at Rosehill on Saturday. Photo: Damian Shaw Photo: Damian ShawIt is a long way, in terms of distance and prizemoney, from their last meeting but New Zealand visitors El Roca and Atlante will look to dominate the home-town brigade in Saturday’s Hobartville Stakes (1400 metres) at Rosehill.
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The Kiwi pair started their career racing for a purse of less then $5000 at Taupo last August, where El Roca had the better of Atlante, which ran third, by just on three lengths.

Both Fastnet Rock colts have since established records of three wins and a placing from five starts and Atlante won the New Zealand 2000 Guineas at group 1 along the way.

“The other one [El Roca] has a bit better speed than our bloke, who was a bit big,” Atlante’s trainer Murray Baker said. ”He had trouble getting around the turn that day but the other one was too good.”

Atlante failed on a heavy track at his next start before stringing three wins on end, finishing with the 2000 Guineas.

“It has been a good horse’s race and he is a good horse. We decided to come over here [to] give him his chance,” Baker said. “He has travelled very well but he doesn’t like [a] wet track as you can see from that second run, so we would like the rain to go away.”

El Roca is on his second trip across the Tasman after impressing in the spring when runner-up in the Caulfield Guineas Prelude before being a luckless fifth in the Caulfield Guineas a couple of weeks later. He returned a well-backed favourite when he won the Eskimo Prince Stakes at Rosehill a fortnight ago and the prospect of a soft track does not faze trainer Trent Busuttin. “He can handle wet tracks and is fit and well,” he said.

It could be a big day for the Kiwis with Baker’s son Bjorn taking Magic Millions winner Unencumbered to the Silver Slipper earlier in the afternoon.

“He is a nice, big, relaxed horse,” Murray Baker observed of the winner of five of his six starts, which has been backed into $2.80 favourite. “Not what you expect from a two-year-old.”

Bjorn Baker is part of the new breed of Kiwis who are making inroads in Australian racing and his father pointed to the benefit of racing here. “We have always had good horses and jockeys come over here, but for young trainers the opportunities are huge,” he said. “You race for $50,000 to winner every Saturday and as you can see [from the Taupo maiden] we can’t match that. A group 2 in New Zealand is worth that, so you have to sell rather than race in New Zealand.

“Chris Waller has shown the way and now Bjorn has his foot on the ladder.”

Bjorn’s Warwick Farm operation has given the Bakers an Australian base, where Atlante and It’s A Dundeel will stay during their visits.

“Murray has some really nice horses over here and they are all doing well,” Bjorn Baker said. “It will be interesting to see how Atlante goes at Rosehill.”

He could not be happier with Unencumbered going into the Silver Slipper after a short break in the paddock following his Magic Millions win.

“I want to have a similar preparation going into the [Golden] Slipper as I did for the Magic Millions,” Baker said. “He has this run, then the Todman [Stakes] over 1200 metres in a couple of weeks, which I think is vital before the Slipper.

“He has done well since coming back in the stable, but there is still improvement there.”

Meanwhile, the racing career of group 1 winner Sizzling is over. The sprinter suffered a tendon injury in last week’s Futurity Stakes at Caulfield and the entire has been retired to Newgate Farm in the Hunter Valley.

The son of Snitzel, which leads the 2013-14 stallions’ premiership for progeny earnings, was having his second run for Waller last week after being transferred from Kelso Wood following the syndication of the former Brisbane colt. Newgate’s Henry Field said it was decided to give him a chance to add another group 1 credit before standing at stud later this year. Sizzling won the T.J. Smith as a two-year-old and the Queensland Guineas at three under the care of Wood, and won seven races from 23 starts for earnings of $1.3 million.

– with John Holloway

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