On paper, as prime minister of a military government, Prayuth (Chan-o-cha) had as much dictatorial power and immunity under Section 44 of the interim constitution of 2014 as Sarit Thanarat had under Section 17 of the interim constitution of 1959, but he did not invoke Section 44 to execute anyone.
Sarit ordered the summary execution of five suspected arsonists, one suspected heroin producer, one suspected messianic leader and four suspected communists - eleven people in total, five of whom he adjudged guilty of political offences.
Under the preceding Phibun (Songkhram) regime, members of parliament were killed extra-judicially. In 1949 four pro-Pridi MPs from Isaan who had been arrested for alleged treason were assassinated by their police escort; in 1952 an anti-Phibun MP from Isaan was murdered in police custody; and in 1954 another MP was found murdered after he alleged the police chief was corrupt.
The post-coup government of 2006-07 and the military government since 2014 could not - and showed no signs of wanting to - deal with political opponents in the cavalier manner of Sarit or Phibun and their henchman.
Locked between the ocean and the world’s oldest desert, and buffeted by ever-moving sand dunes, Swakopmund is Namibia's premier holiday resort, a place rich in reminders of its past and ample reasons to warrant a visit today.
To get to Swakopmund as an overseas visitor, you first have to fly into the country’s capital Windhoek, located at an elevation of 1800m on the southwest corner of the African continent in one of the most isolated and little known parts of the world, and then travel by road some 380km, including a 150km desert crossing.
This beautiful seaside town was founded in August 1892, two years later than Windhoek, by Captain Curt von Francois, as the main harbour of German South West Africa, a former colony ruled by Germany. Its name was changed to Namibia in 1968.
Increased traffic between Germany and its colonial outpost necessitated establishing a port since Walvis Bay, located 33km south, was a British possession. The choice fell on Swakopmund, where water could be found and because other sites checked were unsuitable. Records show that in 1894 there were only 19 inhabitants.
The name in essence means “the mouth of the Swakop River” and is believed to originate from the Nama word ‘Tsoakhaub,’ which can be translated as ''excrement opening'', an accurate description of the waters of the Swakop River in times of flood when it carries tonnes of clay and sand, along with piles of vegetation and the odd animal corpse.
Fortunately, this happens less frequently nowadays as dams upstream store water to supply the capital and other towns.
Despite its name, this beautiful little town on the west coast of Namibia has a rich past, reflected in the many old but well-preserved colonial buildings. The facades, arches, towers, and ornamentation reflect architectural themes which dominated Europe at that time.
Swakopmund retains something of 19th century Germany with traditions like Küsten-Karneval, Oktoberfest and the Christmas Market still celebrated. Many of the restaurants offer typical German dishes. For example, the Black Forest cake and the daily fresh baked Apfelstrudel served at Café Anton are famous beyond the borders of the country. In addition, the 24-hour German Language Radio station the ‘Allgemeine Zeitung’ reports daily on important and not-so-important issues. On Mondays, it announces the result of the German Bundesliga results. A sizeable part of Swakopmund’s population is still today German-speaking.
The city’s colonial landmarks include the:
• Swakopmund Lighthouse, the first 11m were erected in 1902 and a further 10m added in 1910.
• State House (Kaiserliche Bezirksgericht), built in 1906
• Mole, an old sea wall and now the main beach next to the Swakopmund Museum which documents Namibian history.
• Woermann Haus, built in 1906 with a prominent tower, now a public library.
• Hohenzollern Haus, built in 1906 as a hotel.
• Prinzessin Ruprecht Heim, the original Military Hospital, built in 1902, now a senior residency
• Kaserne, completed in 1906 served as the military barrack
• Antonius Residenz, opened in March 1908 and which, until a few years ago, was a hospital
• The Lutheran Church, with bells imported from Germany, which was consecrated in January 1912
• The elegant Swakopmund Railway Station, now a hotel
• Altes Gefängnis, the prison, built in 1909
• German School, completed October 1913, which hosted both the government and municipal secondary schools
One of Swakopmund's lesser known historical facts is that the conditions were actually unfavourable to build a harbour as the coastal waters were far too shallow. In addition, there was no sheltered lagoon, and the surf was much too strong.
As the disembarkation of settlers and troops on surf boats was a life-threatening undertaking, an artificial harbour was built at very high cost. Unfortunately, the Mole sea wall was a brave but ultimately unsuccessful attempt. Although some 375m of pier was completed in 1900, by winter 1906 it had silted up and a sandbank blocked it completely, leading to the construction of a 325m long wooden jetty in 1902, which was replaced by an iron one in 1912.
The remains of this jetty still serve as a pedestrian walkway and, since 2010, host an oyster bar at the far end. Today the Mole serves as the main beach and attracts locals and tourists alike. Swimmers can have close encounters with dolphins who visit regularly and a small colony of seals that enjoy drying their fur on the nearby rocks.
In 1894, regular freight traffic began, led by the Woermann-Linie, a shipping company based in Hamburg, Germany. Thus Swakopmund quickly became the main port for imports and exports for the whole territory, and was one of six towns which received municipal status in 1909. Many government offices for German South-West Africa had offices in Swakopmund. When the jetty opened, the newspaper ‘Deutsche Südwestafrikanische Zeitung’ stated that there were 1,433 inhabitants of the town.
After German South-West Africa was taken over by the Union of South Africa in 1915, all harbour activities were transferred from Swakopmund to Walvis Bay. Many of the Central Government services ceased. Businesses closed down, the number of inhabitants diminished, and the town became less prosperous.
During my school days in the 60s, the town boasted some 5,000 inhabitants yet people only knew about such urban niceties like traffic lights from movies shown in the cinema on Wednesday and Saturday. The main local industry was the salt pans, 7km north of the town, where today seawater is still pumped into huge ponds to allow harvesting of the ‘white gold.’ Others were the tannery and the Hansa Brewery (opened 1929) where the brew master (my father) took great pride in strictly following the over 400-year-old German Purity Law (only four ingredients: water, malt, hops, yeast).
Although the discovery of uranium at Rössing, 70 km outside the town dates back to 1928, exploration and extraction only started in 1976. This led to the development of the world's largest open cast uranium mine. In 2005, it produced 3,711 ton of uranium oxide, becoming the fifth-largest uranium mine, with eight per cent of global output. This had an enormous impact on all facets of life in Swakopmund and necessitated expansion of the infrastructure of the town, making it into one of the most modern in Namibia.
Outside of the city, the Rossmund Desert Golf Course is one of only five all-grass desert golf courses in the world. The well maintained fairways not only attract golf enthusiasts but also animals like springboks and ostriches from the adjacent Namib Desert plains. Over the last 50 years, the potential of Swakopmund as a holiday resort has been recognized and developed. Today, tourism-related services form an important part of the town's economy.
The number of hotels and restaurants has increased as more and more international tourists visit Swakopmund while touring the huge country with the second lowest population density in the world, after Mongolia.
Surrounded by the Namib Desert on three sides and the cold Atlantic waters to the west, Swakopmund enjoys a mild desert climate. The atmospheric conditions caused by dense banks of coastal fog that hang over the ocean on many mornings dissipate as the sun rises high in the sky. With only around 20mm falling per year, rain is a rather rare event.
While the African sun is very intense, a fresh breeze from the southwest coming up later in the afternoon does have a cooling effect. Due to the cold and marine-life-rich Benguela current, seawater temperatures rarely reach over 20 °C.
Many South African and Namibian pensioners take up residence in Swakopmund and the German language can be heard everywhere. Although many of prominent streets were renamed after independence, some still bear names from the colonial days. Today, Swakopmund is the capital of the Erongo Region and has about 34,000 inhabitants.
By Maxmilian Wechsler
As pointed out by renowned scientist Carl Sagan, ‘You have to know the past to understand the present’.
If for no other reason, the events that shaped modern-day Thailand are worth revisiting to get an understanding of how the country has developed. Starting this month, The BigChilli will recap important news stories of the past 50 years, from 1967 to 2017, a period in which Thailand made the remarkable journey from Southeast Asian backwater to one of the world’s premier tourist destinations. Each issue will cover a five-year period and is sure to offer surprises for even the most knowledgeable Thai history buffs.
1967 was the year Thai Rung Engineering Company was founded by Vichien Phaoenchoke. It was the first and only Thai automobile manufacturing company. Other major news stories of 1967 include:
•Chulalongkorn University, Thailand’s first university named after King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), celebrated its 50th anniversary. Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit opened the festivities which took place on the campus over a three-day period.
•A fascinated crowd watched the first Thai colour TV show on eight 24-inch colour sets placed outside the Royal Hotel in Bangkok. TV sets were sold in the shops but cost at least twice as much as black and white sets.
•Thai security forces arrested 37 members of the Communist Party of Thailand, both males and females, including some alleged leaders. Most of the arrests were made in Bangkok. Under the Article 17 of the new interim constitution those arrested faced a possible death sentence.
•An emotional ceremony was held for the first two Thai soldiers killed in Vietnam. The soldiers were reportedly killed by a booby trap while on patrol near Saigon. Their bodies were flown to Don Muang airport.
•Establishment of Prince of Songkhla University, the first university in southern Thailand. The King christened the university in honour of his father, His Royal Highness Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, Prince of Songkhla. An initial plan to construct the university in Pattani province was scrapped and Hat Yai in Songkhla province was chosen instead.
•Establishment of the Association of Thai Industries (FTA), a private sector organization designed to assist and promote Thai industries.
•The Dalai Lama arrived in Bangkok at the invitation of the Buddhist Association of Thailand. While in Thailand he met with local religious leaders and government officials including Prince Dhani Nivat, president of the Privy Council, and Prime Minister Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn.
•According to the Public Health Ministry, the incidence of venereal diseases had increased in Thailand by 50 percent over the previous five years. The ministry said most infections were contracted through prostitutes and asked the United Nations for assistance. The UN Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization promised to help.
•Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of assassinated US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, visited Thailand. She met with the King and Queen during her short stay.
•The first Thailand National Games, also known as Phra Nakhon 1967, were held in Bangkok. The multi-sport venue hosted 103 events in 15 disciplines. A total of 716 athletes from all regions of the country participated in the games.
Royal model for successful farming
The ultimate objective of the six Royal Development Study Centres, established byHis Majesty King Bhumipol to tackle agricultural problems on a regional basis, is for Thai farmers to become self-reliant and self-confident.
By Maxmilian Wechsler
For years, Thim Kanasem had to watch his paddy and vegetable fields being ravaged by insects and disease. The poor quality of the soil added to the problem, making annual yields very low. His life changed for the better five years ago, when he sought help from the Khao Hin Sorn Royal Development Study Centre in Chachoengsao province.
The officials there advised the 63-year-old farmer to use organic substances to improve the soil quality at his three-rai farm in Nong Hiang village – and it worked. His income is higher than ever before. Not only that, he has become something of a specialist himself in agricultural science.
Thim is now a volunteer soil doctor and his land is used as a Soil Development Learning Centre to help fellow farmers.
“I developed my own organic compost and pesticide, and I also teach other farmers. I am very happy about what I am doing because it helps many farmers to improve their livelihood. And not only Thai farmers – soil experts from Cambodia have also visited me to learn whether the methods applied here could be used in their country,” said Thim.
“I am grateful to His Majesty the King and the Royal Development Study Centre (RDSC) for what they have done for me and my family. I want to stay in this work forever.”
Khao Hin Sorn is the first of RDSCs which were set up in all major regions of the country by His Majesty the King. The others are Khung Krabaen Bay and Huai Sai (Central region), Pikun Thong (South), Puparn (Northeast) and Huai Hong Khrai (North).
Each one serves as a model for success to transfer its findings to the farmers in the respective areas, and also as a sort of “natural living museum” where people can go and see demonstrations of development methods and techniques in various fields in order to acquire knowledge, adopt new development methods and receive occupational training.
The ultimate objective, according to Sompol Panmanee, Secretary-General of the Royal Development Projects Board (RDPB), is for the farmers to become self-reliant and self-confident. He explained that each centre serves as a “one-stop” service.
What does it feel like to wake up in the morning and find that your car is gone? Three victims of car theft gangs reveal their sad experiences.
October 29, 2005 is a date that Wirat will never forget. On that day his green 2000 four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Strada was stolen from Saensuk housing estate off Sukhumvit Road Soi 103 in Bangkok.
“There isn’t much room to park the car by my house, so I always left it on the street, not too far away. I have been living here for many years and it has always been a quiet area without any crime. We have never heard of a car theft on our street. I never imagined it would happen here and to me,” said the 38-year-old Fuji-Xerox technician.
“I arrived home at 5.30pm on October 28 and parked the car in the usual place, only to discover at 5.45am the next morning that it was gone. My bag with Buddha amulets, a driving licence, a bankbook and insurance documents were in the car,” said Wirat. He immediately alerted his family and neighbours, many of whom were having breakfast along the street. One told him that he had seen the car at 1am.
Wirat then went to Bang Na police station to report the loss of the Mitsubishi. “The police were helpful and expressed their sympathy, saying that car theft in the area is rising and they have increased the number of patrols there,” he said, adding that the insurance people were also very helpful.
“They asked about my background, whether I have debts, and the circumstances of the theft. They also photographed the location where the car was stolen. After that, the insurance company informed me that I could collect a cheque for 340,000 baht on December 2. I bought the car for 610,000 baht.”
Wirat suspects that a small car repair shop on Sukhumvit Road Soi 77 had something to do with the theft. “I left the car there at 11am on October 28 – one day before it was stolen – and collected it at 3pm I selected this particular shop because it is close to my office. Along with the car keys, I left another key for unlocking the anti-theft bar (that locks the pedals). Some of the workers probably copied it and followed me home,” he speculated.
He reported this to the police and the insurance company and showed them a receipt from the shop. The police didn’t go there but the insurance company did. To avoid confrontation, Wirat has been careful not to go near the shop since the theft.
Wirat plans to use part of the reimbursement as a down payment for a new Toyota Vigo. But he won’t install an electronic alarm this time because, in his opinion, it cannot stop thieves who can easily disable it. He prefers mechanical devices that lock the pedals (clutch, brake and accelerator) because they present a would-be thief with more of a challenge.
He says that such devices successfully protected the four cars he has owned in the last 20 years. Obviously they aren’t much help if the thieves are able to copy the keys to all devices, plus ignition and door lock, as he suspects was the case with his car.
Wirat has learned his lesson and offers this advice to fellow motorists: “Don’t park your car on the street overnight, do it only in a secure place. Secondly, when you service your vehicle use reputable dealers and leave them only the ignition key.”
Revisiting great stories of the past – Part 8: Clean cop back on the job – and has the mafia in his sights
Royal Thai Police
“IN RECOGNITION FOR YOUR DISTINGUISHED DEDICATION TO THE LAW ENFORCEMENT PROFESSION, YOUR PROFESSIONALISM AND COMMITMENT REFLECTS HIGHLY UPON OUR LAW ENFORCEMENT PROFESSION. THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT JOINS YOU AND IS LOOKING FORWARD TO A CONTINUING RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR DEPARTMENT.”
Veteran correspondent Maxmilian Wechsler recalls some of his most interesting and exclusive assignments from the past two decades.
FROM THE YEAR 2005
After being ‘absent’ for some time, well-known crime-buster Police General Sereepisut Taemeeyaves takes up where he left off to clean up Thailand.
Police General Sereepisut Taemeeyaves, Deputy Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police, is once again making headlines, both in the local media and international press.
The officer is not out for publicity, however. He is on a crusade against the mafia who extort money, threaten people and inflict huge financial losses to the government in order to put millions of baht into their own pockets. His campaign against the Thai mafia has already resulted in the apprehension of many suspects, some of them government servants and even “men in uniform.”
One of his staff members confided that his crusade against criminals – “whoever and wherever they are” – had come to a halt a few years ago for reasons that no one in his office really wanted to talk about. Pol Gen Sereepisut himself said: “If your superiors don’t give you any important assignment, how can you show your ability?”
His office, located at the Royal Thai Police headquarters, is in a state of controlled chaos, with officials working at all hours while ordinary citizens come to express their grievances and ask for help.
His small private corner is decorated with no fancy furniture, only the cabinets for the files and documents needed to keep him up to date on a large number of investigations.
“I have been in the police force for many years,” said one of the policemen in his office, “but working here is the most active. My boss doesn’t allow much rest. We have to work around the clock. His comeback will definitely benefit our country. He is the worst nightmare for the mafia, and with three years before his retirement, they should brace for more troubles.”
Pol Gen Sereepisut admitted that he is facing an acute shortage of personnel, equipment and other resources. “I need more support from my superiors. For example, I need them to provide me with official vehicles. My staff and myself must arrange our own transportation. I have to ‘borrow’ policemen from other departments, which is not always easy. With more staff, equipment and budget, we could perform our assignments more efficiently,” he said modestly.
Crackdown on extortion
Pol Gen Sereepisut’s most well-known case is probably the break-up of the gang that was extorting money from hundreds of street vendors at the Bo Bae garment market in Bangkok.
Pol Gen Sereepisut is also chairman of the Committee Against Roadside Mafia, whose objective is to eradicate the mafia’s activities and overhaul the system at Bo Bae.
He said that extortion had been going on at the market for a long time and that some government officials were involved. This contributed to the perception that they could get away with violent acts.
“That’s why the prime minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Wannasathit made me in charge of enforcing law and order for street vending in the area.
“Since we started the suppression of the mafia at Bo Bae in April, until the crackdown stopped in September, we have successfully prosecuted 93 cases involving 199 suspects. No more offences have been reported after the crackdown. I can say that they [mafia] have gone and no extortion is going on there at this moment. I have a number of undercover men there,” said the officer.
However, some vendors are still pessimistic. Because of their suspicions about the state system, they don’t believe that the extortion gang has been really wiped out.
One garment vendor said: “After a while, when the publicity subsides, the gangsters will return. As far as we know, not even one mastermind was arrested.”
A policeman attached to the local Phlapphia Chai 1 police station said the police know who are behind the extortion racket but they can’t do anything because his underlings do not dare to implicate them for fear of their own safety.
Pol Gen Sereepisut acknowledged that the gang has not been eliminated. “I know that some bad people, including some in uniform, are still roaming around the market, waiting for the opportunity to resume their business, which has made them and the people behind them a lot of money. At this moment they are afraid,” he said.
Inside the market there is a red fan with the written message: “If you are intimidated or asked for protection money, please inform Pol Gen Sereepisut Taemeeyaves,” with a PO Box number, phone numbers and website address.
Vendors at another Bangkok market in Klong Toey also lodged a complaint with Pol Gen Sereepisut about extortion. The officer asked the vendors: “Why are you paying money to the extortionists and why are you afraid of them?” They replied that when someone refused to pay, the gangsters would harass them, so they had to comply with the mafia.
Afterwards, Pol Gen Sereepisut ordered the Thonglor police station, which has jurisdiction over the market, to take “resolute action” against the offenders. A number of them were arrested and some had their assets seized as well. The extortion stopped and everything is quiet there now.
After inspecting street vending locations in many areas of Bangkok, Pol Gen Sereepisut has urged the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to take action against those who obstruct footpaths, as pedestrians are forced to walk on the road and risk being run over.
• Education Minister Worawat Auapinyakul said Muslim students were not violating the Education Ministry dress code by wearing headscarves or hijabs. His remarks were in response to a recent rally by a Muslim group to protest the suspension of two students at Wat Nong Chok School in Bangkok for wearing headscarves in class.
• Rubber growers in the southern province of Songkhla set out to travel to the capital to join forces with other rubber growers from across the nation. The demonstrators called on the government to shore up rubber prices at 120 baht per kilogram.
• Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra urged the United States to revoke a terrorism warning immediately after the arrest of a suspected Hezbollah member linked to sabotage attempts in Bangkok. Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa quoted Ms Yingluck as saying the warning, if prolonged, could damage the country. However, US Embassy spokesman Walter Braunohler said the terrorist warning for American citizens remained valid despite the arrest and the discovery of an apparent bomb factory in Bangkok.
• On January 19 Thailand joined other UN member states in voicing official recognition of a Palestinian state. Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said Thailand’s recognition of Palestine had been ‘under consideration for some time’. The move was enthusiastically hailed by Palestinian leaders. In November 2013 the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in support of recognition.
• The Department of Corrections announced it would seek about 3.5 billion baht from the 2013 budget to build a “super max” prison with hi-tech security systems for detaining major drug convicts, Justice Ministry spokesman Thirachai Wuthitham announced the plan at a press conference and said a meeting of prison chiefs and directors of narcotics suppression offices from throughout the country was scheduled to discuss measures to prevent inmates from dealing drugs in prisons.
• Thammasat University’s Chulabhorn International College of Medicine became the twenty-first medical school in Thailand. Located in Khlong Luang district of Pathum Thani province, it is the first institution in Thailand to provide an international, English-language course in medicine. Bumrungrad International Hospital cooperated with Thammasat University in setting up the medical school.
• Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, third son of Red Bull tycoon Chalerm
Yoovidhya, was arrested on September 3 on a hit-and-run charge. Police said Vorayuth admitted to investigators that he was driving the black Ferrari that collided with the motorcycle of 47-year-old Police Senior Sergeant-Major Klanprasert Wichian Klanprasert at about 5.30am on Sukhumvit Soi 47.
The policeman was dragged about 200 metres along the road, but the driver never stopped. Witnesses described the Ferrari and police found it parked at a mansion belonging to the Red Bull family on Sukhumvit 53. Vorayuth at first claimed his chauffeur was driving when the accident occurred, but later admitted he was at the wheel.
• As the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) weakened, General Boonlert Kaewprasit emerged as leader of a new anti-government movement called Pitak Siam (Protect Siam). The group managed to attract 20,000 people to its inaugural gathering at the Royal Turf Club on October 28.
• The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) charged former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and
his former deputy Suthep Thangsuban with murder over the death of a taxi
driver allegedly shot dead by soldiers during the political violence in Bangkok
in May 2010. The DSI’s decision to press charges was influenced by a court ruling on September 17 the troops who killed Phan were acting on orders from state officials. If found guilty the two politicians could face the death penalty or life in prison.
Highlighting major news reports over the past 50 years, the ninth installment of our 10-part series begins in 2007. The September issue covered 2002-2006.
This eighth installment of our 10-part series describing major news stories in Thailand over the past 50 years begins in 2002. The August issue covered 1997-2001.
By Maxmilian Wechsler
• The police asked the Interior Ministry to blacklist two Bangkok-based foreign correspondents and their colleagues in Hong Kong for publishing a story suggesting the relationship between Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the palace was not harmonious. Shawn Crispin and Rodney Tasker from the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine were held responsible for a column published in the January 10 issue. “If they repent and apologise a heavy penalty can become light,” said National Police Chief Sant Sarutanond. Immigration authorities later scrapped a February 23 order that revoked the journalists’ visas after the magazine apologized. A formal statement read: “We are well aware of sensitivity issues, and the Thai traditions and customs, particularly in respect to the monarch. We can assure that all of us have no intention to violate Thai traditions, or cause any disturbance in Thai society.”
• Academics slammed a proposed new ‘master law’ enabling the government to quickly amend previous laws without going through Parliament. The proposed Civil Service Administrative Reform Bill raised fears that it would give PM Thaksin and his cabinet excessive power. It was denounced by critics as a backward step that would erase many of the country’s hard-won reforms and obliterate Parliament’s oversight role. The bill’s supporters said it would streamline the creation and amendment of laws and reduce the cumbersome and often politicized role of the bureaucracy, which they claimed was stifling Thailand’s progress and allowing unelected officials to maintain a choke-hold on the country’s legislative processes.
• The first locally produced cocktail of generic anti-HIV drugs made by the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation went on sale. The monthly supply for one patient cost 1,200 baht, making it one of the world’s least expensive HIV/AIDS anti-retroviral drug regimens. It was estimated that approximately 695,000 people in Thailand suffered from HIV/AIDS and 29,000 cases were added each year.
• The Nation Multimedia Group chose self-censorship to protest interference in its news coverage and announced it would not broadcast
political programs on its television
and radio channels. The announcement
came after revelations that police officials had ordered the Anti-Money Laundering Office to investigate the
assets of several high-profile journalists.
• PM Thaksin said in his regular weekly radio address that his political enemies were riding in taxis as passengers and spreading malicious gossip about him in hopes the drivers would pass the gossip on to other passengers. “The government will take legal action against anyone caught spreading rumors,” PM secretary-general Prommin Lertsuridej warned.
2003 saw the Bangkok Jazz Festival established, partly in recognition of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s love of jazz. The Bangkok International Film Festival was also founded and the state-owned CAT Telecom Public Company began operations in charge of Thailand’s international communications infrastructure, including international gateways and satellite and submarine cable network connections. Shrewsbury International School Bangkok was established and the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre museum and research center in Kanchanaburi province was opened. The facility was founded and funded by Australian Rod Beattie.
• After anti-drug measures such as border blocking, public education and promotion of sports and peer pressure campaigns against drug use proved more or less ineffective, PM Thaksin initiated a three-month ‘war on drugs’. With the stated goal of eliminating illicit drugs from the country by April 30, the program changed punishments for drug addicts, set provincial arrest and seizure targets and rewarded government officials for achieving these targets. Thaksin ordered the “ruthless” implementation of the program. According to Human Rights Watch reports, in the first three months 2,275 people were killed, a large number of them extrajudicially executed.
• In the early morning hours of January 26, about 200 men using heavy machinery demolished Sukhumit Square, the site of a popular night market. The violent eviction took place following a four-year dispute between landlord Chuvit Kamolvisit and tenants. People who lived on the premises were forced to escape into the street while open-air bars and shops were raised, unable to even retrieve their belongings. Denouncing the tactics, PM Thaksin said that ‘mafia rule’ would not be tolerated. Two days after the demolition 140 people were arrested. Massage parlor mogul and aspiring politician Chuvit, who allegedly ordered the demolition, was arrested in May.
• About 3,000 demonstrators marched from Lumpini Park to the
nearby American embassy, where they submitted a letter addressed to US President George W. Bush protesting the imminent US-led attack on Iraq. Some protesters then marched to the British embassy where they burned missile-shaped papers to protest London’s support of the invasion.
• Red Bull tycoon Chaleo Yoovidha, whose Krating Daeng energy drink
became a worldwide sensation, joined the ranks of the world’s billionaires, according to an annual survey by Forbes magazine.
• Air travelers returning from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Taiwan were ordered by the health ministry to stay indoors for at least 14 days to prevent an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Thailand. Legal action was threatened against people ignoring the order.
• Tens of thousands of people lined up at the Queen Sirikit National
Convention Centre to order low-cost computers. By the end of the day more than 19,000 units had been reserved. Desktop computers were priced at 10,900 baht and laptops at 19,500 baht. The event was chaired by PM Thaksin.
• A rule dictating students’ hairstyles was rescinded, ending a policy requiring military-style crops for boys and neck-length locks for girls. Previously a boy’s hair could not exceed 5cm in length at government-run schools. “Times have changed and it would be unrealistic to expect boys to continue carrying on with the conventional bowl cut,” said Kamol Rodklai, an official from the education ministry.
• Queen Sirikit Gallery or Queen’s Gallery art museum in Bangkok was
established after a request from Her Majesty to found a permanent public exhibition hall to promote the works of Thai artists, both young and acclaimed masters. The Queen presided over the official opening on August 9.
• Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist, Riduan Isamuddin aka Hambali, was arrested in Auytthaya. The BigChilli published an investigative article on the case in the June 2016 issue. See: https://issuu.com/thebigchilli/docs/the_bigchilli_june_2016
• Political leaders from countries in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group gathered in Bangkok for a summit and witnessed a Royal Barge Procession on Chao Phraya River in which 2,082 oarsmen participated. Leaders from Australia, China, Russia, the US and 16 more countries attended the summit.
• India and Thailand signed a free-trade agreement to eliminate tariffs by 2010 to boost bilateral trade. PM Thaksin said the agreement would give Thai businessmen access to India’s market of more than a billion people.
• In his annual birthday speech King Bhumibol warned his subjects not to let success go to their heads. Recalling the Princess mother, the King said: “She said when I did something good it is alright to know what I did, but I should not be too proud.” The King also referred specifically to PM Thaksin’s ‘war on drugs’ and asked how the PM would take responsibility for it. Thaksin was also urged to allow a greater degree of press freedom.
• April 28 was one of the most violent and bloody days the South had seen in many years. Thai security forces killed 107 Muslim insurgents in clashes in Yala, Pattani and Songkhla. Five Thai soldiers also lost their lives. Troops killed 32 insurgents who retreated to Krue Se mosque in Pattani after attacks on police and military positions. The attack commenced in the morning with insurgents using machetes, guns and grenade launchers mounted on pickup trucks.
• Interference in the media by the government was the worst since the October 1976 Thammasat University massacre, said academic Nidhi Eowsriwong at a seminar on alternative media. Thammasat lecturer Ruj Komolbutr pointed out that the government had banned the Khor Kid Duay Khon (Thinking Like the People) TV talk show, intervened in the Ruam Duay Chuay Kan (Helping Each Other) radio programme, issued warnings to Thai and foreign media, deprived the Thai Post and Naew Na newspapers of advertising and indirectly caused the dismissal of editors at the Bangkok Post and Siam Rath.
• About 10,000 passengers flocked to ride on Thailand’s first underground train system in a trial run. The Mass Rapid Transit Authority and its concessionaire, Bangkok Metro, unveiled the first railway tentacles under the city in a route covering 20 km from Hualampong to Bang Su. The half-hour journey made stops at 18 stations.
• The government began issuing new national ID cards with personal
information contained in a microchip, but the National Human Rights Commission warned it was an invasion of privacy. The ID showed a fingerprint as well as a photo and information including religion and blood type. The microchip also gave authorities easy access to data banks containing information on things such as social security benefits and medical history.
• A court sentenced 66-year-old Somchai Khunpluem, alias Kamnan Pho and dubbed the ‘Godfather of Chonburi’, to 25 years in jail for paying assassins to murder business rival Prayoon Sittichote. The gunmen linked to Somchai failed in four attempts to kill Prayoon. He was later shot dead by another group.
• Former PM and military dictator Thanom Kittikachorn died of a heart attack. He was 93 years old.
• The XV International AIDS Conference was held in Bangkok from July 11 to July 16 at IMPACT Arena in Nonthaburi. It was the first international AIDS conference in Southeast Asia. At an opening ceremony screened live on national television the main speakers were PM Thaksin and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Thaksin surprised the conference by pledging to adopt a “harm minimization” approach to AIDS prevention among drug users, and to work co-operatively with NGOs.
• Alien workers began registering for labor cards that allowed them to work or seek employment for the following 12 months. Most of those who registered were Burmese, Lao and Cambodians working manual jobs.
• Apirak Kosayodhin was elected governor of Bangkok, boosting his Democrat Party’s stature and presenting a challenge to PM Thaksin’s monopoly on power. Outgoing governor Samak Sundaravej ended his four years in charge with a legacy of lackluster leadership during Bangkok floods, fires and other crises.
• US President George W. Bush removed Thailand from the American government’s list of countries that featured significant illicit drug trafficking. The new list named 22 countries, included China, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.
• Thousands of people died in Thailand after a 9.3 magnitude earthquake – the second largest on record – triggered a series of tsunami waves in the Indian Ocean. The BigChilli published an article on the catastrophe in its October 2017 issue under the headline: Killer waves in paradise – the Asian tsunami. See: https://issuu.com/thebigchilli/docs/the_bigchilli_october_2017
2005 witnessed the establishment of Ramangala University of Technology Srivijaya in Songkhla province and Ramangala University of Technology Thanyaburi in Pathum Thani province. The original Ramangala campus is in Chiang Mai province. Siam Paragon shopping mall opened in Bangkok, as did the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum. Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra gave its inaugural performance in a gala event for the International Trumpet Guild Conference. Government-sponsored Princess of Naradhiwas University was established in Narathiwat. The World Boxing Council Muaythai (or WBC Muaythai) was formed and commissioned under the jurisdiction of the World Boxing Council.
• General elections were held on February 6 with a turnout of 60.7%. PM Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won a landslide victory, taking 375 out of 500 seats in the House of Representatives. Five other parties contested the election. The Democrat Party won 96 seats; National Party, 27 seats; and Great People’s Party, 2 seats. A total of 14,077,711 voters (56.4%) cast ballots for TRT candidates and 4,018,286 (16.1%) for Democrats.
• Frustrated by the mainstream media’s dependence on commercial revenues, Senator Jon Ungpakorn founded Prachathai website to provide in-depth reporting on issues deemed to be politically sensitive or that conflicted with advertisers’ interests. The senator compared freedom of the press under the Thaksin government to the situation under a military dictatorship.
• The government promoted the use of alternative fuels with subsidies to lower prices in an attempt to make Thailand more energy independent. Motorists in Thailand were open to alternative fuels such as gasohol and natural gas as petrol and diesel prices continued to skyrocket.
• General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin was named army chief, the first Muslim to hold the post. The appointment was seen as an attempt by the government to address international perceptions of mistreatment of Thai Muslims as well as questions over efforts to resolve long-standing divisions in the far South.
• Miss Thailand World, Achara MacKay, gave up her crown only 10 days after winning it, claiming she hadn’t fully understood the contract she signed. Specifically, she was unaware that as Miss Thailand she would have to remain in the country for a full year. The Thai-Australian was not fluent in Thai and wanted to continue her studies and modeling career abroad, where she had spent most of her 21 years.
• A study from the Office of the Auditor-General concluded that every road and bridge construction project under the supervision of local administrative bodies was rife with corruption or sub-standard in its contracted work.
• Thousands of people packed Lumpini Park on Friday nights to listen to media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul speak out against an alleged government attempt s to muzzle the press and unleash new ‘evidence’ of state corruption.
• An estimate 50,000 people descended on Royal Plaza to call for PM Thaksin’s resignation. It was the biggest protest to date against the TRT leader, organized by media baron Sondhi Limthongkul, who had joined with political activists and other disgruntled groups to form the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The PAD set up a camp at Sanam Luang in Bangkok and held daily rallies there.
• Chiang Mai Night Safari Park opened its door as officials ignored protests from animal rights’ groups. PM Thaksin presided over the opening ceremony at the 1.15 billion-baht site. The zoo’s director, Plodprasop Suraswadi, imported animals from China, Kenya, Australia, Germany and elsewhere.
• PM Thaksin dissolved the House of Representatives and called for a snap election on April 2. He hoped to return with a new mandate that would help him crush his opponents following months of street protests led by the PAD. “I cannot allow mob rule to supersede the law. I am ready to accept the decision of the people,” Thaksin said.
• Erawan Shrine’s plaster Hindu statue was smashed by a man who was then beaten to death by street cleaners. The statue was one of Bangkok’s most revered landmarks, attracting thousands of people daily. Police described the attacker as mentally deranged. His body was found near the shrine at the entrance to a five-star hotel. Two men were arrested and allegedly confessed to killing him. Caretaker PM Thaksin replaced the statue with a metal version that was installed in an elaborate Hindu and Buddhist procession on May 2.
• Parliamentary elections were held on April 2 with TRT registering 61.1% of the vote (15,866,031 ballots) and winning 460 of 500 seats in the House of Representatives. The opposition Democrat Party boycotted the election. On April 3 the PAD petitioned the Administrative Court to suspend election results and accused the Election Commission of violating voters’ privacy. Thaksin announced his resignation two days after the election.• On April 8 the Constitutional Court nullified results of the April 2 election
parliamentary elections in a bid to end a political impasse that had left the country unable to form a new government. The decision struck a hard blow to Thaksin’s embattled interim government. New elections were scheduled for October.
• Caretaker PM Thaksin was the target of an assassination attempt, but he avoided a car bomb set for him by leaving his home an hour earlier than usual. The police arrested an army officer who was driving the car that contained the bomb. “It’s my lucky day,” Thaksin said. He then immediately fired General Panlop Pinmanee, deputy chief of the Internal Security Operation Command.
• Six bombs killed four people and injured 70 as Muslim separatists triggered simultaneous explosions in the South. Blasts in Hat Yai targeted a Big C department store, the Lee Gardens Hotel, the Monkey Pub and the Odeon Shopping mall. Most of the targets were popular with tourists.
• The government of Thaksin was overthrown in a bloodless military coup launched while he was in New York to deliver a speech to the UN. As tanks rolled on the streets of Bangkok, a desperate call from New York by Thaksin was broadcast on state television announcing a state of emergency in Bangkok. Thaksin ordered troops not to move ‘illegally’ and announced that coup leader and army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin had been removed. Undeterred, the coup leaders set up the Council for National Security and threw out the 1997 Constitution.
• Suvarnabhumi Airport was opened, but officials were uncertain about what to do with Don Muang. There were suggestions that it be transformed into a convention center or be used for some other non-aviation purpose. Others insisted that Bangkok needed two airports. Meanwhile, the new airport continued to generate controversy due to allegations of corruption.