Posts tagged: corruption

Bangkok: Red Shirts

By , August 10, 2010 10:25 am

Before arriving in Bangkok, we only knew of the situation as portrayed in the western media and Internet:

Thai farmers are camping in the streets of Bangkok to show their displeasure with the current Prime Minister. They said he was too liberal and wanted the return of the former Prime Minister. Thaksin, who was elected democratically in 2001, became a victim of a coup during a diplomatic trip and was ousted in 2006. He is known for his pro peasant policies and is behind the first universal social security in Thailand, which allows access to public hospitals for all.

In short, supporters of the former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, are commonly called the Red Shirts. The supporters of the current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, are called the Yellow Shirts.

Barricade Used By The Army

While traveling around Thailand, we spoke with various locals to try to understand the situation better. We were very surprised to hear a very different message. Some of information that were pointed out to us:

Thaksin, the former prime minister and leader of the Red Shirts, is a businessman who acceded to power in 2001. He was reelected in 2005 when elections reached historical highs for the number of voters. At the beginning of his term, his personal fortune was estimated at 500 million dollars and in five years, it reached 2.5 billion dollars. In 2006, suspicion of corruption began to echo so the Thai military stripped Thaksin of his power and he fled the country.

In February 2008, elections for House of Representative were held and the Red Shirts party won the majority. Thaksin returned to Thailand but flees again in July, before the Supreme Court could convict him of the charges of corruption against him.

Smashed Windows Of A Department Store

The House of Representatives elected a consecutive string of prime ministers who were all close to Thaksin and who all eventually forfeited due to fraud. The Supreme Court finally dissolves the Red Shirts and bans all of its electoral officers of any function for 5 years.

The current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, took office in December 2008. The Supreme Court found Thaksin guilty of corruption and sentenced him to two years of imprisonment.

Bullet Holes In A Department Store

Today, Thaksin has not served his sentence and remains a fugitive. In addition, an international warrant for his arrest was issued on charges of terrorism linking him to the violent attacks in Bangkok from March to May 2010.

The outstanding question is why were the Red Shirts in the streets of Bangkok protesting? It seems Thaksin had a plot to pay voters (again) to protest for new elections. With the average monthly wage for a Thai farmer being about 70 dollars, it is not difficult to see that the cash incentive is enough motivation to get more voters and protestors.

Mall That Got Burned Down By The Red Shirts

Also, on the Thai news, they revealed some of the weapons found during cleanup after the riots in the capital. They weapons belonging to the “peaceful protestors” included M16 assault rifles, grenades, and bomb components.

Bullet And Reflection Of The Burned Down Mall

It is overwhelming to try to understand the entire situation, as there is probably more than meets the eye. Could it be Thaksin is a man who truly cares and wants to help the poor, but was mistaken or does he just pay the poor to gain power and to enrich his family?

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

Laos To Cambodia: Border Virgins

By , July 1, 2010 6:00 am

“There is no change of bus, it’s direct”, we were told by the man who sold us our bus ticket from Don Det, Laos to Siem Reap, Cambodia. While the 2009 Lonely Planet told us differently, we were hoping some changes occurred since the last edition. So early morning, we left the island with candid smiles and in hopes the bad border crossing stories only happened to the unlucky ones.

The bus dropped us off right at the Laos border. We all piled in line to get our exit stamps. As we approached the officer at the window, he said $2 each person. When did you have to pay to get an exit stamp? Then because I lost Boris’ departure card, the officer said we had to pay an additional $5 for a new departure card. Everyone in front us paid, but Boris and I agreed not to pay. When we refused, the officer instantly threw our passports back to us.

We read about this scam so many times but as naive travelers, it took us a few seconds to process it. We decided to approach another officer by the gate. He gave us a free departure card but could not help us with the stamp.

We looked around for some locals to follow behind. Even the locals were surprised by the fee, but paid. One local told us sometimes you have to pay. We automatically caved in and paid too. Looking back, it was better not to have paid. There was no way they had a working system to track that you did not exit since it was all a loose paper trail with corruption written all over it.

A few steps further, we were at the Cambodia border. The officer said $1 for the health inspection. He took out a thermometer and placed it on our foreheads and said, “Ok, no fever”, and handed us a piece of paper. If there is a nurse or doctor reading this, can you really take someone’s temperature this way?

Onto the next booth where we had to get our visa and entrance stamp. The visa costs us $23 each and $1 for the stamp. It just doesn’t stop!

Once all that was complete, we ended up switching buses twice and waited hours each time. With every bad experience, there is a silver lining, which we had two of.

The first being that the experience could have been worse. We met a guy on our bus who had to pay a $200 fine at the Laos border. The reason was because when he first entered Laos, it was really late and no one was there to stamp his passport. Later when we tried to exit Laos, they require your entrance stamp to make sure you did not over extend your stay. Since he didn’t have the stamp, he had to pay a huge fine.

The second silver lining was that the bus attendant on the last bus hop was very fond of Boris. He hung out with us and even invited us for free drinks at the rest stop. He referred us to a cheap hotel, which we crashed at for the night and was pretty decent.

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