Thaksin Shinawatra Portrayed As Adolf Hitler
Thaksin Shinawatra Portrayed As Adolf Hitler
by Richard S. Ehrlich
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Unable to topple Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra after weeks of street protests, opponents are venting their fury by portraying him as Adolf Hitler, sparking a denouncement by Israel's embassy.
Thailand's recently emboldened English language newspapers, meanwhile, have plastered their pages with anti-Thaksin stories, rhetoric and vitriol.
"Fuck Thaksin," read graffiti displayed in a front-page photo in the respected Bangkok Post on Thursday (March 23).
That hand-written demand appeared on one of the big, mass-produced "Wanted Dead or Alive" posters waved by protesters to needle Thaksin -- a close ally of U.S. President George W. Bush and a former police officer who received a PhD in Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University in Texas.
The popular poster's "reward" offers 73 billion baht (1.8 billion U.S. dollars), the amount Thaksin's family pocketed, tax-free, by selling their Shin Corp. telecommunications empire on February 24 to the Singapore government's investment wing, Temasek Holdings.
The sale attracted allegations that Thaksin manipulated tax loopholes to enrich himself, and set off several weeks of boisterous but peaceful street demonstrations demanding his immediate ouster.
Thaksin insisted he did nothing illegal, and that other Thai investors also use tax laws to maximize profits on domestic and international deals.
Most of the sale's profit went to Thaksin's family, especially his son and daughter. Earlier, when Thaksin became prime minister, he transferred many assets to them, and to household servants and staff.
Popular posters also portray the clean-shaven Thaksin with a Nazi swastika emblazoned on his forehead and a Hitler moustache.
Thaksin is being compared to Hitler by his opponents in their speeches and published commentary amid warnings that the late German leader sinisterly used elections as a stepping stone.
"You may like or dislike Mr. Thaksin's performance and policies, but comparing him to Hitler shows ignorance or lack of knowledge of history," the Israeli Embassy wrote in an open letter to readers of the Bangkok Post, published on Thursday (March 23).
"It is also to ignore the actual fact that millions of people were murdered and suffered under the hands of the Nazi regime," Israel's embassy said.
The prime minister's enemies include the middle class, academics, opponents of Washington's Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Bangkok, idealists, students and former cronies dumped by Thaksin.
Thaksin, however, is perceived as immensely popular among this Southeast Asian nation's poor, thanks in part to his government's low-interest small loans, hospital care for 30 baht (75 U.S. cents), and other give-aways.
Thaksin points to 19 million voters who re-elected him in February 2005, and denounces the protests as a "smear campaign" by "mob rule".
He initially achieved power in a landslide victory in January 2001, and became Thailand's first elected prime minister to complete a four-year term.
Stung by tens of thousands of Thais who gather each day and night at his office, and in Bangkok's main park, Thaksin called a snap election for April 2 to prove the majority support him.
His opponents, worried that he and his Thai Rak Thai ("Thais Love Thais") party will easily be re-elected, demand a poll boycott.
Anti-Thaksin forces are led by disgraced former Major-General Chamlong Srimuang and other checkered personalities.
Through previous campaigns, Chamlong made abortion virtually illegal in Thailand, while portraying himself as celibate despite being married.
Chamlong leads a puritanical, anti-alcohol "Dharma Army" of Buddhists, including children, officially cast out of Thailand's majority Buddhist mainstream because their Santi Asoke sect opposes the established Buddhist clergy.
Chamlong, along with a coup-installed military dictator, were jointly scolded on nationwide TV in 1992 by Thailand's widely revered king, after Chamlong led a pro-democracy march in Bangkok to confront the military, which then shot dead more than 50 civilians.
Protesters have also called for a boycott -- widely ignored -- of Singapore's products, to convince the Singapore government to renege on the Thaksin deal, which allows it to profit from Thailand's biggest mobile telephone company, plus a Bangkok TV station, and Thailand's iPSTAR satellite.
Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 27 years, and co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent