Is Thaksin’s TV appearance an ominous sign for Thailand?
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Is Thaksin’s TV appearance an ominous sign for Thailand?

Saritdet Marukatat in an op-ed in the Bangkok Post entitled “A fateful path of arrogance”. Key excerpts:

Forget about holding a referendum to let people decide whether the constitution should be amended _ it will just be 2 billion baht down the drain to justify putting an end to the constitution.

But it was an ominous sign to see Thaksin appear live on NBT television on Dec 9 when he chaired the Muay Thai Warriors tournament in Macau.

Forget about the message he was conveying from the ring and the results of the competition. And forget that the officials responsible for the public station _ from PM Office’s Minister Sansanee Nakpong to the station chief and director-general of the Public Relations Department _ claimed to be unaware that Thaksin would be on air.

What happened with the boxing broadcast demonstrates Pheu Thai’s confidence in exerting its control after more than a year in power. The ruling party believes it can do anything at will, including putting Thaksin on TV regardless of whether it is appropriate or not.

But Pheu Thai has shot itself in the foot. It has reminded the public of the old days, not so long ago, when Thaksin was so over-confident that he could do anything without anybody challenging his authority.

BP: Some comments:

1. Thaksin’s appearance was sudden  so most Thaksin fans couldn’t specially tune in to watch so BP had been wondering why Thaksin appeared on the show in the first place (avoid Channel 11/NBT like the plague).  The Nielsen ratings for that week are out now and give us the answer. The Muay Thai tournament was easily the best-rated program on Channel 11/NBT that week with an audience of 1,128,000 people (the third top-rated show on Channel 11/NBT only had 410,000 viewers and then the numbers for other 10 shows quickly drop into the 200k range).  Having said that these numbers pale in comparison with Channel 3 and Channel 7 primetime soap operas that week who were getting 8-10 million viewers.

2. Thaksin has, of course, appeared on the non-state run (although state owned) Thai TV channels after the election result in 2011, and while can’t find the ratings for last year, BP would be surprised if Thaksin didn’t get a substantially larger audience back then – given he appeared on multiple channels one after the other – during a closely watched election. While Thaksin speaking doesn’t get the same press coverage as a few years ago, if it was to make a big speech to supporters in Thailand via video and particularly in response to the Pitak Siam rally, the contents of what he said would get coverage. One problem that Thaksin has faced because of his appearance on Channel 11/NBT is the focus is on his appearance and less about what he said so he really didn’t get his message across like he would have wanted.

3. While a NIDA poll shows a plurality view Thaksin’s appearance was inappropriate almost 50% of respondents had no opinion (indifference?). You can certainly say Thaksin’s appearance was unwise – another example of, as The Economist puts it, Thaksin being poorly advised – but is it really an “ominous sign” and suggests the government “believes it can do anything at will” and a sign of “arrogance”?

4. As Saritdet notes the government has just caved and will hold a referendum on whether people agree with the setting up of a Constitutional Drafting Assembly to amend the constitution.* He thinks the referendum is a waste of money, but the referendum is something the court suggested and the government has caved to lessen the chances of new political protests. Doesn’t the government caving indicate that the government doesn’t believe it can do anything at will? The amendments are moving at a snail’s pace. That the only example of the new “tyranny” that Thailand is facing is Thaksin’s single appearance on Channel 11/NBT actually shows there is no tyranny….

*One could call it a Seinfeld-like referendum (i.e referendum about nothing) but who knows we may get the Democrats unofficially telling their supporters to boycott the referendum which would change the dynamics of the referendum (more on that, as time permits, in a later post).