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Crying out for a fair shakedown

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: Few Phuket Gazette news reports have generated more comment and debate in the social media than our recent article about vendors of pirated goods in Patong banding together to stage a protest against alleged extortion by government officials (story here).

Scores of officers from a variety of government agencies, the protesters claimed, had been demanding too much in bribes to allow them to operate their illegal businesses at adequate profit margins. As the saying goes, “everybody has to eat”, and for the protesters this reality trumps the Thai Criminal Code.

The mind boggles at all the issues raised by this fiasco. For most Western observers, the first and most striking aspect is the hypocrisy that people who run clearly illegal businesses have the audacity to cry “foul” and take to the streets when their best interests are jeopardized, even if the threat comes from those who have sworn oaths to uphold the law – not use it as an extortionist’s toolbox.

But, as blatantly hypocritical as this protest may appear to outside observers, it is not without precedent in Phuket.

For those who have followed events in recent years, the frequency of protests has increased dramatically – and now just about everyone seems to be getting in on the act. This is hardly a surprising trend when those responsible for maintaining law and order are more often than not the target of the protesters – and almost invariably give in to their demands.

We have seen similar protests staged by a variety of different groups with questionable legal status before. Taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, including those of the ‘black plate’ variety, have staged multiple protests that have harmed tourism in recent years. Many have blockaded resorts that allow legal, law abiding transport services from serving guests at resorts. Others have successfully prevented the new airport bus service from infringing on “their” turf.

In Patong, newly installed Mayor Chalermluck Kebsub lacks sufficient council support to even gain a sufficient quorum to put her campaign-promised “graft-busting” agenda forward. This, before a city council that largely represents the status quo of a municipality in which the ratio of registered voters is dwarfed by the number of legally registered hotel rooms, as well as by the number of people working in the sex industry.

The copyright pirate protesters must realize that Thailand has enough on its hands. It is a tall order, this business of drafting a constitution, holding elections and restoring democracy – not to mention dealing with one of the deadliest insurgencies on the planet in the Deep South.

The pirate protest may be the most remarkable demonstration yet, as it shows not only how widespread corruption is, but the extent to which our society accepts its existence. After all, the pirates never even called for an absolute end to the practice that allows them to operate, just a fairer shakedown.

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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