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Phuket Opinion: Good time walking

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PHUKET: I read the article written by Don Limnun-thaphisit regarding the Lardyai walking street (story here). However, I did so after stumbling upon the event by chance last weekend.

I expected another of the ubiquitous Thai markets with fried chicken, cheap knock-off goods and blaring dance music. What I discovered was a place with much more character.

A plethora of small food stalls cooked up meat and vegetable skewers, Thai omelets and especially tasty fresh spring rolls. There were some clothes and other goods being hawked but what I noticed was a much different mood altogether from other weekend markets and fairs.

The colored lights illuminating the old architecture set a festive tone, and it had a family-feel, with lots of kids running around having fun, screeching and howling with laughter.

Live musicians and street performers made it feel less like a consumer event, and although there is plenty of shopping, it is a place people are going just to hang out and have a good time.

The crowd was markedly Thai, with a distinct lack of tourist hordes, which was surprising at this time of year. If Mr Limnun-thaphisit’s statistic that only one per cent of visitors to Phuket make it into Phuket Town is correct, this is a shame.

Although Phuket is somewhat of an anomaly in Thailand with it’s large expat population, high prices and slightly diluted culture, in Phuket Town we can still feel the beating heart and the cultural soul of the island. The architecture, people and food speak to a distinct history and exhibit a character that cannot be experienced within the confines of a five-star resort.

Phuket Town and Lardyai walking street are an ideal alternative for vacationing families who want to escape the kid-unfriendliness of Patong’s party scene and raucous nightlife and enjoy a hiatus from high decibels and scantily clad katoy. It’s quick work finding a place to park and there are a variety of chic cafes and small pubs to take a load off, shoot the breeze with some locals and watch the world go by.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Limnun-thaphisit that visitors to Phuket are doing themselves a disservice by hiding out under their beach umbrellas and not exploring the charms of Phuket Town.

— Jeremie Schatz

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

Protests

How can the Thai government resolve the current protest crisis?

The Thaiger

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How can the Thai government resolve the current protest crisis? | The Thaiger
PHOTO: เยาวชนปลดแอก - Free YOUTH

OPINION

The Thai Government has no easy way out of the current protest situation.

Over the past months an organic, mostly young Thais, political movement has been building. It’s different from every protest movement in the past. The people attending the rallies don’t really align themselves or identify with the past political factions. They’re not red shirts or yellow shirts. They are new and say they’re seeking key changes to Thailand’s political system, and the role and powers of the Head of State.

Their demands – the standing down of the Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, the dissolution of the Thai parliament, a new constitution to replace the 2017 Thai Charter and curbs on the powers of the Thai monarch – are unlikely to be met by the current government.

The protester’s 10-point manifesto, outlining their demands, pits them against a quasi-democratic government that includes many of the faces from its predecessor, the National Councilfor Peace and Order that removed the elected Shinawatra government in 2014 in a military coup. The leader of the coup, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, is now the prime minister, elected by a parliamentary majority. The entire upper house of the Thai parliament were hand-picked by the PM and NCPO, so a parliamentary majority is merely a formality.

There is little possibility the ruling government will concede to any of the demands of the protesters. They’re not going to simply step aside and hand over the levers of power to opposition parties. Whilst promising to convene an enquiry into constitutional reform last month, the parliament was unable to get the votes necessary and recommended a postponement. A postponement to an enquiry… blah, blah.

Thai politics has proved to be brutal over the past five decades with countless coups, periods of political instability, violent crackdowns on dissent and a 2017 constitution that guarantees that the status quo can continue, without the usual checks and balances in a modern parliamentary system.

But something else has changed this time.

The protesters are young and proving resilient and clever. There’s also lots of them.

Their defiance to the status quo has shocked the elite establishment. Everything is now being questioned, including the previously revered position of the Thai monarchy.

Just recall scenes over the past week…

• A royal motorcade driving right through the middle of a protest with protesters standing defiantly, metres away from the occupants of the yellow Rolls Royce, displaying the 3 finger symbol and shouting “our taxes”.

• People deciding to remain seated during the playing of the Royal Anthem which precedes all movies in Thailand.

• Usually compliant young Thai secondary school children displaying the 3 finger salute during the compulsory 8am school assembly and flag raising.

Even the public uttering of demands to change the role of the Head of State in Thailand were unheard of before this August.

Now, the genie is out of the bottle. What has been said cannot be unsaid and the young are now speaking about the issues openly. They’ve been emboldened by a government completely blindsided by the development and not knowing how to react to this new student-based voice. The only reaction has been the usual brute force.

Speaking to a young policeman, off the record, this morning. I asked how the younger members of the Thai police force felt when commanded to crackdown on their fellow young Thais. He said that there was a growing level of “unease” in the police and that it was getting more difficult to put their personal feelings to the side and act on the orders of their superiors.

The key problem now is that the young protesters face the Thai government and Army who are not adept at the skills of politics or negotiation. Chalk and cheese. Their upbringings are different, their experiences are different. The young say their seeking democratic reform. The establishment are trying to protest the status quo and the privileges they enjoy.

There is little room for negotiation.

The only way forward for the government will be crackdowns, curfews and brute force, most of which will attract almost universal condemnation from other governments and onlookers.

Simply, and starkly, the government are in a lose/lose situation. There are few ways they can extract a ‘win’ out this situation. To force a brutal crackdown on young, unarmed protesters will make them pariahs in a world of modern civilised governments. To do nothing, and allow the protest movement to fester and grow, will simply push their final demise a bit further down the road.

The only way out, to save face and diffuse the situation, would be to call an election. But with the current parliamentary set-up, the odds are stacked in favour of the current rulers to seize back power, again. Do you really think the Senators will step in to force a new election? Sack the PM? By precipitating the writing of a new constitution they would be effectively doing themselves out of a cushy, paid job. It won’t happen.

Everyone wants a peaceful resolution to this current situation but the stakes are high, and sustainable, realistic solutions are thin on the ground.

The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the staff and management of The Thaiger.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

So, how’s Thailand doing with Covid-19? – OPINION

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So, how’s Thailand doing with Covid-19? – OPINION | The Thaiger

OPINION by “Issan John”

According to some, Thailand’s a leading success story, with minimal deaths and an equally minimal effect on daily life. According to others, it’s fudging the figures and on the brink of economic collapse, and the only solution is to “open the borders”, take a risk with Covid-19, and welcome back the tourists it allegedly relies on for its survival.

Even within those opposing camps, there are those who think the successes are down to careful planning, and those who think instead that they’re more a matter of luck than judgement, as well as those who think the failures are inevitable, down to the unstoppable world-wide spread of Covid-19 and the resultant global recession, rather than down to incompetence and self-interest.

Unavoidably there are “lies, damned lies and statistics” and the Covid-19 figures can be read in many ways…

  • Thailand has had only 59 deaths reported from Covid-19, compared to over 43,000 in the UK and over 36,000 in Italy with similar sized populations
  • Thailand has only tested less than 1% of the population, as have most of ASEAN, while the West has tested as many as 25%.

Consequently, it’s often alleged that Thailand and others are “cheating” and fudging their figures to hide the deaths and the number of cases as they’re “too good to be true” and 80% of cases are asymptomatic, so the number of cases is likely to be far higher since testing isn’t as widespread as it is in the West.

The reality, though, is that if 80% of cases are asymptomatic then 20% have to be symptomatic, so they’d show up when temperatures are taken at Tesco, Big ‘C’, or 7-11 and tens or hundreds of thousands would be turned away and queueing at the hospitals, particularly given the alleged “paranoia” about Covid-19 here, and that simply hasn’t happened.

The West has gone for mass testing as their way ahead, while Thailand has effectively gone for targeted testing instead; both have advantages and disadvantages.

  • Thailand has a steady Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of below 2%, half the global average and on a par with New Zealand, while most of the West has a CFR of between 7 and 14%;

That suggests Thailand has better “care” for Covid-19 cases than the West, which seems unlikely. The estimated Infection Fatality Rate (IFR, rather than CFR), though, indicates that apart from comorbidities, from smoking to age to obesity, the IFR is likely to be closer to 0.35% globally (compared to 0.04% for “seasonal” flu, if unvaccinated), with little variation nationally apart from as a result of care / treatment, so that suggests that the infection rate is actually considerably higher than thought in the West while it’s genuinely low in Thailand

Thailand, like it or not, has clearly done genuinely well in terms of controlling the pandemic, not only minimising deaths, but minimising the effect on people’s lives in the country.

The effect of that success on the economy, though, is a different matter…

  • International tourism has undeniably collapsed in Thailand, affecting GDP which dropped by 12.2% in Q2.
  • Exports are down by over 6% in Q2
  • … but the Thai baht’s been steady against the US$, GB£ and Euro since before the Covid crisis.

Unfortunately international tourism can only be improved by opening the borders, which would inevitably mean the risks of Covid-19 increasing unless effective checks are made, and at the moment that has to mean quarantining and testing – the incubation period and the efficacy of current tests simply leaves no other option:

  • Quarantining and testing pre-flight is impossible to verify – the means just aren’t available.
  • Current tests are only 93 to 97% accurate, so between 20 and 40 passengers on each flight (5%) have false readings.That can’t be reduced to zero, but it can be reduced by a factor of 1,000 with 14 days quarantine and testing.

If tourism were to return to “normal”, pre-Covid, with 40 million visitors per year unchecked by 14 days quarantine and tests, that could mean 2 million cases of Covid-19 coming in to Thailand every year.

That doesn’t just mean that 7,000 of them would die here, or that many times that number of Thais would also die. The effect of that on Thailand’s economy and everyday life for Thais would go way beyond that, as Thailand would have to go the way of the West, closing schools and factories, and locking down bars and beaches and limiting travel as the West has done. There would be a short term gain, in return for a massive medium and long term loss. Not only would international tourism collapse, but so would so much else.

Those in, and reliant on. the tourism industry will suffer, inevitably, but that has to be balanced against the alternative as it is in Thailand’s tourism competitors, like Cambodia and Vietnam, and the long term winner will be the one who can hold their nerve and support their economy the most in the short term.

On the other hand, it’s far from all a success story.

There are reportedly some 120,000 “tourists” still stuck in Thailand, many of whom have nowhere else to go as it’s either not possible for them to return to their “home” countries or they’re “yachties” and other “travellers” whose “home” is wherever they are. Any moves to force them out while they’re here and spending would seem to be both short-sighted and counter-productive – particularly if the “option” is to replace those 120,000 already here with a planned 1,200 per month on Special Tourist Visas, and due to the “on-again/off-again” moves for those already here rather than clarity and forethought a lot of trust, confidence and goodwill has been sadly squandered.

The constant conflicting and contradicting “suggestions” from Ministers and departments, with the Anti-Fake News Centre and Thai Embassy saga just being one example of far too many, leading ot a similar lack of confidence (although it doesn’t compare with the antics of all too many Western MPs and ministers blatantly ignoring their own rules).

Thailand, in my view, has been one of the few national Covid-19 success stories ….. but whether that’s because of decisions taken or in spite of them is in the eye of the beholder.

“Issan John” (his spelling, not ours) is a regular, if not frequent, contributor to the comments section of The Thaiger’s website and was invited to submit his well-argued thoughts on Thailand’s progress through the Covid-19 mess. The opinions of Issan John do not necessarily reflect that of The Thaiger staff or management.

Comment below…

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Protests

“Thai authorities should not repress peaceful protests”, Human Rights Watch

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“Thai authorities should not repress peaceful protests”, Human Rights Watch | The Thaiger

OPINION

The Thai government’s declaration of a state of emergency in Bangkok is a pretext for a crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said today. Since the declaration of a state of emergency on October 15, 2020, the police have arrested at least 22 activists, including several protest leaders, in front of Bangkok’s Government House.

“The Emergency Decree provides the Thai government with unchecked powers to suppress fundamental freedoms and ensures zero accountability for officials,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Thai authorities should not repress peaceful protests with draconian laws that violate freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”

At 4am on October 15, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha declared a state of emergency in Bangkok. He asserted that the escalating protests by pro-democracy groups contravened the law and the constitution, caused disturbances, undermined measures to curtail Covid-19, and harmed national security and public safety. The government also accused protesters of disrupting the queen’s motorcade near Government House on October 14.

Shortly after Prayut’s announcement, thousands of riot police, armed with batons and shields, forcibly cleared protesters who had camped outside Government House. The police arrested at least 22 people, including the protest leaders Arnon Nampha, Parit Chiwarak, Prasiddhi Grudharochana, and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul.

The draconian Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation provides authorities with broad powers to arrest individuals without charge and detain them in informal places of detention. Officials carrying out the duties under the decree enjoy legal immunity. The decree does not require access to legal counsel or visits by family members.

Under Thailand’s emergency decree, authorities can impose broad censorship to curb freedom of expression and media freedom. International news reporting on Thailand, such as by the BBC World Service, has been blocked on the country’s main cable TV network, True Visions. Authorities have also pressed satellite service providers to block the broadcast of Voice TV, a station widely known for its criticism of the government. Discussions about political issues in the parliament have also been suspended. Any public gathering of five or more people has been banned in Bangkok.

Thailand’s government has maintained its opposition to the youth-led democracy protests, which started on July 18 and later spread across the country. The protesters have called for the resignation of the government, the drafting of a new constitution, and an end to authorities harassing people who exercise their freedom of expression. Some of the protests included demands for reforms to curb the king’s powers.Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that at least 85 protesters faced illegal assembly charges for holding peaceful protests in Bangkok and other provinces. Some protest leaders have also been charged with sedition, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term, for making demands regarding reforms of the monarchy institution.

“The Thai government has created its own human rights crisis,” Adams said. “Criminalizing peaceful protests and calls for political reform is a hallmark of authoritarian rule.”

International human rights law, as reflected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand ratified in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. But Thai authorities routinely enforce censorship and gag public discussions about human rights, political reforms, and the role of the monarchy in society. Since the military coup in 2014, the Thai government has prosecuted hundreds of activists and dissidents on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for peacefully expressing their views.

In addition, over the past five months, the authorities used emergency decree measures designed to help control the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to ban anti-government rallies and harass pro-democracy activists, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Thai government is threatening peaceful protesters with long prison terms simply for demanding reforms aimed at the creation of a rights-respecting democracy,” Adams said. “Concerned governments and the United Nations should publicly condemn this wave of political repression and urge the immediate and unconditional release of democracy activists.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Thailand, please visit HERE.

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