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Month: December 2007

Thailand Elections: Voters Choose PPP

New York Times: “Former Premier’s Party Wins Thai Vote

A party that backs former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra won a parliamentary election on Sunday, defeating a party backed by the generals who ousted him in a coup 15 months ago.

At a recent rally for the People Power Party, participants wore masks bearing the likeness of the ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, still a popular and controversial figure in Thailand.

The election result was a repudiation of the generals, who had worked hard to discredit Mr. Thaksin and neutralize his supporters. But the shape of the next government remained in question.

With 95 percent of the votes counted, the pro-Thaksin People Power Party had won 228 of the 480 seats in Parliament, less than a majority but enough to try to form a coalition government.

The Democrat Party, backed by the generals and the political establishment, won 166 seats.

The strong showing means that Mr. Thaksin and his supporters will remain a force in Thai politics whether or not they form a government, and ensures that a struggle for power will continue in this deeply divided country.

FT: “Thaksin allies win elections in snub to military

Allies of Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s deposed prime minister, won a convincing victory in yesterday’s parliamentary elections in a strong rebuke to the military coup leaders who drove the controversial premier from power last year.

However, the People’s Power party, which became a refuge for Thaksin loyalists following the May dissolution of the former leader’s Thai Rak Thai party, fell slightly short of the 240 seats needed for an absolute parliamentary majority, with early results showing them winning about 230 places in the 480-seat assembly.

This opens the door for a period of intense political bargaining that could see the second-place Democrats, led by the Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva, form a government in coalition with all other parties.

The military, and the palace backers of last year’s coup d’état, are expected to lean hard on the five smaller parties to deter them from entering an alliance with the PPP, and to press them into a shotgun marriage with the Democrats, which won just 160 seats of the parliament.

Guardian: “Election triumph could herald Thaksin’s return

The successor party of deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra claimed victory last night in the first election since the military coup 15 months ago, fuelling fears of further political uncertainty.

The Thai election authority’s unofficial tally with most votes counted showed that the People Power party (PPP) won 228 seats, less than an outright majority in the 480-seat parliament, but well ahead of its key rival, the Democrat party, which was headed for just 166.

The electorate’s damning verdict on the coup, if borne out by the final results revealed today, is likely to provoke a protracted period of negotiation as the PPP seeks to form a coalition government.

But the outcome heralds the strong possibility of Thaksin’s return from his London exile as the PPP leadership pledged on the campaign trail that it would dissolve the agencies appointed by the junta to probe corruption charges against the billionaire tycoon who bought Manchester City football club.

Watching from Hong Kong as the results rolled in, Thaksin, 58, raised the spectre of a comeback. That would be a disaster for the military which staged the coup to rid Thai politics of such a divisive figure.

“I would suggest that if we [the PPP] form a national reconciliation government then things will move from there and get smoother and smoother,” he said. “Probably somewhere around mid-February they will have a democratic government. I will consider then when I should go back.”

For further reading, in addition to BangkokPundit, there’s a Wikipedia page that offers a basic overview: Thai general election, 2007.

Thailand Elections on Sunday

Thai voters go to the polls on Sunday in what will be the first election since the military coup in September, 2006.

AFP: “Rallies to mark final phase of Thai election campaign”:

Thailand enters its final day of election campaigning Friday, with rallies planned in the capital as the kingdom gears up to vote in a new leader and end more than a year of military rule.

People will head to polling booths on Sunday in the first vote since twice-elected premier Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown in a coup in September 2006 after months of political turmoil and street protests.

Many of Thailand’s 45.65 million voters are hoping the elections will bring stability back to a nation that has seen 18 coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

But the country remains fiercely divided, with the poorer northeast still loyal to Thaksin, while people in more prosperous Bangkok and the central regions are vehemently opposed to the return of the millionaire politician.

“What emerges very clearly is this election is about whether or not you support Thaksin and (his party) Thai Rak Thai, or whether or not you support the junta and those who opposed him,” said Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a politics lecturer at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

Two major parties have emerged as frontrunners, and both are hoping that rallies late Friday in Bangkok will give their campaigns a last-minute boost…

AP: “Corruption and politics: Thailand’s old guard set to return in post-coup election”:

One leading candidate in Thailand’s election is nicknamed the “Walking ATM Machine” for allegedly doling out cash to buy votes. Another reportedly made millions from illegal gambling dens.

Thai voters elect a new government Sunday, 15 months after the military deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on grounds that he was too corrupt. It looks like they will get more of the same.

Local commentators have dubbed the election the return of Thailand’s political dinosaurs, many of whom were sidelined during Thaksin’s six-year grip on power.

“Unless the old guard has come up with new ideas, it is likely that Thai politics will return to the same vicious cycle of vote-buying, election, corruption, protests — and then, perhaps, another coup,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

CSM: “Tensions rise as Thais head to polls”:

Thai voters go to the polls Sunday in the first elections to be held since a bloodless military takeover last year. But the final results may not be to the generals’ liking, dimming the prospect for a smooth hand over of power and an end to a protracted political crisis.

Election officials expect a large turnout after nearly 3 million out of 45 million eligible voters cast advance or absentee ballots last weekend. The elections are the first to be run under a new military-backed Constitution, Thailand’s 18th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. Politicians have already vowed to amend the 2007 Constitution, which gives judges, bureaucrats, and generals immense powers to keep elected governments in check.

In recent weeks, tensions have risen over the strong showing of the People’s Power Party (PPP), which is openly loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Polling is illegal during the final week of campaigning, but previous polls indicated that the PPP may win as many as half of the 480 seats in parliament, well ahead of the second-place Democrat Party.

Time: “Thailand’s Proxy Candidate”:

If you’re a Thai voter who longs for the return of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, then Samak Sundaravej is your man. An acid-tongued, fire-breathing ultra-conservative who brands his opponents communists and “street gangsters,” the 72-year-old former Bangkok governor is running in the Dec. 23 national election on a platform the rural masses find irresistible: as he unabashedly declares, “I’m Thaksin’s nominee.” Samak, the nominal leader of the People Power Party (PPP), has promised that if elected he’ll bring back Thaksin and his populist policies, like cheap credit and debt moratoriums. Samak has vowed to grant amnesty to 111 politicians convicted last June by a Constitutional Tribunal of electoral fraud, including the former prime minister. The judges banned them from political activity for five years and dissolved their Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party. Samak’s pledge has the PPP, essentially a reconstituted TRT, leading in every opinion poll.

Reuters: “Stars twinkle political chaos over Thai election”:

Thailand’s soothsayers, like most of its political analysts, reckon Sunday’s general election will do little or nothing in the short term to resolve the country’s deep divisions.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Eton- and Oxford-educated chief of a Democrat Party expected to emerge second to the People Power Party backing ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, should become prime minister at the head of a coalition, they said.

But it was not expected to last or go unchallenged.

“The country will be in chaos as People Power fans don’t want to give up and the economy will escalate from bad to worse,” said Kitja Thaveekulkij, who predicted Thaksin’s ouster in 2006 five months beforehand.

“Abhisit will be prime minister for one-and-a-half years at most. After that the Democrats will have to shut their party for renovation awaiting a new leader to emerge,” Kitja told Reuters.

That prediction was much in line with the views of political analysts who believe the leaders of the September 2006 coup against Thaksin and the royalist establishment are determined not to let his followers back into power.

For frequently-updated info, check out BangkokPundit and

How to Learn Thai

Many months ago, reader Paul D., who lives in California, asked me for advice on learning Thai. While I’m not an expert and certainly not an advanced speaker, here’s a slightly expanded version of what I told him based on my experience as an enthusiastic — but far from talented — student. I invite those of you out there who know more about this than I do to weigh in with a comment below.

1. Get some good books. For non-academic texts, I like the straightforward Teach Yourself Thai. Another book that I’ve found useful is Thai Without Tears, mostly because it lays out an intuitive phonetic system. Another option, if you’re looking for a slim volume, is the Lonely Planet Thai Phrasebook, though this is clearly written with the tourist in mind.

2. Take advantage of audio materials. I’ve really enjoyed listening to Pimsleur’s Thai language CDs. My feeling is that some of the phrasing used in the dialogues is a bit proper (and I prefer a more colloquial approach), but I like the emphasis on repetition, and the lessons are structured nicely, with basic elements repeated over and over again. You might even be able to find some Thai podcasts.

3. Naturally, you should arrange for a Thai tutor or enroll in a Thai class. I take one-on-one lessons and, though I should certainly study more, I’ve found this to be invaluable over the long term. Be sure to choose a teacher who’s had experience with foreign students.

4. Try to study at a little bit each day. An hour — or even 15 minutes — every day is more effective, I’ve found, than many hours once a week.

5. Learn the Thai alphabet. It’s not as hard as you’d think. Get some flash cards and some workbooks made for children.

6. Feel free to design your own curriculum. I found it helpful to make a list of the 50 or 100 words that were most important for me to learn for daily use. This would include frequent events like talking to taxi drivers, asking for directions on the street, ordering food in a restaurant, etc. But I’ve also focused on specific words based on my interests. For example, I play soccer and found it interesting to learn some of the vocabulary specific to the game.

7. It’s important to be patient and have a sense of humor. Situations where you’re uncomfortable — where you really need to say something the right way to be understood — are just as important in the learning process as time in the classroom. Talk to taxi drivers about their favorite foods. Ask your neighbors how to pronounce words you’re having trouble with. Ask your friendly local fruit vendor to tell you how to pronounce the name of that strange fruit he or she is selling.

Here’re some resources for further reading: has some online lessons and other information. has a wealth of great food-centric info.
— The Thai language Wikipedia page makes for a good general overview.
— The Learn to Read Thai Web site offers info on the Thai alphabet.
How and Why to Learn Thai contains an overview of Thai syntax, vocabulary, and other elements.
— I’ve heard great things about Stuart Jay Raj’s Cracking Thai Fundamentals course. He takes an interesting approach to demystifying the language for non-Thai speakers.

Waffle-Coated Hot Dog: Consumed in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Remember the french fry-coated hot dog that I photographed in Seoul a while back? I mean, seriously, given the international acclaim that followed, how could you forget?

Well, in my ongoing quest to identify and consume hot dogs encrusted in all manner of incongruous snack foods, I bring you the waffle-coated hot dog.

The Waffle-Coated Hot Dog

In a feat of observation that would make Austin proud, I recently spotted — and subsequently scarfed down, lest I fail in my mission — this remarkably-executed example of Euro/American-Thai culinary fusion at a night market in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

The Waffle-Coated Hot Dog

Waffle-Coated Hot Dogs

Waffle-Coated Hot Dog: the Chefs in Action

Per the vendor’s recommendation, I applied ketchup. The result was a flavor profile not commonly encountered in the west: The dish was doughy and sweet from the waffle, meaty and nitrate-infused due to the hot dog, and acidic from the ketchup.

After finishing my snack, I thanked the vendor — the man in the photo above — and asked him what this particular treat was called. He looked at me blankly, turned to his companions, and then took a deep breath. “Waffle…hot dog,” he said.

There you have it. The international language of snack foods, my friends.

LINK LOVE UPDATE, Dec. 16: The Thai waffle-coated hot dog, I’m happy to say, has struck a chord with lovers of silly foodstuffs the world over. It’s been featured on the following fine blogs:’s Fresh Signals, The Food Section,, and Blog on a Toothpick.

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