Monthly Archives: March 2009

Thailand protests: cabinet meeting cancelled

The BBC has the story of the day here in Bangkok: “Thailand cabinet cancels meeting“:

The Thai government has called off its weekly cabinet meeting as thousands of protesters continue to lay siege to government offices in Bangkok.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has stayed away from Government House since the demonstrations began six days ago.

Mr Abhisit is about to travel to the UK to attend the G20 summit – but opponents say his own government is so paralysed it cannot even hold meetings.

They are calling on him to resign, saying he has no legitimate power.

Mr Abhisit took office in December after a court dissolved the previous government following months of protests.

There’s more from Reuters and AP, as well.

Thailand protests and the economy

Here’s a story in today’s WSJ: “Thai Protests Build on Economic Crisis

BANGKOK — Tens of thousands of antigovernment protesters sang and danced through the weekend outside Thailand’s main government complex, cheering on ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and offering the nation’s new leaders — and others in Asia — a jarring reminder of the political risks accompanying the region’s sharp economic decline.

Local businesswoman Darunee Kritboonyalai, a founding shareholder of a Thai iced-tea brand and an active supporter of Mr. Thaksin, said the protests against Thailand’s government could grow as the economy worsens. “We’re just part of a global situation, true. But this government doesn’t know how to handle it properly,” she said.

The protesters are mainly seeking to restore Mr. Thaksin — a multimillionaire businessman who was removed from office in a military coup nearly three years ago — to power. They object to the way Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva came to power and are disenchanted with how he is handling the country’s economic downturn, and so are hoping to fuel wider discontent.

Many of the 30,000-strong crowd mocked the government’s latest stimulus efforts as, at best, an imitation of policies Mr. Thaksin championed before he was ousted in 2006. Some protesters handed 2,000 baht ($56) cash handouts from the government to rally organizers instead of spending them in Bangkok’s stores, as the government intended. One elderly woman, Ananya Mhanpadungkit, climbed onto a makeshift stage to say she couldn’t accept money from what she described as an “illegitimate” government. Protest leaders said they would continue their nighttime rallies indefinitely.

Thailand’s lingering conflict between Mr. Thaksin’s populist supporters and its more conservative, military-backed government shows how the world’s economic slump is complicating a series of political battles across Southeast Asia. The region is especially dependent on trade, providing electronic components, raw materials and skilled labor for the global supply chain, and several countries are feeling the strain.

There’s also insight into how economic woes in Malaysia and the Philippines are affecting politics there.

Frugal Traveler: how to stay in touch on the road

The New York Times‘s Matt Gross, aka the Frugal Traveler (whose work I’ve praised in the past), has a good post about how to stay in touch cheaply when you’re traveling abroad.

He discusses SIM cards (so you can get a local number), Skype (to make voice calls via the Web), and Fring (a service that allows you to, among other things, use Skype from your mobile phone).

Related newley.com posts:

Thai ‘Spider-Man’ rescues autistic boy

BBC (with image): “Thai ‘Spider-Man’ to the rescue

An unusual disguise has helped a Bangkok fireman rescue an eight-year-old boy who had climbed on to a third-floor window ledge, Thai police say.

The firefighter dressed up as the comic book superhero Spider-Man in order to coax the boy, who is autistic, from his dangerous perch.

AFP: “Thai fireman in ‘spider-man’ rescue of autistic boy

A Thai fireman turned superhero when he dressed up as comic-book character Spider-Man to coax a frightened eight-year-old from a balcony, police said Tuesday.

Teachers at a special needs school in Bangkok alerted authorities on Monday when an autistic pupil, scared of attending his first day at school, sat out on the third-floor ledge and refused to come inside, a police sergeant told AFP.

Despite teachers’ efforts to beckon the boy inside, he refused to budge until his mother mentioned her son’s love of superheroes, prompting fireman Sonchai Yoosabai to take a novel approach to the problem.

Bizarre Thai TV ad: light bulbs keep ghosts away

I love this bizarre Thai TV ad (embedded below) for Sylvania light bulbs.

According to this blog, the light bulbs are advertised as helping to “keep monsters at bay”:

Jeh United Ltd in Bangkok promoted the Sylvania Light Bulb as the way to keep monsters at bay in this off beat TV ad from Thailand. A child at a picnic points out figures from South East Asian mythology. His father fearlessly names them as Kra Sue, the floating head of a female vampire ghost, Kra Hung, a flying ghost, the Banana ghost and others. All is safe in daylight. But when the light goes out…

Via Wise Kwai’s Thai Film Journal, where you can find more info on the ad.

Video: Rickshaw ride in Dhaka, Bangladesh

More on my recent Bangladesh trip: Here’s a one-minute video (embedded below) that I recorded while riding in a cycle rickshaw in the capital, Dhaka.

As you’ll see, the metropolis teems with activity. In the video, you can hear honking horns and people talking. And then, when we come to a stop, you’ll notice some curious onlookers.

Previous Bangladesh posts:

Thitinan on Abhisit, Thaksin, and Bangkok’s airports

Chulalongkorn University political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak has a column in today’s Bangkok Post on the current state of Thai politics: “Censure may serve to strengthen govt

Some snips:

After three months in office, the Democrat party-led coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has defied expectations by holding ground and beginning to consolidate its rule.

Mr Abhisit has shown a steady temperament and sound grasp of policy issues, having reassured many foreign audiences near and far about Thailand’s readiness to move on. The favourable international reception he has earned has fed into his legitimacy and standing at home.

In the face of the global economic turmoil, his government’s various stimulus packages have been rolled out in succession, and more are in store. His Establishment backing remains intact, despite cracks in the Democrat party’s alliance with the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) whose street protests indirectly facilitated the party’s path to power.

As intra-coalition squabbling and corruption scandals along with the adverse effects from the economic downturn are likely to be the Abhisit government’s chief challenges, the no-confidence motion in Parliament, which has been moved up by a week as an apparent tactic to throw the opposition off balance, is unlikely to sap government stability.

And there’s this, about the current squabbling over whether to close Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport:

The no-confidence vote will likely go down along party lines. As long as the Newin Chidchob faction, a breakaway coterie of old-style politicians from Puea Thai, supports the government, Mr Abhisit’s coalition is likely to sail through comfortably. Cracks within the coalition based on the Newin faction’s vested interests may cast doubt on the final vote. The Newin backers, who have insisted on centralising all commercial flights at the main Suvarnabhumi Airport to the benefit of a duty-free monopoly and construction firms with interests to expand the near-capacity airport, will try to exercise leverage on the no-confidence vote.

This is why Mr Abhisit, who disagrees with abandoning the older Don Meuang International Airport, is being flexible on the one-airport policy.

And on Thaksin:

Thaksin himself, exiled and under a criminal conviction, is fully rallying his UDD troops through video-conferences from unspecified places overseas. Conspicuously on the offensive, Thaksin is desperate with few attractive places to reside. He appears to want to make a deal, and somehow navigate a way back to the country in view of his lost power and his more than $2 billion in assets frozen by the authorities after the September 2006 military coup.

But distance and time have been unkind to Thaksin. His phenomenon is still potent enough to agitate and stir up trouble for the government, but not enough to depose it in the way the PAD and Establishment forces overthrew his proxy governments under Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat last year.

Mr Abhisit now has the upper hand. Unless Puea Thai comes up with damning evidence on corruption and misrule, the Abhisit government is likely not only to survive but to build on its nascent momentum for a lasting term, whose longevity may be more determined by intra-coalition management and the adverse impact of the economic slump.

Mobile phones in Bangladesh

Here’s another image from my recent Bangladesh trip that I wanted to share. This photo is part of the “Faces of Bangladesh” photoset I mentioned yesterday, though I didn’t include it in yesterday’s post.

The faces of Bangladesh

Consider this: In 2009, even dock workers in Bangladesh own mobile phones equipped with cameras.

I was exploring Sadarghat, Dhaka’s riverfront area, a place crowded with passenger ferries and cargo ships. I was taking pictures and talking to folks when I noticed a cluster of people gathered behind me. I turned around to find that these guys (pictured above) were snapping cell phone photos of me.

In Bangladesh — one of the world’s poorest countries — nearly half of the population lives on less than 1 US dollar per day. But mobile phone penetration has grown rapidly in recent years.

I was able to purchase, for example, a SIM card and plenty of minutes from a Grameenphone (Bangladesh mobile operator) counter at the airport in Dhaka. SIM cards are available for purchase throughout Asia, of course, but Bangladesh sees few tourists. And throughout the country, many people sported cell phones; I was frequently asked to pose for cell phone photos, and I even a noticed a few people recording cell phone videos of me.

I also found the mobile reception throughout the country to be excellent; I didn’t suffer a single dropped call in eight days, as I might have if I were traveling in the US. (On the down side, I was supposed to receive MMS support via Grameenphone — a service not often provided with pre-paid plans — but that support didn’t materialize.)

For more on cell phone usage in Bangladesh, you can find an article from the IDA (International Development Association) on the World Bank site.

And the Wikipedia page for Grameenphone founder Iqbal Quadir contains more info on technology and development in Bangladesh.