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Friday, 3 October 2008

Thailand Politics and the effects on Koh Samui

For those of you who noticed, my apologies for failing to issue a Newsletter for September but this was due to an unexpectedly long overseas business trip and I did not have the time or opportunity to create one.

The political situation in Thailand is still not fully resolved although the now ex-Prime Minister Khun Samak has departed the scene to the delight of many but one wonders if his replacement Khun Somchai Wongsawat will fair any better as he is the brother-in-law of ousted Prime Minister Taksin Shiniwatra. He has quite an impressive background on paper qualifying as a Barrister in 1973 and holding posts as Chief Justice in various provinces and serving for nearly six years as permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice. His role under the Samak regime was as Minister of Education. However, even a cursory look at his background seems to suggest that he has been accused, rightly or wrongly, of being involved in a number of questionable areas such as when he was a member of AOT board, he was one of the 36 people implicated in the irregularities relating to the controversial Suvarnabhumi Airport luggage scanner purchase. Also one of the main demands of the opposition PAD is that Taksin Shinawatra is brought back to Thailand to answer charges of corruption and it is difficult to see Khun Somchai doing that although he has stated that is a matter for the Courts. Whilst certain sectors of the population seem to have accepted him there is still opposition to his appointment in some areas. Equally there is a growing antagonism to the PAD who are leading the opposition and their actions are seen by many as the cause of drop in tourism to Thailand over recent months due to the wide spread international reporting of their actions such as blocking airports.

What was good to see here in Koh Samui was that, with Phuket and Krabi airports being blockaded, the intervention of a respected local politician persuaded the PAD supporters, who intended to blockade the airport, that they would be doing themselves and the island more harm than good and the blockade was avoided. Nevertheless the demonstrations in Bangkok being reported in the media world wide, as stated above, and the airport blockades have had a negative effect on tourism with many hotels reporting cancellations as far ahead as Christmas. This is unfortunate as the situation on the ground is really very peaceful and apart from organised protests in the usual places (Nathon sea front and Chaweng Lake) life goes on here undisturbed. The protests may at times be loud but there has been no violence. I can see a lot of good deals becoming available in the hotels over the coming weeks.

The reality is in my opinion that tourism is being affected more by higher airline fares due to the price of oil and the overall world economic situation more than the political issues here as anyone who knows Thailand understands that the demonstrations, that are so widely reported, are very localized and tourists are not usually affected if they stay out of those areas. The airport situation was an exception but even those involved have now realised they did themselves more harm than good.

For those of you who may at times need Consular Advice, “Big Dave” Covey who has for a couple of years been the Honorary British Consular Representative on the island has at last received official accreditation from the Thai Foreign Ministry. Congratulations Dave!

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