In an earlier post I wrote about the address to be delived in Seattle by Sondhi Limthongkul (so-called pro-democracy advocate) on his “US West Coast Tour”. Some reports of the function are now coming through. New Mandala reader BF provides this link to (Thai-language) coverage of anti-coup protests at the meeting. And another reader, Jopha, provides the following account which I reproduce here in full. Jopha’s summary indicates that Sondhi’s line of argument was very similar to that presented in London. (For full New Mandala comment on the London meeting enter “Sondhi” in the search bar above.) Any other feedback on the Seattle meeting would be very welcome.

Jopha writes: The speech was surprisingly well attended, with even a handful of my fellow Farangs in attendance. I thought I might meet a few grad students and the new generation of Southeast Asian scholars on campus but encountered a number of my Thai acquaintances from the local business community who all assumed I was, to their delight, a Sondhi “supporter” as opposed to an interested bystander.

First, Sondhi’s English is excellent, far better than most. Initially he was to give a 20-minute talk in English, but the talk went on for nearly an hour.

Sondhi is clearly conflicted by the coup, happy to have Taksin out of the way yet frustrated that the only possible method of removing Taksin was a military coup. His reasons for this situation, this failure of “democracy”, and a personal frustration, focused upon a lack of free speech and free press, no surprise from coming from a self-proclaimed media tycoon recently muffled. He also briefly touched upon the failure of the education system to create an educated voting public, but like many Thais, he is unwilling to critically explore the nature of the Thai education system in any depth.

He was almost downright contemptuous of Taksin’s “populist” policies, as if populist notions were too far below him to even dignify a comment. He was equally, in my humble opinion, contemptuous of the poor who he imagines as being easily bought off by simple bribery. (I guess that my experiences of observing election money being distributed in local villages over the past 20 years and what Sondhi imagines it to be are at variance.) According to Sondhi, the poor and the very wealthy do not pay taxes (I believe the rural poor pay taxes indirectly by pricing controls on agriculture products) and that he is the self-proclaimed advocate for the newer emerging middle-class who he believes do pay the taxes. It really seemed to gall his Bangkok sensibilities that Taksin gave his, Sondhi’s, “hard-earned tax money,” to the rural poor. The poor seem to be the problem to Sondhi, as he noted that most of the opposition votes came from the 1st (amphoe muang) districts of a Province whilst Taksin received his support from the more rural districts. There was no mention about how he and the TRT opposition might have attempted to go after the rural votes.

Sondhi appears to be a monarchist and clearly supports the throne having a role in what he described as the “royal prerogative” to bestow or withhold favor on leaders of the nation. And judging by some of the images shown during his talk, methinks he has some support by the Crown Prince although he played down the role of the palace in the recent coup.

He attacked Taksin for the perceived problems at the new Airport (does he read the thaivisa boards?) without noting that this mega project predated his former ally’s rise to power. He also made a comment about someone taking advantage of a bankruptcy filing, an odd remark coming from one who is notorious for defaulting on loans.

I got the feeling, and just an opinion now, but both Sondhi and the other speaker (a vitriolic senator from Buriram) were really pissed off about Taksin because of the amounts of money he made off with tax-free. It was as if parts of the Thai elite, and I know Sondhi is no middle class tax payer, loss face because they could not even imagine getting away with such sums, and would never be in a position to be involved with such sums. I can only imagine, from my humble position, the loss of face having to acknowledge that a competitor stands in a class clearly above you.

I was unable to stay for Sondhi’s talk in Thai as two hours had already passed between Sondhi’s talk and the impassioned rant of the senator from Buriram. And I admit that I have problems following such speeches in Thai for too long.

In a question and answer follow up, Sondhi proclaimed that he was not a politician and had no interest in running for office. I found this rather difficult to accept given the political nature of the speech, with what could only be described as a campaign sign hanging above him, a book for sale, and what was clearly an enthusiastic group of ex-pat Thais here in the USA who wish to support Sondhi and his movement.

Upon my return home I thought that my wife would be happy that I went and met Thai friends but she was rather upset that I had become “involved” in Thai politics. It turns out she had been invited to the talk by several of her friends, but coming from a poor rural background up north, she perceived Sondhi as just another Taksin, another Thai politician, and I confess, I have to agree with her.