Thai farmers pine for absent Thaksin

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Web posted at: 2/16/2007 3:23:27
Source ::: REUTERS

BURIRAM, Thailand • In the five months since they booted out Thaksin Shinawatra
in a military coup, Thailand’s generals have done their utmost to discredit the billionaire former prime minister.

But in the ricefields of the northeast, where a raft of handouts gave
Thaksin landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005, their cries of
corruption and foul play are falling on deaf ears.

“Thaksin’s still the best guy,” said 56-year-old farmer Bunluan Saengjan, fondly
dusting off a photo of himself shaking hands with the telecoms-tycoon-turned-politician during a visit to the village last year.

“He stood right here by my pond and asked me about my fish and how I make a
living,” he said. “I wish he could come back. I don’t like the new government. Nothing good has happened since they came to power.”

Like many farmers in the region, Bunluan brushed aside the allegations of graft and cronyism against Thaksin, saying he was more worried about the post-coup government’s 10 per cent cut in the guaranteed price it
pays farmers for rice.

Trying to justify the reduction, the government said Thaksin’s price support scheme had created vast stockpiles and cost taxpayers $485m in two years.

For farmers, however, it has meant a hefty drop in income – and sympathy for the coup-as rice prices have tumbled from 10 baht ($0.3) a kg to 8 baht.

“Things are getting worse by the day,” said Youen Bawakram, 56, wandering through the parched dry-season fields with his small herd of cows and water buffalo. “I’m very worried. Nobody cares about people like me.”

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