Charges fail to rock ex-Thai PM’s hometown support

Fri Mar 30, 2007 2:47AM


By Nopporn Wong-Anan

SAN KHAMPHAENG, Thailand (Reuters) – Despite bringing criminal tax
evasion charges against his family, Thailand’s generals do not appear
to be convincing ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s hometown
backers he is a crook.

“I feel sorry for him. He was ousted in a coup and accused of
cheating the country and there’s no truth in it,” said Chei Taepin, a
75-year-old noodle soup vendor who said he knew Thaksin, 57, when he
was at primary school in San Khamphaeng.

Chei, like others, reckons the charges brought against Thaksin’s
wife and her brother this week are a proxy case against the charismatic
billionaire who won two landslide elections on the back of massive
support in the rural heartlands.

“They are afraid of him returning to politics. They can’t defeat him
politically, so they have to come up with all sorts of allegations,”
said Chei, who hangs a huge campaign poster of Thaksin wearing an
outfit worn for royal functions in his shop.

The military moved in last September 19, accusing Thaksin of
presiding over rampant corruption, abuse of power and cronyism, charges
he denies.

A military-appointed panel is probing more than a dozen cases of
alleged wrongdoing during Thaksin’s five years in office and the tax
evasion charges are the first to reach court.

But people in San Khamphaeng, a small handicraft town on the
outskirts of the northern tourism center of Chiang Mai, still back
Thaksin for policies branded by his critics as populist and aimed at
keeping the poor and rural voters happy.

In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second city, people remember Thaksin for
large highways, massive government offices and a flower fair which drew
almost four million people to the province earlier this year.

“Thaksin is a modern man who got things done very quickly,” said Chaba Nosuya, a 34-year-old teacher at a government school.

“His only mistake was being too confident in what he did, which brought jealousy from rivals,” she said.

Other programs like cheap health care, annual grants to villages and
a two-year war on drugs in which more than 2,000 people were killed
keep feelings for Thaksin warm.

“People are grateful to Thaksin,” said Supatra Kittawong, a retired
teacher and now chairwoman of a million-baht ($28,500) village fund.

“People don’t care what Thaksin has done wrong. It is his personal business,” Supatra said.

The village funds, which critics alleged were spent on luxuries like
motorcycles and mobile phones, had created jobs in her area, Supatra

Borrowers invested the money in goods sold at the weekend market in the town, she said.

But Supatra said there were fears the interim government would scrap
such projects initiated by Thaksin as economic growth slowed amid
political uncertainty.

“We will just have to wait and see what the government will do with
the SML Fund,” said Supatra referring to the annual grant given to
villages in accordance with their population size to use as the
communities sees fit.

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