- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 5, 2005

BANGKOK — Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who boasts he and President Bush “are both Texans,” expects to be re-elected today.

There are other similarities: Mr. Thaksin and Mr. Bush are leading their own fight against Muslim insurgents and are enforcing a deadly war on drugs.

“Who else is there to vote for?” said one exasperated professional woman when asked if she wanted Mr. Thaksin, 55, re-elected.

“Thailand is like a jig-saw puzzle, and Thaksin is the only one who has the missing pieces,” a taxi driver said, lamenting that the squabbling opposition offered minor, lackluster candidates.

“If we elect a different party and a different leader, they will have to start the puzzle all over again and have to find all the pieces. We have no choice but to keep Thaksin,” he said.

Mr. Thaksin (pronounced: “Tock-sin”) was expected to easily win the general election today.

The only intrigue is how many of Parliament’s 500 seats his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party will score.

In 2001, when Mr. Thaksin was elected, his new party won 255 seats. But he lured smaller parties into a coalition, so together they dominated 326 seats by the end of Parliament’s four-year term.

If his Thai Rak Thai party wins 375 seats on its own, Mr. Thaksin could operate a virtual one-party government, prompting worry among opponents who fear he is an authoritarian achieving too much power.

Mr. Thaksin is a nationalist, a capitalist and a populist. In this majority Buddhist, Southeast Asian country, that description translates into domination against minority ethnic Malay Muslims in the south.

His supporters cheer his so-called “C.E.O. style” of governing Thailand as if it were a corporation, based on his successful amassing of more than a billion U.S. dollars for his family by heading a telecommunications empire.

His populist policies will give educational opportunities to more children, boost the economy of small-scale businesses, loosen credit and increase health care, his supporters say.

They also endorse his “war on drugs,” which has left more than 2,500 people dead since 2003.

The government claims most of the dead were drug dealers and smugglers who killed each other in rivalries or to silence informants. Human rights groups said the deaths included a large number of innocents shot by police in “extrajudicial killings” to satisfy the government’s demand to create “drug-free provinces.”

Mr. Thaksin’s biggest failure, critics contend, is a worsening insurgency in the south, where some Islamic fundamentalists want more autonomy or independence, with complaints in the Muslim-majority region that they suffer discrimination, imprisonment, torture and execution.

In October, the Thai army arrested 1,300 Muslim demonstrators at Tak Bai, tied their hands behind their backs and forced them to lie face down in army trucks piled one on top of the other, four or five layers high.

Seventy-eight died of suffocation in the trucks, and another six persons were shot dead during the demonstration called to demand the release of six Muslims.

Mr. Thaksin, formerly a police officer, received a master’s degree in criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University and a Ph.D. in criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in Texas. He is a staunch admirer of Mr. Bush.

“We are both Texans and have a Texas style of leadership,” Mr. Thaksin told applauding American businessmen in Bangkok on Dec. 16.


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