Conversations with Thaksin by Tom Plate Marshall Cavendish Former Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, loved and loathed across his homeland, makes for a fascinating target of Los Angeles Times columnist Tom Plate's professional - and always gracious, although sometimes fawning - curiosity. Unsurprisingly, Conversations With Thaksin: From Exile to Deliverance - Thailand's Populist Tycoon Tells His Story is unavailable in the kingdom, though not yet subject to an official ban. Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006, terminating his populist-style leadership of five years. Before his political career, he was an entrepreneur. He made his first billion in telecommunications, before he founded the Thai Rak Thai ("Thais Love Thais") party in 1998. After his election victory in 2001, he became Thailand's first prime minister to serve a full term, and swiftly introduced popular and far-reaching policies. But the perception of him as a shrewd, corrupt businessman lingered, and then grew - fuelled by a few high-profile scandals - during his second term. Duly, the tanks rolled back in to central Bangkok to show Thaksin who really was boss in a country that had endured more than 20 military coups in its modern history. Plate's overview of the man is based on extensive interviews that took place between them at the former leader's residence-in-exile in Dubai. It's an accessible read on a complicated individual, and Plate ensures that enough background information is provided for those with little exposure to Thailand's enigmatic ways of governance. Plate - a long-time regional political commentator - is adept at eliciting candid answers from the famously weaselly Thaksin. There is also considerable focus on Thaksin's past. By and large, it's a story of outrageous overachievement, and it gives clues as to how Thaksin overreached as a doomed leader.For a self-made billionaire and ruthless politician, Thaksin sounds mightily virtuous when speaking to Plate. I'm not worried about myself. I'm worried about my country and the people, he says with all the humility of a Buddhist monk. However, Thaksin's assertions and denials here are easy to decode.Plate surmises that: "Thaksin was far from perfect; he made some big mistakes, but everyone makes mistakes. But he did some things, and he expanded the parameters of democracy." The author doesn't stick his neck out far with this. In a quirky, almost Shakespearian, twist to the Thaksin story, today his photogenic younger sister is the incumbent Thai prime minister. Plate managed to speak to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra about her exiled sibling, shortly before she took office after winning the 2011 general elections. My brother? He's a genius. He has so much creativity, but sometimes he thinks and moves too fast. Sometimes he acts and talks heavily. Now he knows that. Over the last five years more and more Thais recall good things he did when he was prime minister. So Thailand has been missing him. They want him to come back, they feel he belongs to the Thai people. Sounds like the beginnings of another Southeast Asian political dynasty. And if Thaksin is the founding patriarch, then he might, after all, just qualify - in the fullness of time - for the Giant of Asia tag that Plate and publisher Marshall Cavendish have gifted him --Nick Walker, South China Morning Post
Professor-cum-journalist Tom Plate's latest book is both captivating and controversial. Conversations with Thaksin: From Exile To Deliverance: Thailand s Populist Tycoon Tells His Story is part of the author's Giants of Asia series, in which he had published books based on interviews with Singapore's Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia's Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed. This volume on Thailand's former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006, has already created a stir in Thailand. Some bookstores refuse to sell the book because of its controversial contents. But then the subject himself is controversial. Based on extensive interviews between Thaksin and Mr. Plate at the former premier's residence in Dubai, the book is easy to read and written in a breezy style, with background on Thai politics, especially since that fateful coup of 2006, skillfully woven into the narrative. One central theme is the complex relationship between Thaksin and the palace. Although the author does not elaborate on many details perhaps for fear of being charged under Thailand's very strict lese majeste laws readers will be able to piece together the links between Thaksin, the coup and the role of the palace.
Mr Plate portrays Thaksin as being misunderstood by the royalists. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is considered the ultimate moral authority in Thai politics. Mr Plate uses his journalistic skill to get Thaksin to give his honest views on the much-revered monarchy and its defenders in high places... Mr Plate's book thus deals with a pertinent question in Thai politics: a non-elective institution attempting to undermine an elective one. This raises the issue of whether the old argument made by the royalists that the monarchy is above politics might be questionable. This aspect of the monarchy has not been seriously discussed before because of legal restrictions. This book, in many ways, helps to push the boundary further in discussing the place of the monarchy in the Thai crisis... The other focal point in this book concentrates of Thaksins past. Mr Plate takes readers back to his childhood, family business, entry to politics and downfall... Thaksin is clearly trying to create a new persona in these interviews, If you take what he says at face value, he always thought about the poor and wanted nothing more than to improve people's lives. "I am not worried about myself. I am worried about my country and the people", he stressed on page 95. The former premier also turns benevolent, forgiving his enemies and yearning for a real reconciliation. This sounds touching and Mr Plate seems to feel at times that Thaksin is genuine. But this is definitely a different Thaksin from the one that Thai's know. This book may help to whitewash Thaksin's wrongdoing of the past years. He used the interviews to dismiss allegations against him. He rejected corruption charges as politically motivated. He claimed he was bullied even before his premiership in 2001, when his enemies accused him of concealing wealth. He denied the allegation that he abused his authority to secure a plot of land in a prime location for his then wife. He reiterated that he never funded the red-shirt movement, saying no to Mr Plate four times... But it would be wrong to suggest that Thaksin used Mr Plate, a seasoned journalist and interviewer. Having given the former premier his unvarnished say, Mr Plate sums up appropriately on page 168: Thaksin was far from perfect; he made some big mistakes, but everyone makes mistakes. But he did some things, and he expanded the parameter of democracy.
Whether you love him or hate him, this is an interesting book that shows a different side of Thaksin and would be of interest to keen observers of Thailand --Pavin Chachavalpongpun, The Straits Times, Singapore