Thai politics is one of those subjects which is so far beyond my comprehension that I no longer pay much attention. Until now that is, because one of the parties, the Pheu Thai Party, has announced a "one student, one tablet computer" campaign policy for the next election. If elected, the party will ensure every school has high speed internet access and Wi-Fi, and that every primary school student will be given a free tablet computer. The party plans to improve Thailand's long-term competitiveness by developing forward thinking educational strategies based on e-learning and the distribution of electronic text books via the internet.
Exactly what chances the Pheu Thai Party has of winning the next election is difficult to ascertain. The Pheu Thai party is believed to be run by fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin is one of the most a colorful politicians you can imagine and he polarizes opinion like no other political figure in the country. Wealthy Thais curse him as a corrupt politician while the rural poor love him for the progress he made in public health reform, and the eradication of poverty partly through an ingenious microfinancing scheme.
Thaksin began his working life as a police officer, eventually rising to become a multi-billionaire businessman who made his money in telecommunications. He became Prime Minister of Thailand in 2001 and was deposed in 2006 in a military coup. He remains the only prime minister in Thai history to lead an elected government through a full parliamentary term and be re-elected, and also the first to lead a Government that was not a coalition.
He left the country to avoid imprisonment in 2008 when he was found guilty of corruption and he was sentenced in absentia to two years imprisonment. Since then he has played a number of roles, including "special ambassador" for Nicaragua and an economic advisor to Thailand's neighbor, Cambodia. His brief stint as owner of Manchester City soccer club ended when he was forced to sell shortly after US$1.5 billion of his assets were frozen by the Thai Government. Strangely, Thaksin has gone on record as saying if he is pardoned and allowed to return to Thailand, he won't be asking for his money back.
Thaksin is also claimed by the Thai Government to have financed the violent political protests in Bangkok last year, and Thai courts have since issued a warrant for his arrest on terrorism charges.
Thaksin and his supporters claim the charges against him are politically-motivated and as unlikely as it is that such a scenario could see such a controversial figure return to power, many of Thailand's politicians have been previously charged with corruption, and some have even been convicted. Nothing is as it seems in Thai politics, and it's not completely out of the question that Thaksin might again one day run Thailand, and that every child in the country might have a tablet computer.
For those parties interested in selling a single order of ten million tablets, Thaksin is now a citizen of Montenegro and is currently in Dubai.
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