It’s been another big week in South East Asia as the continent heats up both figuratively and literally, with the hot season well and truly here marking both Thailand’s Water Festival Songkran and the Cambodian Khmer New Year. With many businesses closed over the week and workers in the commercial hubs of Bangkok and Phnom Penh heading back to their province home towns, many first timers would never have seen the cities so quiet.
Whilst Thailand’s capital city may have gone quiet, gossip in the City of Angels has gone anything but! With the once highly lauded Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn and the country’s highest-profile policeman. Being transferred to the Royal Thai Police Operations Centre under an order signed by national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda.
With no official reasons given, the online forums have been sent into overdrive with rumours reporting everything and anything, none of which of course can be confirmed and hence won’t be appearing on this site.
Many would remember Pol Lt Gen Surachate when he entered the international spotlight in January, after reversing a deportation order against Rahaf al-Qunun, the young Saudi woman who arrived in Thailand fleeing what she said was abuse by her family.
Although how times change, with the conformation that his much-loved Facebook page and twitter account where the public would once go to report crimes and when the Lt-Gen would post news of his crime busting exploits has now been taken down.
Under his command, the bureau had been aggressively pursuing foreigners who were in the country illegally, visa over stayers and criminals alike, under the slogan “Good Guys In, Bad Guys Out”. Hence, I am sure many deported foreigners will be seeing the irony of all this playing out.
Still in the land of smiles and Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit attended Bangkok’s Pathumwan Police Station to hear charges against him due to his presence at an anti-junta protest in 2015. It has been alleged that he had provided a vehicle for a protester to escape detention.
He was flanked with Representatives of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands. In a strong showing that the international community and local rights groups have criticised the junta for its plan to try Thanathorn in a military court.
Speaking to a few in the know diplomatic workers the stunt has caused a ‘please explain’ from the locals upset of foreign interference in what is considered a national issue.
The Week That Was:
Again, this weeks leading story is political, with Indonesian’s going to the polls today this post is published, the week has seen rock star style rallies held for both the incumbent Joko Widodo and challenger Prabowo Subianto.
Widodo has run his campaign mainly on the promise to improve the quality of labour resources and continue with infrastructure projects during his second five-year term. Whilst Prabowo has focused on promising cheaper basic necessities, consolidating support from hard-line Islamist groups and warning of a over reliance of foreign investment.
Many are tipping an easy win for ‘Jokowi’; however, I predict at a cost, with the shine being taken off the man who was elected in 2014 with the same over expectations that Barack Obama had in 2008 – I’ve always thought the two even looked similar. Reminding me there is only so much one man can do in a country of over 300 million.
For anyone looking to ride share in South East Asia, Uber has officially withdrawn from the region due to a merger with its once most prominent rivals Grab. Although I personally always used the app Grab whilst in Vietnam and Cambodia those who rely on Uber will need to shift as their app becomes disabled over the next few weeks.
For those in Thailand, and especially in the coastal towns of Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin – I would still urge caution embarking on the use any ride sharing app. With the so-called taxi mafia regularly making examples of both drivers and riders that intend on intruding on their ‘patch’.
Whilst the majority of the international media are rightly focused on the current Brexit disputes between the UK and the European Union. Another trade stoush has been brewing behind the scenes in what I’ve self-dubbed ‘Exitbodia’. With the European Union and Cambodia currently in crisis talks with the EU proceeding with threatened plans to suspend beneficial trade preferences.
Threats were made after the in February when the EU launch a six-month monitoring period to determine whether Cambodian exports should continue to enjoy tax-free entry into the European market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.
The six-month monitoring period was implemented on the back of the September 2017 arrest of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha, as well as a wider crackdown on media and civil society. With the countries factory workers in the garment industry being the first to suffer if trade preferences are suspended, an industry vital to the working class of Cambodian’s
The Week Ahead:
Whilst most businesses in the South East will resume normal hours of operation by the end of the week – most in the Western world will be taking their annual Easter break. Personally, I’ll be jetting off to Phnom Penh for a week then heading south to that coastal town of Sihanoukville and the Islands accessed from it.
Whilst I’ve made very regular trips to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh – I haven’t been to the harbour side town Sihanoukville in almost two and half years when I wrote one of my first travel diaries.
That article can still be found on this site www.harrisonwhitejournalist.com/portfolio/sihanoukville-2016.
Unfortunately however, if the reports are to be believed the town is a shell of its former self and I’m not sure how I’ll handle what I already know is coming. But first hand news will be reported here in the coming week and hence I’ll be gathering as much news from the ground as I can and will be looking to take a few photos too of what I find.
City of Angles – Thai name for Bangkok is GrungThep, which basically translates as “City of Angles”.
Jokowi – is the nickname commonly used by Indonesians for Joko Widodo. The story is that during his early days as a furniture exporter. A furniture buyer from France, once sent him an order meant for another Joko, and started calling him “Jokowi”, to avoid future mix-ups.
Thailand’s Taxi Mafia – Private taxis controlled by crime groups where the drivers collude and don’t allow any driver to pick up customers without their consent. Normally by forcing customers a flat rate and not allowing metered trips.
Harrison White can be contacted at email@example.com