Tuesday, June 12, 2007

สมน้ำหน้า or น่าสงสาร?

Pro-Thaksin/Anti-Junta protesters at Sanam Luang on June 15th, 2007.

Thaksin Shinawatra’s political future has been dealt another serious blow with the Assets Examination Commission’s (AEC) decision to freeze his bank accounts pending a series of investigations into alleged corruption.

The decision, effective immediately, will place 21 bank accounts and approximately Bt 53 billion (US $1.6 billion) in suspension until the outcome of five separate charges are investigated.

The debate that the AEC decision will now inspire can be aptly summarized by two popular Thai phrases; สมน้ำหน้า and น่าสงสาร.

สมน้ำหน้า, or som nam nah, can roughly be translated as ‘it serves (someone) right’1 and there are bound to be thousands of people uttering the phrase with unrestrained glee as they hear of the AEC decision.

Thaksin’s tenure, in the eyes of numerous critics, was characterized by his habitual abuse of power and his obscene wealth is certainly fueling his critic’s anger.

The most notorious of allegations, and certainly instrumental in Thaksin’s overthrow, was the sale of his telcom giant, Shin Corp, to the Singapore based Temasek.

The deal netted Thaksin and his family Bt 73.3 billion and, much to the fury of the critics, went 100% untaxed.

Thaksin is accused of using his position as Prime Minister to manipulate tax laws in the transaction which suggests that his position as a political leader was more about advancing his own business interests than working for the betterment of the country.

For those in the som nam nah camp, the Junta has finally taken off their kid gloves and begun to dismantle Thaksin’s political/financial foundation.

Last week’s decision by the Constitutional Tribunal to disband Thai Rak Thai and ban Thaksin from politics for five years, coupled with the investigation by the AEC, are going to be serious, if not fatal, decisions for the future of the former Prime Minister.

For those saying som nam nah, Thaksin certainly had this coming and the decision by the AEC will be welcome, if not long overdue.

And then there is the other camp.

น่าสงสาร, or nah song san, is translated as ‘it’s a pity’ and the 10,000 plus demonstrators on the Bangkok streets venting anger at the Junta and waving pictures of Thaksin are certainly thinking this way.

For Thaksin’s supporters the AEC decision will be viewed as the further prosecution of their rightfully elected leader.

Thaksin’s popularity, particularly the rural poor who benefited from his 30 baht healthcare scheme, is undisputed.

His success, overwhelmingly proved at the polls, was not simply through populist policies but also orchestrated by his personal popularity.

The fact that he was Thailand’s richest business man seemingly holds no contradiction as self-professed champion of the rural poor.

Thai politics has always been plagued by corruption so why should rural voters, whom have been given unprecedented political attention and pro-poor policies, be fussed about corruption-as-usual?

Now that the AEC along with the Constitutional Tribunal, who were both created by the Junta, have implimented serious efforts to permanently remove Thaksin his supporters will certainly be saying nah song san for their former leader.

More importantly than expressing their pity will be the possibility that they will express their anger.

As previously stated, the streets are teeming with anti-junta/pro-Thaksin supporters and they could turn their sympathy for Thaksin into a serious expression of anger on the streets in the coming days and weeks.

Some, like the editor of the english language daily The Nation, Tulsathit Taptim, are even speculating that Thaksin could instigate a dangerous game of brinkmanship and attempt to start a full scale violent revolt against the Junta.

What the som nam nah and nah song san arguments reveal is how deeply polarized the country is over the former Prime Minister and in Thai politics in general.

The recent decisions against Thaksin, by both the AEC and the Constitutional Tribunal, look more likely to result in further political chaos in the short term than pave the way for national political reconciliation in the long term.

But there is one last group who don’t fall into either camp and their expression might be อะไรก็ได้ or arai ga dai.

Arai ga dai means something akin to ‘whatever’ and there will certainly be some Thais expressing this sentiment.

Bt 53 billion might seem like a lot of money but, as both critics and supports concede, it is widely assumed that Thaksin has transferred ample funds from the country and can live comfortable ‘whatever’ the outcome of the AEC investigation.


1 สมน้ำหน้า or som nam nah is actually an idiom with a more abstract etymology than simply meaning 'serves (someone) right'. Som means appropriate, nam means water, and nah means face. The appropriate (som) word is literal but the water (nam) and face (nah) are not. I initially thought it meant tears but, in fact, it stems from an older - before the arrival of the mirror - concept. The water and face idea is actually an expression of gazing upon one's own face (told to me as looking into the water inside a freshly split coconut) in the reflection of water during a time of soul searching. So, som nam nah really means something like; the appropriate self refection of one who is faced with a conflict of their own creation. Either way of understanding it, it makes an endlessly comical statement when employed at the inconvenience of friends but it makes and even harsher attack upon one's enemy.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Agree or disagree? Please comment