Powerful Man Of Eastern Promises

From The Times
May 11, 2004
Powerful man of eastern promises
A look at the man behind the bid to buy into Liverpool
From Andrew Drummond in Bangkok
THE rise to power of Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s Prime Minister, three years ago was secured by projecting himself as a patriotic, iron-fisted, man of the people.
His promises to slash rural poverty, set up a fledgeling national health service and to purge the country of its drugs problems struck a chord with voters who had never before seen any politician use spin to such effect, let alone base their campaign on real policies rather than a cult of personality.
A fervent nationalist ‘ his party’s name, Thai Rak Thai, translates as Thais Love Thais ‘ he swore to rid the country of its International Monetary Fund debt burden ahead of schedule and to turn Thailand into the new Singapore.
So how then does buying a stake in a farang (a slightly derogatory term for foreign) football team make any sense. The answer comes by asking any Thai, male or female, which team they support. Liverpool or Manchester United will be the reply.
The Premiership has become so ingrained in Thai culture that it is the de facto domestic league: why watch clubs such as Krung Thai Bank or BEC Tero Sasana in a near-empty stadium on a rutted, muddy pitch when you can watch television and see Michael Owen score in front of 40,000 passionate fans?
While he has not disclosed his exact intentions, one of Thaksin’s publicly stated goals is to set up a national football academy with Liverpool’s help. If, during his negotiations with Anfield executives this week, he achieves that and buys a stake, then it will be a coup, only seven months before a general election.
Not only does Thaksin sow the seeds for a better domestic football future, he also shows the world that Thailand has developed to the point where it can buy a stake in the world’s most prestigious league. It also turns attention away from the recent killing of more than a hundred Muslim insurgents in the country’s restive southern provinces.
There are, however, reasons why Liverpool may not wish to be associated with Thaksin. He rose to power under a cloud of corruption allegations. Shortly after his election in 2001, he narrowly missed conviction by the National Counter Corruption Commission for concealing his funds.
The past two years have seen his international standing fall dramatically. He carried out his promised war on drugs, but more than 2,500 people were gunned down across the country in the process.
Thaksin brushed aside the deaths as infighting between drug dealers, but he was heavily criticised by both the United Nations and the US State Department, which condemned Thailand in a human rights report. Characteristically, Thaksin reacted by saying ‘the UN is not my father’ and describing the United States as a ‘useless friend’.
To compound the matter, Thaksin is also viewed as the man who lied to the world by denying the presence of bird flu in Thailand this year, putting export revenues ahead of the welfare of both Thai and foreign consumers.
Born in July 1949, in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, the son of a silk producer, Thaksin rose to become reputedly the wealthiest man in Thailand. As a teenager he worked in the family business and ran a cinema for a short while, before entering the police force.
He earned a masters degree in criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University and a PhD in the same field at Sam Houston State University, Texas.
He was promoted to lieutenant colonel but resigned from the police force to start a career in telecomunications. During this time he organised and signed a deal with the Thai police to provide all its software ‘ a contract that was to set him up for life.
With the profits, he set up his own Shinawatra Computer and Communications Group, which started out making software and then branched into pager services and the cellular phone market. Today, his mobile phone company remains the largest in Thailand and his businesses have branched into real estate, retail and a low-cost airline.
• Population: 64 million.
• Thai FA was established in 1916 and became a member of Fifa in 1925. World ranking: 57.
• Honours: 1972: third place in Asian Cup; 1990, 1998: fourth place in Asian Games; 1965, 1975, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2003: winners of the Southeast Asian Games tournament.
• Peter Withe, the former Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest striker, was Thailand coach until November 2003 when he was suspended after the team failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics.
• Teeratep Winothai, a forward, was at Crystal Palace academy, but has now left. Kiatisak Senamuang, also a forward, was briefly with Huddersfield Town.