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Thaksin Shinawatra Full-Transcript

MC: Mike Chinoy
TS: Thaksin Shinawatra

Hello and welcome to this special edition of Talk Asia from Bangkok. I'm Mike Chinoy and my guest today is Thailand's embattled Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

He's a one-time policeman, a self-made billionaire whose policies of cheap medical care and government handouts made him hugely popular among the rural poor.

Last year, he won re-election in a landslide.

Yet today, Thaksin Shinawatra is fighting for his political life.

The urban population, especially in Bangkok, is in open revolt over allegations of corruption and abuse of power. Vast crowds have taken to the streets and vowed to stay until Thaksin resigns.

The critics accuse Thaksin of stifling the media -- undermining institutions designed to keep a Prime Minister from amassing too much power.

Throughout, Thaksin has maintained he's done nothing wrong.

But earlier this year, when his family sold its share in the telecommunications company Thaksin founded to a firm in Singapore for nearly two billion US dollars -- and through a loophole in the law paid no taxes, the protest movement grew dramatically.

And when the Prime Minister sought a new mandate by dissolving Parliament and calling a snap election for April, the opposition declared it would boycott the polls, plunging Thailand into its worst political crisis in years.

Block A

Prime Minister welcome to Talk Asia. On Thursday a bomb exploded outside the home of the President of the Privy Council to His Majesty the King. That's a kind of unprecedented act of disrespect to the most revered figure and the most revered institution in Thailand. Do you have any idea who did it and why? And what impact you think it may have on the current political crisis?

TS: First of all let me, on behalf of the Thai government, to condemn these activities, that we don't want this to happen in the Thai society. Because Thai culture, we are a very peaceful culture and I think that those who are behind- must be someone that want to instigate the situation here.

MC: You were elected last year in a landslide victory. Your party has overwhelming control of the parliament, and yet you've chosen to dissolve parliament and call a new election. Why, given the size of your majority and of your mandate of just a year ago, did you feel necessary to do that?

TS: Because of the, you know the outside parliament activities, the demonstrations outside, the criticism government outside the government has been linked to the people in the parliament. Even it's not really announced publicly that some parties -- political parties is behind, but the ... some executives of the party has been somehow they link to it. And the situation start to be more controversy.

I think, you know, its time for the people to make decision. Because, you know, under the democracy, people have the final decision. So if any controversy that their Prime Minister that they elect has been criticized, and someone said that I cannot answer. I trying to answer, and trying to answer all the criticism and questionable issues. But still they don't believe, they don't believe me -- the criticism still going on.

But, at the same time, many people come and see and ask me to hold on to my job and let me work for the country. So I think, instead of letting the rift widen, I better call election so the people will have the final decision. No one should claim that they can think on behalf of the people of the whole nation. So I think that the whole nation decide my fate, whether will keep me on the job or whether they believe the opposition, and the group of people outside.

MC: The opposition is boycotting this election, and it's pretty clear, it if goes ahead, that you will win. How can that resolve the crisis if you are still back in power and the opposition is still unsatisfied?

TS: well I think the -- every political party you have the duty to stand the election because you have the financial support from tax payer money, through the ECT, election committee of Thailand. But when you decide not to, not to participate by boycotting, it's like you walk out on parliament during some session that you don't like, you walk out. This is the walk-out at a national level, not in the parliament. But anyway, you know, we trying to, we trying to convince them to talk, I want to meet them, but they play, they play quite hard-ball!

MC: There have been tens of thousands out on the streets consistently last few weeks. Apart from the leaders, what do you think about those people, the thousands of people who have made up the ranks of those demonstrators?

TS: Well, you know there are some, are the employees of the companies who the owners don't like me and they may not happy with me. At least two companies. Some have been recruited by politicians, some they just want to hear what they have to say and some, you know, have been convinced by the one-sided information. So that is normal in democratic society...

MC: One of the most controversial issues is your family's sale of its share in the Shin Corporation, to the Singapore firm Temasek. I want to know what role you personally played in any of the arrangements involved in that sale.

TS: Well you know I've been -- I transferred my share, my selling and power, to my son who's over 20 years old, before I enter politics, before the election that I first became the Prime Minister. That is, I transferred in December 2000 -- December 1st 2000. The election held on January 6th 2001. So I've stopped my, all my share holdings. No activities for many years already, but the share holding it stopped from there. And my son just only asked permission that they want to sell because they want me to spend my time without being criticized as, you know, still have a company, a business. So that's the only thing...

MC: Is this like, over dinner? He Didn't say: 'As a successful business man what's your advice, how to do this?' Is this the right time to do it? Because your son and your older daughter are not... the same kind of business experience you've had.

TS: Well I think he ... they have, they have their uncle, they have their advisor, they have financial advisors, they have legal advisors, they have their uncle... the one who nearly convinced them.

MC: So you didn't really have a direct role in the way the sale happened, or the management? (TS: No, no, no) Did you ever meet anyone in Temasek, at any point, to discuss it?

TS: No, no...I think my son, my family without...You know, think they do all this -- all that by themselves.

MC: Because as I say, when you go out to these protests you hear a lot of people saying your son is quite young, your daughter is quite young. How could they have the business savvy to pull of such a huge deal?

TS: No, no...they have their uncle who was the chairman of the company. Their uncle...

MC: We have to take a break now, we'll be back in a moment to continue our discussion here in Bangkok with Thailand's PM Thaksin Shinawatra. Stay with us.

Block B

MC -- Welcome back you are watching a special edition of talk Asia from Bangkok. My guest is Thailand's Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prime minister, as the leader of this country your activities and those of your family are understandably scrutinized more then those of an average family. The sale of the shin corporation share to the Singapore Company was a huge deal -- 1.9 billion US dollars, almost, and they dint pay any tax. And even if there is no law that was violated, did you not calculate that there would be some political fall out?

TS-- you know if you, if you just use only not paying tax or paying tax, I think its maybe misleading. The capital gains tax has been exempted for what forty -- thirty two -- years already in rolling. And so many so many countries also exempt the political -- the capital gain tax, and the company itself has been paying tax correctly and with a huge sum of money for many years. And also, the family had paid tax for -- dividend tax -- for interest earning tax. They paid all kinds of tax, but the capital gains tax is something has been exempted.

Thailand has exempt capital gain tax for the deal collectively 33 trillions -- 33.7 trillions Baht already. 73 billion is just a portion of it -- so all has been exempted, including the owner of the newspaper that attack me, including the key executives of some opposition parties that attack me!

MC -- but did you not see that -- sense that there might be a political price to pay, whatever the rules, just the perception?

TS -- Well, well you know, whatever -- because I...because I think, because its belongs to my son, my children and my... cousin -- they decide themselves. You know I, I work for the people, you know -- and it's, it's it's everything is played by the international rules of the games and the by Thai law. And and, you know it's, it's really the attack of those who not understand or who intend to make more of political issues.

MC-- One of the concerns expressed about the sales is that telecoms is a pretty vital national industry, and now a large portion of an important company is under foreign control and people say that's bad for Thailand. What's your response to that?

TS --That's, the UCom, whose son in-law was executive of Democrat, has sold that stake to Telenor about three months before Shin Corp, and there is no attack, okay? So it's really put domestic politics -- 100% politics! And also the, the telecomuni -- the telecom law does not allow any private company to own or to have the license yet. But exactly it's BTO --Build, Transfer and Operate -- the contract, the license is belong to the government -- the frequencies, all the equipment, its belong to the government. The company is only the operator who invests and take the money back through the service. Its not really, its not really we are selling the whole concession or the whole license. There is no license/licensee yet.

MC -- apart from the Temasek sale, under your administration the critics say that the government has adopted a host of polices that have been particularly beneficial to Shin Corporation over other competitors -- what do you say to that?

TS -- No, not at all, not at all. You know, we are, we are riding on the same boat. If the boat arrives, everyone on the boat is arrived. For example, set index has been going up for, since I came, 240% approximately...240% growth, from 296 to 270 something. And Shincorp, market capitalization growth exactly the same rate with set index. But some others grow 600%, even Siam Cement, PDT of the government, is growing 600 %. It's growing more than Shincorp. I think everything it's... there is no special treatment, no prejudice, no bias at all.

MC -- Let me ask about a couple of specific examples that I have heard about. One is Thai air Asia, which Shin corporation had a 50% share in, which got a large discount on landing fees at Bangkok airport which some said implied favoritism.

TS -- No way, no way -- same rules. There is no special treatment. Same rules, same tariff, same fee, same tax structure.

MC -- And what about the ITV TV station where they had very stiff licensing fees but after Shin Corporation acquired it the licensing fees were slashed, and again the suggestion is favoritism.

TS -- No -- still at the, at the administrative court. The court will decide....The contract said that the government should not issue any new license or allow any existing cable TV to have advertising -- or even the, the rate that the government will charge with other televisions after this must be the same rate. So equal com ... equal level playing field.

MC -- do you feel these controversies have tarnished your pledge that you made campaigning that you would be very tough on corruption?

TS -- Well I, you know, I never, I never, I never sacrificed any tough measure for any particular person, but you know corruption has been here for many years to come and then I have to do it step by step but I will get tougher on it.

MC -- we have to take another break. Well be back in a moment to continue our discussion with Thailand's Prime Minister -- Thaksin Shinawatra.

Block C:

MC -- Welcome back to this special edition of Talk Asia from Bangkok, Thailand. My guest is Thailand's Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prime Minister, what do you say to the claim that, while you were elected under the constitution which Thailand adopted in the 90s, that you've take a lot of steps that critics say undermine the checks and balances that are designed to prevent a Prime Minister from becoming too powerful?

TS -- You know, the history behind the amending of the constitution, to this existing one, because we had a weak government for many years. Because of -- so many government -- coalition parties in the government, there is... there has been a lot of negotiations between the factions. So they want strong executives. That is what it's all about. So the new constitution has drafted according to what they want to see -- strong executives. And this is the product of the strong executive.

MC -- How do you respond to the claim that the broadcast media, which is how most people get their news, especially in the country side, has been so dominated by your government that critical voices are almost absent. They're in the newspapers for sure but not so much on TV and radio.

TS -- If you, if you read newspapers here in Thailand, many of them... but some are very good, many of them very biased against the government. It's like they want to throw out of the government as well. But anyway we go by constitution, we go by principle. Whatever the rule said, I play by rules. This rules that I'm playing, I'm not drafting. It's been drafted by previous government. Especially the democrat at the helm at this time. And we play by rules, the rules has been playing, for twice already, we won already, and this is the 3rd one that say I don't like this rules. So it's not, you know, its the rules that we, we set. So we're willing to play by rules, by constitution, whatever is set... but we want to keep democracy.

MC -- I want to ask about the situation in Southern Thailand, where there's been problems -- predominantly Moslem area. That's been a complicated issue for a long time. Some people say that the very tough approach that you took has actually made the situation worse by treating it as kind of law and order issues without looking at the others...

TS -- No, no, this is another criticize without knowing what's going on there. I think The national reconciliation committee, now, they understand it better. That we are now trying to do everyway...but we have to keep laws and order to some extent. But we try to promote understanding....It's getting better and better now.

MC -- Are you concerned that in the south, it could become a kind of hotbed of International Islamic extremists?

TS -- No, No, we are totally different from what's happening in the world.

MC -- Let me ask you, this political crisis has really divided Thailand. You got kind of the urban -- parts of the urban areas very much against you, and your support in the rural areas, as I saw when I traveled with you, was very strong how concerned are you about this cleavage in society?

TS -- Well well, I think, you know, the Thai, after, after election, it will be much better. You have to understand the Thai culture, even in Bangkok its not really totally... I just have, I just finished polling in Bangkok and suburb, just two days before my big rally in Bangkok the polls still confirm to support me more than 50%, 54%.

MC -- So no chance of you stepping down?

TS -- Well you know, why I have to? Why I have to pave the way to those who do not abide by the rules, abide by the democratic principles?

MC -- Do you see any way of compromise here, between your side and their side?

TS -- Oh yes, yes. I'm, I'm ready to compromise. I am ready to compromise, but not in the way that they really want to. It must be something that is good for the country. I don't want to set a precedent case to form a blackmail group in the future. If they don't satisfy with the Prime Minister, they come out and go to the street and ask for the Prime Minister to step down, the Prime Minister who's come from general election from the people power.

MC -- Okay Prime Minister, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you very much for speaking with us. I've been speaking with Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a special edition of talk Asia from Bangkok. I'm Mike Chinoy, thanks for watching.

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