Initially, my sympathies were with Thaksin, who seemed to me to be in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" kind of situation. That is, if Thaksin had hung onto Shin Corp, his opponents would have attacked him for doing that; but if he had sold off Shin Corp (as he's now done), his opponents would also have attacked him just as much anyway.Thai protesters burn images of Singapore PM
Fri Mar 17, 2006 4:07 AM ET
By Pracha Hararaspitak
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Protesters burned posters of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outside the city state's Bangkok embassy on Friday as a campaign to oust his Thai counterpart, Thaksin Shinawatra, took a nationalist twist.
Waving placards saying "Thailand Not for Sale, Get Out", several hundred protesters urged a boycott of all things Singaporean in answer to the takeover of telecoms giant Shin Corp by its state investment arm, Temasek, from Thaksin's family.
"If Singaporeans faced the same situation as we do now, we believe Singaporeans would also rise up to do what we are doing," said Somsak Kosaisuk, a key member of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which is trying to kick Thaksin from office.
They also torched models of Singapore Airlines planes, its "merlion" national mascot and pictures of Lee's wife, Ho Ching, the Temasek boss.
The political crisis has already caused the Thai stock market and baht to wobble and is now raising long-term economic concerns, with ratings agencies looking at growth forecasts and companies delaying public flotations or investment projects.
The anti-Singapore sentiment, which stems from outrage at Thaksin's family paying no tax in January's $1.9 billion Shin Corp deal, now appears to be hurting business.
According to Chainid Ngow-Sirimanee, head of builder Property Perfect PCL, Singapore firms have delayed decisions on potential Thai property investments worth $256 million.
DBS Group Holdings, which had been thought keen on raising its stake in Thailand's TMB Bank PCL, had yet to make up its mind on whether to go ahead, a spokesman said. Analysts attributed the delay to politics.
But I've never really followed Thailand's politics and business matters with that much attention, and there are probably other relevant aspects that I'm not aware of. My view about Thaksin's current problem is probably not a particularly informed one.
On the Singapore end, and yes I'm aware that I'm speaking with the benefit of 6/6 hindsight, I suppose we should have handled things differently. The Singapore government's initial response had simply been to say that "Oh, it was a pure business deal - what Temasek does has nothing to do with me." That's pretty lame; I think it probably irritated a large number of Thai people.
Yes, we know that in terms of legal structure, Temasek is separate and distinct from the Singapore government. But we're not talking legal structure - we're talking practical reality here. We know who runs Temasek, and who runs the Singapore government, so how can you REALLY say that there's no connection?