Lecturers lash Thai PM

March 17, 2006

University lecturers in Thailand are playing a key role in undermining the popularity of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Prime Minister.

Academics have queued up to denounce the Prime Minister after his family's mobile phone, satellite, television and airline business empire was sold to the Singapore state investment arm Temasek for a private profit of nearly $2 billion (£1.15 billion).

The criticism helped stir up mass protests in Bangkok that have forced Mr Thaksin to call a general election for April 2.

University politics and economics departments have assailed the Prime Minister's image as a selfless leader dedicated to lifting the country's competitiveness so that even the poor benefit. Many claim that his political career has been a calculated exercise to promote his business interests at the expense of democratic institutions.

"It's just a marketing trick. The stink of corruption and personal gain is very strong," said Thammasat University's Rangsan Thanapornpan, who last month published an open letter signed by many leading academics that demanded Mr Thaksin's resignation. Others have asked King Bhumibol Adulyadej to appoint an interim prime minister.

The political science departments of Bangkok's most prestigious universities have come out against Mr Thaksin and in favour of reform of a "flawed" 1997 constitution that was designed to neuter old-style political barons but has helped to create a leader often described as the Silvio Berlusconi of Asia. The Prime Minister has called academic critics nobodies who are "jealous of my wealth".

But many academics are letting their dislike of the Prime Minister get in the way of their analysis, said Ji Ungpakorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University and one of the few overtly left-wing Thai dons.

"He runs a tremendous marketing operation, but he has also done a lot to help the poor with free healthcare, village loans and support for entrepreneurs reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s," he said.

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