Agam's Gecko
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Mr. Nose
Thailand's new prime minister yells at photographers during a group portrait.
Photo: Apichart Weerawong / AP

lthough his notoriety is mainly due to his uncontrollable mouth, Thailand's latest prime minister is frequently referrred to as "pugnacious" for perhaps more than just his questionable oratory, or his sexual insults. The term seems equally evocative in regards to his most prominent feature -- one which political cartoonists have caricatured for decades.

In fact some of these artworks would likely be banned in Britain, where a new book of the children's classic "Three Little Pigs" was recently rejected for possibly being culturally insensitive toward intolerant members of a particular religious persuasion.

The prime ministerial proboscis is now the focus of the first major controversy since Samak Sundaravej was elected to the job by Parliament on Monday. During the Channel 11 coverage of proceedings -- with a language-signing inset for the deaf -- Samak was referred to over 300 times in the same way that signers have identified the prominent figure for many years. The interpreters touched their noses. Members of the new ruling People's Power Party are outraged at the perceived slight on their proxy leader, who acknowledges he is but a stand-in for some guy in Hong Kong.

Mr. Handsome
Abhisit Vejjajiva listens to the proceedings in parliament on Monday.
Photo: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul / AFP
In the eyes of People's Power, the offence was compounded by the sign for opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party. Despite the PPP's election victory, Abhisit is the person more people would have preferred as prime minister, according to post election polling. When the translators refer to him, they move their hand around their face, giving what appears to be a "thumbs up" -- actually a designation for the first letter of his name. But a "thumbs up" means the same here as it does in most other places, and the whole sign signifies that he is "good looking."

The Council of Disabled People of Thailand are concerned that political interference in their language might be on the way, after many PPP members complained about the "snub" to the pugnacious one. The chairman of the council, which provides the sign language interpreters for such broadcasts, said, "Any interference would not be appropriate," adding that the sign was not intended to mock the PM. The sign for Samak had been used over many years, and this is what our deaf citizens have learned to understand.

If the People's Power Party wants to change the deaf people's language, the chairman went on, they would have to pay the cost of holding a conference for hundreds of Council members in order to choose another sign for the PM.

In other news, Mr. Samak has blasted the ever-present "invisible hand" for the latest corruption investigation into his conduct as Bangkok governor. The Counter Corruption Commission probe, as well as a separate criminal investigation into a procurement scandal, could disqualify Samak from holding public office.

The situation gives many people a flashback to that guy in Hong Kong, who assumed the same office under a cloud of corruption inquiries in January 2001 (and still has many cases against him pending).

Ah, Thai politics -- there's nothing like it!


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