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A Thai species under threat

Former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (centre) arrives at a justice ministry building in Bangkok last year
Former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (centre) arrives at a justice ministry building in Bangkok last year. AFP

A Thai species under threat

Saturday was Threatened Species Day. Held every year on September 7, it commemorates the death of the last thylacine at Hobart Zoo in 1936.

Better known as the Tasmanian Tiger because of the stripes along its rear back, the creature still adorns the island state’s coat of arms.

Its demise is blamed on a combination of bounty hunters, disease and the spread of that most destructive group: married white folks with kids and pet dogs.

To this day, however, there are still alleged sightings of the elusive marsupial, and most of us cherish the notion that there may indeed be a few still prowling at night in Tasmania’s foothills and scrubland.

What is most intriguing about the thylacine is that both sexes have a kangaroo-like pouch; the one for the male envelops its genitalia so that when it enters dense bush its bollocks are protected.

This is all very fascinating, you may say, but where is it going and when can I get back to my ginger-nut latte and smartphone?

Well, it’s quite simple. Saturday’s commemoration reminds us that this region has a growing number of threatened species, some of which are already on life support.

In fact, Kevin Rudd is already toast. The Australian PM was rendered extinct on Thylacine Day due to smarmy arrogance, internal feuding and political cannibalism.

Other leaders who may also expire soon include the premiers of Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam, and their opposition counterparts in Indonesia and Thailand.

They have all experienced degrading electoral blows, and not possessing protective pouches for their vital areas, now look hobbled and unlikely to recover their full potency.

Consider former Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose ascent, as Foreign Affairs editor Jonathan Tepperman recently wrote, came after “the military, in connivance with royalists and the courts, overthrew the populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra”.

Two years later, after those same Yellow Shirt royalists had stormed Government House and occupied the nation’s airports, their puppet Abhisit was ushered into power.

But lacking popular support, he was soon booted out when the Pheu Thai Party, run by the now exiled Thaksin, won a handsome victory under the leadership of the former PM’s sister Yingluck.

Since then, much like Rudd’s Labor Party, Abhisit’s Democrats have been torn by infighting and strategic squabbling, while seeking to foment more anti-government street protests.

It is not working. And despite having a reputation for reasoned policies and civilised behaviour, its members have now stooped to thuggish volatility, as shown by their recent fisticuffs in parliament.

Last week, Democrat MP Chen Thaugsuban went amok and threw chairs at the Speaker, while days earlier his colleagues totally lost the plot and brutally attacked parliamentary guards.

As the Bangkok Post reported: “Jeering, interrupting and filthy language escalated into pushing, shoving, even grappling with police.”

A front page photo showed one of Abhisit’s MPs trying to strangle a security officer.

As if that were not bad enough, Abhisit stumbled again when he tried to burnish his fading image by writing a book called The Simple Truth, in which he blamed the Thaksin-aligned Red Shirts for Bangkok’s lethal riots in 2010.

“I saw everything that happened,” he wrote in an English edition published last month. “And I can confidently say that the true murderers were the same people who had earlier unleashed terror on our city.”

But of course he could not, and did not, see everything. And the ones who first started to unleash terror on the city were the Yellow Shirts, whose violent acts eventually led to his assumption of the premiership.

Reviewing the book, academic Chris Baker wrote: “It offers no new information that is attested and reliable. The self-righteousness makes it hard to imagine Abhisit acting as a force for peace and unity in Thai politics.”

That is undeniable. In fact, Abhisit now appears destined for the same fate as the Tassie Tiger. But we shall mourn the latter far more.

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