A hard tusk

Thai politicians and companies are on the move abroad…as illegal ivory is on the move to Thailand

On Monday, the World Wide Fund for Nature published its ‘Wildlife Crime Scorecard’, showing the worst global offenders in the illegal trade in animals. Thailand didn’t exactly record a chart-topping performance. Nor did its Asian neighbours. The WWF said “tens of thousands of African elephants are being killed by poachers each year for their tusks, and China and Thailand are top destinations for illegal African ivory.” The Fund said the main Thai problem was a unique law that allowed the legal trade in ivory from domesticated elephants. This internal issue complicates the problems over buying illegal African elephant and rhino tusks and horns for the domestic markets.

Bangkok has a long-standing interest in African products. Thai state-controlled company PTT wants to get involved in continent’s resources market and looks set to buy Cove Energy, which has a stake in Mozambique’s huge Rovuma gas field. This is a new move, but the overall picture has already been established; PTT’s likely purchase of Cove just reinforces the links that Thailand has already built across Africa. From Liberia to Kenya, Thailand and African nations are working together, in industries as varied as poultry businesses (such as Charoen Pokphard Foods) to web ventures (such as sanook.com).

China recently pledged $20bn in loans for nations across Africa, to support infrastructural and agricultural development. Thailand is keen to follow Beijing into the resources market in the African forests and cities, whipping out the chequebook in return for shiploads of oil and other resources back across the Indian Ocean. But the export of illegal ivory is a real problem and one which is a sure way to make enemies back in Africa – as well as in other regions of the world. Getting oil out of Africa is all well and good but the amount of ivory that follows it – destined for the markets of Bangkok and Beijing – must be dealt with at home swiftly if Thailand is to continue to be a regional leader.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has just got back from her first official visit to Europe as her country’s premier. She was in Germany from 18-19 July and then went across the French border for a visit to the other major EU nation at the end of last week. There were quite a few dishes on the menu for discussion with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Francois Hollande, the French president. But among the nudges about the uneasy political situation back home in South East Asia, the Thais were keen to get chatting about the economy.

There is much to boast about on a trip to the embattled eurozone. The World Bank estimates Thailand’s GDP at around $345bn and the IMF has forecast a tasty 7.5% rate of growth for 2013 in the Asian state. 73 business leaders were on Ms Shinawatra’s European tour, hoping to cash in on any hints of investment from Berlin and Paris.

PM Shinawatra was back in her home country yesterday (Monday 23) in time for a meeting with Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, whose awakening nation will also witness a $3bn investment from PTT, as sanctions begin to ease. Thailand is a major player at home in the Association of South East Asian Nations as well, and, along with its African ambitions and recent European promotion, is showing itself to be one of the focus countries for the immediate future. But, as the WWF report demonstrates, there are still problems at home which can translate out onto the world stage and draw frowns from abroad where open hands might have been expected.



This blog has been live in Mexico covering the general election and the disputed results. This is the last post on the 2012 vote from inside the country

As the coverage on this site comes to an end, the tangible discontent from many students and young professionals rumbles on but at less frantic and energetic a pace than last week, when there was more of a momentum behind the mass movement. There appears to be a sighed resignation creeping in: that the result is done and that Enrique Peña Nieto will be the next presidente. However, you would be mistaken for thinking that the movement is over. Their calls for a more open society are as sharp as ever and the leader of the #YoSoy132 told me recently that their work has only just begun. They are determined not to be silenced in their drive for more accountability, more responsibility and more democracy in this nation.

The legal challenges from Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), the defeated presidential candidate of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), may be losing a bit of steam. The president of the PAN has accepted and denounced the irregularities identified by the Federal Electoral Institute but has said his party will not back AMLO’s call for the whole set of election results to be contested and officially impugned.

This constant chipping away at the PRI, be it either from the marching students, AMLO’s challenges or from outside media (see videos below) seems to be getting on the nerves of the party’s hierarchy. The president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, has rejected allegations that the PRI carried out voting fraud and the party’s president, Joaquín Coldwell, came out on 10 July and denounced those who say his party gave out gift-cards for the supermarket Soriana in return for votes for Mr Peña Nieto, calling those claims “accusations with a large media coverage but without any demonstrable proof”.

It seems that the PRI is getting tired of the continued questioning of the results and criticism of its glamorous leadership. That said, it would help if their man in the hot-seat were a more accomplished television interviewee. Enrique Peña Nieto has been vilified on social networks over the last couple of days because of a couple of bizarre, stuttering performances in recent live interviews with CNN.

Firstly, he was questioned by Christiane Amanpour about the results, the Soriana crisis, the drugs war and trying to pass bills in a Congress where he lacks a majority. Peña Nieto cruises through the first block of posers but then stutters on the fourth and final question, where he pauses erratically during his wavering response (interview in English and Spanish).

He also suffers the same strange answering technique, a faltering reply punctuated with long pauses, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria for the same news channel (clip below). There has been debate as to whether the president-elect was trying to listen to simultaneous translation (a more harmless reason) or rather being fed the answers in his ear and not doing a very good job of covering up the trick (a less transparent way of facing the media). Watching the Amanpour interview makes the second reason the more plausible, as Peña Nieto has no problem with immediate responses for three answers but then inexplicably stumbles slowly through the fourth. The title of the video “They tell Enrique Peña Nieto what to say in an interview!” shows the uploader to be unashamedly anti-PRI but there is no hiding the politician’s strange responses.

Source: miauctortv, 10 July 2012 (interview in English and Spanish)

Enrique Peña Nieto already has questions hanging over his head (albeit claims that he firmly denies) over an all-too-cosy relationship with media giant Televisa over alleged favourable treatment for him and smear coverage against his rivals. The odd exchanges above with an international channel highlight once again the many media challenges he faces before he can move into Los Pinos. Although he may have the telegenic looks and the soap-star wife, he is going to have to clean up and tidy up his attitude towards press plurality and public presentation before he takes over in the presidency, as he is expected to do on 1 December.

MEXICO ELECTION XV – Pictures of discontent

Tens of thousands of people are marching through Mexico City in protest at the result of the Mexican general elections, which appear to have propelled the PRI, and their candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, back into power.

A partial recount of the vote has not appeased the YoSoy132 movement, at the centre of the latest demonstrations. as the march goes on towards Mexico City’s enormous central ‘Zócalo’ square, here is a selection of the signs from recent post-election marches in the city.

Enrique Peña Nieto has denied that his party bought any votes but that allegation, along with media manipulation and voter intimidation are the three main problems that the protest movement has with the president-elect.

An ignorant public always elects an ignorant government

‘Peña Nieto has the right not to read my work. He does not have the right to be an ignorant president. Yours, Carlos Fuentes’

Carlos Fuentes, one of the most successful Mexican writers, passed away in May. But before that he found himself caught up in the presidential campaign after Enrique Peña Nieto incorrectly said that one of Fuentes’ books, ‘La Silla del Águila’, was written by another Mexican author, Enrique Krauze. The president was criticised heavily and Fuentes himself said a lack of cultural awareness was a big enough failing to disqualify Peña Nieto from the top job.

Mexico did not win – corruption did

This is a reference to the slogan Peña Nieto had emblazoned on the stage behind him during the acceptance speech he made on Sunday night – ‘Ganó México’ (Mexico won)

‘The revolution will not be Televisa-ed’

This girl’s placard refers to the allegations (which the PRI denied and which Televisa have also rebuffed) that the latter, Mexico’s biggest media company, gave favourable coverage to Peña Nieto and waged a smear campaign against his left-wing rival, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in return for cash.

‘The only fight you lose is the one you abandon’

MEXICO ELECTION XIV – Students on the march

Mexicans appear to have returned the PRI to power in general elections. This blog is covering the results live from inside the country

On Monday 2 July, the day after the former autocratic political behemoth, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, was seemingly put back into power in Mexico (many vote recounts have started after “irregularities” were found), thousands of members of the #YoSoy132 protest movement massed just off Mexico City’s grand Paseo de la Reforma boulevard ahead of a march against the election results, in particular the voting in of Enrique Peña Nieto to the presidency.

Alert! Alert! Watch what is coming: the student fight for Latin America

Mexico without the PRI, Mexico without the PRI

Supporters of the #YoSoy132 movement give their thoughts

MEXICO ELECTION XIII – An organised outcome?

Mexicans appear to have elected the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto to the presidency, alongside many state and local victories for the party. This blog is covering the results live from inside the country.

These men and women held impromptu debates in the Zócalo, the massive central Mexico City square, last night, as the polls were closing across the nation. They were not too happy about what they saw as the fixed outcome of the elections, even saying that, as a passer-by, I was a “witness and an accessory to this lousy fraud that is happening”.

And also the people have to organise themselves and go out, in all sectors of society, to fight for their rights, even if Andrés Manuel López Obrador wins the presidency. Be they students, peasants, workers, retired, mothers, women, everyone has to fight for their rights so that politics does not get a hold on those who will become the new MPs and senators, for they are people who have got to where they are in an obscure way. The people have to organise themselves on every level and fight, nothing more.

The people are asleep, they are still in bed, they have stopped waking up. Without our young protesters from the YoSoy132 movement, listen up we will be like slaves once again. We will be talking behind the oven, behind the mattress…but you know what friend? Listen to me please, I have a right to be heard, you have spoken, listen to me please, listen to me please, nothing more than a right to speak. You have to sort yourself out. Go on, go on. No he needs to sort himself out. Continue, continue! Only if he gives me permission…Continue, continue! Years ago, friends, the Mexican people stopped speaking to each other…this disunion that we have, in families, in neighbourhoods, in other places…it is time, friends, to awaken our consciences and we will all go together as our friends were saying, we will go together with the Mexican people to awaken and bring the country forward. Thanks a lot.

MEXICO ELECTION XII – Peña to the presidency

Mexicans have voted in a general election. This blog is live in the country covering the results

A wide selection of exit polls, including the official one calculated by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), show that Enrique Peña Nieto has won the presidency for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) after 12 years in opposition. Voting predictions also paint Mexico overwhelmingly red, for the campaign colour of the PRI, in the local, state and federal elections that have also taken place.

In a televised address at 11.20pm, the head of the IFE, Leonardo Valdés Zurita, said that the more than 49m people who had cast a ballot made this the most ‘voted-for’ election in Mexican history. He gave the preliminary results, based on the IFE’s ‘conteo rápido’ system, as:

Josefina Vázquez Mota, from the National Action Party – between 25-27% of the vote

Enrique Peña Nieto, from the PRI-PVEM alliance – between 37-38% of the vote

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the PRD-PT-CM alliance – between 30-31% of the vote

Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, of the New Alliance party – about 2% of the vote

MEXICO ELECTION XI – Polling station and YoSoy132 camp

Voters outside a polling station in Tlatelolco neighbourhood, Mexico City

Official banners that hang outside each polling station

The #YoSoy132 movement’s main camp underneath the Monument to the Revolution

Huge YoSoy132 banner in square in front of camp

Message on banner in front of the YoSoy132 camp

‘We are all one’ message on YoSoy132 banner

‘Politicians – we are watching you’ – YoSoy132 food tent

MEXICO ELECTION X – The PRI’s Rebecca Black factor

Today Mexicans are going to the polls in a general election. This blog is live in the country covering the vote

As millions of people head to the voting booths, or casillas, to what extent will they have been influenced by social media and the parties’ online presence?

There are endless videos for and against all four candidates online. There are parodies, songs, criticisms and conspiracies but perhaps nothing is as surreal as the 14-year-old singer Rebecca Black declaring her support for the PRI, after being flown in by the PRI to the city of Cuernavaca, just south of the capital. This was seen as a bizarre attempt by Enrique Peña Nieto’s party to try to combat the rapid growth of the #YoSoy132 students’ movement viral success by rolling out a big YouTube name to show the party’s ‘youth touch’. It was heavily criticised and it is debatable whether or not the viral singer really knows what she signed up for:

Source: MiGueLPoRTeSMX

The use of online campaigning is a well-recognised technique in Europe and in the US but it is still a young method in Mexico. The parties have much preferred tried-and-trusted ‘wall painting’ as a way of connecting with the electorate. However, as you can see below, the governing National Action Party (PAN) has printed banners with links to this particular candidate’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. On one hand, this shows a recognition of the power of social media but, on the other hand, this will surely only be a successful venture in the cities.

The #YoSoy132 movement re-ignited the focus on an online agenda but, outside the metropolitan areas, the Mexican countryside is not really a hotbed of social media activity. With patchy connections to the Internet itself, let alone a political hashtag discussion, the drama of the online student movement has really only remained accessible to Internet-savvy voters. The results later today will show us whether or not it has had managed to move out and spread its message to the regular voter.

MEXICO ELECTION IX – Rundown of polling day

Today Mexicans are going to the polls in a general election. This blog is live in the country covering the vote

The positions up for grabs are:

President, 128 Federal senators, 500 Federal MPs

State MPs, Municipal presidents (Mayors), Seven state governors (including mayoralty of Mexico City)

The parties standing are:

Citizens’ Movement (allied with PRD), Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM – allied with PRI), Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Labour Party (PT – allied with PRD), National Action Party (PAN), New Alliance (PANAL), Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)

0800 (All times are Mexico City local = +1 EDT, +6 BST, +13 CST) – The polling stations are opened by president of the station and readied for the day ahead, a process which will take about 15-20 minutes

0815ish – Voting begins once the stations are prepared, including ensuring officials from all parties are present in each station.

Left thumb will be inked for local votes; right thumb for national votes

1800ish – Voting ends (a few northern states are an hour behind and Baja Califonia Norte is on Pacific time) and classification and sorting of the votes begins. All names will have been tallied against registration lists and the president of the polling station will publish the official count and calculations of votes cast in the relevant station outside the booths. The ballot boxes will then be sent to a local counting centre where they will be checked, counted and entered into the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE)’s system from which the official results will be worked out.

1945ish – Preliminary exit polls expected

2345ish – Around this time, quite possibly into the early hours of Monday 2, the IFE will announce the projected results of the election in a televised address