A select group of LMU students got an insider’s view of world politics from the former prime minister of Thailand this week. Thaksin Shinawatra visited Loyola Marymount University’s Asia Pacific Media Center for a candid conversation with about 15 students, faculty and friends on August 13.
Thaksin, whose cell phone business made him a billionaire before he entered politics, spoke frankly about the political and economic environment in present-day Thailand and neighboring Southeast Asia countries. Afterward, he was the honoree at a formal dinner hosted by LMU’s President David W. Burcham.
“Having a world figure like Thaksin at LMU gives students such as myself an international lens beyond the classroom setting,” said Lani Luo, a senior majoring in political science. “Thaksin brought in a refreshing new perspective that encouraged me to seek more information and go beyond what I have grown accustomed to.”
Thaksin was elected twice as prime minister, serving from 2001 to 2006, running at the head of the populist Thai Rak Thai party, which he founded. He was praised for reforms he instituted and the energy and fresh air he brought to governing, but also was criticized for perceived authoritarian actions, harsh treatment of the press and he was accused of abuse of office. He was deposed by a military coup and currently lives in self-imposed exile.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the successful businessman spoke glowingly of capitalism and free markets, saying that they are key requirements for a free society. Also, in response to a student inquiry, he questioned the United States’ approach to building and maintaining relationships with Asian nations. “The U.S. doesn’t have enough strategists working on Asia,” he said. “You analyze, but you don’t manage.”
Thaksin also praised the success his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is having as prime minister of the country. When asked if he would ever again be prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin said it wasn’t very likely. “My style isn’t for Thailand; I’m too straightforward.”
The former prime minister visited LMU at the invitation of Tom Plate, Distinguished Scholar of Asian/Pacific Studies at LMU and an influential columnist focusing on Asia. The third book in Plate’s Giants of Asia series is “Conversations with Thaksin,” which became a bestseller in Asia when it was published last year. LMU’s Asia Pacific Media Center publishes the weekly The New Asia Media, a student publication of original reporting and Asia media aggregation.
“It was great getting to know Thaksin this way, one that is unique, intimate, and casual,” said Luo. “I think that is one of the special things about LMU, because we have that space to create this environment, which is very important for the students to have access to.”