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Sam Houston State Grad
Is Prime Minister of Thailand

The note came by e-mail: "Is Shinawatra the replacement for Rather as our most famous alum?"

Thaksin mug The answer: It probably depends on the part of the world in which you live. There may be millions, even billions, who have never heard of Dan Rather or Sam Houston State University but who know about Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand.

Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. Its 61 million people live in an area about three-fourths the size of Texas.

Dr. Thaksin?
Mr. Shinawatra?

Thaksin Shinawatra is the name of the new prime minister of Thailand. It is customary in Thailand to address him as Dr. Thaksin, although his family name is Shinawatra. In reporting about him, the media uses only "Thaksin" on second reference, as they would a last name. They do not use "Dr." or "Mr." because that is not in keeping with the almost universally-accepted Associated Press style.

Thai voters elected the 51-year-old Thaksin in January. Members of the Thai parliament made it official Feb. 9 and the final formal step came when King Bhumibol Adulyadej named him prime minister.

Some of the first reports of Thaksin's election came in a story by David Lamb of the Los Angeles Times, with added information from the New York Times, and carried by the Houston Chronicle under the headline: "Sam Houston grad wins Thai vote / Telecom billionaire set to head coalition government."

"...Thaksin earned a doctorate in criminology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville," the story said. "He started to build a fortune while serving as a police officer in Bangkok, forming a business to sell computers to the police department. He later prospered providing telecommunications services operated under government concessions."

Thaksin pointing Despite his immense wealth, Thaksin's political philosophy is described as populist, or champion of common people and causes. His election promises included establishing a $23,255 fund for each of Thailand's 70,000 villages and a three-year debt moratorium for farmers.

"The next four years will be a time of changes, of reforms in all fields, so as to free Thailand from its crisis and build a base for the future of our children," Thaksin said in one of his first statements as prime minister. "I will not be just a legally elected leader, I will be a leader who will bring changes to Thailand, to make it a better Thailand."

Thaksin with mikes In order to serve his full term of four years, Thaksin must solve a legal/political problem relating to his handling of his business assets while serving in a former government. He has been indicted by the National Counter Corruption Commission. Hearings by the country's Constitutional Court are expected to begin soon, but how long they will last or what their findings will be is unclear.

It has been pointed out that the people of Thailand knew about the charges against him, yet voted overwhelmingly in his favor in the election.

Thaksin is remembered fondly by two of his former professors in the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State--Rolando del Carmen, originally from the Philippines, and now a distinguished professor, and Sam Souryal, a former police administrator in Cairo, Egypt, who has taught at Sam Houston State for 28 years. Both have visited Thaksin in Thailand.

Another of his favorite professors at Sam Houston State was the late George Beto, internationally respected corrections and general criminal justice authority. Beto was a member of Thaksin's doctoral dissertation committee. Thaksin's Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice degree was conferred on May 12, 1979.

Thaksin and del Carmen Del Carmen visited him in Thailand (in photo left) in 1996 to present him distinguished alumni awards on behalf of the university and the criminal justice program. Souryal spent time with him in 1999 when Souryal was in Indonesia on an assignment for the United Nations.

"He is a very bright and amiable person," said del Carmen. "I am not surprised he is a success in business and politics."

Del Carmen remembers that although Thaksin came from a wealthy family, he and his wife, Potjaman, and their three children immersed themselves in the Texas culture. She held a job and they all took trips on weekends and holidays when his studies allowed them to do so.

Thaksin family "He had fond recollections of Huntsville," said del Carmen, recalling the 1996 visit to Thailand.

Souryal said that while Thaksin was only a youngster in the early 1960s, he was a student of United States politics of the time.

"I am aware of his liberal political ideology, his close relationship with the king, and of what he plans to accomplish for the Thai people, especially the poor, the farmers, and the disenfranchised," said Souryal.

"He wants to fight for social justice, equality, civility, and of course, prosperity. In a sense, he wants to be the John F. Kennedy of Thailand, and I think he will be."

- END -

SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Feb. 16, 2001
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