Creating a new convention hub

Creating a new convention hub

Plodprasop ignores his critics to promote Chiang Mai as a major meeting venue - The plight of Veera Somkwamkid, languishing in a Cambodian jail, has slipped from public view - Signs that Pheu Thai is making inroads into the Democrats' stronghold were evident at last Sunday's rally

The water summit in Chiang Mai gave Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi a chance to raise his public profile as well as a reason to promote the province as a convention hub.

Plodprasop: Working for the North

The spectacle of a play in which Mr Plodprasop starred as the founder of the ancient Lanna kingdom provided what government supporters called the icing on the cake for the weekend summit.

The drama was staged before summit participants amid the ruins of Wiang Kum Kam, and was broadcast live on national television, showering Mr Plodprasop with publicity that drew attention away from the substance of the meeting, according to critics.

Before Mr Plodprasop went on stage, he had been locked in a bitter dispute with anti-dam advocates and non-governmental organisations over the design and effects of the mega-water management project.

His critics said Mr Plodprasop, as the chief organiser of the summit, looked to enjoy the fanfare of the play. Wiang Kum Kam, which gave an exotic backdrop for the drama, added extra sheen to Chiang Mai's tourism appeal.

Chiang Mai now rivals other key provinces as a centre for Mice (meetings, incentives. conventions, exhibitions), with the summit venue at the Chiang Mai International Convention Centre lending a solid footing to ambitious promotion of the province.

A source close to provincial authorities says the convention centre and the Chiang Mai Night Safari will be brought under the management of Pingkanakorn Office, a soon-to-be-established public organisation to design and execute policies and supervise Mice activities in Chiang Mai.

Mr Plodprasop will be in charge of the agency, which eventually will also supervise the prestigious Royal Flora Ratchaphruek in Chiang Mai's Mae Hia district.

The office will be up and running as soon as it is given the green light from the Council of State, the government's legal arm.

The source said Mr Plodprasop wanted to do Chiang Mai justice as a potential Mice venue and decided to host the water summit at the Chiang Mai convention centre. The centre has been booked for important upcoming events, including a rice meeting arranged by the Commerce Ministry and the World Bank Expo.

The Pingkanakorn Office and the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau are set to join hands in sponsoring a road show overseas to promote Mice in Chiang Mai.

The source said Mr Plodprasop is painting a fancy vision of Chiang Mai as a Mice hub as the Pingkanakorn Office will need to work hard to find enough business to fulfil and justify the objectives for it to be set up in the first place.

Without adequate projects to keep the office's staff fully employed, it could come under fire for not being worthy of the investment.

The source said there is nothing worse than to watch large infrastructure facilities end up as white elephants. As for the Chiang Mai convention centre, the fear is that it could end up as a venue for flea market vendors if there are insufficient bookings for international conventions.

The forgotten man of Thailand

Activist Veera Somkwamkid could be forgiven for thinking he is the forgotten man as no political party seems interested in making a serious effort to get him released from Prey Sar prison in Cambodia, where he has been for more than two years.

The last time the media caught a glimpse of Veera was when his fellow activist Ratree Pipattanapaiboon was released from the Cambodian prison on Feb 8. There have been hardly any news reports about him as he continues to serve his prison term.

Veera: Still manages to joke

The loss of freedom was the price the activist accepted he would have to pay for his fight to protect national territory, according to his sympathisers.

On Dec 29, 2010, he and Ms Ratree, accompanied by a Democrat politician, went to see alleged land encroachment by Cambodian soldiers in Khok Sung district of Sa Kaeo province. Cambodian soldiers arrested them and four other Thais with them.

Only his family members and close friends have taken the opportunity to visit him in prison, going there about once a month on average.

There have been few non-family visitors. They usually bring him food and medication for skin infections contracted during his jail time.

Cambodian authorities ban reporters and others from taking photographs of Prey Sar prison.

A source close to his family said Veera has told visitors that many Cambodian inmates of the prison suffer from skin diseases and the medication he receives is shared with them.

Each visit lasts half an hour. His visitors say Veera is often in the mood to joke, although he appears less than upbeat.

''I want to go home. If you write, please tell the Thai people that the person who is fighting [to protect the nation] has been wasting his time in here for a long while,'' Veera was quoted by the source as saying.

Veera is turning into a forgotten hero, said one of his visitors, who declined to be named.

Veera has been described by his supporters as a victim of circumstance and people in some political quarters would rather see him locked away than let him dig up evidence of graft against certain politicians.

The source said Veera wants to serve the rest of his sentence in a prison in Thailand. It costs his family and friends a lot of money to travel to Cambodia to see him and to lobby for his transfer to a Thai prison.

In one of the visits, Veera raised his fist over his head as a gesture of his determination not to give up.

Red shirts begin to rise in South

Rallies by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) never fail to pull big crowds. Busloads of red shirts largely come from the North and the Northeast, which are the ruling Pheu Thai Party's home bases, plus hard-liners from Pathum Thani.

Even though these faithful make up enough people to give UDD events a full house and keep Pheu Thai in government, the political grouping feels it could do with a few more red shirts from the southern region, the traditional stronghold of the opposition Democrat Party.

Prompong: UDD making southern inroads

The presence of southern residents at last Sunday's rally would greatly satisfy the UDD, leading group figures say.

After all, core red-shirt leaders Nattawut Saikuar, Veerakarn Musikhapong, Jatuporn Prompan and Viputhalaeng Pattanaphumthai, UDD chair Tida Tawornseth and Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit are all from the southern region that is considered to be off-limits to the red-shirt movement and Pheu Thai.

Even before the previous general election, the UDD had been trying to establish a foothold in the region by setting up red-shirt villages and organising activities in the provinces of red-shirt leaders such as Nakhon Si Thammarat and Songkhla to raise the group's profile.

It has taken some time, but the red shirts seem to be cutting into the Democrats' political stronghold.

The red-shirt gathering at Ratchaprasong intersection last Sunday to commemorate the third anniversary of the 2010 violent clashes marked the first time that red shirts from the South appeared on the UDD stage.

Mr Prompong, who hails from Phangnga, claimed as many as 64 buses transported red shirts from the South, but political observers were sceptical and believe the Pheu Thai spokesman was exaggerating.

Regardless of the actual number, the Sunday rally made history. It not only saw the largest number of southern residents at a red-shirt gathering but local red-shirt leaders from 14 southern provinces were asked to go on stage and address the demonstrators.

Mr Viputhalaeng described it as the rise of the southern people.

Even though the number of red shirts at Sunday's rally was still relatively low, it was good enough for the UDD, whose political activities have been gaining traction, a source in the movement said.

If it can be translated into more votes, that is even better, the source said. When the next general election comes about, it could be the first time that the Democrats, who are struggling with major internal reforms, will have to make some effort to protect their home turf.

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