February 16, 2014 by Melissa Ray
Outspoken pimp turned politician, hotel owner, and crusader against corruption, the “bathtub godfather” Chuvit Kamolvisit is arguably the most interesting character in current Thai politics.
Never far from the limelight, most recently he created headlines after a (staged?) street fight with a man believed to be an anti-government protester on the way to a polling station in Din Daeng on Election Day earlier this month.
While browsing my Twitter feed last week, my eyes were drawn to a Tweet informing that Chuvit would be speaking and taking questions at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) on Thursday 13th February.
Although I am far from knowledgeable on Thailand’s politics, in recent months I have become increasingly interested in the country’s political scene, and with Chuvit renowned for his candid nature, I figured the opportunity to hear his thoughts on the current standoff between the government and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), amongst other subjects, was not to be missed.
And Chuvit did not disappoint. Within the first few minutes of his appearance he had declared himself a “super pimp” and provided his opinions on the major players in Thai politics.
On Thaksin Shinawatra: “He wants too much of the cake.”
On Suthep Thaungsuban: “He’s like a god being followed by zombies. Do you think he wants to sleep on the streets? No, he wants to sleep at the Dusit Thani Hotel!”
On Abhisit Vejjajiva: “He’s like a Kennedy of Thai people.”
On the anti-government protesters: “They’re like teenagers. They’re confused.”
Chuvit’s chequered history was introduced through excerpts from the documentary “From Pimp to Politician” by Journeyman Pictures.
After graduating from Thammasat University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting, Chuvit travelled to the United States to pursue his MBA studies at a university in San Diego, California. On return to Thailand, he put his business education to use by establishing a chain of luxury massage parlours on Ratchadapisek Road—known for offering “extras” to the clients—and the 5-star Davis Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 24.
In 2003, Chuvit was accused of hiring a team of men to raze shops, bars and small restaurants on a plot of land he had purchased in Sukhumvit Soi 10. He was arrested and spent a month in jail, but denied responsibility and was released on bail. After his release, Chuvit began to reveal the names of many of the policemen to whom he had paid bribes over the years. In retaliation, the police raided his massage parlours and—after the discovery of three underage workers—Chuvit was charged (and later acquitted) of procuring minors for prostitution.
Chuvit then turned his back on the soapy massage business and entered the world of politics, running for governor of Bangkok in 2004 with a campaign mission to expose police and government corruption. After admitting to having paid police officers to clear the land on Sukhumvit Soi 10, he turned the site into a public park (Chuvit Garden) in 2006.
In 2011, he formed his current party, Rak Prathet Thai (Love Thailand), winning four seats in the House of Representatives in the 2011 general election with a campaign again focusing on anti-corruption,
After the introduction to Chuvit’s past, his speech addressed the current political situation, describing the division of power in Thailand (60% military power and approximately equal percentages controlled by government, royalty and old power), the differing subgroups among the protesters, Thaksin’s regime, vote-buying, and being woken during the early hours when Yingluck passed the amnesty bill that triggered the ongoing protests.
Chuvit referred to the bundles of cash donated by PDRC supporters during protest marches, and hinted at more powerful behind the scenes support—“someone very very strong”—who has been enabling Suthep and company to continue their demonstration efforts without arrest.
Chuvit is an engaging speaker with a great sense of comic timing. He denied his scuffle on polling day was a publicity stunt, as we were treated to a slow-motion replay of the incident (only background music would have made the clip more comedic).
“Everybody wants to be a hero,” he declared, as stills showed him fighting with anti-government protesters outside Government House last December.
In his Q&A session, Chuvit was tackled on the prospect of civil war, the likelihood of a coup, his vote on the amnesty bill (“I voted with the Democrats, I’m the opposition!”), and the treatment of Sathit Segal, the Thai-Indian businessman facing deportation for his role in the protests. He admitted to not knowing how the current political situation could be resolved.
“No one wants to take a step back,” he said of the opposing groups.
The final question of the session referred to Chuvit’s beloved white bull terrier Motomoto, pictured in a number of his previous campaign posters. He regaled that Motomoto is currently out of favour with his owner after sinking his teeth into a Swedish neighbour’s arm, costing the tycoon close to 1.6 million baht in medical treatment at Bumrungrad Hospital.
“But you still love Motomoto?” enquired the host.
“Well, it’s like love and hate,” he deadpanned, rolling his eyes.
Just like politics.