Obits in Brief: Samak Sundaravej
Thursday 03 December 2009
Samak Sundaravej, who died on 24 November aged 74, was a firebrand right-wing politician and TV cooking show host who briefly served as Thailand's prime minister.
A straight-talker with a penchant for the profane – his colourful vocabulary earned him the epithet "Dog Mouth" – Samak spanned four decades in a political career that included an incarnation as an anti-communist rabble rouser, but many remembered him best for his TV show, Tasting and Complaining, a mix of traditional Thai cooking and rants on pet subjects. It was ultimately Samak's TV work that ended his political career, which peaked in December 2007 when he became the country's 25th prime minister, a job that lasted only nine months.
Early on, Samak established his trademarks: right-wing ideology and a common touch which endeared him to some, as well as a bias against free-wheeling democracy and the press, which he described as "a burden on development". He liked to berate reporters for "lousy" questions.
It was his vitriolic rhetoric that helped stoke anti-communist sentiment in 1976, prompting mobs to storm a Bangkok university, killing and burning alive scores of student activists. His tenure as prime minister coincided with one of the worst political crises in Thailand's history and followed the September 2006 coup that eliminated Thaksin Shinawatra. Samak rose to power as the self-proclaimed proxy for Thaksin, who was living in exile. Samak became the focus of street rallies by anti-Thaksin protesters, who demanded his resignation.
Tens of thousands of protesters stormed the prime minister's compound in August 2008, but in the end it was not they who forced him out of office. A court ruled in September 2008 that his appearance on his TV cooking show while prime minister, and the fact that he had accepted payment for it, constituted a conflict of interest.
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