Bangkok Stories: Pick-me-up for the sleaze king

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The Independent Online

There is definitely a caffeine buzz to Bangkok these days. The government has cracked down on Ya Baa, the illegal methamphetamine pills that got 5 per cent of the population hooked, and the city has to find other ways to fuel its breakneck lifestyle.

There is definitely a caffeine buzz to Bangkok these days. The government has cracked down on Ya Baa, the illegal methamphetamine pills that got 5 per cent of the population hooked, and the city has to find other ways to fuel its breakneck lifestyle.

Now dozens of empty Red Bull energy drink bottles and wrappers from Wakey caffeine pills are strewn around by loitering motorbike taxi drivers every evening. This is a better option than drinking the local version of coffee on offer in most Thai markets, which is a hyper-sweet beige brew that comes ready-mixed with condensed milk and ice cubes of dubious provenance. You are meant to sip the concoction out of a plastic bag through a flimsy plastic straw.

This is supposed to be a pick-me-up, but it invariably zings my back fillings and puts me on edge. No matter how strong the caffeine and sugar jolt may be, I long for the morning aroma of hot java. Fortunately, there is a Starbucks on every corner, though its wares are too tame for the motorbike jockeys.

A self-confessed "low life" is running for high office, much to the merriment of Bangkok's 10 million voters. Chuwit Kamolvisit made a fortune running massage parlours, but then he got vexed with the vice squad last summer and decided to get even.

A decade of paying exorbitant bribes and doling out freebies to Bangkok's finest apparently did not protect him from vice charges. He was accused of procuring under-age prostitutes for his clients, but successfully argued that the teenage girls had produced bogus identification cards when they were hired.

Now Chuwit is fighting back. Not only has he threatened to expose a hundred bent cops, and scrawled their names on a secret blacklist intended for the Prime Minister, he is running for governor of Bangkok. Like all hardworking Thais, he claims, he simply wants value for money - and when he pays bribes he wants the police to stay bribed.

Surprisingly enough, his campaign has struck a chord with the public. Among 22 candidates in next Sunday's election, he ranks in the top five, even though he still faces trial for allegedly hiring thugs to bulldoze a strip of nightclubs occupied by low-rent tenants, and for staging his own kidnapping.

Chuwit is even getting a boost from other candidates in the election. Every campaign poster is marked with a number that corresponds to the candidate's position on the ballot papers, but that reminds voters of the call numbers displayed on the blouses of the sleaze king's girls for hire.

Leena Jangjanya, one of two woman candidates, has decided to adopt equally garish tactics. Her poster has grafted her own grinning headshot on to a trim, bikini-clad body belonging to someone else.

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