PM doles out riches to rural poor in reality TV stunt

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The Independent Online

With his popularity badly flagging, Thailand's Prime Minister has taken to the road with a flurry of television cameras to star in his own reality show.

After pitching a tent in a back garden in At Samart village, Thaksin Shinawatra has launched a programme entitled Back Stage Show: Prime Minister - the basic premise of which is to throw money at the problems of the rural poor who bolstered his landslide victory last year and to eradicate their poverty in just five days. It's a peculiar combination of I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here and The Apprentice, with a few Yes, Minister reruns thrown in for good measure.

Mr Thaksin arrived on set with a flourish, sitting in a trailer pulled by a motorised plough. After tipping the farmer driving it 2,000 baht (£29), more than 10 times the minimum day wage for labourers in the impoverished province of Roi Et, north of Bangkok, he began doling out prefabricated houses and plots of land in a bid to resuscitate his flagging popularity. It certainly seems to be working. Supporters keep flocking and promises of new prawn farms, repaved roads, and redredged canals are keeping them happy.

"I want officials to see and understand my way of thinking," said Mr Thaksin, whose strongest political base is made up of Thailand's rural poor.

Mr Thaksin's latest gambit has left him vulnerable to mockery from his opponents, who condemn the television show as a wasteful display of bad taste.

But there's little chance the Prime Minister will be voted out in the foreseeable future, even though protesters demanding his resignation stormed the Thai parliament on Friday. He won his second five-year term last February by a landslide.