Silly Samarn Fukrakul has, for the last decade, been a pain in the backside of everybody who has the occasional beer or glass of wine with lunch. Finally, after ten years at the head of the Alcohol Control Board, he has been transferred.
Starting during the Yingluk Administration, Simple Samarn was the prime mover behind a series of anti-alcohol laws that nobody could understand. First, you cannot buy alcohol from shops between 14.00 and 18.00 hours. But wait a bit, you can buy provided you buy more than ten litres. So what happened? When we went to buy a crate of beer, we were told it was not enough. So, we would buy a bottle of wine to take us over the ten litres. In other words, we bought more alcohol not less because of this legislation. Stupid Samarn may have realised his mistake because this was stopped later.
Of course, during the hours of prohibition, you can still buy gut-rot rum under-the-counter from a Mum & Pop shop. So, instead of a healthy bottle of wine you can get the alcoholic’s favourite (Sang Som or Lao Kow) instead.
Selling and serving alcohol is forbidden during Buddhist holidays. Which is a problem because there are lots of them and they are determined by the phases of the moon with no fixed place on the Gregorian calendar. So, few people know when they are. And of course, not all Buddhist holidays are public holidays. Try asking a Thai waiter when the next Makha Bucha Day will be.
Then there was the outright ban on sales of alcohol within 500 metres of a University or a school. But does that include private schools, kindergartens, cram schools? And what is a University anyway? Some of them are very old and own bits of property all over the place. They tried to enforce this and many businesses were shut down, now its been forgotten about and people sell alcohol right next to University gates.
The photograph shows senseless Samarn targeting the sellers of Popsicles made of beer - the horror, the horror. Problem with this is that beer is comprised of alcohol and water but alcohol has a much lower freezing point than water. So, when you freeze a beer the water turns to ice and the alcohol separates out. There can not be more than a tiny amount of alcohol in a beer Popsicle. One thing is for sure, if you go on a beer Popsicle binge you will die of frostbite before you get drunk.
Ostensibly the measures pushed by sodding Samarn are for the benefit of public health. On this count they make no sense at all. There is ample evidence that drinking wine and beer in moderation is good for health. Heavy drinking is not. Restricting alcohol sales tends to cause heavy drinking as in Australia’s “six o’clock swill”. It also encourages sales of moonshine and other far worse things. There is now massive use of methamphetamine (Yar Bar) in Thailand’s villages. Villagers can not buy a beer between 14.00 and 18.00, but they can buy a tab of Yar Bar for twenty baht (a beer costs twice that).
Of course, slimy Samarn’s crusade is not about public health, like all crusades its about religion. Sicko Samarn claims to be a Buddhist and also claims that drinking alcohol is a sin. It seems we got Buddhism wrong. We thought it was an ascetic religion about contemplation and self realisation. Evidently it is not, good Buddhists should be out there on the streets hunting down sinners like Jihadists, Jesuits and puritan Protestants. Its the same old thing with these fanatics, a perverse interpretation of religious teachings that allows them to make a name for themselves by making other peoples lives a misery.
So septic Samarn is out of the Alcohol Control Board, thats the good news. Now for the bad news. He is now heading the Bureau of AIDS, TB and STIs. No doubt he believes that sex is a sin. So, he’ll be crusading against sex (ostensibly, as a public health measure). We can expect to see the age of consent raised from 18 to 25, jail terms for sex out of marriage and canings for adulterers.
So the Government has got it wrong again. Sociopathic Samarn should have be posted as a permanent special advisor to the Thai Embassy in Riyadh.
The story from Khaosod (18 Feb):
BANGKOK — The official whose name is synonymous with stringent enforcement of anti-alcohol laws lost his job in a surprise ministry reshuffle announced Friday night.
After 10 years at the helm of the Alcohol Control Board, during which he introduced series of sweeping measures designed to cut alcohol sales and consumption, Samarn Futrakul was transferred to head a bureau dealing with sexually-transmitted diseases. His transfer followed a week of allegations that authorities were pressured by beer monopolies to silence Samarn.
Speaking by telephone Saturday morning, Samarn said he had heard about such speculation but could not say if it had any basis.
“I know as much as reporters do. I don’t know whether it’s true,” Samarn said. “But if it’s true, it will clearly indicate that the work that we have done is the right way. If it’s true, it means we affect their business and reduce their sales … if it’s true, it means the alcohol businesses feels shaken.”
Samarn’s new post is heading the Bureau of AIDS, TB and STIs. He is replaced by Nipon Chinanonwait, who was transferred from a department that handles bug-borne diseases.
Samarn added that he is not upset by the move but he is concerned about unfinished works at the alcohol control department, like numerous lawsuits he had filed against violators of alcohol laws.
“It’s not a problem for me,” he said. “My only worry is the old works that I started there.”
A physician by trade and an avowed Buddhist by spirit, Samarn has said in previous media interviews he believes alcohol is both sinful and harmful. He is most well known for helping draft the draconian 2008 Alcohol Control Act, which prohibits any activities that “induce people to drink such alcoholic beverages either directly or indirectly.”
He also went after beer buffet, pre-mixed cocktails, instant beer, booze advertisements, beer gardens, and even threatened to prosecute anyone posting pictures of themselves drinking alcohol on social media.
Samarn’s most recent pledge to curb booze sales came last week, when he said he would ban major beer companies from showing their logos in their CSR events or using them in products not related to alcohol. Such practice is routinely done by both ThaiBev and Boonrawd Brewery, but Samarn called it a “subtle advertisement.”
Following his comment, advocates of anti-booze legislation told the media they were informed that the two monopolies are lobbying the Ministry of Health to remove Samarn from the post. Officials at the time denied the reports.
Samarn said he would let his successor work in the Alcohol Control Board without his involvement.
“My style is, whenever I am assigned to any work, I will be most committed to that work. I won’t interfere with other people’s works,” he said.
Another Story from Khaosod (16 Nov 2015)
On Booze and Buddhism, Culture Warriors Grasp for a Past That’s Passed
BANGKOK — From booze bans to censoring “Arbat,” a surge in virtue campaigns has been pushed by social conservatives looking to assert influence – and relevance – by firing broadsides at mainstream culture.
Assaults on the availability and marketing of alcohol, the push to legally enshrine Buddhism as the national religion and other culture battles stem from reactionary elements who feel increasingly insecure about the rapid pace of change, according to a philosophy professor at Chulalongkorn University.
“These people resort to various measures they can think of in an attempt to ‘freeze’ society,” Soraj Hongladarom said.
Soraj said the rapid transformation of virtually all aspects of Thai society, from politics and the economy to behavior and belief has left some feeling out of place in a world they find increasingly unfamiliar.
Forestalling Change After the Fact
While most people take such changes in stride, Soraj said others finds it too much to bear and thus anchor themselves to something, adding that he has friends who feel lost.
“I don’t think ordinary folks are disturbed by the change, as they’re part of the change themselves.” he said. “To this group of people, it’s not a problem. For conservatives, it’s difficult. They feel like there are being thrown into the ocean, lost and unable to rely on anything, as all they have been clinging to over the years disintegrates before their very eyes.”
The lecturer urges conservatives to take time to readjust rather than resisting the turn of the clock.
“It’s like they’re used to being under the shade of a large tree, but now the tree is dying. That’s how change affects them,” he said.
No one can reverse globalization, he added, and even junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha was heavily criticized for saying Oct. 28 he would shut Thailand off from the outside world if the kingdom is not peaceful.
Prominent Buddhist scholar and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa said the call to establish Buddhism as the national religion threatens to alienate and marginalize Muslims, Christians and those of other faiths in Thailand. Sulak said the penchant for banning or censoring “Arbat,” a film some saw as critical of the monkhood and religion, reflects the weaknesses of Thai Buddhism.
“They are afraid to face the music while the fact is we should be facing reality more,” Sulak said. “The way is not to say, ‘I am a good person and you are bad.'”
As for the aggressive moves against alcohol consumption, Sulak said people should be allowed their own discretion and not be overwhelmed by an overreaching state imposing more and more bans and restrictions.
In July and again in October, the state imposed a vaguely worded and virtually unenforceable ban on the sale of alcohol “in the vicinity” of any school property, without exception. The nation’s top alcohol regulator, Samarn Futrakul, said it could be left up to the judgement of police to determine how close was “close.”
Apart from anecdotal reports, the law appears to be all but ignored nationwide.
For nearly a month beginning in October, Samarn was in the news almost daily for investigating celebs who posted photos of beer onto Instagram, threatening to prosecute anyone doing the same, and threatening prosecution over products entirely unfamiliar.
Earlier this month Samarn might have gone too far when he suggested seasonal beer gardens, a popular social staple during the cool season, illegally promoted alcohol and the musicians performing at them could face criminal prosecution.
That prompted a backlash beyond already-rampant criticism on social media, with the head of Thailand’s lawyers association accusing Samarn of overreaching.
Since then he’s stayed out of the press and did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
Thanakorn Kuptajit, president of Thai Alcohol Beverage Business Association, said attempts to demonize drinking as evil and call for outright prohibition will continue, when what’s needed is regulation and enforcement of existing laws.
He disagrees that there’s any general conservative backlash to alcohol consumption and attributes the latest anti-alcohol campaigns to organizations such as the Thai Health Promotion Foundation and allies seeking to prove their worth amid recent government scrutiny of their spending.
‘Going Too Far’
Even to a non-drinker such as labor activist Sakdina Chatrakul Na Ayudhya, the latest moves by conservative groups have crossed the line.
“I feel like they’re infringing on individual rights,” Sakdina said.
Sakdina said many Thais still respond to the dictates of the nation’s strong paternalistic culture. He said the phenomena might be exacerbated by the weakness of democracy in Thailand in favor of a more top-down consolidation of power. The trend reflects intolerance towards cultural diversity and treats differing opinions anomalous, he said.
Such radical conservative mobilization is possible under the current autocratic military rule because those who might push back against the social conservatives have less space to express themselves due to curtailed freedom of expression under the junta.
“This doesn’t mean the majority of the people approve of whatever that’s going on now,” Sakdina said.