On paper, there are two special administrative areas in Thailand including, Bangkok and Pattaya.
But arguably, there are actually three, the capital, the sin city, and Newin Chidchob’s Buriram.
Since he parted his way with his old friend and boss, Thaksin Shinawatra, Newin has built is his own fiefdom inside Buriram on the back of shrewd politicking and a godfather like presence.
Newin’s political tactic of switching side to protect his own interests has worked out well, he’s beyond rich with an inestimable net worth.
His political career was first brought to the public attention in 1995 from a vote-buying scandal in Buriram but that did stop his political career.
Together with a group of 16 young MPs of Chart Thai and the Chart Pattana Party, he played a major role in bringing down a Democrat-led government before bringing his faction to join Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party.
In 2007, he was one of Thai Rak Thai Party’s 111 executives who were banned from politics for five years following the Constitutional Court’s decision to dissolve the party for electoral fraud in 2006.
But, his political influence did not stop there.
With Newin’s support, Thaksin was still able to install the People’s Power Party (PPP) as government after the coup of 2006.
Only when the “Friends of Newin Group” switched side from (PPP) to back the Democrat Party did a non Thaksin-backed party become government.
After installing Abshisit, Newin retired to his hometown where he built up a stronghold based on sports and tourism which gave the country one of its best football team, and its first ever MotoGP race in 2018.
But, it does not mean that he actually “retired” from politics.
The Bhumjaithai Party was formed in 2008 and on paper, the leader of the party is Anutin Charnvirakul, the current public health minister.
However, everyone knows that the de facto leader is Newin.
He even got his younger brother Saksayam Chidchob a ministerial seat at the Ministry of Transport under this government, such is his influence.
With the government needing his MPs and his influence, Newin is allowed by the government to build a state within a state.
With a population of about 1.5 million people, the province of Buriram now hosts the largest club-owned football stadium in the country called the Thunder Castle with more than 32,000 seats.
It also host the Buriram International Circuit with a total capacity of 100,000 people.
Both stadiums are well-sponsored. It’s main sponsor is one of the country’s largest companies, ThaiBev, which is why the football stadium is also called the Chang Arena, and the race track also called the Chang International Circuit.
Not to be outdone, the government has agreed to pay 100 million baht a year for licenses to organize motorbike races there between 2018 and 2020.
The cabinet last month approved the Tourism and Sports Ministry’s proposal for a budget worth 900 million baht for the licenses to arrange MotoGP tournaments there between 2021 and 2025.
The ministry said it would help generate revenue of at least 3 billion baht in returns. Not bad for a town with only a population of 30,000.
Borders and blockades
During the outbreak, Newin also spearheaded most of the province’s preventive efforts.
Buriram became one of the first provinces to lockdown even before a single case was found in the province, and before the State of Emergency was declared.
Cars entering Buriram had to be checked by local police and the province was effectively blockaded from the rest of the country, a unilateral decision that the government dared not challenge.
The state has its own quarantine facilities, its own public health system and its own way to navigate the virus.
Last week, a Buriram United footballer, just signed from Europe, tested positive for the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite closed borders nationally, the footballer was allowed to enter the country on a private jet and bussed directly to quarantine facilities in the province.
It seems that for this government full of nepotism and uneasy alliances, the Godfather can do no wrong.
Newin’s political clout means that he has carte blanche to do what he wants inside his own province.
Must be nice.