The conservative Thai government's three-year-old "social order" campaign is now reaching into the pants of Bangkok nightclub goers. While the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is most notorious for its lethal prosecution of its drug war with some 2,300 suspected drug users and sellers reported murdered in a frenzy of state-sponsored killing last year, the war is also being fought on the battleground of Bangkok's thriving nightlife scene.
According to the Associated Press, police have begun raiding nightclubs, detaining the patrons, and forcing them to submit to on-the-spot drug tests. The raids are part of Thaksin's campaign to restore "traditional values."
In one raid described by the AP, the chic Q Club was besieged by 50 police officers for three hours as customers, many cursing the police, crammed into restrooms to produce urine samples. Each customer had to provide a sample, but no procedures were in place to ensure the sample provided came from that customer, and the AP reported several clients saying they'd provided clean samples for friends. Only two of 373 people tested positive for drugs, but they were later cleared because the tests could not differentiate between illicit drugs and legal medications, police said.
While the raids are based on no particular suspicion and are seemingly ineffective, they provide great publicity for Thai moral entrepreneurs, such as former interior minister Purachai Piemsomboon, who specialized in leading TV crews into the gaudy clubs for high-profile busts. He has since been replaced by former TV and entertainment mogul and current deputy interior minister Pracha Maleenont, who continues the moral showboating.
"The rules are there and so easy to follow," Pracha, 57, said after taking office as deputy interior minister in late 2002. "Don't do anything illegal, and I'll leave you alone."
But that isn't necessarily the case. At the Q Bar, for instance, police threatened to shut the place down even though they discovered no drugs and no underage people on premises. Earlier, they had tried to ban dancing at the club, the owner complained.