What to expect from Thaksin’s new lobbyist Robert Amsterdam

What to expect from Thaksin's new lobbyist Robert Amsterdam
by Ron Morris, May 13, 2010

There is no doubt that Thaksin and the Red Shirts need an image update internationally.

Beginning with the Songkran riots in 2009 and continuing through the present protests this year, the Red Shirt movement has seen its image muddied. The international press has cast a jaundiced eye on Thaksin and the Red Shirts, in most cases refusing to simply delineate the rallies as simply rich vs poor and usually implicating Thaksin as a background cause.

The Red Shirts, unfamiliar with international expectations of non-violence, define themselves as peaceful--unless, of course, they become so dissatisfied that they are justified in fighting (more on this very Thai concept here). On top of this, Thaksin is clearly under pressure from his host countries not to be seen as leading a political movement from afar.

Public relations for an international audience from either Thaksin or the Thai government are nonexistent. Both sides continue to put out bizarrely Thai-centric websites and blogs that have no resonance with non-Thai readers.

Thaksin's public comments to his followers center around the classic Thai "big man" speech: how much and how hard he works and suffers. The culturally understood meaning of this is that his followers and underlings can feel satisfied that he is working hard and thus they can work hard and sacrifice too. Of course, this logic of this is completely lost on non-Thais.

The government is even worse. Not only is Prime Minister Abhisit focused inwardly on political parties and the military (as every Thai PM inevitably is), but he seems uncomfortable with social media and uses it inconsistently. The government website touted as a source of official information in English--capothai.org--is just a listing of official pronouncements--as if non-Thais would be somehow dazzled and respectful of the "officialness" of the information presented. So Thaksin needs an effort promoting his cause in a way that is understandable to an international audience.

Amsterdam and Peroff is exactly that: less lawyers and more high-profile public relations. An aggressive strategy undertaken by Amsterdam and Peroff would fit with Thaksin's previous major lobbying effort, USA for Innovation, carried out by the PR company Edelman.

Unlike Edelman, known for setting up fake websites and grassroots movements to influence public opinion, Amsterdam and Peroff is known for turning its clients into symbols of miscarriages of justice through articles and blog posts written by Robert Amsterdam.

This means we can expect articles, press releases, and opinion pieces in major outlets like Huffington Post demonizing the government and touting the Red Shirts, but written from the perspective of a reasoned opinion piece. Along with this will likely be an advocacy blog for democracy in Thailand delivered on behalf of the Red Shirt movement.

When the USA for Innovation issued press releases and other articles on behalf of Thaksin's cause in 2007, the international media uncritically carried these along with USA for Innovation's fake history despite the "organization" having been set up just the month before.

Amsterdam and Peroff is a much more up-front and nuanced foe for the government. It has demonstrated an aggressive and extensive use of social media and has a respected history of altering international opinions of those it represents--most notably Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky who is now seen internationally as a victim of the Kremlin's antidemocratic meddling in business activities.

Points that might be put forward for an international audience by Amsterdam and Peroff

* The prominence of the military in Thai politics (this was one of the key Edelman talking points put forward in 2007). Not that there is any immediate danger of a coup, but keeping pressure on the military not to act further pressures the Prime Minster and limits his options to control an unruly protest.
* How human rights of the protesters are being violated and how international law is being violated by the government
* How the government is (supposedly) not democratically elected
* How the government is engaging in censorship
* Keying in on government pronouncements like "CRES okays live rounds against protesters"
* Attacks on a wide range of unrelated issues to besiege the government--such as intellectual property violations and sex trafficking (this was also an Edelman tact)

Goals of this public relations effort

* Improving the image of the Red Shirts and turning them into a symbol of non-violence and democracy.
* Setting the groundwork for a future pro-Thaksin government to take power--probably as part of a coalition. In such a circumstance, the danger of a coup must be forestalled and international perceptions and pressure must be set well beforehand to allow a big Pheu Thai Party win to stand.
* Countering successful Thai government efforts in silencing Thaksin. It is clear in recent weeks Thaksin has been under intense pressure internationally for bankrolling and controlling the protests for near term political goals. This has made it difficult for him to reside in other countries while claiming he is not engaging in politics (or even revolution) from afar. It is key that the Red Shirt movement in Thailand be seen as being about democracy and fairness for the poor again.

First press release from Amsterdam and Peroff on behalf of Thaksin: Fearing Crackdown, Protestors in Thailand Prepare to Document Possible Human Rights Abuses

Additional Amsterdam and Peroff links

Thaksin's new international lobbying effort begins: Defending a controversial figure against ‘the people with bayonets’ - The Globe and Mail, May 14, 2010
...A government that is based out of a military barracks, whose genesis of power is a 2006 military takeover, who is operating on a constitution [introduced in 2007] that does not reflect the people’s will and was adopted during a period of strong military control … this is not a legitimate government. It’s very important that Canadians and others not allow the people with bayonets to use those bayonets to justify their ability to rule...

From Ex-Thai PM Thaksin hires law firm to aid protesters, AFP: ...Amsterdam & Peroff, which has office in Toronto, London and Washington, said it had been appointed by Thaksin "to assist in the current contentious struggle for the restoration of democracy and rule of law" in Thailand...

Thailand's ousted leader Thaksin hires international lawyer - Radio Australia, May 6, 2010
...LAM: And finally Robert Amsterdam, is this a first for your law firm to represent a ousted leader with a view to restoring his leadership?
AMSTERDAM: That is not our brief. You have not presented our brief properly. Nothing like this constitutes a first for our firm. We've been involved.....
LAM: So you just want to set forward a clear legal framework for any reconciliation process. You are not actually acting on Thaksin's behalf to try and restore him to power?
AMSTERDAM: I have stated clearly what our brief is and that is the brief we intend to perform in this country. We just are still acting in a number of other countries for various other political leaders. So no, this is nothing new to our firm, nothing new to our experience. Our firm's speciality often relates to dealing in politically charged environments...

Robert Amsterdam's blog: "Robert Amsterdam - Perspectives on Global Politics and Business"

Another Robert Amsterdam blog: Corporate Foreign Policy

How can a big time lawyer find time to write all these blog posts? The blogs are run/managed/outsourced (?) to K Social Media Consulting founded by James Kimer: ...Past clients have included Rolls-Royce, Lockheed Martin, 3M, and Amsterdam & Peroff.  He has maintained successful blogs and social media campaigns on behalf of various clients since 2006...

Kimer's philosophy meshes almost exactly with Amsterdam's. From this page: ...In addition to straight-forward business promotion, my area of specialty has focused on contentious international political and legal issues, and the management of powerful awareness campaigns on the issues which surround these disputes.  I believe that it is not enough to be knowledgeable of media and technology or even to be what they industry terms “a good talker,” but rather, the best consultants should totally immerse themselves into the client’s business, country, and subjects of interest, become known and respected among the leading voices, and work to engage the client’s rightful role in the public debate regarding issues which concern them....

A highly critical article on Amsterdam: Who Really Is Robert Amsterdam? - Borba, May 10, 2009

Robert Amsterdam continues to attack Singapore government on Huffington Post - temasekreview.com, November 12, 2009

Robert Amsterdam on Wikipedia

Example of an advocacy website set up by Amsterdam and Peroff: Michael Kapoustin (interestingly the domain is registered by "Domain Discreet")

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