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Political Life Imitates Pop Art in Star Struck Thailand

Marriage of U.S.-born actress to fugitive politician's son sparks social media storm

BANGKOK — Political life, pop culture and social media collided yesterday in Thailand when wealthy politician Chonsawat ‘Ae’ Asavahame announced that he had married soap opera superstar Janie Thienphosuvan.

Their nuptials pushed other news, including the hotly debated parliamentary clash between monarchists and those who want to grant an amnesty to fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, off the front pages — though the two issues are curiously connected.

Asavahame is the son of Vatana Asavahame, another politician on the run from Thai justice, believed to be currently holed up in Macau or Cambodia. A former interior minister, he was sentenced in 2008 to three years in jail on land-related corruption charges.

Janie is a 31-year-old American-born Thai, who has played in some 25 soaps and ranks among Thailand’s top paid stars. Her best-known role is as twins in “Raeng Ngao” (Reflections.)

Social media erupted with comments about her morality, the sincerity of his intentions and the whirlwind speed of their romance.

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The couple held a press conference near Bangkok to show assembled media the marriage certificate that had been signed earlier that morning, to wave a hefty diamond ring, and, in true soap opera style, to display a recent medical certificate proving that Janie is not pregnant.

The controversy has many components. Asavahame has an 18-year-old daughter from a common-law marriage to an old-time singing star that ended some 10 years ago. Janie, who has long nurtured a squeaky clean image, and not so long ago issued statements about looking for love over money, was instantly labelled as a “husband stealer” and a “gold digger.”

The good-looking 45-year-old Asavahame has dated a string of models and minor celebrities, seemingly calculating that attractive arm candy in addition to an immense fortune can only help his political career. (He is currently mayor of Samut Prakan, the small province bordering Bangkok where his father is accused of buying and selling land.) So yesterday’s news caused other commentators to ask why Asavahame should marry Janie after a clandestine five-month affair?

The Attorney General’s Office has indicated that it might want to question Asavahame over photos that appear to show the couple recently receiving Vatana Asavahame’s blessings. Thai authorities say they are unsure of Asavahame senior’s whereabouts.

For Asavahame’s marriage to Janie to earn political amnesties for his father and Thaksin Shinawatra (elder brother of current prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra) would require Thai audiences and the voting public to accept a major suspension of belief. But the scriptwriters of this particular narrative have certainly struck a chord. Thai-language Google searches for “Janie” were reportedly double those for the phrase “amnesty debate.”

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