Sunday, October 15, 2006

Politicians without a cause


Ten minutes into an interview at the posh Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok, Suranand Vejjajiva, who lost his job as Prime Minister’s Office Minister three weeks ago, stood up and walked towards a politician.

Returning to the table, the boyish-looking 45-year-old politician said “he was Minister of Health (Pinij Charusombat).”

“These are all the unemployed ministers who are walking around in hotels,” said Suranand, laughing.

“There was a joke someone told me yesterday, ‘You can meet all the unemployed ministers in departmental stores. They just walk around.’”

Turning serious, he said, “You can’t do political work because they have not lifted martial law.”

Martial law, which was imposed immediately after the military toppled Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) government on Sept 19, meant that political activities were prohibited.

“As a politician, I would like to be able to present my views. But under martial law, I have to think: Should I say this? Should I say that? Should I give an interview to you?” related Suranand.

Last week, the media-friendly former TRT spokesman declined an interview request as “the Prime Minister (post) and Cabinet (posts) were not settled.”

Suranand is settling into life after the coup.

“I know that I cannot be a minister or MP all the time. It is not a permanent job,” explained the son of Nissai Vejjajiva, the former Thai ambassador to Malaysia.

“So once the job ends – although by a coup and that is sad – there is a new beginning. There will be elections and I’m sure I can put myself in good public use again.”

Now he has quality time for his family and reading.

“I don’t know if there is any wife who will be happy that her husband is unemployed, but my wife is,” he said, laughing. “She says I should take a rest.”

Suranand, who quit TRT on Oct 2, will be taking a break from politics for the next two months. It will also be a time for him to reflect on his political experience in the last eight years. Then he will decide what to do next, politically.

In the meantime, he has a few things lined up. Write a book on his political experience. Write another book on public broadcasting. Write articles for newspapers. And do public work.

He is also thinking about talking to his former colleagues on what to do next.

“Do we go back and rebuild TRT? Or do we set up another political party?” he said, adding that these questions would be answered next year.

So what are his former Cabinet colleagues doing?

“I talked to a couple of ministers and they are doing the same thing as I am – re-arranging our (furniture at) home,” he said. “Mostly we say ‘We take a rest now but if you do anything, just give me a ring and let’s have lunch (discussion).”

Some of Thaksin’s former ministers are depressed and feel that the coup is not justified.

Suranand has advised them, saying: “That’s life. I don’t agree with the coup but it has happened. And for the sake of the country, we have to move on.”

Some of them are also worried as there have been rumours that the interim government would go through their assets and take action if there are irregularities.

But Suranand is not worried. “When you see my assets you will be laughing. Probably I am the poorest minister in (Thaksin’s) Cabinet,” he said.

Since the coup, Suranand has not spoken to former Prime Minister Thaksin, who is in London.

“I don’t want to bother him. Let him take a rest. But I do pass messages and words of encouragement through (the former prime minister’s secretary-general) Promin Lertsuridej,” he said.

The feedback he has received from London is that Thaksin is relaxing.

“He was in a fighting mode at the beginning of the coup. But now, like what is taught in Buddhism, he can let go. Thaksin wants everything to be on track so that everyone goes back to democracy and the country can move forward,” he said.

At the end of the 50-minute interview, Suranand said he was staying put at the hotel.

“I’m meeting up with the former Health Minister. He’s still around the hotel. He’s walking with his daughter,” he said with a boyish smile.

(Published in The Star on Oct 15, 2006. Photograph courtesy of The Nation)