Saturday, March 17, 2007

Don't cry for me, Thailand


IN A video clip on, the ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra confessed that he was a bit lonely. “Which is normal for a person who worked a lot and now does nothing,” he explained in Thai in the video shot in London.

About five minutes into the eight-minute clip on the website, which is blocked in Thailand, the former premier is portrayed as a people’s champion. It ends with a woman kneeling in front of Thaksin and crying her heart out.

The ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Thailand’ video is a testament of the military junta’s failure to execute its mission completely after launching a coup d’etat against Thaksin on Sept 19, 2006.

The hope was that the coup would expropriate Thaksin and his corrupt regime, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, in his analysis of Thailand halfway through the junta’s one-year timeframe to relinquish power.

“Thaksin is not in the country but his influence can still be felt in Thailand. He is making noise. He’s got a website now. His people have just come up with a magazine.

“And his Thai Rak Thai party is still around, prosecuting (the interim Prime Minister) Gen Surayud (Chulanont) for land encroachment,” said Thitinan in an interview.

The exiled politician, whose views Thai television stations have been prohibited from airing, is still a figure to reckon with as the military junta failed to deliver the coup de grace on his political life.

“For example,” said the political analyst, “there is no real serious effort to prosecute Thaksin for corruption.”

Another reason, according to Thitinan, is that the Surayud interim government has proven to be very weak, indecisive, inert and inept.

“Now it is going to a point where not just the cabinet is a problem, but the Prime Minister himself. His leadership is lacking,” he noted.

“Thaksin is a leader who knows how to get things done. Surayud does not know how to get things done.”

The military-appointed Prime Minister’s dismal performance is paving the way for a growing likelihood of a Thaksin comeback to Thai politics. The billionaire has vast resources – not only financially – but also a personal network of loyal supporters and advisers with ideas.

And it is not in Thaksin’s nature to call it quits.

“This is a guy who is a monopolist at heart. And he is used to winning. When he loses, he will say ‘lets play another one',” Thitinan said, adding that the former premier is also possessed with the self-belief that he can change Thailand for the better.

On how Thailand would have been today if the Sept 19 coup did not happen, he hypothesised that “in Bangkok things would have turned physically confrontational and would have invited the coup anyway”.

Six months after the inevitable coup, the political analyst said, there was a growing frustration among Thais – whether in Bangkok or in the countryside.

“Nobody is happy with Thai politics, as the situation has become murky and volatile,” he said, adding that the country remained deeply divided between pro- and anti-Thaksin factions.

In a nutshell, the academic noted that Thailand has a bungled post-coup management, an incompetent and inept interim government which does not have a clear policy direction, a problematic constitution drafting process, and an election which is supposed to be down the road but with many pitfalls along the way.

The next six months, predicted Thitinan, will be worse. “More uncertainty. Very murky. Prolonged instability,” he said.

And there’s also a possibility of another coup.

“The coup makers did not get the coup right. When you have a coup, you are supposed to really wipe the slate clean. But this coup did not achieve very much,” he explained.

It is an unstable post-coup Thailand with “different factions clamouring to have a piece of the pie.”

And there are certain factions in the military who think they have to launch an incumbency coup.

“If it happens, it would be led by different people but going in the same direction (as the Sept 19 coup),” he said. “It will not be a coup to re-install Thaksin.”

(Published in The Star on March 17, 2007 and AsiaNews on March 23-29, 2007)