Saturday, November 17, 2007

A tough call to make

Thai Takes

WHEN the dust of the Dec 23 elections settles, one out of the 480 MPs will be Thailand’s Prime Minister. Here’s the latest on the party leaders who may become first among equals.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, Democrat Party

If the Democrats form the next government, this 43-year-old Oxford graduate will become Thailand’s youngest prime minister in the post-war period.
On Thursday, when asked why the Democrats’ campaign poster often depicted him with villagers, the Newcastle-born politician retorted: “Am I a farang (Thai for Westerner)?
“I have always cherished Thai culture even thought I spent 10 years of my life abroad.
I am a shy and quiet person, hence I may appear a bit awkward whenever I meet with my constituents.”
His campaign battle with the other frontrunner in the premier race is dubbed ‘Beauty and the Beast.’
Of course, beauty is the handsome Abhisit. While the Beast is ....

Samak Sundaravej, People Power Party

His party is the re-incarnation of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s disbanded Thai Rak Thai. And Samak, who was deputy prime minister three times and Bangkok governor for four years, has turned the elections into a verdict on last year’s coup on the 58-year-old Thaksin.
As expected, the burly and outspoken politician (‘My mouth speaks my mind’) is the most venomous among the party leaders.
For example, the 72-year-old politician spat out an arcane Thai phrase (sep methun, which means fornicate) to avoid a journalist’s question about his party’s infighting.
However, there is a method behind Samak’s brashness.
“While rival party leaders are tailoring their messages for the sophisticated middle class, Samak is busy talking loudmouth to woo the working class and villagers,” wrote Avudh Panananda, The Nation’s political writer.

Banharn Silapa-Archa, Chart Thai Party (Thai Nation)

The 76-year-old former prime minister has declared that he would put his country first before personal grudges. This was in response to Samak’s provocation that he reverse his declaration two weeks ago that his party would support Abhisit as the next PM.
In September 1996, the Democrat-led opposition launched a censure motion against the Banharn administration, calling for his disqualification as prime minister because his father was not a Thai citizen.
And Samak reminded Banharn that several parties – except Samak’s – stabbed him in the back during the censure motion.

Suwit Khunkitti, Puea Pandin (For the Motherland)

In Suwit’s recently launched autobiography Pen Pai Dai Ta Jai Soo (For his country, one man will achieve the impossible), the US graduate wrote that he was sorry to leave the country as he could have competed with Arnold Schwarzenegger for the governorship of California.
His qualifications to become the Thai numero uno? “I’ve been deputy prime minister five times, I’ve been the head of seven ministries, in parliament I was twice chairman of standing committees, I’m involved with economic and social-development programmes, science technology, social issues, agriculture and even justice,” croons the 50-year-old former Thai Rak Thai executive.

Prachai Leophairatana, Matchima Thipataya (Thai for the Middle Path)

The 64-year-old tycoon was Thailand’s biggest corporate debt defaulter (over150 billion baht or RM16bil) during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
A sample of Prachai-nomics: to stimulate Thailand’s economic growth, he promised to launch mega-infrastructure projects such as the Kra Isthmus canal scheme, which will cut across southern Thailand to enable ships to bypass the Straits of Malacca and sail directly to the South China Sea.
Prachai backed the unsuccessful long-running Yellow protests to oust Thaksin as prime minister.
He has no lost love for Thaksin. “Thaksin was cleverer than Hitler,” he declared on Tuesday in reference to the massacre at Krue Se and Tak Bai in southern Thailand.

Or none of the MPs might be PM. Renowned Chiang Mai fortune teller Warin Buawiratlert does not foresee a politician taking the position of prime minister.

He predicts that only an ex-soldier can be the next leader. He warns that political difficulties after the polls could prevent the formation of a new elected government.

Even the military-appointed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont expects Thailand to have a new government only in February.

With no one party winning an absolute majority, it could take a month to negotiate a coalition government.

(Published in The Star on Nov 17, 2007)