Saturday, January 19, 2008

Invisible hands still at work


IN POLITICALLY uncertain Thailand, if things go well for the People Power Party, it should be heading a new government next week.

“Things are now more predictable,” declared Jakrapob Penkair, chairman of the PPP’s foreign affairs committee, on Tuesday.

“The House (of Representative) is expected to convene by Jan 22 as scheduled and the Speaker will be chosen, then the Prime Minister. And the Cabinet will be appointed by royal command,” he predicted confidently.

Jakrapob had not been that confident in the seven uncertain days following the Dec 23 Thai polls.

“It was shaky then,” he reminisced. “It was like living in a rocky boat. Because someone was rocking the boat.”

Although the PPP had won the most seats and had locked in three small-sized parties – Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana, Matchima Thipataya and Prachaj – there was fear among the leadership that hostile invisible hands could still sabotage it.

And their fears materialised.

The invisible hands, alleged Jakrapob, called the Election Commission to instruct it to issue the PPP, which is a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party, as many red and yellow cards as possible.

Candidates issued red cards are banned from the by-elections, along with their parties, while those with yellow cards are allowed to re-contest.

The unseen element also asked certain individuals to file allegation against the party so that it would be dissolved. Certain media opined that if the PPP formed the government Thailand would fall into chaos again.

And the invisible hand tried to impede the process of forming a government so that even PPP supporters would be discouraged.

When the invisible hands could not kick the party, they kicked those who mattered to the party, Jakrapob said.

“They pinpointed the personal problems (corruption charges) of individuals like Thaksin, Potjaman (Thaksin’s wife) and Samak (Sundaravej, the leader of the PPP) so that it would lead to the failure to set up a government,” he alleged.

Asked who the invisible hands were, the outspoken Jakrapob replied: “I cannot say, as it is illegal to talk about it in this country.”

Around Jan 1, the shaky PPP boat became steadier.

“We took the boat to stable ground. What we did was put the spotlight on the invisible hands – to show what they were doing – and they retreated,” he recalled.

“Their meddling now is not that intense compared with the first week.”

Behind the scenes, the PPP courted two medium-sized political parties – Chart Thai Party and Puea Pandin.

“At first Chart Thai and Puea Pandin were reluctant to join our coalition. Probably they listened to the voice of the invisible hands a little bit too much,” he said sarcastically.

The process is vintage Thai political negotiations.

“Chart Thai is a typical political party that tries to be the government at any cost,” he revealed. “That is fine, we can understand that. That is just one degree of slipperiness.”

Chart Thai, he said, demanded the “usual old things” – certain Cabinet portfolios. And Banharn Silapa-archa, the Chart Thai Party leader, asked whether the PPP would allow him to be prime minister.

“We said: ‘Hell no, Samak will be prime minister.’ But Chart Thai posed no problems for us. It (the negotiation) was over very fast,” he said.

The negotiation with Puea Pandin was more complex. “It was six-degree slipperiness. Puea Pandin was set up to defeat a populist party such as PPP,” he said.

On Wednesday, after the 15-day mourning period for the Thai king’s elder sister the late Princess Galyani Vadhana had passed, Puea Pandin confirmed it would join the PPP-led coalition.

The following day, Chart Thai and Puea Pandin jointly announced that they would be part of the coalition, leaving the Democrat Party as the sole opposition party.

Banharn said the two parties joined the coalition for the sake of the country because without the two parties, the coalition would lack stability.

However, even with the formation of a PPP-led government, Jakrapob is certain Thailand will remain politically unstable.

“A showdown (with the invisible hands) is looming,” predicted the firebrand politician who has vowed to sacrifice his life to change Thailand’s power equation.

“I expect a civil war in a year or two.”

(Published in The Star on Jan 19, 2008)