Saturday, January 05, 2008

It’s kiss and make up time

Thai Takes

ON WEDNESDAY, outspoken People Power Party (PPP) official Jakrapob Penkair politely declined an interview request. “Can we do it next week? We cannot talk about politics this week because we are in mourning,” he said over the telephone hours after the death of revered Princess Galyani Vadhana, the only sister of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

On that day, parties announced that they were suspending political activities for a few days out of respect for the 84-year-old princess.

Thai politics – which was hotting up as parties bargained their way into power – has come to a standstill. If the race to nail down a coalition were to end now, the winner would be the Samak Sundaravej-led PPP.

On Monday, PPP (with 233 MPs in the 480-seat Parliament) together with Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana (nine), Matchima Thipataya (seven) and Prachaj (five), announced the formation of a four-party coalition government. Chart Thai Party (37) and Puea Pandin (24) are expected to join the PPP-led government, leaving the Democrat Party (165) in lone opposition.

The swift U-turn by party leaders who hitherto were sworn enemies of deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra has all but put paid to the possibility of a Democrat Party-led coalition government.

Snoh Thienthong, the leader of Pracharaj Party, illustrates the maxim in politics that there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies.

Snoh ditched Thaksin while the former prime minister was in power, joining the anti-Thaksin rallies and attacking him for being a dictator. “I once raised his (Thaksin) hand on stage and proclaimed him to be the best thing for Thailand. I can’t bear to watch that video now,” he had said.

Nevertheless, in the name of forming a government of reconciliation, Snoh is now in bed with the very party he opposed.

Another politician who wants to kiss and make up with Thaksin is Prachai Leophairatana, the leader of Matchima Thipataya.

Prior to the Dec 23 Thai polls, it was entertaining to watch venomous Prachai condemn Thaksin in a meet the foreign press session. For added venom, the tycoon, who acknowledged bankrolling the unsuccessful long-running Yellow protests to oust Thaksin as prime minister in 2006, compared Thaksin to Hitler.

“Thaksin was cleverer than Hitler,” he had hissed in reference to the massacre at Krue Se and Tak Bai in southern Thailand.

Fast-forward to Monday’s press conference to announce the PPP-led coalition. Prachai humbly declared: “From now on, I’ll stop attacking Thaksin and I will forgo the issues of the past. I’ll also ask every one in my party to stop attacking Thaksin.”

Even Banharn Silapa-archa, the Chart Thai Party leader, now has one foot in the PPP-led coalition. On the first week of campaigning, when dismissing reports he could ditch his coalition partner if the PPP won the most seats in the polls, he had famously declared: “I’m with Abhisit (Vejjajiva, the Democrat Party leader).”

Why the U-turns by the Thai political veterans?

“We are a normal country once again,” wrote The Nation group editor-in-chief Suthichai Yoon on Thursday. “The guys making news after the polls are all veteran politicians, several of them over 70.

“They are old hands at the game of negotiating their way into a coalition government. They call one another’s bluff. They issue threats and ridiculous denials.

“They don’t expect you to believe what they say. They simply assume that if they won in the polls, it’s a mandate for them to trample on the intelligence of the whole country.”

Also joining the let-bygones-be-bygones bandwagon is Thaksin himself. On Wednesday, in Hong Kong, the self-exiled politician declared that he harboured no ill will towards the coup makers who deposed him.

The billionaire dismissed speculation that he would seek revenge, saying: “I would invite them to play golf with me. Then, it will be over. What would I get out of it (revenge)? I might feel gratified, but the country would be damaged.”

The only party that has firmly vowed it will not jump into bed with strange bedfellows is the Democrats. Abhisit says the Democrat Party is ready to play the opposition role.

(Published in The Star on Jan 5, 2008)