Saturday, August 16, 2008

Point of no return?


WHAT would a billionaire fugitive do after fleeing his homeland to dodge a corruption trial? Go shopping.

That is the impression most Thais got the day after Thaksin Shinawatra announced he had fled to London instead of returning to Bangkok for a scheduled Supreme Court hearing in a corruption case against the former Thai prime minister.

On Wednesday, Thai newspapers splashed on their front pages a photograph of the Shinawatras – Thaksin, his wife Pojaman, and their children Panthongtae, Paethongtarn and Pinthongta – shopping in Guildford, England.

While the Shinawatras shopped, Thais pondered on Thaksin’s faxed handwritten three-page statement that gave his reasons for not returning to Thailand after attending the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

In the statement, the former Thai prime minister, who was ousted in a coup on Sept 19, 2006, explained that he returned to Thailand on Feb 28 after 18 months of self-exile because he thought the situation was improving and he would have the opportunity to prove his innocence and receive justice.

“But the situation got worse and the things that happened to me and my family were like the poisonous fruit of a poison tree,” the 59-year-old telecommunications tycoon wrote.

Thaksin had returned to his motherland – kissing the tarmac at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport – after the pro-Thaksin People’s Power Party was voted into power in the election on Dec 23.

“(My political enemies) have no consideration for the judicial system, truth and legal principles. My family and I have been subject to continuous injustice.”

He continued: “My life has been under threat and wherever I travelled I have had to use bullet-proof vehicles.

“This is what I get from giving myself to the nation, the palace and the people with great energy for six years as prime minister (January 2001-September 2006).”

In an editorial on Tuesday, The Nation lambasted the former premier, saying: “... the content of Thaksin’s handwritten statement, read on the state-run NBT television channel, was little more than a bad script for some cheap soap opera.

“We have heard it all before. Besides, this is not the first time that Thaksin has claimed somebody was trying to kill him. But he has never made an effort to provide evidence to back up his claim.”

Nor were Thaksin’s critics surprised that he bolted for London, leaving behind US$2bil (RM6.4bil) in assets frozen by the coup leaders.

When the criminal court convicted Pojaman of tax fraud and sentenced her to three years’ jail on July 31, there was speculation that Thaksin and his wife, who was out on bail, would flee.

“The genuine pain reflected in (Thaksin’s) eyes during the criminal court’s deliberation on his wife’s fate should have told us loudly and clearly about his subsequent move,” wrote Pornpimol Kanchanalak in The Nation on Thursday.

“They can hit him as hard as they want, but he cannot and will not let the one closest to his heart – his kindred spirit – bear the brunt.”

Political analysts are also reading between the lines of Thaksin’s statement especially his declaration that, “When the appropriate time comes, I will declare the truth for all to know. Today is not my day. To my supporters, please continue to be patient.”

Thai Rath, the leading Thai-language newspaper, hypothesised that Thaksin was not giving up politics while thought it was “more of a signal to the elite that they need to be careful, otherwise he will not go down quietly”.

Opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said, “Thaksin’s latest statement clearly told his supporters to await his return.”

To paraphrase the Terminator, Thaksin will be back.

Definitely? Maybe?

According to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, Thaksin would be lucky, as he himself had recognised (“Like all Thai people, if I have good fortune I request to die on Thai soil”), to end up in Thailand again.

Thitinan thinks that it is virtually impossible for the politician to return to high power because of his slew of legal cases and the powerful forces that have opposed him since the coup.

(Published in The Star on August 16, 2008)