Saturday, April 04, 2009

Invidible hand unmasked


THAILAND’S invisible hand now has a face. Since the Sept 19, 2006 coup, Thaksin Shinawatra has hinted that his ouster as prime minister was the handiwork of a “charismatic extra-constitutional figure.”

But he remained coy about the identity of the figure he called the “invisible hand.”

That was until March 27 when self-exiled Thaksin, through a video-link broadcast, told his red-shirted supporters besieging the prime minister’s office in Bangkok that General Prem Tinsulanonda, the 88-year-old chief adviser to the Thai king, was allegedly the mastermind of the coup.

The 60-year-old billionaire politician also alleged that 66-year-old General Surayud Chulanont, whom the military appointed as prime minister to replace Thaksin, was one of the coup plotters.

Prem and Surayud, both former Royal Thai Army commanders-in-chief, have denied Thaksin’s allegations.

Thaksin’s revelation, according to political commentator ML Nattakorn Devakula, is nothing new as it is an open secret.

“But what Thaksin did (name names) was something you normally wouldn’t do in Thai culture,” said Nattakorn, a 32-year-old television and radio talk show host who recently ran unsuccessfully for Bangkok governor.

“In Thailand, you don’t openly bash your political enemy. You do it slowly, behind the scenes.”

Thaksin’s allegations could backfire as he had criticised someone who was older than him, said the political commentator.

In Thai society, Prem (a former prime minister from 1980 to 1988 who faced two coup attempts) is a respected elder statesman.

“Generally, the public (the neutral silent majority) thinks Thaksin’s allegations are true but they also know that his behaviour is unacceptable by Thai standards,” he noted. “Unless you are a hardcore Thaksin supporter.”

Thaksin had to finger Prem and Surayud, however.

“Previously, (former prime ministers) Samak (Sundaravej) and Somchai (Wongsawat) were aligned to Thaksin,” explained Nattakorn, whose father, MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, served as finance minister under Surayud’s interim government.

“Now the Democrat Party is in power. Unless Thaksin does something, it is likely the party will remain in power for the next few years.”

He opined that Thaksin could use his allegations against Prem and Surayud to negotiate a deal to return to Thailand without having to go to jail. (Last year Thaksin was convicted of abuse of power related to a land purchase in Bangkok).

Asked why Thaksin’s allegations were damaging to Prem and Surayud, Nattakorn, whose great great grandfather is King Mongkut (Rama IV), said: “As members of the Privy Council, their sole role is to advice the king, and not mastermind a coup.”

Despite Prem’s and Surayud’s denials, he said, Thais generally believe “the coup could not have happened if the generals did not get the green light from Prem; and later Surayud became prime minister.”

The unmasking of the invisible hand has raised Thailand’s political temperature, which had visibly cooled in the days after Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was sworn in as prime minister in December.

On March 26, about 30,000 red-shirted protesters surrounded Bangkok’s Government House, preventing Prime Minister Abhisit from entering his office and causing the weekly Cabinet meeting to be called off.

Ceaselessly, they’ve lashed out at the king’s advisers for their alleged involvement in Thaksin’s ouster.

Some of the attacks are downright personal. For example, at the rally, a protester held up a photo of Prem (who is a confirmed bachelor) dressed as a girl in a school play dating back to 1935.

Among the protesters’ demands are that Abhisit resign and that the Privy Council be placed above politics.

On what will happen next, Nattakorn predicts:

1) The red-shirted protesters surrounding Abhisit’s office will get tired and go home for Songkran (the Thai New Year which falls on April 13).

2) Prem or Surayud will resign as the king’s adviser – Surayud the more likely – and the “red army” will happily return home.

3) Prem and Surayud do not resign, but pressure Abhisit to understand the need to pass the National Reconciliation Bill (which will reinstate the political rights of Thaksin’s allies who were banned from politics), and the protesters go home.

4) Abhisit dissolves parliament and the protesters return home.

Although probable, the four scenarios were unlikely to happen, Nattakorn conceded.

“This is the excitement of Thai politics. Political problems in most countries have a predictable end, but not in Thailand,” he said.

Anxiously, Thais wait for the visible hand’s next move.

(Published in The Star on April 4, 2009)


Anonymous said...

Don't you know that Prem is (deleted)?
You can see many clips in Youtube ridiculing this old man and in a way, I pity him. But one should not get involved in politics if one is appointed a Privy Councillor let alone dressed in military uniform and blasting thaksin when the latter was in power.

Roger said...

"Although probable, the four scenarios were unlikely to happen, Nattakorn conceded."

Sorry, but where I come from "likely" means "probable". This sentence is very confusing. This opinion is well worth listening to but I have to disagree that any of them are likely. They all seem possible. The most likely is (1), but the protesters will be back sometime after Songkhran. They won't be going home because they are tired.