Saturday, May 09, 2009

Politics takes on a different hue as new group shows its colours

Thai Takes

THE Yellows seized two international airports in Bangkok. The Reds scuppered the Asean Summit in Pattaya.

Guess what’s the latest colour to trouble Thailand, the land of colour-coded political allegiance?

“The turmoil we witnessed during Songkran (Thai New Year) was partly to pave the way for the Blues to emerge as one of Thailand’s largest political blocs,” theorised The Nation editor Thanong Khanthong, referring to the pockets of chaos that reigned in Bangkok last month.

Thanong first noticed the emergence of the “Blues” a day before the Songkran chaos when about 200 blue-shirted men clashed with 2,000 plus red-shirted protesters during the Pattaya summit meeting on April 11.

“A picture in The Matichon (a Thai-language newspaper) showed Newin Chidchob (a banned politician), dressed casually (in blue T-shirt), riding a motorcycle in Pattaya,” he wrote in his blog on Apr 15.

“What business had Newin in Pattaya? Well, he was directing the Blue Shirt protesters against the Red Shirt protesters to complicate the crisis. The Blue Shirt represented a make-belief sideshow.”

When the red-shirted protesters were “allowed” to storm the hotel hos­ting the Asean summit, Thanong suspected “something fishy”.

“The army chief, police chief and deputy prime minister (in charge of security affairs) who were responsible for security were not doing anything,” noted Thanong, the only journalist so far to write extensively on the emergence of this new political force.

Who are in the Blue camp?

Newin, a former Thaksin Shinawatra loyalist, who is the de facto leader of Bhum Jai Thai Party, the second-largest party in prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s coalition government. In December last year, MPs loyal to Newin ditched their pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai party and switched their allegiance to the Abhisit-led Democrat party.

“We are beginning to see the shape of the Blue camp, which will contend for the premiership. Behind Newin’s Bhum Jai Thai Party are General Prawit Wongsuwan, the defence minister, and General Anupong Paochinda, the Army chief,” Thanong wrote in The Nation on Wednesday.

“General Prawit will serve as prime minister if the Bhum Jai Thai can muster a sizeable block of MPs and strengthen its allies with other blocs such as Somsak Thepsuthin.

“Newin is hoping to sweep Isaan (Thailand’s north-east and Thaksin’s stronghold) as the Red Shirt camp of Pheu Thai has witnessed a sharp erosion of its credibility from the recent political turmoil. About 30 MPs in Pheu Thai are already in his pocket.”

Should Abhisit be worried about the Blue faction? Yes, he said, because they have the potential of forming the largest political party.

“If we were to have an election now, Bhum Jai Thai stands a good chance of becoming a core government party since it can team up with either the Democrats or Pheu Thai,” he said.

In his piece on Wednesday, Thanong also wrote that Abhisit might not last as prime minister beyond October as political pressure on his government had intensified.

“He has Thaksin attacking him from the outside, Newin and coalition partners backstabbing him from inside, the military and police at his neck, and red-shirt protesters hungry for his blood,” he commented.

On who was in control of Thailand, Thanong said: “Abhisit is the prime minister, you have the army, you have the police and you have Thaksin from the outside.

“So nobody is really in charge at the moment. And we have two very powerful institutions – the police and military – which have been with us for a long, long time.

“And when a new government comes in they have to work with (these two institutions). It is not the same as in the US where President Barack Obama, when elected into office, has all the federal agencies working under him. But here we have a very independent military and police.”

Should Thais be worried about the Blues winning the most seats in the next elections?

Yes, Thanong said, as Thailand would return to old-style politics, which he described as “you invest money in the polls and once you have power you try to recoup your investment.”

The prospect is enough to give most Thais the blues.

(Published in The Star on May 9, 2009)


Steve said...

PG - you normally write insightful pieces with good analysis and balance...... This time, you quote Thanong at length without mention of any context for the man himself. While there is little with which to disagree in what you have quoted, it's surely relevant that Thanong is far from being the fount of all Thai wisdom and is widely regarded as being off-the wall at best - not to say lacking in almost any journalistic professionalism in much of the delusional musings and wild unsupported claims that so often pour out from his keyboard.