Saturday, July 25, 2009

Birthday 'surprise' keeps them guessing

Thai Takes

GUESS whose birthday it is tomorrow? Here are some hints. He is a Thai politician who advocates populist policies. And he is adored by half of Thailand’s population.

No, it is not Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

If you were a Thai political watcher, you would have known that Thaksin Shinawatra would be 60 tomorrow. But what you probably wouldn’t know is Thaksin’s “big surprise” to be announced on his birthday.

On Tuesday, Puea Thai MP Pracha Prasopdee said the self-exiled former prime minister would make a big announcement on his birthday which would surprise the Democrat-led coalition government.

Since Pracha’s revelation, Thais on both sides of the political divide – pro- and anti-Thaksin, Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts – have been speculating on Thaksin’s “big surprise”.

Even Thaksin’s lawyer, Noppadon Pattama, a former Foreign Minister, claimed he was clueless about his client’s announcement even after asking Thaksin’s aides: Thaksin’s classmate General Sumeth Phomanee, Thaksin’s cousin General Chaisit Shinawatra and Thaksin’s younger sister Yaowaret Wongsawat.

The lawyer, however, is certain that the “big surprise” will not be Thaksin’s plan to give 6,000 scholarships.

The billionaire politician had called from Dubai on Tuesday and told his red shirted supporters that Thai students could apply for birthday presents from him by submitting an essay on the topic “Thailand as I dream to see” to his Thaicom Foundation.

“I really doubt whether Abhisit will have the brains to keep up with my move,” The Nation reported Thaksin as having said.

The government claimed it had no interest in Thaksin’s birthday plans.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, secretary general of the Democrat Party, said he was not interested in anything Thaksin might say or do.

Prime Minister Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey said the former prime minister had announced his plan for a “big surprise” because he was fearful Thais would forget him as Abhisit’s popularity had risen after his visit to Buri Ram province in Thaksin’s stronghold in Thailand’s northeast.

However, Suranand Vejjajiva, a political analyst who once served in Thaksin’s Cabinet, wrote in the Bangkok Post yesterday:

“No one knows what this will be, but in waiting for him to tell us, he already has our attention – the most important factor in an effective communications stratagem.

“And it could not have come at a better time. The government of PM Abhisit is now considerably weakened, literally ‘sick with the flu’ and unable to cope with mounting crises.”

So what is Thaksin’s “big surprise”?

Suriyasai Katasila, the secretary general of New Politics Party (the political party of the yellow shirted movement), predicted that Thaksin would declare he would end his political activities after the Red Shirts submit their petition (signed by a million Thais) seeking a royal pardon for the former premier who had been convicted of corruption.

Tulsathit Taptim wrote that theory number seven in The Nation’s newsroom was: “He will become a monk. (We hope this doesn’t happen because the last time an ousted leader in exile took up the saffron robes, it triggered one of the blackest chapters in Thai history.)”

Blogger Meaw & More ( blogged that the self-exiled Thaksin would appear in a hologram for his birthday party.

His prediction is similar to Tulsatit’s theory Number two, which was: “There will be a jaw-dropping state-of-the-art video linkage that will make his well-wishers feel as if he were ‘there’ in person. (Imagine Princess Leia in Star Wars being beamed up for Luke Skywalker by R2-D2.)”

Veera Prateepchaikul, an editor with the Bangkok Post, sarcastically suggested that Thaksin would announce his return to Thailand to face justice.

“Now that would certainly make a front-page banner headline in all newspapers the next morning,” he wrote.

What is definite tomorrow is thousands of pro-Thaksin supporters will be wearing red (a colour associated with the anti-Abhisit government movement) in celebrations across Thailand, while anti-Thaksin protesters will mourn his birthday by wearing black.

A cyberspace campaign, which started as a tweets (July 26, wear black throughout the country), urged Thais to wear funeral black to protest against Thaksin’s birthday celebration.

Guess whose birthday it is on Aug 3? Here are some hints. He is a Thai politician adored by half of Thailand’s population. And he advocates populist policies.

He is Abhisit. I wonder if he, too, would announce a “big surprise” on his birthday.

(Published in The Star on July 25, 2009)