Saturday, September 26, 2009

Newin's star rises anew

Thai Takes

ON MONDAY, political pundits in Thailand closely followed the live telecast of the Supreme Court delivering its verdict on the so-called 1.44 billion baht (RM149mil) rubber-sapling corruption case.

A guilty verdict in the case – which involved poor quality saplings, delayed delivery, bid rigging and fraud in a project launched in 2003 during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration – could rock Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s wobbly nine-month-old coalition government.

And as predicted by a defendant (who said he had already received a “signal”), the Supreme Court acquitted the 44 defendants of corruption and malfeasance charges arising from the rubber sapling procurement deal.

Interestingly, even though the other defendants included notable personalities such as former deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak, former commerce minister Adisai Bodharamik and former deputy finance minister Varathep Ratanakorn, all eyes were on Newin Chidchob.

Newin, deputy agriculture and cooperatives minister at the time of the alleged offences, was so cocksure the court would find him innocent that his political party had planned a victory banquet ahead of the verdict.

The 51-year-old political playmaker was a former Thaksin loyalist. He and about two dozen People’s Power Party (PPP) MPs left and formed Bhum Jai Thai after the court dissolved PPP, the then ruling party. This betrayal enabled Abhisit, the Democrat Party leader, to cobble together a seven-party coalition government in December last year.

The not guilty verdict is seen by the pro-Thaksin Red Shirt supporters as part of the deal to secure Newin’s betrayal. Another alleged deal was Bhum Jai Thai taking control of the influential and lucrative ministries of Transport, Interior (which oversees the Royal Thai Police) and Commerce in Abhisit’s government.

The media reported that Newin was “choked with emotion” following the verdict. He also pledged to “protect the monarchy until my last breath”.

Tulsathit Taptim, The Nation editor, cheekily described Newin’s emotional state as sounding “like a thankful man who didn’t quite know whom to thank”.

“The Democrats must be the ones who don’t quite know how to feel. A guilty verdict would have put Newin in jail, but here’s a man you would rather have on your side when playing politics,” Tulsathit wrote on Tuesday.

“A wounded Newin is highly dangerous and unpredictable. At a normal time, Abhisit would have been happy to have an angry Newin manipulate things from behind bars, but now the Democrat leader should be content with a relieved Newin trying to fulfil his ambitions (to make Bhum Jai Thai a political force to be reckoned in the next election).”

Now that the rubber sapling case is over and done with, political pundits are predicting that Newin’s political career will be on the rise.

“The most significant acquittal is that of Newin, the de facto boss of Bhum Jai Thai. With the noose loosened, Newin is considered the most powerful broker in Thai politics today,” Suranand Vejjajiva, Newin’s former Cabinet colleague in the Thaksin government, wrote in the Bangkok Post yesterday.

“Although Suthep Thaugsuban, secretary-general of the ruling Democrats as well as deputy PM and government ‘manager’, remains in charge of the present political coordination game, he will have to make way somewhat for Newin.”

Suranand, now a political analyst, continued: “Suthep has even grudgingly admitted that without Newin, the Democrats would not have been able to form the government and Abhisit would not have become prime minister. ‘Without him (Newin), we cannot stay (in power),’ Suthep once remarked.”

But there is still one more rope around Newin’s neck. He – together with 110 Thai Rak Thai (the pro-Thaksin party which was disbanded after the 2006 coup) politicians, including Thaksin and Suranand – have been banned from politics for five years.

But, sooner or later the man whose father (Chai Chidchob, the Thai parliament Speaker) named him for the Burmese leader Ne Win will overcome that hurdle, too.

Newin, who has survived several political pitfalls, is known as the cat with nine lives.

Two days after the Sept 19, 2006, coup which ousted Thaksin, the military detained Newin for 10 days. On the last day of detention, he claimed he was forced to strip down to his underwear.

That was then. Now Newin is seen as the man who could be Prime Minister.

(Published in The Star on September 26, 2009)


Steve said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve said...

It's not to difficult to follow the plot of this story. Abhisit is being seen as more and more of a "busted flush" by the string-pullers behind the scenes; added to which he has the unfortunate tendency (in their eyes) to tug on his leash a bit too hard and too often - saying things that they really don't want said, even if there's little prospect of him putting much (if any) of it into practice.

Old-hand Suthep knows the score and to whom dues need to be paid (e.g. witness his support for the police chief candidate backed by those in "higher places") - but he has been unable to keep Abhisit sufficiently in check.

Bit by bit, the Democrats' position (in particular Abhisit's) will be undermined until it's made untenable - probably as the deals are done to get the 5-year bans lifted (not for "criminal fugitive Thaksin", of course) as part of the charter amendments. That process in itself will likely pull enough of the present "opposition" MPs into a BJT-led coalition - replacing the lost Democrat votes.

And then? Voila! Say hello to the casting directors' choice for the new lead in the pantomime. A big hand, please, for Khun Newin - who certainly knows how to play the game and can be relied on to give the string-pullers what they want. In return, he'll be granted enough leeway to a] profit handsomely and b] buy/leverage the support he needs to function.

Coups are out - control-by-proxy is here to stay.