Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hun Sen’s jibes raise speculation

Thai Takes

IN an editorial cartoon, The Nation’s cartoonist Stephff answers a question that has recently been bugging Thais – What is really wrong with Hun Sen?

Last week, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen offered political asylum to Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai prime minister ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006.

Thaksin has been in self-exile after fleeing Thailand in 2008 to avoid a two-year jail term on corruption charges.

Two days later, after arriving in Thailand to attend the Asean Summit, Hun Sen embarrassed Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva again when he announced that he would offer Thaksin a job as economic adviser.

On Thursday, Stephff’s cartoon showed an “alien” resembling the square face of Thaksin bursting out of the guts of a grimacing Hun Sen, with the “alien” holding a foot-clapper (the symbol of red-shirted pro-Thaksin supporters) confronting a terrified Abhisit.

The why as to Hun Sen’s recent Thaksin lovefest, according to the French cartoonist, is: “The horrible truth: Hun Sen was only a host body ….”

Stephff’s take is ha-ha funny. But it is a bit too far-fetched. I prefer The Nation’s military expert Avudh Panananda’s take. “It was a hoax perpetrated by Thaksin and Hun Sen to overshadow Abhisit’s Asean Summit,” he said.

Avudh does not believe the Cambodian’s declaration that the former telecommunications tycoon is his “eternal friend”.

“It is a myth that Thaksin-Hun Sen ties go back decades. The two were never close before Thaksin came to power in 2001,” he said.

In an article in The Nation, the writer gives a historical perspective of the two leaders' relationship.

“At the peak of Thaksin’s popularity in 2003, Hun Sen wanted to lessen Thai domination in the wireless communications business.

“He pushed for the granting of a licence to a Japanese operator,” Avudh writes.

“This led to a failed coup in Phnom Penh. Cambodian leaders, particularly those in the Hun Sen camp, had lingering (suspicions) about the involvement of certain Thai figures.

“Soon after, Hun Sen fanned the Cambodian backlash on a Thai television actress. This in turn led to riots and the torching of the Thai Embassy,” Avudh says.

“To this day Thaksin and Hun Sen still cast suspicions on one another, although they have been boasting about their buddy-buddy ties for mutual gains.”

After the Asean Summit that ended on Oct 25, Thaksin again stole the limelight from Abhisit, who badly wanted to use the meeting of Asean leaders to atone for the abandoned summit in Pattaya in April.

On Tuesday, Surapong Towijakchaikul, an MP from the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party claimed that during the summit, Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah stayed in Thaksin’s seaside home instead of the official accommodation provided by Abhisit’s government.

Surapong, however, did not provide any evidence to back up his claim, which was intended to show that the Sultan was close to Thaksin and not to Abhisit.

Was the claim another hoax to embarrass Abhisit? Probably. The following day Kongkiart Natthavong, the head of security in charge of protection for the Sultan of Brunei, denied that the Sultan stayed in Thaksin’s home.

“It was my duty to accompany him and I had to go everywhere with him. I must know if he goes to other places,” Kongkiart said.

Then came the Abhisit government’s revenge.

On Wednesday, the government announced it would strip Thaksin of his royal awards (the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant and the Most Illustrious Order of King Chula Chonklao) and police rank (lieutenant-colonel, from his days in the police force from 1973 to 1987).

Though the Abhisit government is denying it, many political pundits see the government’s latest campaign against its arch-rival as tit for tat for Thaksin’s recent publicity stunts.

The billionaire politician’s response was classic Thaksin.

He Twittered: “This can be expected of this government ... If they could use the law to kill me, they would have done so a long time ago.”

“Theoretically, the law-enforcement side is created to maintain peace and justice. Law must be enforced fairly and equally, but the government opts to exercise the law to serve a political goal,” he wrote.

It would not take long for the “alien” resembling the square face of Thaksin to strike back.

(Published in The Star on October 31, 2009)