Thaksin power plays touch Thailand even from exile


smh.com.au

Sydney Morning Herald, Australia

Connie Levett Herald Correspondent in Bangkok
February 6, 2007

THE shadow of the ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra looms
over Thailand’s military-appointed Government, with support for the
discredited leader once again on the rise.

Unable to woo voters at home, Mr Thaksin has hired a firm of
Washington lobbyists to polish his international image as a new
poll shows support for the Prime Minister, Surayud Chulanont, is
plummeting, down from 70 per cent approval in November to 48 per
cent. In the same Abac poll, Mr Thaksin’s support has risen from 15
per cent to a still modest 21 per cent.

The public’s perception that the Government is in “neutral
gear”, according to the poll, works in Mr Thaksin’s favour. There
have been a series of blunders – a diplomatic spat with Singapore,
a brief economic meltdown after strict currency controls were
introduced and ongoing security concerns after the New Year’s Eve
bombings in Bangkok.

While he waits, the self-exiled Mr Thaksin, with the help of the
influential lobbyists Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, is waging an
international public relations campaign. This week Mr Thaksin’s
“staying power” is the cover of the Asian edition of
Time.

He has also done an extended CNN interview, and talked with the
Asian Wall Street Journal. A recent article in The
Economist
savaged the Government’s “sufficiency economy” policy
and highlighted the economic benefits of Mr Thaksin’s regime.

His recent “private” meeting with Singapore’s Deputy Prime
Minister, S. Jayakumar, set off a diplomatic row that put his name
in the papers at home. The junta’s clumsy reaction, cancelling a
visit by the Singaporean Foreign Minister, George Yeo, plunged it
into a new crisis.

In his interviews, Mr Thaksin has promised he is finished with
politics, but few believe him. Looking at the Time cover, a
middle-class Thai woman asked if foreigners believe what Mr Thaksin
said in the interview.

The problem for the Government is, first, that Mr Thaksin can
afford to wait. He has billions of dollars in the bank and a vested
interest in a return to power.

The junta’s Council for National Security is trying to prove the
corruption it says he employed during his five-year tenure.

Second, he is not playing by Thailand’s rules – that after a
coup, the ousted leader quietly fades away. “He is trying to shake
us up,” the Foreign Minister, Nitya Pibulsonggram, said recently.
“There are certain rules but I don’t think [he] meant what he said.
There is evidence he is not about to call it quits.”

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