Thaksin’s future murky as allies form Thai government – analysts

01.20.08, 7:29 AM ET

BANGKOK (Thomson Financial) – Thailand’s parliament convenes Monday with allies of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra back in charge, but their victory by no means guarantees the exiled PM’s smooth return, analysts said.

The People Power Party (PPP), whose pro-Thaksin platform won them the most seats in last month’s election, on Saturday announced a six-party coalition that will control about two-thirds of Thailand’s 480-seat parliament.

This marks a dramatic political turnaround for Thaksin 16 months after his ouster by a military junta, but the self-made billionaire faces a number of graft charges that could block any efforts to return from exile in England.

‘It looks easy for the former premier to return, but it will not be easy,’ said Sukhum Chaleysub, a political analyst from Rajabhat Suan Dusit University.

Military-appointed investigators have frozen about two billion dollars of Thaksin’s assets, while lodging two criminal corruption charges against Thaksin and his wife, who both risk possible prison sentences.

Thaksin, who has said he will return home by April, would have to find a way to placate the royalist forces in the military that led the coup, analysts said.

Political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University said that if Thaksin continued to irk his rivals, they had several legal options to pursue.

‘Depending on what Thaksin does, how he plays his election victory, it’s not the end of it. If he pushes them around, they could use one of these instruments,’ Thitinan said.

‘What happens depends on the negotiations and the maneuvres behind the scenes.’

For now, the PPP remains under the leadership of Samak Sundaravej, who built it from the remnants of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party, which a military-appointed tribunal disbanded last year.

But many believe Thaksin is the one pulling the strings.

‘His (Samak’s) master will select the puppets while the coalition partners will present their teams to fulfil their part of the bargain,’ Sopon Onkgara wrote in an opinion piece in Thailand’s English-language daily The Nation.

Chris Baker, an author on Thai politics, told Agence France-Presse that he thought Samak and Thaksin would be in daily contact, but said Thaksin would see his influence wane once parliament convenes.

‘Once this government has formal political power, then of course Thaksin’s leverage on them starts to diminish. He still has some power of the purse, for sure, but I don’t think he will be able to micro-manage,’ Baker said.

Questions also linger over whether Samak — a charismatic but combative right-winger whose gruff manner has alienated many Thais — will assume the role of prime minister.

At a press conference, the coalition partners refused to clearly state whether they would all support Samak as premier.

But such issues will be resolved soon. Parliament will open on Monday and could choose a new prime minister within a week.

‘Who will become the next prime minister depends on who the political parties propose,’ Thailand’s outgoing army-installed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said Sunday.

Cabinet posts will be assigned within the coming weeks, but analyst Sukhum predicted fierce infighting between the ideologically diverse coalition partners.

‘The government will face the instability and disunity among the coalition … It is widely believed that the government will not last long,’ he told AFP.

Baker predicted a relatively stable government, adding that once parties are in power, they do not like to give it up.

The generals who fought to get rid of Thaksin will for the moment have to sit back and watch their arch-foes take control, Baker said, but they will likely find a way to keep some hold over politics.

‘I think we will probably see quite a strong showing of the military or their friends in the Senate. They will rely on that very much to act as their controlling influence,’ he said.

The nomination process for the Senate’s 150 seats, nearly half of which are appointed, begins Monday.

afp/nt

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