Run, Thaksin, run

Aug 14th 2008 | BANGKOK
From The Economist print edition

Thailand’s deposed prime minister jumps bail. But political turmoil may persist

GIVEN the avalanche of corruption cases tumbling on Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife Potjaman, it caused some surprise in Thailand when the Supreme Court let them leave the country to attend the opening of the Olympics in Beijing. Right up until the early evening on August 10th, the deposed prime minister’s spokesman was insisting that the couple would return that day to Bangkok, to appear in court the next morning. However, they flew instead to London, where they had spent a period in exile following the 2006 military coup.

In a handwritten note faxed to Thai television stations, Mr Thaksin (the puppet-master in the cartoon above) admitted that “I am not a perfect man” but claimed the cases against him were a plot by his political foes, who he said were interfering in the judiciary. He said he hoped to return to Thailand some day but made it sound like that would not be soon. The court was shocked—shocked!—that its defendants had skipped bail, and issued arrest warrants. But its decision to let the couple go to Beijing prompted speculation that they had been given the nod to flee into exile, in the hope of ending Thailand’s three-year political stand-off.

The speculation inspired a sharp recovery in Bangkok’s stockmarket, which had slumped on fears of all-out violence between supporters and opponents of Mr Thaksin. These fears had intensified in late July when Thaksin fans armed with clubs and axes attacked a demonstration by his opponents in the north-eastern city of Udon Thani, injuring around a dozen.

Hopes for calm may be dashed. The main anti-Thaksin street movement, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), said its protests would continue until they brought down the government, a coalition led by Mr Thaksin’s allies and headed in his absence by Samak Sundaravej, a ferocious right-winger (whose strings Mr Thaksin is pulling above). Mr Thaksin is still popular among poorer, rural voters. But the urban, elite PAD might be emboldened to press on with its ideas for a “new politics”. What this means in fact is a return to old, pre-democracy politics with a mostly unelected parliament and powers for the army to intervene when it feels like it.

Perhaps a bigger question than what Mr Thaksin’s opponents will do next is what his supporters will do. Those who backed him in repeated elections remain grateful to the first Thai prime minister to give them some tangible benefits, such as cheap health care and village development funds. This has, so far, inclined them to excuse the strong whiff of corruption, and other abuses of power, around his government. Before the 2006 coup his supporters staged huge demonstrations to counter those of his opponents. If these now resume, there is a risk of violence.

Mr Samak will try to soldier on in government, although his People’s Power Party faces being dissolved for electoral malpractice, as was its predecessor, Thai Rak Thai. The mostly anti-Thaksin Bangkok press is talking up rumoured splits in the ruling coalition. But it has consistently underestimated the Thaksinites’ sticking power so far. Mr Samak seems to be trying to build bridges to the royalist and military establishment, making friends with General Anupong Paochinda, the army chief, and appointing Tej Bunnag, one of the king’s advisers, as foreign minister. But Mr Samak’s plans to rewrite the constitution, drawn up last year by a military-appointed panel, may cause fresh splits.

Indeed, it is still not clear what is the root cause of Thailand’s political conflict. Some academics suggest that it is essentially about the royalist establishment’s alarm that Mr Thaksin was building a base of public support to rival that of King Bhumibol. They may fear what will happen when the 80-year-old king’s reign ends. The PAD dresses itself in royal yellow and says it is saving Thailand from Mr Thaksin’s “republicanism”. Such matters cannot be discussed openly in Thailand because of its draconian lèse-majesté laws, which are often abused to sling mud at opponents (see article).

The Thai courts will probably go through the motions of trying to bring Mr Thaksin back to face justice. He may persuade the British courts not to extradite him, arguing he would be denied a fair trial. Of course, the Thai prosecutors and courts could prove him wrong: they could now pursue the various allegations against anti-Thaksin generals, bureaucrats and politicians with the same vigour as they are applying the law to Mr Thaksin.


5 Responses

  1. A good article. Thailand needs this kind of article to inform the public of the truth that elope in the Thai newspapers. Many Thais stop reading Thais newspaper after the coup. Thaksin was the best Prime Minister Thailand ever had. He brought Thailand into worldstage. He saved Thailand from the 1997 crisis. His outstanding ability caused him many enemies. Many elites jealous of his popularlity. His legacy will never die. No matter how they chose to destroy him, Thais people will always keep him close to their hearts.

  2. I stop reading all those idiot Thai newspapers too.

  3. Dr. Thaksin did many good things for Thailand and Thai peoples” Please save Dr.Thaksin and his family. All of Thai peoples love you all. W God press you all” …..With love…..from Tuenjai Angsutorn

  4. “การกระทำเยี่ยงกองโจร เยี่ยงการยึดประเทศแต่คราวนี้..ทำในรูกเผด็จการแปรรูป..โดยใช้พวกม้าใช้ อย่าง ..พวกพันธมิตร เพื่อประชาวิบัติเสียมากกว่าเป็น…กองหน้า…ของพวกใต้ดิน เลวจริงๆ ขอประณามการกระทำเยี่ยงนี้ว่าเป็นกองโจรปล้นสิทธิ และเสรีภาพของประชาชนอย่างผม และเพื่อนๆที่ไม่เห็นด้วยกับการกระทำผิด และนอกกติกาแบบนี้……….”ขอประนาม การกระทำืี่ผิด และนอกกฎหมายและที่ผิด และนอกกติกาตามระบอบประชาธิปไตย ของพันธมิตรประชาชนฯ(พันธมิตรเพื่อรัฐประหารมากกว่า)
    หาก พี่น้องประชาชน ที่ มีวิจารณญาณ โปรด ร่วมกัน คว่ำบาตร เลิกติดต่อกับ พันธมิตรประชาชนฯ แม้จะเป็นญาติ ก็เลิกคบ เลิกคุย ..พร้อมทั้งควรบอยคอตพวกมันทุกอย่าง…รวมทั้งสินค้าในเครือข่ายที่ให้การสนับสนุนพวกไร้สมองพวกนี้

  5. In my opinion, EX-PM Thaksin brought this to himself. It was “Power & GREED” that cause his government to collapse. I admired what he has done to improve Thailand economic, but politically he is not a “Uniter”. Thailand is still run by “The Rich & Powerful” member. The Constitution is useless and the laws is how much money you have. Mr. Thaksin will try to delay his trial as long as he can until there is no more “Monarchy” in Thailand. Some Western “Idealist” do not understand the balance between the Monarchy, Thai people, and Police/ Military. It is not the same as British Constitution Monarchy Systems. Look how many Constitution of Thailand has been drafted. Some politician (majority) do not have law degree draft or admen the Constitution. Mr. Samak is trying to admen the Constitution to clear the EX-PM Thaksin from any wrong doing. I welcome your comments.


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