The PAD came into existence to drive Thaksin from power. It revived early this year after Thaksin returned to Thailand and appeared to be steering the Samak government to block the avalanche of lawsuits descending on Thaksin and his family.
Thaksin claimed he had washed his hands of Thai politics, but this clearly was not true. After he fled into exile, he dropped the pretence altogether.
In the press release on the day of his flight, he wrote: “Today is not my day. I would like to ask my supporters to be a little more patient”, with the implicit message that he would stay involved. Just three weeks before the recent street battle, he told Reuters: “Politically motivated cases must be resolved by political means.” In short, he sees political influence as the best way to avoid a judicial reckoning.
In the transition from Samak to Somchai, Thaksin’s role was not covert at all. PPP faction leaders flew to London to lobby his support. Party spokesmen announced that Thaksin had a role in distributing the Cabinet posts. Because Thaksin gave public backing for Samak to continue as premier, some have interpreted Samak’s fall as a blow to Thaksin. That’s na๏ve.
Although Samak was hand-picked by Thaksin, once he had become premier Samak burnished his royalist and pro-military credentials, clung onto Anupong, and eased away from his patron. In the cookery coup, Thaksin got rid of this unreliable two-faced puppet, placed his own brother-in-law in the premiership and filled key Cabinet posts with members of the northern faction or his personal followers.
Sompong Amornwiwat seemed genuinely flabbergasted to find himself in the role of foreign minister, and there’s really only one way to explain this extraordinary appointment. Even before the new line-up had paraded in their brilliant white uniforms, constitutional change was back on the agenda.
A political crisis with former PM Thaksin at its core
At the heart of the political turmoil stands Thaksin Shinawatra. The opposition claims that the former prime minister, ousted in 2006, remains a controlling influence on the government, made up of his allies from the People Power Party (PPP).
Mr Thaksin, who came back briefly to Thailand this year and then fled again, was found guilty in absentia in October of breaking a conflict of interest and sentenced to two years in jail. The UK has since revoked his visa and the former telecommunications tycoon, who bought and then sold Manchester City football club, is in Dubai.
Meanwhile, the PPP prime minister and ally of Mr Thaksin, Samak Sundaravej, was forced to resign in September amid mounting pressure from the opposition. The former television chef stood down after he was found guilty of acting unconstitutionally after he appeared on a cooking show while serving as premier. Since then, the opposition has focused its attention on Mr Samak’s successor, Somchai Wongsawat, who happens to also be a brother-in-law of Mr Thaksin. This infuriates the opposition, which for the past three months has occupied the official compound of the Prime Minister in Bangkok, forcing him to work from an office at the city’s international airport.
The opposition coalition calls itself the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) although its goal is not to secure more democracy but less. The group believes the rural poor – who make up much PPP support – are too uneducated to be involved in politics and that a number of MPs should be appointed rather than elected.
Polls suggest that the PAD no longer has nationwide support. Perhaps conscious of this, it has called on the army to carry out a coup to bring down the government. The PAD also styles itself as a defender of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Some analysts believe that the king could yet step in and dissolve the government.
Andrew Buncombe Thursday, 27 November 2008
Shinawatra’s political spectre haunts Thailand
The ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra inspires both devotion and revulsion in Thailand. Opposition pressure forced him from power in 2006, though his aura has proved resilient.
Most of his support comes from rural voters and the urban poor. Opposition to Thaksin is rooted in the urban middle classes and elite. The People’s Alliance for Democracy, or PAD, the protest movement, swears he is corrupt.
The last straw, which propelled protesters into the street, was the tax-free sale of Thaksin family shares in the telecoms group Shin Corporation.
The PAD-led protests built momentum towards the 2006 coup against Thaksin. Military backing helped boot him out of office, held since 2001. The generals promised to swiftly restore civilian rule.
Thaksin was at the UN in New York at the time. He did not go home. He moved into an English mansion, and bought Manchester City football club. Yet none of this hurt his standing with some of the poorest people in Thailand.
Brother-in-law Samak Sundaravej won elections after the coup, and this encouraged Thaksin to go back. Touchdown was in February this year, but he did not stay long, even though he promised to stay off the front lines of politics.
The courts were waiting for him and Mrs. Thaksin. Both were convicted in fraud cases and sentenced to prison terms. But the couple slipped away and again caught a jet for Britain. Even though exiled, the former premier’s influence over Thai politics remains.
At the root of the conflict between the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the government lies Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications billionaire and Thailand’s controversial former prime minister.
A political outsider, he shattered the status quo, courting the rural poor in the north-east of the country and sweeping to election victory in 2001. He consolidated his power by offering his core constituency cheap healthcare and subsidised village funds, creating an all but unbeatable electoral machine while alienating the urban elites.
Mr Thaksin had an autocratic streak, and his opponents alleged that he used his office to enrich himself and his friends. Public discontent grew and eventually the military stepped in to remove him from office in September 2006. He went into exile in the UK and was barred from politics for five years, but when the military called elections at the end of last year his allies in the People Power party won a convincing victory
By Tim Johnston