Don’t bring us back to square one


Government politicians should take ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra out of the equation

The crisis in Thailand began with greed, which led to crimes, which then led to efforts to cover up or whitewash those crimes. The country’s political turmoil cannot end with those elements surfacing once again, with or without the PAD to push them down.

Thailand has become strangely peaceful, and the reason is very obvious: The People’s Alliance for Democracy has quit the streets, Government House and Suvarnabhumi Airport, leaving a trail of unanswered questions in its wake. The movement’s staunch enemies – proclaimed nominees of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra – have also been forced to abandon the centre stage due to court rulings.

So, apart from the auspicious occasion of His Majesty’s 81st birthday, the Kingdom is enjoying rare calm. For the first time in several weeks, people can go to bed without feeling that they will wake up to see shocking news on television.

The ball is back in the Parliament’s court, except that it is a very hard ball. The veteran politicians who survived last year’s dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai Party have been all but wiped out by the latest judicial clampdown. In disarray but in greater need than ever to hold on to power, pro-government politicians are facing a major dilemma: Should they hang on to the status quo and risk provoking a new confrontation, or should they let go of the urge to maintain domination and risk losing everything?

The latest party dissolutions have left the government camp with no credible candidates for the chief executive’s post. Worse yet, most of the names that have come up not only lack integrity but are also controversial enough to bring the prolonged crisis back to boiling point, overnight. While the government politicians deserve some sympathy because some potentially good candidates were caught in the party-dissolution dragnet, the bottom line is that Thailand will never get out of this predicament if they insist on having one of them as the new leader.

It’s time to take Thaksin out of the equation completely.

Two prime ministers closely associated with him have fallen from grace in less than 12 months, and the country has suffered along with them. This year alone Thailand has seen the bloodiest political crackdown since 1992, has had its Government House besieged and suffered from the forced shut-down of its new international airport.

If the next government is formed with the same motives – helping whitewash Thaksin’s crimes or maintaining the man’s political clout – Thailand will never be at peace. Plus Thakin’s curse that the nation cannot expect to return to normal until he gets “justice” will be all but fulfilled.

Some government politicians have more or less realised the danger of nominating anyone perceived as a third-generation Thaksin candidate. Coalition partners, while vowing to support the People Power Party’s incarnation, the Puea Thai Party, have voiced concern over having a controversial figure as new prime minister. Even the notorious Newin Chidchob faction is insisting that it will only support a non-provocative choice.

Of course, things may change when some horse-trading is done to keep everyone happy. The Newin group may end up supporting the scariest choice, Chalerm Yoobamrung. If that ever happens, he will become a catalyst for yet another explosive crisis.

The government politicians must heed the public’s voice and not be blinded by the outpouring of criticism against the PAD for its Suvarnabhumi antics. If a survey were conducted today, results would overwhelmingly be in favour of a non-confrontational prime minister.

At the height of the airport showdown, the private sector still spoke out against the government of Somchai Wongsawat. In what can be considered an audacious move, the executives of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Thai Industries issued a joint statement calling upon Somchai to either step down or dissolve the House to make new elections possible. Of course, they also asked the PAD to disperse.

Still the question remains: have the government politicians learned any lessons from the Samak and Somchai fiascos?

The statement from the Newin faction signals that maybe they have. Concerns expressed during Thursday’s coalition meeting suggested that maybe they had realised what choosing the wrong man for the top post could lead to.

Yet there are rumours swirling around that Thaksin has been busy making phone calls to his allies asking them to back the Puea Thai Party’s choice, whoever that might be. Plus we are hearing stories about money being demanded or offered or there being bidding wars.

The crisis in Thailand began with greed, which led to crimes, which then led to efforts to cover up or whitewash those crimes. The country’s political turmoil cannot end with those elements surfacing once again, with or without the PAD to push them down.

By The Nation
Published on December 6, 2008


Who will replace Somchai?


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