Fooled by a fugitive and a scam artist

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Reconciliation with the red-shirts must be made a new priority for the Abhisit government

For a man who got away with a bloody campaign that ended the lives of nearly 3,000 people – in the name of a bogus “drug war” Thaksin Shinawatra has proven, once and for all, that he is no marketing genius but a scam artist. While it was true that the billionaire came across to a number of gullible souls as a caring leader who was in touch with the country’s poor, his populist policies were nothฌing more than handouts. Thaksin has finally met his match. Ironically, his own worst enemy is himself.

Immediately after his September 2006 ousting, Thaksin told the world that he was out of politics and that he just wanted to live a quiet life. But it didn’t take long until his true self emerged once more. The man is as vengeful as ever. And when his strategy of putting a proxy government in place to help pave the way for his return to Thailand didฌn’t work out the way he wanted, he went for broke, as this past week has shown.

This year’s Songkran holiday season was supposed to be a window period when this socalled historic transition was to take place. But it didn’t happen, partly because Thaksin doesn’t understand the simple notion that actions and words must be consisฌtent and honest, or the audience will not believe a word of what is said and done.

The bottom line is that Thaksin has never been straight with his audience. For those who believe in him, well, no explanation is necessary. But for those who see him as little more than a scam artist, they hate him more every time he opens his mouth.

Over these past few days, Thaksin has played his last cards and has failed miserably. But although he may have lost this battle, we all know the war is far from over. The man will likely stop at nothing until he gets his money back.

Strange how all other tyrants in Thailand’s recent history have managed to secure an amnesty deal with the powers that replaced them. But for this ousted premier, no one trusts him with his own money. For many, it’s just too scary a combination.

There is an old saying among public relations strategists – “people hear what they see”. While it is also true that people sometimes see what they want to see, Thai people over this past week saw a youthful premier quickly becoming a man, and a bitter billionaire remaining a sour grape.

Thaksin – a fugitive from justice – went on the air with major television networks, including CNN and the BBC, to push the same old line that he has been pushing for some time: that the entire system is stacked against him and that his redshirt supporters want the return of “true” democracy, whatever that means.

And while Thaksin was crying over spilled milk, there wasn’t much of a display of sympathy from any quarter, especially the ordinary folks on the street, who are scared that their communities might get caught in the crossfire, as happened to two victims in the Nang Lerng community.

Instead of seeing a group of people with legitimate grievances, ordinary people saw in the red shirts a bunch of rioters holding communities in Bangkok hostage, with tanker trucks full of gas waiting to go off.

We also saw a few neighbourhoods in Bangkok, including in Din Daeng, Kingpet and Nang Lerng, coming out with knives and clubs not only to resist and condemn the reds but to take matters into their own hands. The sanctity of a neighbourhood mosque on Phetchaburi Road was not even spared.

Of course, Thaksin tried to distance himself from these incidents, telling the foreign news anchors that only the peaceful red shirts were his supporters, not the ones throwing Molotov cocktails.

Worse, Thaksin made some vicious accusations about the use of government death squads and scores of dead, allegedly hidden by the authorities. None of these allegations can be verified, of course.

Unfortunately for Thaksin, no one believes his allegations. Going down the drain with him was the legitimacy of the red shirts’ resentment.

In the end it was Thaksin, like many of his cronies, who took advantage of the grievances of the red shirts, who saw in this tycoon a champion of the poor and the underฌprivileged. The way they see it, the powers that be have robbed them of their elected representatives. And now, as it becomes clear that their leader has abandoned them to their sinking ship, the red shirts have nothing but their grievances.

If Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is as smart as many say he is, he needs to reach out to the reds and tell them that they are as Thai as anybody, no matter what colour shirt they wear or their political affiliation. There is no need to rub salt into these open wounds.

The fact that Abhisit held the troops back from using force shows that he understands the longstanding logic of how the battle is fought will determine the peace. And now it is time for him to complete the course. Reach out to the reds, take up their grievances, and close this messy chapter once and for all.

By The Nation
Published on April 16, 2009

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