All of a sudden, the name of a faraway destination that most Thais are not familiar with – let alone have made a visit to – has hit the public spotlight. The place is Fiji, a country of more than 300 islands in the South Pacific, midway between Tahiti and Australia.
Currently the country is ruled by a military regime led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama who led a coup to topple a democratically elected government back in December 2006. Despite a court order ruling the regime is illegal and which was eventually confirmed by the appeal court, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo restored Mr Bainimarama as the interim prime minister in April.
So what has this little bit of history about Fiji got to do with us anyway? Well, this is the latest destination to which exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has just paid a hush-hush visit following a secret stopover probably for refuelling of his private jet in Kuala Lumpur. Deputy Interior Minister Thaworn Senneam blew the whistle on Thaksin’s secret stopover in neighbouring Malaysia.
Press reports said Thaksin was on his way to Fiji to discuss with the military regime potential plans to invest some US$200 million (6.8 billion baht) in the country in exchange for a safe haven for his time in exile.
Why a new safe haven in Fiji in the middle of the Pacific and not the present one in Dubai which is more comfortable, more easily connected with the other cities of the world and, also, with all the fancy hotels, huge shopping malls and mansions on artificial islands in the sea that only the super rich can dream of? Was the man in exile inspired by the revival of the landmark musical “South Pacific” on Broadway in New York, featuring such timeless hits as “Bali Hai”, “Some Enchanted Evening” or “Happy Talk”?
Maybe he just wants a change from the boring Arabian desert to an exotic South Pacific island.
I am not sure my guess is right or wong but press speculation that Thaksin is bargaining for a safe haven for exile in Fiji was promptly dismissed by Thaksin’s lawyer, Noppadon Pattama, who said the ex-premier was merely exploring investment opportunities for a small project in Fiji and not a $200 million project as speculated by the media. He also denied that Thaksin had visited Tonga and Vanuatu, two other island states in the South Pacific.
Puea Thai MP for Ratchaburi Chaowarin Latthasaksiri chimed in saying Thaksin had won a concession from the military regime in Fiji to operate a lottery in the island state. Whether this is true or just another tall story from the parliamentarian infamous for his claim of a nonexistent huge amount of gold and other treasures left behind by the Japanese imperial army in a cave in Kanchanaburi which sparked off a frenzied treasure hunt a few years back.
But whatever the real motives of Thaksin’s recent venture in Fiji, the sick irony is that while he loathed and condemned the military junta in Bangkok which toppled his government in 2006 as well as the Surayud government installed after the coup, he unabashedly is courting and embracing the military dictatorship in Fiji.
Does Thaksin really want to invest in Fiji? Or is this just another publicity ploy to attract media attention and to seize media space?
Has anybody closely followed up on any of the high-flying projects mentioned by Thaksin and whether they have actually been implemented? For example, the island resort project in Croatia, the gold and diamond mines somewhere in Africa.
That makes me wonder whether the report about Thaksin’s recent secret brief stopover in Kuala Lumpur might have actually been intentionally leaked to Mr Thaworn by one of Thaksin’s men for publicity purposes. Knowingly or unknowingly, Mr Thaworn took the bait and blew the whistle.
The exiled former prime minister needs to be always on the move and to make sure that his every move is followed by the media in order to remind his supporters back home that he is still alive and kicking and, above all, remains their only hope for a better future.
Hence, the Fiji venture and the like serve this purpose much more effectively than the regular phone-ins which are confined to a relatively limited audience.
By: Veera Prateepchaikul / Published: 13/07/2009
Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor of the Bangkok Post