Birthday bash opens the way for more audacious moves

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THE 60th birthday celebration organised for Thaksin Shinawatra by his relatives and red-shirted followers concluded Sunday night with his usual phone-in and babbling and moaning about his predicament as a fugitive criminal, having to move from country to country just to stay a free man.

Thaksin was heartened by the birthday party and rituals, which were, to a degree, freakish and weird. It was also unprecedented for a man to accept such a birthday party, arranged at various locations, while he could not show up to join the fun.

Thailand’s history now has a chapter in which a criminal’s birthday was heralded by many people.

But how many people actually turned out on Sunday? The number would not exceed tens of thousands, countrywide. Even the big show at a temple in Nonthaburi, where Thaksin’s sister and her husband presided over a ceremony, there were just a few thousand people. This represents a severe setback. Earlier, it had been expected hundreds of thousands would join the celebrations, to show that Thaksin remains a popular figure despite his status as a convict on the run from a two-year jail term.

Thaksin spent the entire day telephoning people who organised the parties. At one point, he even sang a song expressing his sadness over his misfortunes, but he expected he would return some day. That’s a long shot. Who knows? What he sang could be a swan song, judging from the freak nature of the various superstitious ceremonies blessed by monks.

The low turnout was not noted by the media. Reports highlighted what happened, who did and said what.

This was a freak show that served Thaksin’s purpose well. He loves to be in the news so people will not forget him. Being ignored or forgotten is something he cannot accept.

The fugitive lives on, spending time each day on the telephone, talking with relatives, red-shirt ringleaders and thugs, so that his pep talks will keep them fighting on his behalf. Never mind the decay that the country suffers due to his relentless badmouthing – with only a lukewarm response from the Abhisit administration.

The “big surprise” following the freak show was his plan to open a 100-channel TV network. Another pie-in-the-sky promise for the poor folk and gullible grassroots supporters, the usual victims of his soft sell, half-truths and spin. Earlier, he boasted about venturing into gold mining, diamond mining and other ambitious plans. Nothing has materialised so far.

How come Thaksin can keep himself in the news while the Democrats have been on their toes since Prime Minister Abhisit took office six months ago? The fugitive has spotted a weak point in the administration, which continues to engage in nonsensical much ado about nothing, not to mention its obvious lack of a sense of urgency in tackling the prevailing crises. 

By the same token, Thaksin covers his weak spot, keeping it away from the harpoon. He airs grievances about his plight and his self-proclaimed innocence despite being proven guilty in court. By poking fun at the trouble-plagued administration, he shows time and again he is the only real fixer in time of national crisis.

As the government weakens and Abhisit becomes soft due to a lack of control over the entire administration, these signs have been detected by Thaksin and his campaigners. This only makes them more audacious and bolder in seeking another confrontation with the coalition, now limping due to lacklustre performance and lack of real achievement.

It’s true that the government is facing a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. There have been two attempts on the PM’s life by red-shirted thugs, a full-scale riot in the city, in addition to the multi-faceted economic malaise. Yet part of the blame must be directed at Cabinet members and, of course, his deputy in charge of national affairs.

The weakness is clearly seen by all, and is the reason for growing frustration among those who had high expectations of Abhisit’s government.

A serious obstacle has been the neglect or lack of courage in removing top civil servants and executives in key state-owned units, despite their flawed track records and their loyalty to Thaksin.

Finance minister, Korn Chatikavanij, is letting Thaksin’s cronies run the show in the money and stock markets amid blatant violations of the rules relating to insider trading, price manipulation and other shenanigans such as front running in stock deals. These people have impeded the due process of law and twisted judicial investigations, allowing culprits to retain their positions and destroy potential evidence.

What should we expect from now on? More offensive moves by Thaksin and his cronies with the help of civil servants in powerful positions.

If Abhisit continues with recalcitrance and vacillation, his overall indecisiveness will shorten his term, with the stronger likelihood that politics will get bogged down in the gutter – with the nation trapped in peril.

By Sopon Onkgara
The Nation
Published on July 28, 2009

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