The calm before the storm, or a real sense of hope?

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THAKSIN Shinawatra’s latest claim that he wants to return in peace still contains the usual self-contradictions, but at least it doesn’t make me run for cover like before. Yes, he still describes the Thai justice system as a “joke”, and remains adamant that no country will help Thailand catch him, but there was something different about the latest phone-in.

I can’t pinpoint the signs that he may be more eager than before to achieve a truce. It can’t be the sombre, homesick tone because that isn’t new. That the interview was given to the state-run broadcaster, hurrying up the transformation of PM’s Office Minister Satit Wongnongtaey into a kind-faced dictator, doesn’t seem that significant either.

thaksinwithdiamond1We can just feel it. No matter how he made it sound on the surface – “Here I am, in good health, welcome everywhere and plunging into an exciting diamond-mine investment after making a good profit on Manchester City” – we can somehow sense anguish. There was no veiled threat, no calling on his supporters to bring him home, and when he was asked about reconciliation, his enthusiasm could barely be suppressed.

Does he mean it this time? In an earlier phone-in to his followers, Thaksin voiced objection to a planned red-shirt rally, citing safety concerns. The movement subsequently postponed the protest, although the government’s threat to enforce the Internal Security Act was given as the main reason.

It’s a cease-fire, most people agree. How it came about and how long it will last is up to us to analyse and predict. There are those who see it as the calm before another major storm, but I can’t see another encamped rally broadcasting Thaksin’s live war cry night and day. At least not in the foreseeable future.

I’m in the Thaksin-is-tired school of thought: The “Here I am, in declining health, not always welcome everywhere, and interested in a diamond mine only because I may be having trouble with the rulers in Dubai” school to be exact. In this theory, the royal petition campaign has inadvertently limited his options.

Thaksin’s situation is much more difficult than that of an inmate seeking a parole. The latter can befriend prison guards, then misbehave a little and still get a clean endorsement before facing the judges. If Thaksin is seen as leading another red protest, it is all over.

This perhaps could explain Jakrapob Penkair’s frustration. We still can’t be certain about the man’s motives when he called the “three buddies” – the remaining red-shirt leaders with whom he must have taken a blood oath – a “monkey show”, but the outburst could only involve three possibilities.jakrapob

A “Love Thaksin till I die” Jakrapob must be truly bitter and angry that the petition has shackled the movement, or a Thaksin-scorned Jakrapob was trying to rock the boat, or the break-up between Jakrapob and the three buddies was a big charade. In the third scenario, Thaksin wanted to improve his image where the monarchy is concerned while still keeping his ties with hardliners like Jakrapob.

All three possibilities, however, may show Thaksin’s eagerness to compromise, albeit at varying degrees. We dismiss the fourth possibility – that Thaksin didn’t agree with the petition from the beginning and Jakrapob was simply speaking for him – for the obvious reason that he joined the petition submission ceremony from afar with apparent willingness.

In his last interview, Thaksin said he was ready for peace talks. Everyone has his phone number, he pointed out. Whether it will be the prime minister, or any of his deputies, Thaksin claimed he was willing to get started. Again, this is not the first time, but he has never sounded more “Abhisit, I’m waiting for your call” than last week.

The optimists see better signs; the pessimists see the same old stumbling blocks. Thaksin wouldn’t agree to go to jail and he surely wants “his” money back. These are the issues closely watched by the red shirts as well as the People’s Alliance for Democracy. And this is not to mention the fact that the Democrats’ shaky image must have given the ruling party an added motive to keep him at arm’s length.

Thaksin lurking outside Thailand is bad for everyone. The day may come, though, when it could be bad primarily for him alone. Abhisit, for all the mounting trouble, has Thaksin to thank for making him still the only sensible choice as PM. The “three buddies” can protest forever as long as the finances keep coming. And what will the PAD do when this war is over?

The optimist in me feels Thaksin is starting to realise all this. My pessimistic side will only get mad when it wakes up and reads this piece.

By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation
Published on September 9, 2009

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