We have become familiar with accusations of betrayal among politicians, activists and vested interest groups. Such charges are levelled so often that not many people raise eyebrows anymore, as if an act of treason or being accused of treachery is just like a normal greeting.
Of course, in politics, accusations are frequently traded among self-serving groups. At times, such allegations are unfounded, while others can be proven through sheer acts of betrayal against the public trust.
The other day, Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda made public utterances about his advice to General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, that the latter should exercise caution before joining the Pheu Thai Party. The elder statesman made no insinuation, but his warning was understandable given the unpalatable image of the party.
Both men were formerly Army chief and prime minister. Chavalit has not been fortunate in terms of fame and success. He has accumulated dark blots on his track record. His stature and credibility are too bruised beyond salvage. His association with Pheu Thai confirms that he must consider that there is nothing to lose. At 77, he is deep in the twilight of his career. Yet, there remains something which, in his view, might be beneficial in his final years. Never mind the accusations about treachery.An undisputed fact is that the party is a remnant of two other parties dissolved under order of the Constitution Court for malpractice that was detrimental to democracy under the monarchy.
The advice to General Chavalit was based on a long-standing friendship between the two men, though circumstances have made it less cordial than when they worked together hand in glove.
Chavalit himself publicly sounded thankful. That’s in the nature of the smooth-talking “Mr Nice Guy” as he’s known to friends and foes alike, though at times his long statements tend to confuse rather than enlighten. He has been ridiculed often, but the nice thing about him indeed is that he never feels offended by such caustic remarks.
By joining Pheu Thai as chairman, his position can mean a lot or nothing, depending on the degree of significance given to it by Thaksin Shinawatra, who may consider the ageing general as a last choice for possibly paving the way for his return from self-imposed exile.
The new role was given a bit of credibility when other old soldiers who also refuse to fade away marched together like a band of brothers to join the party. From being professional soldiers, they have transformed themselves into political mercenaries. The enticement is the Bt76 billion cash belonging to Thaksin and his family, now under sequester by the state.
Moreover, there are more generals just retired from active service joining the party, with a strong sense of comradeship. This group comprises classmates of Thaksin during his cadet school years. They too could not resist the smell of the fugitive’s money. Obviously, their pensions do not enable them to live as comfortably as they’d like; perhaps not allowing regular hours on the golf course.
Of course, the pensions are negligible. But long years in retirement without substantial savings might make them look less presentable among friends who have stashed away fortunes through kickbacks in procurements and what not. Thaksin is a financial saviour who sits on vast deposits of wealth but desperately needs help.
This is a twisted irony. All along, Thaksin has been accused of and perceived as being against the monarchy, through word and deed in different circumstances. Legal attempts to nail him down have not been successful so far due to a number of unsavoury reasons.
Now that the old and just-retired generals have joined hands to help Thaksin, the public could perceive an act of betrayal. How can these generals, with their earlier oath of allegiance to the country’s revered institutions, side with a fugitive criminal with a two-year jail sentence hanging over him? This is not to mention pending charges and criminal trials.
And there are others from various government agencies such as the police and the Interior Ministry. When they stood together the other day, the public was reminded of a rogues’ gallery with the potential to cause national mayhem.
With these experienced, retired generals and civil servants banding together for the “Rescue Thaksin” mission, people can only shudder at the thought of the damage these political soldiers of fortune can wreak. They are living up to their true colours and the expectations of the paymaster in exile.
By Sopon Onkgara
Published on October 20, 2009