Does Hun Sen want to play in our political sandbox?

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Friends and supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s iconic democracy crusader, may have felt insulted by Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen when he tried to compare her with his so-called “eternal friend”, exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

“Many people are talking about Mrs Suu Kyi of Burma. Why can’t I talk about the victim, Thaksin?” said Hun Sen during his face-off with the media on Friday when he arrived in Hua Hin for the Asean summit.

The Cambodian prime minister’s attempt to liken Thaksin to Mrs Suu Kyi as both were victims of separate military coups in Thailand and Burma was simplistic and ignorant of the huge difference in characteristics and dedication to democracy between the two people, not to mention the political backgrounds leading to their overthrow.

“Without the coup d’etat in 2006, such a thing would not have happened,” said Hun Sen.

But what would have happened without the coup then? No one then seemed to have the right answer although they agreed that the political stalemate would drag on until either side in the conflict – the Thaksin government on one side and the People’s Alliance for Democracy on the other – lost their patience. Then what, bloodshed? But would Hun Sen care?

I don’t think he would as the only thing he cares about is that he lost a powerful friend in Thailand who seemed to have done him and his family a lot of favours to the point that his wife had tears in her eyes when she learned about Thaksin’s fate.

Hun Sen insisted his remarks about Thaksin did not constitute interference in Thailand’s domestic affairs. He was quoted to have said: “This is just moral support from me. As one million Thai people of the red shirt group support Thaksin, why can’t I, as a friend from afar, support Thaksin?”

But I beg to differ. His first remark, which was first conveyed to theThai people by former prime minister and Puea Thai Party chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and then repeated upon his arrival here for the Asean summit, amounted to direct interference in Thailand’s internal affairs. They also demonstrated his complete lack of any diplomatic decency and statesmanship.

Hun Sen’s remarks should have pleased the Puea Thai Party and the red shirt people. In the meantime, they have incensed the yellow shirt people as well as many non-partisan Thais who despise a foreigner like a Cambodian interfering in our worst politically divisive issue.

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It has been widely known that Hun Sen and Thaksin have had a close relationship through their business dealings and it was believed that the fugitive ex-premier had, on various occasions, slipped into Cambodia. But then why did the Cambodian premier choose to make public his sympathy and support for Thaksin now – at first through Gen Chavalit and then by himself at the Asean summit – despite the fact that the coup which toppled the Thaksin regime took place more than three years ago?

Was it intended to embarrass Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva? The answer was already loud and clear as Mr Abhisit appeared to be disturbed by Hun Sen’s remarks and hit back at the latter. “What is the purpose of Prime Minster Hun Sen coming to Thailand?” said Mr Abhisit during a press conference on Friday. Was he coached by Gen Chavalit whose one-day visit to Phnom Penh, which came two days ahead of the Asean summit, seemed quite untimely if not suspicious?

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As a shrewd politician who has survived in Cambodian politics for decades while many of his arch-rivals have all lost out or faded into oblivion, I don’t think Hun Sen needs coaching. After having deliberately made unprovoked inflammatory remarks against Thailand on various occasions, including his order for Cambodian troops at the border to shoot any Thais who trespass on the disputed territories or his recent announcement to Cambodian students that he would tear up the Thai map pertaining to the Thai-Cambodian border if it does not correspond with the one held by Phnom Penh, Hun Sen, this time, may think that he wants to have a hand in Thai politics. And he has chosen to take Thaksin’s side probably believing that the fugitive ex-premier will definitely be able to stage a political comeback in the not too distant future.

Even Thaksin himself is not certain whether or when he will be able to return in triumph.

Since Hun Sen has laid out his hand, it remains to be seen whether Thaksin and his Puea Thai Party will join hands with Cambodia to fulfil the fugitive ex-premier’s wish for a political comeback.

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