What is Thaksin prepared to do now?

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Thaksin Shinawatra claimed it was “an honour” to be appointed Cambodia’s economic adviser. As his motherland is staring at a major diplomatic row with a close neighbour and businessmen in both countries are bracing themselves for an unpredictable impact, there is a thin line between “honour” and “shame”.

In his fight to clear his name, Thaksin has stopped at virtually nothing. And even after the Thai ambassador to Phnom Penh was recalled and Bangkok decided to cut assistance to Cambodia, he showed no signs of guilt, concern or remorse. Bangkok was being childish and overreacting, he tweeted. Thaksin’s blurring sense of patriotism is understandable. Having been ousted by a military coup, convicted for a crime he refuses to accept and seen his own political movement neutralised one after another, he can be forgiven for trying to embarrass his opponents who are holding the reins of power. But everything has its boundary – and Thaksin has crossed it.

Only he and Cambodian Premier Hun Sen know whether the controversial asylum offer and the economic-adviser appointment were out of the latter’s own goodwill or the former Thai leader had a hand in it. But even if Thaksin had nothing to do with the Cambodian moves, the least he could have done is show he cared about his country.

A neighbourly row of this nature can easily encompass the fighting colours in Thai politics. It threatens the whole country, be it yellows or reds or neutral Thais. Disruption of trade, border blockades, troop redeployment and the subsequent mounting tension on the already-strained relations will not discriminate against anyone.

Thaksin could have said “No, but thank you” to the Cambodian offer, but he has chosen to inflame the situation by saying the Thai government was overreacting, like a child. This came from someone who should have known better, who witnessed first-hand as a Thai leader what misunderstandings between the countries could lead to and who was on the verge of sending commandos into Cambodia himself to rescue Thai diplomats and businessmen running for their lives from angry torch-wielding protesters.

The difference between now and then is the attack on the Thai Embassy may have been caused by an accident, but this time there are people who seemingly want it to happen. Thaksin stands out among them. Hun Sen cannot drag himself into the Thai fray without Thaksin showing the way. If Thaksin’s opponents’ hardline stand on the Preah Vihear conflict was what first strained bilateral relations, things took a major turn for the worse when Thaksin’s representative, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, visited Phnom Penh and kick-started the asylum-offer episode.

What is Thaksin prepared to do now? On one side is a country he once called home, where he is both loved and loathed, but on the other side is a place that is offering him comfort. A truly grateful man would do anything but pit both countries against each other.

By The Nation
Published on November 6, 2009

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