Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In Thailand appearances can be deceptive

Blogger Fonzi at Thailand Jumped the Shark criticized the US State Department Monday for praising Thailand's return to democracy before the final results had even been announced. He said it was too early to congratulate Thailand. I think Fonzi's basic instinct here is correct. It is too soon to say what the 2007 election results portend; yes, it's early to be patting anyone on the back here.

Despite the rise of the Thaksin-allied PPP Party -- poised, perhaps, to form the next government -- I see that many of the same questions I had before the election remain as pressing as ever.

The royalists. If Privy Council President Prem was behind the coup, were the royalists' goals achieved during the interim? If the point was to get Thaksin out of their hair, have they succeeded? Few commentators seem to think so. If not, what is to prevent the royalists from spending more political capital to get what they want? Nothing actually prevents this. Many of the royalists are getting on in years. They may not think they have so much to lose by behaving more assertively.

I blogged about the security emergency declared in the run-up to the election, and there was that pre-election rush to pass legislation giving emergency powers to the Thai prime minister: what was that all about? Until a new government has been sworn in, there remains a strong likelihood that these powers will be exercised. Recall Prem's words on the eve of the vote.

Thaksin. Thaksin says he intends to return, and will return as soon as he feels assured that the army will allow his plane to land. Does Thaksin really mean it when he says he will be staying out of politics for now? There is anger about what the coup did to the country; some new frustrations about the economy. For example, taxi drivers seem to be earning much less than a year ago. Imagine the crowds of well-wishers greeting Thaksin on his triumphant return to Thailand. Perhaps such a scene will be enough to make the former Thai prime minister think twice about leaving politics. The very specter of such a spectacle may well be too disturbing for some royalists even to contemplate.

If allowed to return to Thailand a free man, Thaksin will be in an enviable position. He will return as a Thai version of Bill Clinton: an unimpeachable comeback kid.

Photo: by Jotman.

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