Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksin vows return to politics. Well why not?

The NY Times reports:

The underlying conflict in Thailand is over the question of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s role in Thai politics. Mr. Thaksin, deposed in a coup two years ago and convicted in absentia last month for abuse of power in a highly politicized trial, now reportedly says he is eager to return to Thailand.

“With me at the helm I can bring confidence quickly back to Thailand,” Mr. Thaksin was quoted saying in an interview with Arabian Business, a magazine based in the United Arab Emirates, where he is believed to be in exile. “We have to find a mechanism under which I can go back, that is why I must tell you that I will go back into politics.”

With Mr. Thaksin still abroad, protestors say their first goal is to remove the current government, which it accuses of being Mr. Thaksin’s proxy.

I would hesitate to identify Thaksin as the "underlying conflict" in Thai politics. Certainly, the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) protesters have made the case that Thaksin is the root of all evil, they have painted him as the source of the "underlying conflict."

However, if the conflict can be personified from one angle, a balanced personification of the forces at work in modern Thailand might include General Prem who is leader of the HM the King's Privy Council. This is close to the way the HM the king's (very unofficial) biographer Paul Handley and some others have described the personal dimensions of the conflict.*

Nevertheless, the NY Times' description of Thaksin as standing at the center of the conflict raises an interesting point. One has to ask whether the persistent personification of Thaksin as the "root problem" by PAD has not given Thaksin an opening. Judging by his remarks to Arabian Business, Thaksin would appear to have turned a corner, having now decided to go on the offensive. Thaksin is reported to have told the interviewer:
The country is going down deeply. The confidence is not there. The trust amongst foreign community is not there. The poor people in rural areas are in difficulty.
If Thailand without Thaksin borders on anarchy, could the return of Thaksin really make things so much worse? Assuming the charges could be dropped, Thaksin can now vow to return for a higher purpose than furthering his personal political or business ambitions. His newfound "higher" mission will be to 1) provide the government with the strong leadership it lacks and 2) bring security and order to the kingdom.

Thaksin has his enemies to thank for this opening. Don't be surprised if oneday conspiracy-minded Thais look back at the PAD demonstrations of 2008 as a "Thaksin plot."
*How else might the underlying conflict in Thai politics be described?
  • royalists Vs democrats
  • urban Vs rural
  • rich Vs poor
Perhaps the breakdown includes an economic sector conflict:
  • old economy (construction, newspapers, etc.) Vs new economy (telecoms, consumer goods and services, electronic media, etc.)
PAD protest leader Sondhi owns a newspaper chain. The crown is the largest shareholder in the country's biggest cement company. On the other side, Thaksin has invested heavily in telecoms and television -- and has striven to encourage a spirit of entrepreneurship. Mind you, I'm just thinking through the last point here as I write it . . .

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