Thursday, April 26, 2012

Who isn't there is more interesting than who is

All eyes are on Gen Prem Tinsulanonda's Sisao residence today when Premier Yingluck Shinawatra leads her Cabinet members to seek Songkran blessings from the privy council president, once known as her brother Thaksin's arch-rival.

Premier Yingluck has sought -- and Gen Prem has obliged -- to meet the former premier as a sign of what is widely seen as a move towards national reconciliation. But a group of red-shirt leaders has publicly opposed, arguing that it would send the wrong message to red-shirts who still believe there is a wide gap between the "elite" and the "downtrodden."

Thaksin said in Laos recently that Prem isn't a party to the conflict. Some red-shirt leaders who are now in the Cabinet and Parliament say Yingluck's move is welcome as a sign towards reducing conflict within Thai society.

What political observers try to monitor today is probably not who joins Yingluck to meet Prem but who doesn't!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Thaksin's home route goes through Prem's Sisao residence?

Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, the privy council president, has let his Sisao Residence's doors open for Premier Yingluck to lead her Cabinet for a Songkran blessing ceremony on April 26.

Whether it's supposed to be a political gesture of national reconciliation between Gen Prem and the premier's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, is a moot point. Inevitably, political observers see it as a step backwards on both sides.

Thaksin had accused Prem of being the man behind the 2006 coup that ousted him. Red-shirt leaders have held demonstrations in front of Sisao Residence to accuse him of being the leader of the country's "elite" taking advantage of the "downtrodden."

Gen Prem has made no official comment on all these charges, except to make public proclamations to the effect that bad people should be punished and corruption must be eliminated.

Premier Yingluck has tried to show her positive side with the privy council president. Thaksin's lastest statement on the issue when he was in Laos was that Prem "is not a party to the conflict.
Political analysts are now saying that Thaksin may have finally realized that his route home can't be a straight one. He would somehow have to find a detour through Sisao.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Countdown to post-Songkran political 'tsunami'

You can never tell whether it’s just a bluff or that former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra knows something we don’t about his own political future when he said in Laos last week that he was coming home in “three to four months.”
In fact, in one of his recent spate of interviews to the local press outside the country, Thaksin even mentioned his birthday anniversary on July 26 as the “target date” for this return to Thailand.
It wasn’t clear how that was to take place. The former premier would only say that his close associates and the red shirts were drawing up the plan and that preparations were being made by staunch supporters who strongly believe that he could contribute greatly to the country with his presence back home.
Thaksin said his advocates want to give him a “birthday present” by taking him home. But then he went on to qualify that with the statement that it’s fine if he couldn’t return to Thailand within this year. He said the country was on the path to reconciliation. “I want to make sure all sides are happy,” he told the Bangkok Post from Hong Kong last week.
A few days after that, he was in Laos. The sight of a large number of red-shirt supporters who went to wish him a happy Songkran probably gave him enough morale boost to make him say a few firmer words: “I am sure I will be home in three to four months. There will be no more yellow shirts and red shirts. I am ready for national reconciliation. I can’t help it if anyone doesn’t want to be part of the reconciliation.”
He probably forgot that he had said he wanted “all sides” to be happy with his move.
If “his side” wanted him to return as a free man, the “other side” has no problem with his coming home on one very crucial condition: He will have to comply with the jail term verdict and to fight the other cases filed against him.
That’s what he is not ready to accept. And that’s why opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva says Thaksin’s next move would trigger two “political tsunamis” – one called “amnesty” and the other “constitutional amendments.”
First thing first. Abhisit says that after Songkran, the government could follow one of the three scenarios: 1. Organize public hearings on the proposed amnesty bill 2. Produce the amnesty draft bill and 3. Make the first move but aim for the outcome in the second.
“I guess the government will go for the third option which may be politically less controversial. In the end, the so-called public hearings would be no more than just a ceremonial thing. But if the government reads the King Prajadhipok Institute’s report carefully, it would have to be very careful with pursuing the amnesty bill because that could spark a new round of national conflict. If the ruling party rams through the bill with its majority vote in parliament and Thaksin can come home, the real question is: Could the country’s conflict be really resolved?”
Thaksin’s statement about his return home in the near future is necessarily based on his confidence that somehow, the amnesty bill would pass the House and Senate. The timeline from now is crucial. The government could extend the current House session to accommodate the move – or the ruling Pheu Thai Party could call an extraordinary parliamentary session to force through the bill which is the only legitimate tool to allow him to come home as a free man without facing any charges.
Or if it doesn’t want to be seen to be rushing the legislative process just for one man, the government could wait until the annual Budget Bill is submitted to the House in June. The next House session, otherwise, is not due until August.
Not everyone in Thaksin’s inner circles is convinced that the road back home is paved with roses. Yongyudh Tiyapairaj, a former secretary to the former premier and no doubt a staunch supporter, was asked by Prachachat reporter:
Q: The procedure to get Khun Thaksin home. How far has it gone as far as you are concerned?
A: First, I must ask: How is he going to come back? I must ask those who like to say that they will get (Premier) Thaksin home. In fact, he is abroad, doing his business which is much more prosperous than that in Thailand. If they take him back home, maybe, he can stay only two days before having to leave again. Therefore, when they talk about bringing Khun Thaksin home, what they really mean perhaps is to liberate him from the bondage that had been caused by injustice.
Q: What would be the decisive factor to determine whether he can come back or not?
A: The law lays down the proper procedure and steps involved. He can return only when 1. He is not guilty anymore. That’s when he gets an amnesty and 2. He is advised by his supporters to do so, in which case a confrontation would follow and that’s not sustainable. The best choice would be for him to return together with mercy and sympathy all around.
In other words, Thaksin was absolutely right when he said he would come home when “all sides” are happy with that scenario. He will have to work very hard to achieve that

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thaksin sings 'Let it Be' to signal his 'home-coming' this year

It was a great sing-song session of the red-shirts headed by former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra from Seam Reap of Cambodia last night.

Almost in tears with joy, Thaksin told his supporters that he was sure he could come home this year "because it's an auspicous year -- the year when Her Majesty the Queen turns 80 and the Crown Prince is 60 years old."

He then sang a song whose message was: Let it be (if some people don't want to join the reconciliation process).

Cambodian Premier Hun Sen had put up a tight security around Thaksin and no doubt, as they say, he painted the whole town red.

Friday, April 13, 2012

PM Yingluck lets her hair down on Songkran Day

You could say Premier Yingluck let her hair down in Chiang Mai yesterday when she joined the local people to celebrate Songkran in her hometown. This is a rare picture indeed. She is seen here with a toy-gun to spray water to the local celebrants. Her son, Pipe, was also with her to enjoy the fun and game of Thailand's New Year.

I wasn't sure whether the premier had heard her brother Thaksin declare at almost the same time while celebrating Songkran there that he was confident he could come back home "in three to four months."

But then even if reporters press her for comments on her brother's statements on his "home-coming" issue, you could not expect her to say anything one way or the other.

In fact, even on Thaksin's visit to Laos and Cambodia, PM Yingluck would only say that it's a personal trip and her government has othing to do with it, regardless of the fact that some red-shirts and some ruling Pheu Party MPs are expected to cross the border to join Thaksin.

She isn't supposed to know about things she in fact should be thoroughly briefed on.

Monday, April 9, 2012

They all want to be 'Thaksin" look-alikes now

They all want to look like Thaksin Shinawatra when they crowd into Laos and Cambodia for the Songkran Festival.

Red-shirt leaders in the Northeast say they have prepared at least 20,000 Thaksin rubber masks and 30,000 red Polo shirts for the special trips to meet up with Thaksin in the two neighbouring countries.

Laotian officials say for security reasons, they can accommodate no more than 1,000 people at a time but Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is said to have instructed his officials to offer "unlimited" number of red-shirts to join the former Thai premier in Seam Reap where the local cultural center which is 400 rai in space can take up to 100,000 people.

That's perhaps the closest thing Thaksin could do to make himself really "feel at home."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What would they talk about at a Prem-Thaksin 'summit?'

Can you imagine Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and Thaksin Shinawatra meeting for the proposed “peace summit?” I can, but only in my wildest dream.
Even in “amazing Thailand,” the scenario, as proposed by a “third party” with genuine desire for a breakthrough in the country’s political stalemate, appears incredibly naïve and far-fetched.
Some politicians are really incredibly contemptuous of the public’s level of intelligence. They could always, without fail, come up with simplistic ideas masqueraded as “solutions” to most of the complicated issues that in fact were their own creations.
No, come to think of it, they might not be all that innocent after all. Neither are they ignorant of the facts involved. They are simply desperate enough to make suggestions that the average Thai would consider too far-fetched even to contemplate in the first place.
Chart Thai Pattana chief adviser Sanan Kachornprasart, having admitted failure in playing the role of the “peace-maker,” suggested that former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and President of the Privy Council, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, should hold a “summit” and the current political crisis will be resolved in no time.
Thaksin and his supporters have claimed all along that someone with “extra-constitutional power” might have engineered his ouster. But Prem has let it be known (without uttering a word to that effect in public!) that he is not a party to the ongoing conflict. Therefore, evening agreeing to the “summit” concept would be tantamount to admitting that he is in fact taking sides in this national face-off.
In fact if Thailand’s lingering conflict is simply a Prem-Thaksin issue, it wouldn’t have been such a prolonged and messy affair. The red-shirt leaders have insisted all along that the prevailing crisis is the result of the gap between the rich and the poor, the “prai” and the “ammart” – in other words, it’s the huge gap between the “elite” and the “downtrodden.”
The yellow shirts have offered us a different theory. They claim that the real problem of the country is that some rich politicians have resorted to populist policies employing “evil capital” to exploit the poor through corruption and abuse of power.
They may both be right. Or even if only one side was correct in their analysis, it still has nothing directly to do with whether Prem was behind Thaksin’s ouster or not. If Prem was considered “leader of the privileged,” Thaksin, being the country’s richest and undeniably influential in the political arena, couldn’t possibly be said to represent the poor and powerless, especially now that his Pheu Thai Party is in power and most of the “prai leaders” have now assumed highly privileged positions in the government.
Back to the most tantalizing question: What would Prem and Thaksin discuss in the proposed “summit?”
If he was really courageous, Thaksin could pose a direct question to the privy council president on whether he was behind the 2006 coup. And if Prem wasn’t his own restrained and reserved self, he could probably ask Thaksin why the latter had devoted so much time and energy on putting all the blame for his political trouble on him.
That’s the most unlikely scenario, of course. Another possible scenario, although still improbable for all intents and purposes, is for the two to be nice to each other and to promise to forgive and forget – and issue a joint communiqué declaring an end to the country’s conflict amidst cheers from the red and yellow shirts before disbanding their political groups.
Even under that highly unlikely assumption, the rest of the country (those who are neither red nor yellow) would still find the imagined “summit” irrelevant. This country, after all, doesn’t belong to only these two gentlemen. The national interests aren’t defined by just these two persons – and whatever solutions they could thrash out (if that’s at all possible) don’t necessarily answer the basic issues this country are facing.
But if we take this absurd idea to its illogical conclusion, the first “peace summit” would have to be between Thaksin and the 2006 coup maker, Gen Sonthi Bunyaratakalin.
Or have I missed the big news? Perhaps, judging from Sonthi’s bizarre behavior recently, they might have already held their virtual summit without the public’s general knowledge.
In that case, they can claim that peace is at hand, but it has nothing to do with you and me and the rest of the country