Sunday, June 24, 2012

'Rashomon' effect haunting political landscape

How serious is the split between some Pheu Thai MPs and certain red-shirt leaders over the future of their common chieftain Thaksin Shinawatra?

The opposition Democrats’ strategy was to drive a wedge into the Pheu Thai Party. There had been little chance of success until Thaksin Shinawatra’s “reconciliation” effort irked some red-shirt leaders who, perhaps for the first time, expressed their opposition to what they described as “a betrayal” of their common stand against the country’s “elite.”

Thaksin had said in the controversial phone-in to his supporters that he appreciated the fact that the red shirts had delivered him ashore and that his next stretch of journey was going onland and that he probably didn’t need them anymore. In a way, he was suggesting, not in so many words of course: “It was good while it lasted. But please understand that I have other priorities to consider too.”

Thaksin probably didn’t expect such a sudden angry reaction from some of the red-shirts who had always thought they had fought alongside him because they believed he was ready to climb down from his “elitist” background to join the “grass-roots” movement. Now, as victory drew near they sensed that they weren’t really on the same page after all.

Thaksin’s decision to put a hold on the reconciliation bill after some strongly negative reaction prompted the “hard-core” elements of the red-shirts to suspect that he was trying to strike a deal with their sworn enemies in the Establishment. When the Constitutional Court ordered the House to withhold voting on the third and final reading of the constitutional amendments, these red-shirt leaders and some Pheu Thai MPs were determined to go for a showdown.

To their horror, Thaksin beat another retreat. House Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranond declared that he wasn’t going to press the point. He announced that the House session would be closed and the final voting on the two bills would be postponed until the next house session in August. That practically meant a six-week truce. Six weeks in politics is long enough to effect unexpected changes.

No, in making that U-turn, Thaksin wasn’t listening to the Democrats. He simply needed time to consolidate and regroup. Somehow he would have to reconcile the jarring differences between the red-shirt leaders who demand a collision course with the constitutional court and the Pheu Thai MPs who insisted that a temporary retreat would be a “safer option” to avoid a potentially disastrous route.

Naturally, the more radical among the red-shirts saw the MPs as “spineless” lacking in any real political ideology while the “old guard” in the party considered those red shirt leaders as being na├»ve and unreasonably stubborn.

Thaksin is caught in a great dilemma yet again. Of course, his main objective is to pave the way for his return as a free man. The clear majority in the House can pass laws to clear the path but the allegation that the legislative branch is overstepping the judicial authority is too strong to put down.

The red-shirts could put pressure through major street demonstrations but some of them are beginning to wonder whether their effort might end up helping the elite, with Thaksin on the other side of the wall.

The delicate task of pacifying the angry red shirt leaders and keeping Pheu Thai MPs in line is complicated by the return of the 111 former Thai Rak Thai executives some of whom are demanding Cabinet seats in the Yingluck Cabinet.

Thaksin wants his “Team A” to replace the current “Team C” but that can’t be done without alienating a large base of support within his own party – and offending some of PM Yingluck’s very own inner Cabinet members.

There was a time not so long ago when victory looked so close at hand. Suddenly, things began to drift apart and nobody is quite sure where reality meets delusion.

The “Rashomon effect,” it has been explained to me, “is the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection by which observers of an events are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.”

That seems to be a good description of what’s happening to the ongoing scenarios.

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