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Thaksin causes anxiety among Thai elite

Updated On: Nov 17, 2006

It is amazing how much fear and nervousness Thaksin can cause among the Thai elite.

His recent globe-trotting stints on his diplomatic passport to ChinaHong Kong and the like have got politicians on their toes. His “devil-may-care” nonchalance during the shopping trips in Hong Kong with his wife contrast greatly with what may seem disproportionate outrage on the part of his counterparts in Thailand. His next destination is a beach holiday in Bali.

According to the Nation’s calculation, “Thaksin has racked up 33,000 air kilometres – from the streets of London to the beaches of Bali… just 7,000 kilometres short of a global circumnavigation along the Equator”.

With his declaration that he wants to return to politics, and cultivating the image of being unfairly treated by the junta among his fervent supporters in Thailand’snorthern provinces, Thaksin now seems to be casting for the lead role in Thai politics among the Asian media as he traipses about the region. The Nation said he may “want to be seen entering and exiting any nation he wishes –to cement the idea he has done nothing wrong”.

PM Surayud has already told Thaksin firmly he cannot return till “after the general elections scheduled a year from now”. He has also allowed Thaksin to keep his diplomatic passport despite calls for its retraction, saying, “We give him the honour as a former prime minister. It's a traditional practice [to allow former prime ministers to carry diplomatic passports].”

The northern provinces are closely watched by security forces to prevent Thaksin being smuggled in. Just last week, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh “attacked the appointment of generals to state-enterprise boards and supported a return home for Thaksin”, and resulted in a scathing response from the junta.

Chat Thai Party leader Banharn Silapaarcha has suggested Thaksin “should issue an explicit statement on his future”. Moreover, according to the Nation, the Campaign for Popular Democracy’s secretary-general Suriyasai Katasila “claimed that Thaksin’s refusal to reveal his intentions would only exacerbate subversive acts”. He added that Thaksin’s supporters were waiting for the opportune time to reinstate him and if that happened, Thailand would be “in turmoil again”. To prevent this happening, Thaksin must declare his intentions clearly.

These rather naïve requests expose the desperation and tension people feel about Thaksin’s powerful influence, and the possibility that the junta and interim government are unable to guarantee long-term stability for Thailand if Thaksin continues to hover about the political arena.

If Thaksin’s clout is as strong as it is believed to be, then the junta had better keep its slate clean. Already two instances cause considerable doubt on its incorruptibility. The first was when the junta’s agencies got “fat-cat allowances”, including coup-maker Gen. Sonthi. Now that the “second-most powerful man on Thailand’s ruling junta (Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pukbhasuk, commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Air Force) has taken over the top spot at flag carrier Thai Airways”, aspersions are cast on what the junta’s real motives may be, even as they conduct graft probes against the former ruling elite. Other generals are poised to take top positions on the “boards of key state enterprises… such as Airports of Thailand and TOT Plc, a privatised telecom utility”, Today reported.

While PM Surayud has shrugged off criticisms, Saree Aongsomwang, director of the Foundation for Consumers (one of Thailand's leading consumer groups) said, “It is not logical to say that military officers will not cheat on you… It is not right that after the coup, several military offers have gone to sit in the boardrooms of state enterprises which give them higher salaries than their military jobs.”

Sources:

Junta member takes the helm at Thai Airways (Todayonline, 16 November 2006)

Deposed Thai PM 'holidays' in Bali (Nation, 16 November 2006)

Banharn urges Thaksin to declare his future (Nation, 16 November 2006)

PM says Thaksin can keep special passport (Bangkok Post, 16 November 2006)

Globe-trotting Thaksin makes waves for his accusers (Nation, 16 November 2006)

Thaksin 'hopes to return to power' (Nation, 16 November 2006)

Junta gets fat-cat allowances (Nation, 8 November 2006)