Thaksin Shinawatra is an enigmatic Thai politician. As a former telecom tycoon, he rose to become one of the richest in Thailand. As a populist prime minister, between 2001 and 2006, he was Thailand’s most popular politician. Yet, the divisive power-hungry Thaksin was hated by men in the military and royalty. This made Mr Thaksin a Thai bugbear as the military-royalty duo is the most respected and the most feared among Thailand’s institutions.
The Way to Check ‘Move Forward’
Despite his popularity among deprived Thais, primarily earned through generous giveaways, Mr Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006. Though he fled the country for personal safety, his party Pheu Thai remained popular with the Thais. In May, this political equation began to change with the arrival of Move Forward, a party of liberal reformers. Causing a major upset, this party walked away with the highest number of seats among contesting parties. https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Thai-election/How-Move- Forward-shocked-Thailand-s-old-guard
Feeling terribly threatened, the Thai military establishment went on to manipulate the system to check Move Forward’s progress. The military wanted to prevent Move Forward from forming a government. As tensions between the military and the Move Forward continued to rise, the ideological battle reached its end finally on August 22nd when Pheu Thai’s 60-year-old real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin was anointed as prime minister. It was a 11-party coalition government with Pheu Thai and the military as partners in power. The military-controlled House and Senate had voted Mr Thavisin in with a big majority.
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Pernicious for Thai Democracy
At once, political stability seemed to return to Thailand. Uncertainty appeared to end and a populist coalition looked set to govern Thailand for larger welfare. On any other occasion, this could have been a welcome breeze. While the markets rebounded on what seemed to be good news for them, the cosy deal between the 74-year-old Mr Thaksin and the military brass was not good for Thai democracy. For the simple reason that the unholy deal was stitched up primarily to check the liberal reformers of Move Forward. What was thus good for Mr Thaksin, his party and the military establishment was patently pernicious for the Thais and their democracy. The Thai democracy is bound to take a sharp decline here on.
Inevitably, the Thais are aghast at Mr Thaksin, a trenchant critic of the military establishment, entering into a cosy coalition with the two largest military parties. In fact, in the past, Mr Thaksin would have been dead against such a partnership of convenience. In the current scheme of things, the anti-establishment Move Forward is the principal opposition party. Mr Thaksin and his Pheu Thai party’s opportunistic deal with the pro-establishment forces looks like a trial balloon floated by Mr Thaksin on August 22nd, as he ended his long 15-year self-imposed exile. https://www.economist.com/asia/2023/08/31/south-east-asian- democracy-is-declining
The Countdown has Begun
Though he was arrested on arrival for the corruption charges against him, and sentenced for an 8-year prison term, he will not remain inside for long. Rumours are rife that Mr Thaksin is set to play the role of a puppeteer. He is sure to be the prime mover behind the formation of the new government. Such a role mirrors Mr Thaksin’s thirst for power and his penchant for playing opportunistic roles in quest for personal gains. Thais are now able to see through his gameplan and they detest Mr Thaksin for its deviousness.
So, the countdown to zero has begun. Elections are staring at Thaksin and his Pheu Thai party. Losing no time, Pheu Thai has begun assuring Thais that the party would minimise military’s role in Thai politics. This assurance is not surprising as the governments led by Mr Thaksin, and later by his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, have been targets of military coups in 2006 and 2014. His sister Yingluck continues to be in exile. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/21/thailands-pheu- thai-to-ally-with-military-rivals-to-form-new-government
Thirsting for Economic Performance
Yet, Mr Thaksin is hobnobbing with the army now to taste the nectar of power again. Despite the brutal crackdown on his backers by the military, Mr Thaksin is discovering a new romance with the establishment. Angered, Thais are taking to the streets in protest against the new cosy relationship between Mr Thaksin’s party and the military establishment. Yet, Mr Thaksin remains unflustered as he hopes to win back universal Thai support with his trademark populist giveaways.
This may be easy to do for Mr Thaksin, but will carry a huge cost to Thai exchequer and inflict long-term pains on Thai economy. Mr Thaksin is also planning to convince his countrymen with the promise of good governance and eradication of corruption, the hallmarks of the decade-long military rule. The Thais are thirsting for economic performance and want their country to do better than spunky neighbours like Indonesia and Vietnam. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/thailands-pheu-thai- launches-pm-bid-fugitive-figurehead-thaksin-eyes-return-2023-08- 21/
The Poliphoon’s Last Word
By striking this opportunistic deal with the military, Mr Thaksin might have crossed a hurdle. But, the really formidable hurdle lies ahead. This hurdle is about reining in Move Forward and keeping the military at bay for ever. With his proclivity to strike opportunistic deals with the military, frustrating its potential designs may not be possible for a polarising politician like Mr Thaksin.
It seems Mr Thaksin has already taken a vow to destroy Thai democracy. His deal has angered all those Pheu Thai backers who owe allegiance to democratic values, besides infuriating democracy-loving Thais. Even Move Forward supporters are upset now as they had voted for democratic reforms and their dreams of Thailand embracing democratic reforms lie destroyed now. Sadly, embattled Thais are left with no option but to sulk in silence.