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A Week in Review: September 4-10, 2010



Anyone got a sheepskin coat I can borrow?

With Phuea Thai distancing itself from its red shirt supporters and Thaksin even denouncing the violence that many believe he instigated, could it be that this leopard is changing its spots? Find out here…

Violence has become an all-too-familiar element of modern Thai society it seems. In addition to the almost daily slaying of innocents in Southern Thailand, red shirt protesters have proven that their protests are far from peaceful.

Last week, three more unexploded bombs were found in Bangkok, while police intelligence (see example of ‘oxymoron’) reports suggest that they have uncovered assassination plots against the prime minister, deputy prime minister, and Newin Chidchob, de facto leader of government coalition member Bhum Jai Thai.

Without elaborating, the government announced that it was taking the threat of further attacks very seriously. As a result, armed soldiers have once more been stationed on Bangkok’s BTS (sky train) stations.

Of course, the only real hope for lasting peace in Thailand is to achieve the almost mythical state of reconciliation. The government may have developed its roadmap, and Phuea Thai recently announced its own plan for reconciliation, yet – publicly at least – the two sides have seemed as far apart as ever. Most politicking is not done in the public eye, however, and it was interesting to note that the government took the unusual step last week of denying that it had been involved in secret reconciliatory talks with Phuea Thai.

Meanwhile, in a move also interprteted by some as a possible signal of reconciliation, Yongyuth Wichaidit resigned as Phuea Thai leader so that the party could prepare for the next election.

A lack of strong leadership has been a major problem for Phuea Thai for some time now with no-one apparently able – or perhaps permitted – to fill the power void left by de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra. The departing Yongyuth was not even an elected MP, and the most qualified candidates from within Phuea Thai have consistently distanced themselves from the post for fear that the party will be dissolved and they will be banned from politics. While there are no pending cases against Phuea Thai, court dissolution is still considered a very real threat having previously put an end to the party’s two earlier incarnations – Thai Rak Thai (TRT) and the People’s Power Party (PPP).

Thaksin – himself banned from politics since the dissolution of TRT – has become increasingly frustrated at watching from a distance as the party has been beset by a string of problems that would never have been allowed to fester under his own dictatorial leadership. From his state of self-imposed exile, however, Thaksin has seen his control over the party gradually wane to the extent that he has been forced to change his tactics - if not his strategy.

With the red shirts having failed to topple the government earlier this year, Thaksin knows that his only hope for returning to Thailand without serving his prison sentence now rests solely with Phuea Thai winning the next election. While such a result seemed to be a foregone conclusion at the turn of the year, it is by no means a certainty in the current political climate.

One of the main causes for concern within the party is not so much court dissolution but rather internal disintegration. An increasing number of Phuea Thai MPs are being tempted to defect to Newin’s Bhum Jai Thai party in particular. The fact that Bhum Jai Thai is currently aligned with the Democrats also diminishes Phuea Thai’s hopes of forming the next government.

Also of concern is the fact that Phuea Thai is suffering from an extremely battered image. The party’s association with the violence that erupted in Bangkok and across the country earlier this year together with the public’s perception that the party is anti-monarchy have seen its popularity dwindle in certain areas of the country.

Thaksin is painfully aware that Phuea Thai desperately needs strong leadership and an image makeover if it is to overcome these problems and win the next election with enough seats to form a strong government.

With an announcement on Yongyuth’s replacement due on September 14, the most likely candidate appears to be ex-national police chief and former interior minister Pol. Gen. Kowit Wattana, who has proven himself as a leader, is widely-respected for his integrity, and is known to support the Thai Royal Family.

However, even if he takes up the post and Phuea Thai wins the next election, Kowit is unlikely to become Thailand’s next prime minister. Worryingly, the ever controversial Chalerm Yubamrung appears destined for the top post it seems.

In fact, in an apparent bid to win this year’s coveted Sherlock Holmes Award, Democrat spokesperson Theptai Senpong announced that he believed Chalerm would make a more appropriate choice for Phuea Thai leader as he felt that Kowit was being chosen simply to boost Phuea Thai’s image.

One can’t help thinking that even if this leopard does change its spots, it would merely be hiding them under sheep’s clothing.

Paul Snowdon – September 11, 2010

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