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A Week in Review: July 30 - August 5, 2011

Thaksin thinks; Phuea Thai acts

History is about to be made in Thailand when the country gets its first female and second Shinawatra prime minister. But which of those two facts is most likely to determine Thailand’s future? Find out here…

Thailand’s final 4 MPs were confirmed last week. All 500 of the original July 3 election winners have now been officially endorsed. Just how many of them would stand up to closer scrutiny is another matter, but for now they have been elected by the people and confirmed by the Election Commission (EC) as fit and proper representatives of the Thai people.

Pheua Thai's Somkid Banthaisong of Nong Khai Constituency 2 and Bhum Jai Thai’s Chakkrawan Chaiwiratnukul of Sukhothai's Constituency 3 had earlier been handed yellow cards by the EC for alleged vote-buying. However, both candidates won their respective re-elections as comfortably as the original ballots last Sunday, although it is not clear whether they had to pay voters a second time or whether their original payments were still valid.

Meanwhile, Abdulkarim Dengrakina of the Democrats benefited from his enforced recount by returning a slightly higher victory margin in Yala Constituency 2.

The final piece in the jigsaw – or nail in the coffin, depending on which metaphor you find more apt – saw Phuea Thai’s Jatuporn Prompan approved by the EC despite threats of legal action by anti-red shirt groups.

Jatuporn was also freed from Bangkok Remand Prison on bail and is once again able to hide behind the ludicrous parliamentary immunity.

However, Jatuporn’s release from prison did come too late for him to attend the official opening ceremony of Thailand’s House of Representatives last Monday with its equally ludicrous military-style uniforms and medals.

And with all the MPs approved and parliament open, it’s time to choose a new prime minister and cabinet.

According to reports in the Bangkok Post, Thailand’s fugitive former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has indicated he is prepared to bring in political outsiders in a bid to form a cabinet that appears “clean”. As such, Thaksin has actively been trying to recruit respected figures from outside the political arena.

Thaksin is also said to be pushing for the cabinet to be formed quickly and has set a target of next week, although he has several complications to overcome before he can conclude the cabinet line-up.

Several factions and individuals who funded and organized various demonstrations, mobs and campaigns to overthrow the Democrat-led government and bring Thaksin back to Thailand are demanding a return on their investments.

Thaksin's ex-wife, Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra, has reportedly been pushing hard for Phuea Thai financiers to be rewarded with cabinet positions, while Pheua Thai MPs from the strategically important northeast of Thailand are demanding that their significance in Phuea Thai’s election victory be rewarded with a larger quota of cabinet seats.

Two north-eastern Phuea Thai MPs have already been appeased when Somsak Kiatsuranont of Khon Kaen and Charoen Chankomol of Chaiyaphum were elected as House speaker and deputy speaker respectively. However, north-eastern Phuea Thai MPs are still asking for 6 out of the 35 cabinet portfolios.

Thaksin also faces pressure from red shirt leaders who mobilised and funded thousands of supporters to participate in several red shirt activities, including the ASEAN riots in Pattaya, the Songkran riots in Bangkok (2009), and the violent siege and burning of Bangkok (2010).

However, Thaksin – noted for his ruthless manipulation and use of people (including his youngest sister) to help him achieve his personal goals – may well feel that the red shirts have outlived their usefulness to him and threaten to create a negative image in his first cabinet. The Bangkok Post reported that Thaksin is unlikely to invite any red shirt leaders into the cabinet, although they may still be rewarded with posts during subsequent reshuffles.

It has also been reported that 5 cabinet portfolios have been set aside for Phuea Thai’s coalition partners in an attempt to create a degree of stability and harmony in the government.

Having woven such a tangled web, Thaksin will find it extremely difficult to keep everyone happy and create a clean cabinet – or at least a cabinet that appears to be clean.

Of course, Thaksin remains a fugitive – at least until his Phuea Thai party grants him an amnesty for his crimes. It is, therefore, still necessary for him to appoint a proxy to relay his orders, and his young sister took another step towards becoming Thailand’s 28th and first female prime minister last week.

Although hand-picked by her brother, Yingluck was officially nominated by Pheua Thai MP Sanoh Thienthong. The nomination requires the support of at least 100 of the House’s 500 MPs to go ahead. The nominee then needs 251 votes for victory.

Despite 197 abstentions, Yingluck still managed to win the vote easily by 296:3. However, there was a final twist in the tail when the expected formality of royal command endorsement was delayed.

History is likely to be made on Monday when Thailand’s first female and second Shinawatra prime minister is confirmed. Unfortunately, it is the latter of those two facts that is likely to determine Thailand’s future.

Paul Snowdon – August 6, 2011

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