In Thailand: Thaksin — Thinking 5 Minutes Ahead of Everyone Else
March 5, 2008
On February 28th, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Bangkok after being deposed by a military coup on September 19, 2006. He was greeted warmly and enthusiastically by thousands of his supporters. Upon his arrival, Mr. Thaksin was taken to the Supreme Court to face arrest warrant and was quickly bailed, and then taken to the Office of the Attorney General to face a different arrest warrant (and bailed again). Mr. Thaksin’s trial with the Supreme Court is set to resume on March 12th; no court date has been set yet with the Attorney General warrant. From the onset, the former prime minister has proclaimed his innocence.
Less than one year ago, the political party Mr. Thaksin led, the “Thai Rak Thai” (Thais Love Thais or TRT) was disbanded after being found guilty by the Constitutional Court of committing electoral fraud on a wide scale. Mr. Thaksin and 110 TRT members have been banned for five years from participating in electoral politics. This decision was looked upon derisively by Thaksin’s supporters and seen as a retributive act by the military. Mr. Thaksin says he just wants to be an odinary citizen and no longer wants to be involved in politics. Should he be believed?
The last word supporters and detractors would use to describe Mr. Thaksin is “ordinary.” He is a billionaire and Thailand’s wealthiest person. Whether one agreed with him or not, Mr. Thaksin was the first Thai politician to ever honor his campaign promises. He also seemed to be the first politician to care about the poor, as his populist agenda endeared him to rural voters, the base of his constituency.
Although Mr. Thaksin may never run for elected office again, this does not mean the former prime minister has lost his appetite for power. Quite the contrary. Mr. Thaksin is believed to be providing the financial support for the People’s Power Party (PPP), the party with the largest number of seats in the government’s six-party coalition. Many in the PPP are former members of the disbanded TRT. Cabinet members went to Hong Kong to consult with Mr. Thaksin before being appointed, including Mr. Thaksin’s brother-in-law, Education Minister Somchai Wongawat. The Foreign Minister, Noppadol Pattana, is Mr. Thaksin’s former lawyer. The Finance Minister is a medical doctor whose background as being Mr. Thaksin’s former spokesperson seems to count more heavily than any economic and financial acumen he might possess. Prime Miniter Samak Sundarajev sheepishly admitted that the image of the government was looking “a little ugly” after naming the cabinet.
All of this comes at a time when Thailand is in economic doldrums. Foreign investment in Thailand lags behind that of its Asian peers. One must question whether the government possibly spending 500 billion baht on mega-projects is a sound way to stimulate the economy when central government revenues in 2007 totaled 1.5 trillion baht.
As one astute observer of Thailand’s political scene once told me: “Thaksin thinks five minutes ahead of everyone else in Thailand.” His arrival back in Thailand has out-manouevered the country’s military, bureaucracy, and other traditional elites. Who needs a ban lifted in order to run for political office when one can be the puppet master pulling the government’s strings? It allows one to wield power from behind the scenes without having to be held accountable to a nation’s populace. Something far from “ordinary.”
John J. Brandon is Director of The Asia Foundation’s International Relations Programs.
About our blog, In AsiaIn Asia is a weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia\’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of over 70 renowned experts in over 20 countries, In Asia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.
In Asia is posted and distributed every Wednesday evening, Pacific Time and is accessible via email and RSS. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].
ContactFor questions about In Asia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].
The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104
PO Box 193223
San Francisco, CA 94119-3223
THE LATEST ACROSS ASIA
The Asia Foundation Partners with MasterCard and Vietnam Bank for Social Policies on Mobile Banking Service
February 23, 2017
The Power of the Political Voice: Women as Voters, Candidates and Activists
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Better Legal Education Key to Strengthening Rule of Law in Afghanistan
February 22, 2017
Asia Foundation Releases Paper: Online Platforms as Drivers of Inclusive Growth
February 20, 2017
2017 Asia Foundation Development Fellows: Twelve Emerging Leaders Selected
February 9, 2017
President Trump and the Future of US-Asia Relations: A View from the West Coast
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Asian Views on America's Role in Asia
Recommendations for the Incoming U.S. President on Policy Towards Asia