Thaksin and rivals set for new showdown

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2006, 12:00am

As the royal celebrations wind down, the opposition vows to unseat the PM

Embattled Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been telling friends privately that his astrologer believes his luck will turn after October 15.

That date just happens to be the new election day selected by the Election Commission after the results of the snap poll on April 2 were declared invalid by Thailand's constitutional court. Before then, Mr Thaksin is almost certainly going to need a touch of luck and his hardball political acumen, political analysts believe.

Insiders across his Thai Rak Thai Party and the opposition are now bracing for renewed hostilities once celebrations surrounding the king's 60th year on the throne start to wind down from today.

King Bhumibol Aduyadej's general appeals for unity over the past few days were already being interpreted by rival politicians for their own ends. A political hangover now looms.

'The best way unity can be achieved is by getting rid of Prime Minister Thaksin,' one senior Democrat Party member said yesterday. 'That is what we fully intend to do.'

High on the Democrats' agenda is the makeup of the Election Commission itself, which it claims favours Thai Rak Thai. Members are refusing to budge but remain vulnerable, independent observers noted. Their election date has yet to be confirmed by a royal decree, adding to the uncertainty.

The Democrats will also be pursuing court action over claims that Thai Rak Thai effectively bought compliance from minor parties during the uncontested poll on April 2. This could stop Thai Rak Thai figures, including Mr Thaksin, from legally standing again.

Their efforts are expected to be matched by protest groups keen to hit the streets once again after lying low out of deference to the king's celebrations.

Protests reached their peak shortly before the election in April, with Mr Thaksin's five-year rule branded corrupt and dictatorial by urban elites.

Underpinning the opposition strategy is the hard political reality that unless they can somehow dislodge Mr Thaksin legally, he will be exceptionally tough to beat in any fresh poll given his popularity across large areas of the country.

'We are better off than we were six months ago and we might dent his mandate, even by a significant amount, but he is going to be extremely tough to beat,' the senior Democrat source said.

One positive aspect of the rivalry appears to be the fact that the opposition is seeking to strengthen its policies in a bid to unseat Mr Thaksin, whose violent anti-drug crackdowns, rural loans and dirt-cheap health care energised the countryside vote as never before.

Thai politics is often criticised for failing to deliver actual policies to a population that gets by without state welfare, pension plans and a rudimentary education system.

The Democrat Party's deputy secretary-general, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, recently confirmed that the party was considering adopting strands of Mr Thaksin's ideas as part of a policy review.

The senior Democrat source said Mr Thaksin's health-care schemes would probably be kept in some form, if the health system could be sustained and improved.

The Democrats would also be seeking to improve education and the use of renewable energy, and keeping free trade and free enterprise platforms.

Thai Rak Thai officials said Mr Thaksin was relishing the fight and was determined to stay on. He stepped aside during the impasse that followed his victory in the poll on April 2 that was boycotted by the Democrats. The king later described the election as 'undemocratic', urging the courts to act.

Mr Thaksin appears in no hurry for the celebrations to end, taking an active role in ceremonies with international royalty.

'It is one of the most important milestones in our nation's history,' he told a royal audience during one ceremony.