Thaksin bashing won't solve political crisis

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 June, 2010, 12:00am

The hunt for former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra continues. Bangkok's ruling elites are using their international networks to try to bring the billionaire-turned-fugitive home to serve time for conflict of interest charges.

More recently, Thaksin has been accused of leading a terrorist network that includes 'red shirt' protesters who took part in a violent attack on public property as government troops moved to end the weeks of street rallies.

In the years since the military coup that ousted Thaksin's elected government, the establishment forces - comprising a large faction in the military, the bureaucracy and those associated with the palace - have tried to alienate Thaksin on the global stage. They are drafting a number of extradition treaties with several countries where Thaksin is said to have been residing.

Thaksin is becoming a persona non grata, especially in countries that maintain good ties with the Thai authorities. In its latest move to isolate Thaksin, Bangkok has named as its ambassador to the United States a known Thaksin opponent.

Kittiphong na Ranong, director general of the East Asian department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is considered of junior rank, but has been tasked by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya - another Thaksin antagonist - to work with US officials to undermine Thaksin's legacy and influence.

The US has been a staunch ally of the traditional Thai power holders. In the aftermath of the coup of September 2006 that ousted Thaksin's elected government, the US was unusually quiet regarding the military intervention. Although it suspended all military aid to Thailand, their joint annual military exercise, Cobra Gold, continued under the post-coup government.

Also, following the first violent clashes on April 10, the US heavily criticised the pro-Thaksin 'red shirts' for provoking securities forces. The Obama administration, in a further sign of support, extended an invitation to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to attend the nuclear conference in Washington that month. To the 'red shirts', the US had done nothing to promote democracy or eliminate double standards and injustices in Thailand.

The accusation against Thaksin of being the chief operator of a terrorist group is perceived as another bold diplomatic move by the anti-Thaksin faction in the Thai foreign ministry. With this accusation, countries that do not want to risk jeopardising their relations with the Thai government - or breach any international law - would find it difficult to welcome Thaksin.

Can Abhisit's reconciliation plans really heal the rifts in Thai society? This at least is clear: isolating Thaksin is not the way out of Thailand's protracted crisis. Conversely, using international allies to pressure Thaksin could allow him to gain more sympathy from his diehard fans in the poorest regions of Thailand.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow at Singapore's Institute of South East Asian Studies. He will launch his book, Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and His Foreign Policy, at the Foreign Correspondents' Club tomorrow