Thaksin too much of a distraction

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 December, 2011, 12:00am


Thailand's urban and rural poor would welcome a pardon and return from exile of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. That becomes a less remote possibility now that the government led by his sister has quietly reissued him with a Thai passport. Since he does not need it to travel elsewhere, having acquired a couple from other countries, it is to be hoped that it is only a symbolic gesture. Thaksin remains an intensely polarising figure who fled into self-imposed exile to escape jail for corruption in office. Because he successfully challenged the establishment using his own political power base, he is detested by the powerful military and the conservative elite as much as he is loved by poor people, a constituency they ignored but which he cultivated

After his supporters swept back into power with the victory of businesswoman Yingluck Shinawatra's Puea Thai party in peaceful elections six months ago, she vowed not to avenge the 2006 bloodless military coup that overthrew her brother or pardon him and let him return home. She must keep her word. The reappearance of such a divisive figure, without negotiations with his sworn enemies, would be calculated to plunge the country back into the political dysfunction and violence that prevailed for the previous five years.

Yingluck the novice campaigner outwitted the military-backed government of former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at every turn in the elections and took office with pledges of co-operation. But she remains inexperienced and the elections did not address the pressing issues of the future of the monarchy and devolution of power - concentrated unhealthily in Bangkok. Now her priority is to revive the economy after it was devastated by floods that killed hundreds of people. Having been criticised for its management of disaster response, she needs to restore her government's standing by winning support for policy responses to poverty, welfare and the threat of inflation. Keeping her brother at international-call distance is a prerequisite.