Thaksin return won't bring reconciliation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2012, 12:00am


Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a fugitive from Thai law, continues to raise the political temperature at home. Recently, while visiting South Korea, he said he would return to Thailand at the end of the year.

This was not the first time Thaksin had teased his supporters about his homecoming. He has constantly sought to measure the public response to his possible return to politics.

Yet, Thaksin today remains at the centre of Thai politics, despite being ousted from power almost six years ago, and later convicted on a charge of conflict of interest and sentenced in absentia to two years in jail. He undoubtedly influences key polices in the current government led by his sister, Yingluck.

Thaksin's enemies in high places may now see that isolating him won't guarantee their grip on power. A channel of communication between Thaksin and them has been reopened. Indeed, some of the government's recent moves seem to suggest that a deal has been made.

The Yingluck government appears to have decided it would not remove the outspoken ultra-royalist General Prayuth Chan-ocha from his army chief post and, more importantly, would not amend the anachronistic lese-majeste law. In exchange for leaving alone issues that could affect the monarchy's well-being, her government would be allowed to bring Thaksin home without him having to face the charges.

The stakes for the Yingluck government in such a deal would be high. As it stands, this arrangement excludes the poor, among whom are the red-shirt supporters who brought the ruling Puea Thai party into power.

Such a deal would also send out the message that the monarchy has become a main player in the country's political stalemate. The growing list of Thais who have been arrested for committing lese-majeste shows that the monarchy is now anxious about losing its special place - and its authority - in the political domain.

Will this so-called 'secret peace agreement' between Thaksin and his adversaries lead Thailand out of the turmoil and prevent another round of violence on the streets of Bangkok?

Maybe not, if it ends up alienating the pro-government red shirts. When it becomes clear that, in the end, the elites still have a monopoly on power, it would create resentment among the red shirts. Some already believe they were cheated, because electing the Puea Thai party has not brought them justice or the better living standards they craved. Ultimately, the rich and powerful in Thailand were only attempting to preserve their own power and position at the expense of the poor.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies