Thaksin is busy talking, but is anyone listening?
Philip Cunningham says former premier's manipulation of Thai politics may prove futile
Thai politics is never dull but too much excitement is a cause for concern. Just as the mercury starts to soar, political foes are gearing up for a dry season offensive. First, there's the news that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be taken to task for financial irregularities that could jeopardise her tenure in office. Then there's Yaowapha Wongsawat, her elder sister, who is being positioned to wait in the wings as a replacement.
The manipulation of these two sisters as political proxies is yet another sign that strings are being pulled to perpetrate the weird and ultimately shameful arrangement by which Thailand has unwittingly permitted its leadership to be hijacked by one unusual, rich and ambitious Thai exile living in Dubai.
Fugitive from justice Thaksin Shinawatra keeps phoning home, appointing leaders and guiding the business of parliament. The opposition Democrats have been quick to criticise him for bending the rules to breaking point in order to win concessions for himself.
And despite the business acumen that has made him a wealthy man, Thaksin has a documented record of clumsily obsessing about himself, and using the instigation and amelioration of civic strife to advance personal aims.
As he reportedly phoned in to the 40,000 red shirts who gathered solemnly in Bangkok last year to commemorate those who died in the street violence of May 19, 2010, they needn't mourn anymore because he was coming home. It turns out he didn't make it back by the end of 2012 as predicted because his amnesty plan provoked opposition and stalled, leaving Thaksin in high dudgeon, trying to retrieve lost time.
Yingluck is also proving more popular than him, which was not part of the script when he installed her in power. Increasingly, when he talks, nobody listens. His much-hyped, much-Skyped amnesty plan has gone nowhere and excites little interest from the public, with only 3 per cent in favour, according to a poll.
In recent months, he has been paying visits to regions bordering Thailand on every side, behaving like an emissary of the Thai government. But his claim is only as good as his ability to rule through a proxy such as his sister, who is increasingly showing signs of independence.
His recent phoned-in laments of impatience about constitutional reform and the stalled amnesty bill indicate he is aching for action, looking for novel ways to show his hand, win attention and further promote his personal agenda.
But guerrilla attacks and violence are an everyday occurrence in the deep south of Thailand, poverty remains grinding and if the reds and the yellows start marching again during this hot anniversary season, all bets are off.
Philip J. Cunningham is a media researcher and freelance writer