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Thai crisis not over yet - IBAP speaker

PHUKET: Thailand is in the midst of a transformation. It has been in crisis for 12 years – and the crisis is not over yet.

Monday 9 April 2012, 12:39PM

Dr Thitinan Ponsudhirak – Thailand is in the midst of a transformation; the current truce is untenable.

Dr Thitinan Ponsudhirak – Thailand is in the midst of a transformation; the current truce is untenable.

That was the message delivered last Friday (April 6) by Chulalongorn academic and political commentator Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak at a packed meeting of the International Business Association of Phuket, held at Urban Food in Central Festival.

“This will affect you,” said Dr Thitinan. “Thailand will be very different. I say that with some sadness,” he added.

He looked back at the past 12 years since Thaksin Shinawatra first came into power, and traced the attempts by the old establishment to defeat Mr Thaksin, all of them ultimately unsuccessful.

“Now there’s a kind of truce,” he said. “The bulk of the powers that be seem to put up with [Mr Thaksin’s sister] Yingluck because they don’t know what else to do. The truce is based on Thaksin staying away and Yingluck’s government protecting the monarchy.”

This, he argued, was the reason that the lèse majesté law and the Computer Act were still being wielded so widely.

But, he added, “There’s no reconciliation. Thaksin is not happy and his enemies are not happy.” The truce, he said, was “untenable”.

If the current hierarchy gives way, he warned, “what comes next could be worse – President Thaksin, Thaksin the Dictator. There is a great deal of fear about this.

“We’ve had more than a year of stability, but it’s deceptive.” More upheavals will come, he predicted, adding, “Earthquakes take place in Bangkok, but you will feel the aftershocks here.”

Labelling Mr Thaksin as a “brilliant politician”, he pointed out that the exiled former PM and the parties he has controlled have won every election held in the past 12 years.

But, he added, Mr Thaksin is corrupt and has a tendency towards authoritarianism, bringing to mind politicians elsewhere such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

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He noted some stress in the ruling Pheu Thai Party because “Thaksin wants Yingluck to succeed – but not too much, or they will no longer need him.”

He credited HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej with presiding over a period of general peace and stability lasting 60 years, a time of conservatism and a right-wing military that successfully kept communism at bay.

But Thailand in the early days of that period was a “village”. It has now grown up, he argued, and the proliferation of media means it is now much more difficult for governments to mould people’s minds.

Further coups are unlikely, he said. “[The military and the old establishment] are worried about international political reaction and the reaction of investors.”

However, he outlined a number of scenarios that could still bring upheaval. These would include the replacement of the Chief of the Army without army agreement, attacks on the royal institution and the return of Mr Thaksin without a deal being worked out first.

Dr Thitinan looked ahead to May when many of the pro-Thaksin politicians barred by the courts from politics five years ago will come to the end of their bans.

“This will spell the failure of the judicialisation of politics. The A Team are coming back. Two to five positions in the Cabinet will change. Pheu Thai will not be happy, but when the A Team come back they will make Yingluck and her team look like amateurs.”

He concluded that, in the short and medium term he is pessimistic about the political outlook. “We live in a grey land.”

In the long term, however, Thailand is a country well-endowed with food, practical people, a good geography, resilience and minimal scars from relations with the big powers.

But what Thailand will eventually become is still not clear, he concluded. “Thailand has to change. What it changes to is the question.”



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