Wednesday, April 6, 2011

THAILAND - The coup, the crackdown and now episode three of the crisis

Who wouldn't be over-excited ?

Thaksin Shinawatra has made new phone-ins vowing clean politics. Snoh Thienthong is claiming he can't retire until politics is clean. Purachai Piumsomboon has returned to the fray with a promise to stay for the long haul and a pledge to, yes, clean up politics. And don't forget Sondhi Limthongkul's warning that politics can't ever be cleaned unless you follow his "No" vote call.

The Democrats are the only ones not making such blatant promises, but only because they don't need to. Being in control of state budgets, they have understandably avoided the abstract and focused on the "substance". Their TV advertising, now growing in alarming frequency, has revolved around how taxpayers' money has been spent for the greater good, leaving Thaksin to sound more bitter with each video-link.

It seems there is nothing left to be cleaned up if we take everybody's word seriously. That's not the point, though. Like I said the last time, not every country has this kind of political cast coming together in a single election. We are in for a real treat, which is something the Singaporeans' money can't buy, Burma's dictatorship can't provide, and the Americans can't have, even with their primaries and presidential elections combined.

Thaksin, Snoh, Sondhi, Purachai and the Democrats are just half the story. The likes of Robert Amsterdam and Giles Ungpakorn can be counted on to supply intrigue on the international front. Arisman Pongruangrong and other fugitives will add mystery and thrills. Hun Sen is on tap. There are Thai prisoners in Cambodia and troops at the border whose fates are more or less linked with our political course. And everyone and everything I have mentioned are having a strong presence felt on the social media networks. (That Purachai is now on Twitter instead of seeking to ban it speaks volumes.)

Chalerm Yoobamrung is also still in the picture because he wants to make sure that if Mingkwan Saengsuwan is to be the Pheu Thai Party's prime ministerial candidate, it must be over his dead body. Although Sudarat Keyuraphan remains absent from public view, behind the scenes she's committed to standing between Chalerm and whatever malice she believes he's up to. Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has also been quiet, but we all remember that the last time he emerged from hibernation, he visited Cambodia to kick-start a bilateral diplomatic nosedive.

If you have ever watched Newin Chidchob's football team, it will remove any doubt about his ability to change the course of things and fulfil his own ambition. Banharn Silapa-archa may have lost the old spark, but along with Newin, the former prime minister will attempt to, and still can, play a king-maker role. Then we have Sanan Kachornprasart, an ex-Democrat bigwig who fell from grace following a five-year political ban and is re-branding himself as a peacemaker, albeit with Thaksin's shadow hanging over his head.

Army chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha has never vowed to "clean" politics. (Which is very nice, although we will surely be more thankful if he puts his "non-words" into action.) But his quiet, no-nonsense presence alone gives this extraordinary cast a more extraordinary look. Nobody will want to mess with him, which leaves the question whether he will be able to resist the urge to mess with them.

Prayuth and his armed forces peers chorused "No coup, please believe us" yesterday, but the fact that their noses were scrutinised by the public while the pledge was being made said much more than what the men in uniform were trying to say.
But the thing is, it's not just about the military's poor credibility. All the Thai political players are like kids lighting matches with wild abandon inside an arms depot.

The weak hearts who listened to Thaksin's latest phone-in may have freaked out. Their sadistic counterparts must be rubbing their hands in glee, though. The man in exile has sent a few clear messages: He's running the Pheu Thai show, including who will be the prime minister if the party wins the election, and he intends to use such a victory as a re-entry visa.

Sorry for all the unmentioned names who will surely contribute to the great excitement. The EC, the judges, the Thaksin strategists and the rest of the banned politicians are all lurking with all kinds of intent. You can't escape or deny the excitement. Just be thankful we all will have a front-seat view of Episode III of the Thai crisis. By Tulsathit Taptim for The Nation, Bangkok

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