Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thailand’s vicious cycle that will likely keep spinning

If Thaksin Shinawatra was a chicken, the Thai military would be the egg.
That's the bad news. Worse news is, we have gone way past "who came first?" - the divisive question that brought us our misery and to which whatever answer you think you have, doesn't matter. We still see no light at the end of the tunnel.

The question of the hour is: Who will come after July 3?

In other words, the paradox and all its implications will still plague our country's future. Forget the promised computer tablets, or income guarantee, or farmers' credit cards, or the economic index, or how the "drug war" should be waged. These are mere props on the stage, intended to give the upcoming poll some semblance of a democratic contest. The two big political possibilities looming over us after the election will both have little to do with them. Either Thaksin will be poised for a grand return, or the element that sent him into exile manages to keep him that way.

There are other possibilities. The Democrats might still win it against all odds, particularly if the vast number of "undecided" voters in Bangkok wake up on July 3 feeling pity for Abhisit Vejjajiva. Or a narrow Pheu Thai victory would either kill its chances of forming a government or, if not, delay its "blanket amnesty" plan. Or an "alternative prime minister" may be appointed for the sake of national reconciliation, in which case the amnesty scheme, Thaksin's virtual ticket home, would be put on the backburner.

But even those lesser scenarios stemmed from the ultimate Thaksin-military impasse, which has blocked Thailand's positive political progress and created sub-plots that are no less destructive and help feed the dilemma. Thais will go to the poll fed with rhetoric from both sides but knowing deep down in their hearts that whatever decision they make, it will still be far from over.

For all Yingluck Shinawatra's friendly character and unprovocative silence, and Army chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha's attempts to avoid discussing his future, this political race will be influenced by fears of Thaksin's homecoming on one side and the military's intervention in politics on the other. When Yingluck said over the weekend she was ready to pay a courtesy call on Prayuth and "seek his advice", she sounded sincere enough, but the remark inadvertently brought home the unpleasant image of the Thai military.

The anti-Thaksin camp, meanwhile, is charging that he, again, is trying to abuse an electoral mandate. The amnesty will not only allow Thaksin to come home, it is alleged, but it's also part of his "four-step" plot to return as prime minister. With Pheu Thai proposing the amnesty during its election campaign, the party could argue that bringing him back was a deal with the voters. That, however, would only serve to strengthen the impression that the election was being used to absolve one man.

Will it be deja vu all over again? Samak Sundaravej crashed and burnt soon after hinting at a charter amendment to help Thaksin. Will the yellow shirts be as strong, ideological and committed if Yingluck starts putting things in place for her brother's amnesty? They have dwindled in numbers and it's not very clear where their allegiance now lies. In addition, the movement has declared that Thaksin from now on would be the "Democrats' problem".

So, we can more or less take the yellow shirts out of the equation, out of their own free will, so to speak. This leaves Thaksin and the military. We have tried to figure out who is worse and have emerged a train wreck ourselves. Remedy may lie in the natural way people act when the original chicken or egg puzzle does their heads in. They stop thinking about it.

Easier said than done, of course. We need big help from both sides to move beyond this destructive paradox. If the military is determined to block Pheu Thai's rise to power at whatever cost, it will never end. Nor will it if Pheu Thai is hell-bent on giving Thaksin amnesty. How about the military letting democracy run its course no matter what happens on July 3 and Thaksin forgetting about his "vindication"?

Easier said than done, again. After all, sacrifice and selflessness are the most common political pledges that are always broken, even before people say them. But if the "chicken" and the "egg" of the Thai impasse both want to be there after July 3, they will destroy, not fix, and "reconciliation" will remain as elusive as ever. That much is certain, regardless of whom begat whom. The Nation, Bangkok

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