Thaksin's 'political pause' is only the first step
A few hours before Thaksin Shinawatra announced on Tuesday evening that he wouldn't accept the premiership when (if?) the new House was called to pick a new leader, I wrote this commentary based on his television appearance the evening before:
You can never be too sure whether Thaksin Shinawatra is making a serious proposal or expressing his personal feelings when he mentions "national reconciliation". In fact, if you are familiar with his famous "quick promises, quick reversals", then you probably would want to treat his public statements on this issue just as a source of entertainment.
"If I am the real source of the country's ongoing conflict, I am ready to quit," he said. But did he mean it? Nobody knows. But if one goes by his record, one would have to take it with a bottle-full of salt.
The fact that Thaksin was still wondering whether he was the real problem - one day after the April 2 snap-election results showed an unprecedented 10 million people registering their anti-Thaksin votes by marking the abstention box on the ballot - showed that he still didn't get it. Or didn't want to get it at all. This, despite the fact that thousands of voters had gone one step further to show their anger by writing condemnations of Thaksin on the ballots, deliberately invalidating them.
Thaksin instead chose to emphasise that 16 million people around the country were still on his side, trying desperately to overlook the fact that he can't possibly rule a country where at least 40 per cent of the populace will not accept him as their leader. He simply refused to take note of the fact that this was the first time in Thai political history that such an overwhelming number of voters came out to notify an incumbent leader that his regime was too corrupt and despotic to deserve any trust at all.
Does Thaksin realise that there is a real political stalemate even after this purported exercise in democracy? The signs are too blatant to ignore. But, political chicanery, not adherence to reality, has become his weapon of choice. Thaksin went on television on Monday night to talk about "national reconciliation" as a way out of the current crisis, but it's reconciliation of a bizarre kind. He wants to meet "half-way", but only on his terms.
He said he would name an "independent panel" comprising three ex-chief judges, three former House speakers, and three ex-premiers and/or former university rectors to work on reconciliation. That's typical of Thaksin's way of thinking; as soon as he mentions "compromises" he starts to set his own rules for the game. One simply doesn't set up one's own committee without consulting with the warring parties and proceeding from there to reach a compromise.
It's plain, though, that he realises he has to go. But then, he goes about complicating things by taking one step back immediately.
"But who's to guarantee that if I go, things will be back to normal?" he asked. He was implying that nobody else could set things right in this country. And, of course, that misguided notion has been the single source of nationwide protests against his rule. Does he realise that? He does but he doesn't want to admit it. And that's the source of trouble plaguing the country right now. The election, as pointed out repeatedly by critics from all quarters, not only failed to resolve the nation's rising tension; it dragged the country further down an unfathomable dark hole. If Thaksin cares, he hasn't shown it in any apparent way.
His latest conditions for reconciliation, on the surface, sound simple enough: "Let the opposition parties lift the boycott. Let the People's Alliance for Democracy call off all rallies. Then I will immediately step down."
Sounds easy and clear, but it's not. One would have to first ask the question: "Does he mean it?" Then, if the answer is in the affirmative, the next question is bound to be: "If he means it, why did he talk about setting up an independent panel to coordinate reconciliation talks?" But that's not all. With Thaksin, nothing is as it seems. Your suspicion that something is always up his sleeve inevitably proved right. His next statement, given on television on Monday night, was classic "Thaksinspeak".
"Then, if we agree to all these conditions, the next question is: how do I tell the 16 million voters who cast their ballots for me to remain prime minister that I am not going to comply with their wishes?" he asked, with his typical knowing smile which inevitably carried that obnoxious "See, I can get away with it again, mate?" message.
That, without a doubt, is no message of reconciliation. Obviously, he has 16 million conditions attached to his "one step back" compromise. Sad to say, with that attitude from the man in the centre of the storm, things will get worse before they get better.
The price we will have to pay is becoming increasingly difficult to predict.
As things turned out, a few hours later Thaksin did prove predictably unpredictable. Contrary to what he suggested, it wasn't all that complicated to find a way to explain to the "16 million voters" why he had to turn down the premiership. And perhaps to his own great surprise, after he promised to remove himself from the political equation, national reconciliation, which had seemed almost unattainable only a few hours earlier, immediately appeared to be within reach after all.