Timing critical to Thaksin's media blitz
Attack on junta or rearguard action in face of corruption probes?
More than 500 anti-coup protesters gather yesterday at Sanam Luang to demonstrate against the military takeover, marching later to Army Headquarters.
Thaksin Shinawatra's international media blitz may look to some like a shrewd political offensive designed to soften up a junta reeling from a series of major economic setbacks.
Yet to the men who ousted him it is a last-ditch public-relations effort ahead of an anti-corruption crackdown on his administration.
The timing was conspicuous for both schools of thought.
Leading global news media have interviewed the deposed leader and given him sympathetic coverage at a time when there are foreign doubts and scorn for the military leaders following controversial economic steps and local anxiety over the motives and intentions of the coup leaders.
The likes of the Wall Street Journal have hit the interim leadership hard, with Thaksin all but portrayed as an economically more competent leader whose pro-capitalist policies were leading Thailand on the right track until he was brought down by a political conspiracy.
The post-coup worries of the international community over the "setback" to Thai democracy have been compounded by what was alleged to be either "protectionism" or economic naivety by the junta and its government.
But certain top members of the Council for National Security (CNS) have noted Thaksin's global campaign was mounted just as corruption probes into the former government near a climax.
In other words, the "offensive" might in fact be a desperate rearguard action.
High-ranking CNS sources said Thaksin's interview with CNN, a transcript of which was made available over the weekend, revealed his motives.
"First, he wants to proclaim his innocence before an international audience," said one of the sources. "He was claiming he was right and innocent and it was his opponents who caused Thailand's present troubles."
Apart from portraying himself as a victim, Thaksin tested the waters on leaders' willingness to compromise, possibly by granting him some form of amnesty, according to the sources.
In his interview, Thaksin said of his "belief" in His Majesty the King's kindness and the national "spirit" and tradition of forgiveness. He said if he was allowed to return to Thailand, it was his strongest desire to rebuild national harmony and end the political crisis.
The sources ruled out any chance of a compromise, saying it would take away any justification for the coup. Yet they noted that the CNN interview unveiled Thaksin's plan B - or how he would respond if Thailand's leaders refused to compromise and chose to nail him for corruption.
"He will claim he is not guilty based on legal evidence but any conviction is political persecution," said the source. But, while this might work for his international publicity campaign, Thaksin knows a conviction will shut the door on his political life and get the ball rolling on an intended seizure of his allegedly ill-gotten wealth.
The sources insisted it would not be long before the first concrete prosecutions against the former Thaksin regime.
They claimed that while graft that took place under Thaksin was sophisticated and well planned, it happened on such a massive scale not everything could be covered up.
One solid case and conviction and Thaksin will be history, they said. And that might happen within three months.
Soon, the junta and its government might call Thaksin's bluff. When cases against him become solid, the deposed prime minister might be "invited" to return to Thailand.
Whether Thaksin sets foot in Thailand or not in the near future, "we are one million per cent certain" he will not be able to make a political return, said one of the sources.