Published on August 5, 2007
If the belated attempts by both human-rights groups to block Thaksin's acquisition of MCFC are of any significance, they have probably provided additional evidence to the world that things in Thailand are not that simple. International publicity has been largely on the ousted leader's side, thanks largely to his political marketing strategies and negative perceptions, right or wrong, about coups in the third world. At least the world can become better aware that Thaksin is not the only "victim" of bad politics in this country.
The human-rights organisations and their allies were not Thaksin's best friends when he was in power. There were protests, appeals, critical reports and condemnation during his five years in power, but, ironically, none seemed to attract as much attention as the Manchester City petitions. The bigger irony, however, is this: if Thaksin is not "fit and proper" to manage a British football club, how could he have been considered suitable to lead Thailand? In other words, if the two organisations are so opposed to him leading MCFC, where he possesses no power to control the media or order the police to shoot drug suspects, shouldn't their protests during his political reign here have been ten times more intense?
To be fair to HRW and AI, Thaksin's rise and fall have spawned countless ironies. And more are probably around the corner. The human-rights record of the military junta that toppled him in the September 19 coup is not very promising. What if, in an unlikely though not implausible scenario, Thaksin's alleged ill-gotten wealth was traced to the money pumped into the English soccer club? Would HRW and AI have to make another "fit and proper" protest if junta representatives were set to seize control of the team?
But more urgently, the HRW and AI have been left to defend their integrity following Thaksin's counterattack. MCFC officials and his lawyers have tried to blur the issue by suggesting that his tainted reputation was a result of a conspiracy by political opponents. What has been left unsaid is that Thaksin's poor human-rights record was there even before street protests erupted against him, and the coup leaders had nothing to do with the controversial drug-war killings, the tragic deaths in the deep South and the harassment of the Thai media.
It's hard to attack Thaksin at a time when he's throwing a party for the blue half of Manchester. Last night's friendly game against Spanish giants Valencia took place alongside a "One City" street extravaganza, to which he invited virtually everyone. Thaksin reportedly called Manchester crooner Cole Page himself to sing at the event, along with leading Thai entertainers including popular singer Mai Charoenpura. Free transport was available from the stadium to the party and Thai foods were to be served thanks to him.
Past human-rights issues surely must have been drowned in the kind of publicity familiar to Thaksin's critics. The overthrown Thai leader, said MCFC's official website, "is keen to build on the existing relationship between the City of Manchester and his home country. The event also symbolises the Club's great commitment to working with the different cultures and communities of our diverse city."
A great start to MCFC's new season - four or five straight wins perhaps - and HRW and AI could sound very irrelevant. Sports and politics should not be mixed, they always say, but shrewd strategies can prove otherwise, and Thaksin seems to be learning the art quite impressively. The human-rights organisations, on the other hand, may first have to learn about timing. Having said that, honeymoons are as short in sport as in politics, and fans will judge whether Thaksin is "fit and proper" through City's results only.