Published on August 19, 2007
One would be overly optimistic to expect fair play, a clean sweep and a lack of protest over dirty tricks and low blows. This is Thai politics, and big money is always an essential factor in the results.
Voters will have their first taste of a referendum, which they regard as an unnecessary political ritual involving a complex issue which requires a lot of reading and attention. Most Thais cannot claim excellence in serious reading and thinking.
In a way, the referendum will be a real test of the political strength and popularity of Thaksin Shinawatra, now living in self-imposed exile in London, with his status having changed from an ex-premier to a fugitive criminal, together with his wife and children.
The crafty side should win. As of now, most people believe that it will be plain sailing for the "yes" side despite the high number of undecided in the run-up to the polls.
The results nationwide should be known by midnight, officially or otherwise. What's more, the government and the military leadership do not expect to be defeated in this fight and lose face to Thaksin and his supporters.
Will it be a lopsided win? The votes do not matter. What Thaksin and his family are concerned with right now is the change of their status from wealthy common people in forced exile to fugitive criminals with two arrest warrants out and several more to follow.
Thailand is seeking extradition for the two and others to stand trial here. Thaksin and his lawyers argue, quite ridiculously, that it would not be a fair fight because the investigations looking into their high crimes and corruption are the product of the coup-makers.
Just as their supporters argue that the draft charter is the inedible fruit of a poisonous tree, these lawyers argue that the legal system here would be influenced by the powers that be.
Thaksin and his cronies exercised a double standard when they filed a case against the Assets Examination Commission seeking billions of baht in damages, among other cases. They are selective in placing trust in the court system only when it suits their purposes.
Seeking Thaksin's extradition is difficult, if not impossible. Surely it's not worth the many types of trouble, which are expected to arise if the government succeeds in bringing Thaksin back home.
Let's imagine the horror if Thaksin were to step down from an aeroplane here. How many supporters, paid, mobilised or acting out of blind faith, would be at the airport to give him a rousing welcome like a hero? Big money would surely be spent on a tear-jerker, making the fugitive look more like a saint being crucified.
Then law-enforcement authorities would have to deal with daily demonstrations, rallies, distribution of leaflets and mob pressure during the court process. Anti-riot and other security units would have to be burdened with work. The government would find it difficult to function or enforce law and order.
It would be wise to bring the battle, or battles, to London for Thaksin to get the full blaze of publicity he always seeks. Of course, this would be a costly affair, millions of pounds sterling for the best legal team from top-notch law firms. The government would have to match Thaksin in terms of money spent.
Ah! The government has frozen the assets of Thaksin: they at least would be the prize of legal victory, no matter how many years it took in long-running legal battles.
The extradition attempt would be a wasteful exercise. It would be far more forceful and have a stronger impact if charges involving extrajudicial killings, violations of human rights and money-laundering were to serve as the icing on the cake comprising other corruption charges.
If the legal battle were taken to London, Thaksin would then feel the heat and pressure from negative publicity. The government could highlight a number of issues through experienced PR firms to let the British people know that the person who has passed the "fit and proper person" test for owning Manchester City is nothing like the man they thought he was.
With the involvement of human-rights groups and the full blaze of publicity from British tabloids, Thaksin might realise that it was indeed a miscalculation to purchase a Premier League football team. There is a difference between Thaksin in exile and Thaksin as the owner of a football club.
Pressure will have to be brought to bear on him. He cannot expect a huge rally to support him and put pressure on the courts, as he could in Thailand. He would learn fast, if not through his high-priced lawyers, that bribery attempts to twist legal outcomes, such as he became familiar with in Bangkok, were next to impossible.
If a legal battle in London is not enough, we can always take some action at the International Criminal Court in The Hague over extrajudicial killings. Relatives of the victims of the dirty drug war would not be hard to find to attract media attention. Let the legal systems in London and The Hague decide the fate of this man with dubious wealth and character.
We need able hands to deal with these issues, not amateurish exercises like the way in which the cases against Rakesh Saxena and Pin Chakkaphak, who share the same status with Thaksin, were handled.
And the last doubt remains with the Surayud government and whether anything substantive can be achieved before his departure to enjoy his home and a plush golf course in the suburbs. Or is the issue politics - the Thai way - as usual?