Published on November 14, 2007
Members of the mass media should not be fooled by People Power Party leader, Samak Sundraravej. Throughout his long political career, the veteran politician has always been a formidable spin master who knows how to manipulate the press. Indeed, since a young age he has used his second career in journalism to burnish his reputation as a tough-talking politician. When he spoke out aggressively against the media during a press conference last week, he did it deliberately. Deep down, he wants to portray himself as a victim of the media's bias and discrimination, or worse - as the victim of a conspiracy.
Samak hopes to gain a sympathy vote from the public, and he has nothing to lose by doing so. As the election campaign gets into full swing, it will not be surprising to see Samak resorting to his same old antics to try to antagonise the media. The angrier the media gets against him, the more sympathy he will receive from people, particularly the gullible and poorly educated. And that is exactly what he wants. Then he will proceed to incite divisiveness, particularly between the rural masses and the urban middle-class. After all, he once succeeded in mobilising right-wing mobs by creating a communist scare, which lead to political turmoil and a military coup in 1976. For this, he was rewarded with the post of interior minister.
During his brief stint as interior minister he cracked down on the press and temporarily shut down this newspaper for making critical comments against the military government. Those who are old enough to recall those horrible days know and understand Samak's motives all too well. Newspapers can say whatever they want about him; he does not care because he knows he has very little chance of winning in Bangkok anyway. Members of the urban middle-class are too smart for Samak to manipulate. But he has apparently set his eye on the rural population, which he knows can be persuaded with his style of pedagogy.
Samak has already made claims that members of the media are after him because he speaks the truth as it is. Furthermore, the fact that he is behaving so outrageously should also be put in proper context. Let's not forget Samak has admitted that he is serving as the proxy of his political master, the deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who must be watching Samak's performance carefully from his self-imposed exile in London. At the moment, Samak is still useful to Thaksin, doing his bidding by trying to win the December 23 election, wooing millions of Thaksin's loyal supporters in the North and Northeast. If the People Power Party is a big winner in the election, the possibility of Thaksin staging a political comeback cannot be ruled out. Indeed, Samak may turn out to be an agent provocateur Thaksin has thrown into the political arena to disrupt an unsuspecting and still divided society.
The public must not lose sight of the fact Thaksin continues to pull strings from behind the scenes, and that Samak may well turn out to be a puppet. So far, it is clear that Samak is not really in control of the party he leads. Indeed Thaksin's trusted lieutenants, including some of the 111 executives of the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party who have been barred from political activity for five years, wield considerable influence in the People Power Party.
Samak, as the People Power leader, is reportedly powerless to deal with factional infighting within the party. But the public must not underestimate his manipulative skill in getting what he wants. Interestingly, Samak has turned down invitations to speak in political forums and has refused to engage other party leaders in televised debate. But even as he behaves so badly, there should be no attempt to boycott either him or the party he leads. That is because Samak is a public figure and the People Power Party is a public institution. It is in the public interest to report on what they say and do. However, extra caution must be exercised by news outlets to make sure they are not being manipulated into serving Samak's underhanded tactics, which are to exacerbate divisiveness among the people of this country.