Published on November 16, 2007
Or does it matter? Going into the general election, you have to read between the lines. What you see is not what you get. Samak would never become prime minister anyway, even if the PPP were to win the largest number of MP seats in the election. He has declared from the outset he is a nominee for ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra. So be it, for all literary and practical purposes.
Keep a close watch on Dr Surapong Suebwonglee, the secretary-general of People Power, which represents remnants of Thaksin's disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party. In April last year, while political turmoil was brewing over the Shin Corp/Temasek affair, his name appeared as a candidate to succeed Thaksin. He is a real insider. He might step out from the shadows at the last minute to call the shots.
Samak has been dragged out of the closet to head the PPP because of his big mouth. He has proved a staunch loyalist to Thaksin. His verbal line has been rather effective in the current political climate of deep divisions. "We have been against the coup and pro-democracy, while other parties are only trying to hang on the boots of the military," Samak said in a typical outburst.
But since his use of foul language with the media and refusal to debate with rival Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party, Samak is creating problems for PPP. This has caused Mingkwan Sangsuwan to try to come to the rescue by becoming a spokesperson instead.
Mingkwan was once very close to Dr Somkid Jatusripitak, formerly Thaksin's economic tsar. But Somkid broke away from Thaksin to form the Ruam Jai Thai Party, which later merged with Chart Pattana. They all are ex-TRT members.
A military poll recently showed that PPP commanded a potential lead with 200 MPs. This has become quite worrying for Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the coup leader, who has to work hard to prevent a PPP victory. But the most he can do is indirectly let other parties such as the Puea Pandin Party (Motherland Party) or the Chart Thai Party win more seats from PPP, whose strongholds are the North and Northeast. The Democrat Party does not have any political base there at all.
There is a long way to go between now and the election. More realistically, PPP might be able to grab 140 seats. The Democrats can conservatively win 120. The problem is how it can boost the margin further in order to stand a chance of forming the core of the next government.
If both parties fail to win big, Banharn Silapa-archa of Chart Thai might gang up with Puea Pandin and Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana, with support from one of the two big parties, to force himself into the premiership. Puea Pandin has emerged as a party to be reckoned with, with a potential of 50-60 seats.
But Banharn has met with Thaksin in London. Suwit Khunkitti's Puea Pandin represents ex-TRT members. Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana can never completely sever its ties with TRT.
All parties - except for the Democrats - appear to have no problem ringing the man in London for a chat. They are either his nominees or they are trying to reap "rainfall" from him. So who exactly is calling the shots now?
During the coup, Gen Sonthi was the country's most powerful person. But now, as deputy prime minister, he is being isolated. In retrospect, he made a mistake by handing over power to Gen Surayud Chulanont instead of exercising power himself. Surayud sets high priorities and standards as an interim prime minister without making any hard decisions. When the election is held, he will have completed his mission.
As it has turned out, the coup achieved only one objective - of removing Thaksin from power and forcing him into exile. Gen Sonthi is being left to mind his own future. He would have liked Gen Montree Sangkhasap to succeed him as Army chief. But Surayud was in favour of Gen Anupong Paochinda. Gen Sonthi has less say in it. He was a coup leader who handed over power.
There has been virtually no political reform. Criminal cases against Thaksin are crawling at a snail's pace. Only the Ratchada-phisek land deal has been brought to court. But the court has agreed to keep the case on hold until the authorities can bring the defendants - Thaksin and his wife Pojaman - back to Thailand to face a trial.
It looks like a deal is going on in high places. You can also see Gen Anupong has brought the military back to the barracks. He has refrained from making his presence felt in Thai politics. He has gone back to seek a truce with his classmates, who were removed from military power after the coup and are Thaksin's supporters. Thaksin also belongs to this Class 10 of the Pre-Cadet Military School.
If PPP were to win, Gen Anupong, who was a key coup supporter, would have no problem because the Army would stay neutral. After the coup, we are witnessing a Thai-style compromise that will hurt no one in the end and will prevent the country from falling apart -if Thaksin agrees to permanent UK resident status.
Thaksin only wants to protect his assets for now. If he insists on coming back to Thailand, that will complicate the matter beyond this present compromise. He can't come back yet - and not in the foreseeable future.