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Thaksin's 'national unity' plan bitterly ironic

The idea of a national unity government after the December 23 election as proposed by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in an interview in Hong Kong over the weekend didn't come out of the blue.

Published on December 11, 2007

But that Thaksin trumpeted the idea as if it were the only way out of the anticipated post-election political deadlock is indeed ironic.

It was veteran political chameleon General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh who first floated the idea a few weeks ago as he jumped back into the political arena offering his services as an "interlocutor" to bridge the widening political divide. Chavalit's political agenda is at best unclear but it wouldn't surprise anyone if it turns out that he is fronting for the former prime minister.

The political antagonism that has split both the political establishment and society at large is casting a dark shadow over the upcoming election. It is dampening hopes that the election will put Thailand back on a steady course toward democracy. Instead, what most political pundits see is the potential for an even greater political confrontation, regardless of who wins.

There is no denying the country has become so polarised that political reconciliation in the near future is out of the question. The ongoing election campaign that is pitting the two major political camps against one another speaks volumes about Thailand's political future.

Like it or not, Thaksin is probably the one man who holds the key to political rapprochement. With the kind of political clout and wealth he has, Thaksin in fact has, more than anyone else, influenced the course of Thai politics even while living in exile for the past 14 months. Almost everything that has emerged on the Thai political landscape since the coup last September has largely been dictated by the former prime minister or was done in response to his manoeuvring. Even some of the provisions in the newly introduced Constitution are said to have been designed out of fears of the "Thaksin ghost".

The People Power Party (PPP), which is nominally headed by political veteran Samak Sundaravej, is seen as nothing more than a vehicle to bring Thaksin back to power - or at least to ensure his political relevancy while he bides his time in exile. Thaksin dropped all pretence of being a mere bystander when he openly called on his supporters to vote for the newly formed party in a video clip, copies of which have been widely circulated among northeastern constituencies.

Thaksin said that only a poll victory by the PPP would bring economic prosperity, political justice and democracy back to Thailand. And more importantly, only a government headed by the party would ensure that he could return home. There is not the slightest sign of remorse in the short video clip despite all the charges of corruption and abuse of power levelled against him and the polarising effect his five-year rule had on politics. It's the same old angry and vengeful Thaksin talking.

And one thing about Thaksin that obviously hasn't changed is his tendency to contradict himself. In the video clip he leaves no doubt that he is counting the days until he can return to the country to reclaim what he believes to be his rightful place. And yet in the Reuters interview, the former prime minister tried to play down fears he may want to return to power.

While he talks about reconciliation, every one of his messages from London has been full of bitterness and hatred. And while he implores everyone to make an effort to bring about political harmony after the election, he continues to pull the strings behind those in the PPP who have been raising the political temperature with their open hostility.

It's both ironic and ridiculous that Thaksin should be calling for a national unity government while doing everything possible to make sure the social and political discord that threatens the country's political future continues to be stoked. Thaksin proposed that such a government should be in power for no more than two years, during which its primary task would be to amend the constitution and prepare the country for a return to political normalcy.

Thaksin would probably have everything to gain if the national unity government that he is advocating did materialise. His well-funded PPP would be ensured a prominent role in the proposed coalition, paving the way for early political redemption for Thaksin and all of the other former Thai Rak Thai executives who have been slapped with a five-year political ban. The political interval should also provide Thaksin with breathing space and allow him to lay the groundwork for his eventual return to power.

So Thaksin's idea about a national unity government is nothing more than political expediency designed to reinforce his political influence. If Thaksin is sincere about seeking political reconciliation, all he needs to do is to stop all his political manoeuvring. But it's obvious that it's not reconciliation or political peace he is after. Thaksin just wants to demonstrate that even from thousands of miles away he is still a force to reckon with.

Thepchai Yong

The Nation

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