Published on January 20, 2008
A political alliance led by the People Power Party (PPP) is destined to form a government in the next few weeks following a series of rituals in the House of Representatives, marking the triumphant return of politicians loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra. As of now, nothing can stop them.
PPP leader Samak Sundaravej made it clear on Friday that he would become prime minister, shrugging off all criticism and misgivings about his flawed leadership based on his low credibility, poor character and low level of competence, and his real status as a Thaksin nominee, which has yet to be determined under the due process of the law.
Samak and those behind him should waste no time in dealing with the rituals. The haggling over the sharing of spoils has been concluded mostly on agreeable terms.
We should have a new government by mid-February. The Cabinet line-up by that time should make it easy to say whether they have the public's blessings or revulsion.
Samak, at 72 years of age, will go down among the oldest of his predecessors in office. To him, this is beyond even his wildest dreams, a real political windfall brought about by choice and circumstances. It does not matter if critics regard his presence as a persisting karmic debt that the country has to pay.
How long can he last in power? Political obstacles aside, Samak stands to face an Appeals Court verdict on whether he should become a guest of the Corrections Department for two years after losing a libel suit filed by a former deputy governor of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. If the judgement is upheld, he could go straight to jail unless the Supreme Court allows him to seek its verdict.
There is still uncertainty involving pending criminal charges against him related to the procurement of fire-fighting equipment. If the Assets Examination Commission rules that it has a prima facie case, then Samak would have to step down from the premiership to fight more legal battles.
That will take some more time yet. What the public is waiting for right now is the announcement of the Samak Cabinet. Will the line-up inspire confidence about the future of the country, or be appalling - with all the undesirables in top positions, thus raising questions of credibility and honesty.
Samak surely does not have a free hand in choosing his Cabinet. His master will select the puppets while the coalition partners will present their teams to fulfil their part of the bargain. Competence and integrity are not required. Let's hope that what we have to bear from now on does not look like a den of thieves poised to wreak havoc on our national assets.
The PPP will assume power. The public will see not long after whether Samak will be reasonably independent or if he'll just meekly take orders from "unseen figures" lurking around in Bangkok, or via remote control from either London or Hong Kong. An agenda will be set for him to carry out crucial assignments to make it worth the money invested in the polls and the spoils offered to coalition partners.
It is still acceptable to some people for Samak to be in charge, even though he has been ridiculed as a Thaksin nominee. He still retains some degree of independence either in the form of stubbornness or ignorance with his devil-may-care attitude. At the top, Samak may not want to look like an obedient nominee for Thaksin. After all, he is prime minister, with all power vested in him.
Samak should preserve some degree of self-perceived independence, doing whatever he deems fit for himself and his own self-serving interests. Whether he will get to deal with his critics, opponents and real adversaries and those of his bosses soon remains to be seen.
The earlier promise to work for national reconciliation and forget vendettas, either openly or discreetly, will also be monitored closely. Despite their power, Samak and his team have to move cautiously. Any provocative actions or displays of political arrogance could encourage city people to vent their displeasure through street protests.
The first reaction to the Samak Cabinet line-up will be stock-price movements. This indicator cannot be wholly trusted because the market is highly speculative in nature, serving frequently as a venue for price manipulation and other means of transaction with complicated shenanigans. Thaksin and his family members are still entangled in legal troubles involving multimillion-baht stock deals.
The choices made for the Cabinet line-up could give some indication of whether Samak's government will last. If credibility and image problems are intense, with growing wariness over honesty and integrity, then Samak would have to face low public acceptance and disapproval.
Why has the country not achieved fruitful results after a year, with hardly any reforms as was highly expected after the coup last September? The Surayud government has to take the bulk of the blame for doing nothing substantive, except for killing time with gusto.
The public's snide remarks towards the Surayud Cabinet were powerless against the Teflon "old-ginger" team.
The long-time suspicion that Surayud and most of his team members are actually Thaksin's "silent partners" now appears more credible and realistic, gauged through the aloofness and the lack of the sense of caring for the future of the country. The time-wasting presence of the Cabinet, who just did what was perfunctory, does not fit the picture of an administration dedicated to serving the people and the national interests.
Don't be shocked if Samak and Thaksin get early congratulatory phone calls from someone very high in Government House. They will soon meet to complete the transition ceremony in a euphoric mood - because the hidden mission was accomplished while the people have been fooled into believing the reconciliation charade all along.