The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has been caught off guard. If the government decides to delay the constitutional amendments, then PAD would have no justifiable reason to organise its rallies. The PAD rallies revolve around the premise that politicians are attempting to amend the Constitution in order to whitewash all the corruption cases pending against ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Sondhi Limthongkul, the media tycoon, and the other core leaders of PAD have returned to the scene. They are in war mode, ready to embark on the "Last War" against the Thaksin regime. Their rallies in 2006, which gained broad support from the middle class in Bangkok and elsewhere around the country, became the catalyst for the military coup. But the coup could not purge Thaksin and Co. That is why we still have such fierce political undercurrents on both sides.
This time round, the PAD has been able to attract supporters who number in the thousands, not the several tens of thousands who attended rallies in 2006. The situation is not the same. During the rallies in 2006, the PAD could play on the central theme that Thaksin enriched himself by selling off Shin Corp, including other national assets, to Temasek of Singapore. This theme struck a chord with urban supporters and raised their blood pressure. Now the PAD has tried to make the charter amendments its central issue to justify the street demonstrations. This issue can't draw the public's emotion like the Shin Corp deal.
If the government backs off from the Constitution amendments, the PAD would find it hard to keep its crowds. PAD leaders have quickly fine-tuned their rally cry, now saying that they would be demanding that the Samak government resign altogether because it is not doing anything in the face of higher oil prices, inflationary pressure and general economic hardship. Since the PAD has come out of the cave, it finds itself in an awkward situation of not being able to go back into the shadows without completing the mission of uprooting Thaksin and Co.
So what is Newin Chidchob's game plan now? Will the top lieutenant of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra budge?
By the way, his father Chai Chidchob is the House Speaker and has clout in Parliament. If Newin would like to hasten a political endgame by clashing with the PAD, he would only have to tell other MPs to line up and sign the parliamentary motion to push for a rewrite of the Constitution. There are more tactics in store. Thaksin and Co might back off for now in order to launch a counterattack.
Political veterans such as Snoh Thienthong and Banharn Silapa-archa have come out to issue warnings about the clash over the charter amendments. Hey, let's give the country a break. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej artfully dodged the pressure from his party to amend the Constitution by tossing the issue away from himself. He said he would like to consult the Thai public first over a referendum. This delay tactic works fine for him because at least it will buy his shaky premiership several more months. It would require a whole lot of debate to determine whether the country should waste another Bt2 billion on a referendum. It takes time to work on the legislation to make a referendum possible.
In the meantime, can Thaksin afford to wait? Is time on his side? The Assets Examination Committee (AEC) has wrapped up a big corruption case against him involving the Shin Corp deal. It has suggested that the state seize Bt72 billion of Thaksin's assets and put it into the national coffers because of alleged policy corruption and stock concealment. The AEC has submitted the case to the Office of the Attorney General.
If Thaksin thinks that time is not on his side, he would have to act fast. But that would play into the hands of the PAD, which is already losing its momentum. Meanwhile, the generals will exercise more patience this time for the final roundup.