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Whatever motivated London, it may be big and scary

The biggest question is why. For all the uncertainties surrounding Thaksin Shinawatra's immediate future following his visa cancellation by Britain, what baffles everyone most is the real motive of the country praised by the man himself as democratically very mature.

Why, all of a sudden, did London slam the door on Thaksin and make him suffer the humiliation of a criminal-cum-political-refugee with no place to live?

The British Embassy would not comment. In fact, the cancellation of Thaksin's and his wife's visas became known through other channels, and embassy insiders said the embassy would issue statements only if it was necessary to respond to reaction from Thaksin or related parties.

So speculation was rife yesterday. Some observers pointed to his and his wife's criminal convictions, but then again, wasn't the "credibility" of the Thai courts the contentious point here? So why was London so quick to jump to the conclusion that the courts were credible when Thaksin hasn't even had a chance to put up a decent asylum fight yet?

Some pointed to the "winning-ugly" court ruling on the Ratchadaphisek land case, a verdict that was based purely on three indisputable facts: Thaksin "was prime minister" when his wife "bought" the land, and that "broke" Thai law. The court ignored charges of corruption and conspiracy to reap profits, but this means Thaksin was left with no grounds to challenge the ruling.

Others believe the visa cancellations were prompted more by political and diplomatic concerns. Some airline sources said that London might have been alarmed by the increasingly apparent tendency of Thaksin to use Britain as a staging ground to launch political activities against his opponents in Thailand. He triggered a major controversy last week by addressing tens of thousands of supporters through a long-distance phone-in from Hong Kong.

But why the rather rude manner? Yes, Thaksin could have been politely told to leave quietly for not acting like a real persecuted refugee, but there would have been a risk of him mounting a legal campaign in a bid to stay on. Such a campaign, of course, could turn politically and diplomatically very nasty for Britain.

One airline source went further, saying the highly unusual way of treating someone who had been allowed to live a luxurious life and buy a premium soccer club had been caused by "perhaps something we don't know". Bluntly put, have the British authorities smelt some hanky-panky deals? To start with, Thaksin bought Manchester City with money he never reported having (while he was in Thailand and had to declare his assets).

Whatever the reason, however, it must be strong enough to outweigh the obvious negatives this shocking visa move carries.

One thing is clear: Thaksin is fast going from a divisive political figure in his homeland to an international hot potato.

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