For those of you uninformed about the phone-in, let's do a quick test. What do you think he said this time? a) I was unfairly convicted by a dictatorial court that applied multiple standards; b) Sure, I want to return to face justice, but there is no guarantee I will be treated fairly; c) Only your [his supporters'] love and support can bring me home; or d) All of those three.
There, you see my point. The once-amazing appeal of the phone-in has run its course. Thaksin the fugitive using new-age technology to connect with his mass political following and urging it on to victory cannot even match senseless vocational college brawls on the front pages - if the editors cared enough to put his story there at all.
I'm as worried about this as the columnist next to me, so here's my humble proposal: Let's have a debate via satellite between Thaksin Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva. Don't laugh; that's what they do when a soap opera's rating plunges. The climactic head-on showdown has to be moved up, and here are more reasons why:
-The two men have been sparring through different mediums anyway. Why not save everyone's time and go face-to-face once and for all?
-It would be a great opportunity to debate the subtle difference between "You stole my populist policies" and "I did not steal them; I only implemented them without conflicts of interest."
-Who's better suited for grilling the man who let the Rohingya scandal take place under his nose than the man who, under his own watch, let scores of Muslims suffocate in crammed military trucks?
-The yellow-red political merchandise business would get a big boost. T-shirts bearing the antagonists' faces would sell like hot cakes during the countdown.
-The world would learn, along with Thai viewers, the most profound legal and ethical issues. For instance, Abhisit would have to address Thaksin's key question: Why was I given two years for letting my wife buy a plot of state land, whereas the court let her go scot-free for making that very transaction?
-It would be Abhisit's best chance to rebut, once and for all, charges that he hijacked the people's mandate, and Thaksin's best chance to cement these charges, once and for all.
-The UK and Japan, which have shut their doors on Thaksin, must still be wondering whether they have done the right thing. The debate would either ease their pain or confirm their "mistakes". Either way, it would be better than never really knowing. And, of course, the information would benefit the ambivalent United States, too.
-Surely, as far as grilling Abhisit is concerned, Thaksin is miles better than Chalerm Yoobamrung. On the other hand, believe it or not, Abhisit grilling Thaksin would be the closest thing to parliamentary censure of the ousted leader, who never faced it when in power.
-Sponsors would be guaranteed a worldwide audience and extensive coverage.
-The globally broadcast showdown would not deepen the national divide, which simply cannot get any worse. The rest of the world, which is still in its infancy as far as getting to know Thaksin goes, may face a greater split. In the end, though, democracy would be the foremost beneficiary of the showdown.
-It's time we let other mediums be responsible for global warming. Fighting through those mediums has dominated the use of newsprint in Thailand, with one provocative comment usually generating 10 days of headlines.
-Even if it resulted in a draw, the Thaksin industry, which every one of us is a part of, will have been revitalised. And if Thaksin pulled off an impressive show, his next phone-in would once again be eagerly awaited.
-Too unorthodox? Come on. The world has seen one-on-one debates on less important matters, like the selection of the president of the United States. The exhaustive soul-searching on what democracy really is, needs to end somehow. The debate at least would let us know better whether it's a case of a democratic symbol flushed out of a dictatorial country, or the simpler issue of a fugitive having the ballot box as his last comfort zone.