COMMENTARY: Thaksin should put
his ear to the groun
Published on August 31, 2005 -
In the past, a “political crisis” involved noisy street protests, tumultuous parliamentary sessions and screaming front-page headlines featuring heated exchanges, threats and bluffing. Those were the times when politics, in the words of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was “unstable”, when back-stabbing and blackmailing ruled the day.
It’s different now, when we have an almighty government with a firm grip on the House of Representatives, a Senate that is anything but independent and has become strongly connected to the powers that be, and political activist groups whose voices are getting drowned in the daily thunder of the government’s public-relations machines. What constitutes a “political crisis” in the Thaksin era then? What could make the most powerful leader in modern Thai history squirm?
A strong-willed female bureaucrat, perhaps. And a book written by a dissident government MP, maybe? And last but not least, it could be deafening silence from the Royal Palace.
The deep South is a big headache, but Thaksin has proved that he can capitalise on the issue to seek popular sympathy. The same can’t be said about the impasse over Auditor-General Jaruvan Maintaka, and the controversial military reshuffle list, which have exposed and magnified the biggest flaws in his leadership. The auditor-general case stemmed from questionable acts of key institutions which have been badly interfered with, while the military issue underlines blatant nepotism, arrogance and disrespect for essential traditions.
Thaksin needs to act quickly before the contrasting yet equally stunning words of “removed” auditor-general Jaruvan and Supreme Commander Chaisit Shinawatra completely sink in with the Thai populace.
Resisting growing pressures from the government and Senate for her departure from her job, Jaruvan has been adamant that the only thing that will make her bow out is a royal command. “I’m not going anywhere unless a royal command is handed down transferring me,” she said. If she was understandably defiant, Chaisit was ignorant. “Let me guarantee you that the military reshuffle list can’t be changed,” he said while the list was languishing, probably on the privy councillors’ table. “Who can do that? The prime minister has signed it.”
The characters and settings are a recipe for a political public-relations disaster. “She” is a well-respected graft-buster who has reportedly unearthed some major shady political dealings, some concerning some of the biggest names in politics. The Constitution Court, on very dubious grounds, deemed the process of nominating her as auditor-general unlawful, and the Senate eagerly followed up on the ruling and nominated a replacement.
The nomination was sent to the Royal Palace nearly three months ago, where it has remained in limbo ever since. “He” is the prime minister’s cousin. Having risen to top military posts amid charges of favouritism, he has been fuelling suspicion of Thaksin’s expanding political empire by tampering with decisions of the Defence Council in an alleged bid to promote those he prefers. The meddled-with reshuffle list was approved by Thaksin on August 18 and submitted to the palace but in an unprecedented delay has not been returned.
“She” represents Thailand’s rearguard battle against corruption, and exposes the shrinking integrity of key institutions. “He” represents the unrelenting surge of new power that with each passing day has weighed Thais’ minds with new doubts. The Jaruvan case and the military reshuffle have become intertwined and, as Thai Rath newspaper noted yesterday, have coincided with the fact that “Royal Power” is the most talked-about book at the moment.
Despite government MPs’ efforts to prevent him from voicing his opinions, writer and rebellious Thai Rak Thai MP Pramual Rujanaseri has received the highest praise and his words are speaking volumes. A major panel discussion is also being mulled to address the sensitive subject and joining Pramual could be privy councillor and former supreme commander Surayud Chulanont.
But Pramual is not Thaksin’s biggest problem at present. The dissident has gone past that point because his damage has apparently been done. What the prime minister should be worried about is how many more people, including Thai Rak Thai MPs, will be drawn to the crucial twin issues which are still shaping the course of Thai politics. He should be worried about the Senate’s apparent impotence in the Jaruvan affair. And he should be worried that his cousin has not shown any remorse.
Parliament is showing no urgency. The government is conspicuously elusive. Does Thai politics remain “stable”, as Thaksin always likes it to be? It probably does. Things have been relatively quiet. But the tension he is feeling must be almost tangible now.