Manufacturing opposition to Thaksin

What choice do we have? - Bangkok Post, September 29, 2004
A candid and insightful editorial from the Post that even takes a swipe at The Nation: ...Some newspapers, drawing courage from others, are manufacturing "opposition to Thaksin growing'' articles.
My favourite is about a "major'' rally at Sanam Luang recently, which turned out to be organised by one disgruntled and very bankrupt tycoon, who is about to lose control of his empire because the government has done the right thing and forced through a restructuring programme that the country's banking system desperately needed, and one very failed pyramid financing engineer who recently returned to Thailand after the statute of limitations had expired. These two gentlemen and their rent-a-crowd do not in any way reflect public opinion or a growing opposition to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In fact, their anger is more a measure of Mr Thaksin's effectiveness, if anything...
Tired of being kept away from the feeding trough--I mean, out of power--and convinced that Mr Thaksin will serve another four years as prime minister, Maj-Gen Sanan, the archetypal old guard politician, decided to break away from his long-time Democrat friends to stitch together a new "coalition party-in-waiting''...


[2014 note: This is another article that has disappeared from the net so here is the full text]

What choice do we have?

One public opinion poll suggests that the prime minister's popularity is declining. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's governor election results were seen by some as a stinging rejection of the Thai Rak Thai party. Some newspapers, drawing courage from others, are manufacturing ``opposition to Thaksin growing'' articles.

My favourite is about a ``major'' rally at Sanam Luang recently, which turned out to be organised by one disgruntled and very bankrupt tycoon, who is about to lose control of his empire because the government has done the right thing and forced through a restructuring programme that the country's banking system desperately needed, and one very failed pyramid financing engineer who recently returned to Thailand after the statute of limitations had expired. These two gentlemen and their rent-a-crowd do not in any way reflect public opinion or a growing opposition to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In fact, their anger is more a measure of Mr Thaksin's effectiveness, if anything.

Perhaps more interestingly, we have a few new political parties rushing to register in time so that they can beat the 90-day deadline before the general election. Of these, the Mahachon party clearly has the most experience and money. However, when one looks at the founding partners _ Sanan Kachornprasart, formerly a Democrat party bigwig, and Vattana Asavahame, formerly of the Rassadorn party _ one begins to wonder. No, one doesn't actually. It's as clear as daylight.

Tired of being kept away from the feeding trough _ I mean, out of power _ and convinced that Mr Thaksin will serve another four years as prime minister, Maj-Gen Sanan, the archetypal old guard politician, decided to break away from his long-time Democrat friends to stitch together a new ``coalition party-in-waiting''. Between them, Maj-Gen Sanan and Mr Vattana hope to draw into their net perhaps 20 to 40 captive seats at the next general election, thereby weakening the Democrats, and in return they clearly hope to be invited to join Mr Thaksin's second-term administration, at which time the Mahachon party will be seamlessly dissolved into the Thai Rak Thai party.

The cost of this farcical political ballet will be shared between the three gentlemen concerned and the rewards will be cabinet posts for Maj-Gen Sanan and Mr Vattana. Another bonus: Thai Rak Thai will appear a slightly less dominant victor at the time the general election results are announced, perhaps in keeping with the prime minister's toned down publicly stated election goals.

According to Mahachon leader Anek Laothammathat, another Democrat party stalwart, now a defector, and a former Communist Party of Thailand student activist, the party believes in progressive welfarism, decentralisation and the fight against corruption and conflicts of interest. Assistance given under progressive welfarism is not vertical, meaning state to people, but horizontal, meaning people to people. Apparently, instead of having the government help people directly, communities decide for themselves which people are given assistance.

Which leaves us with the Democrat party.

What can one say about this disparate collection of old guards and younger stars? As much as we all might want a viable alternative to the Thai Rak Thai party, how can we expect voters to be inspired by a party that is effectively split between the old and the new and has yet to articulate a meaningful policy platform that addresses the fundamental issues facing our country? Simply telling us that they are against corruption and cronyism and for transparency and decentralisation is not sufficient to convince me, at least, that they have anything concrete to offer the country.

I imagine Democrat party leader Banyat Bantadtan and Prime Minister Thaksin facing off in a series of televised debates about the issues of our times in the run-up to the general election next February. That's a gauntlet I would like to see both men take up.

Kanjana Spindler is Assistant Editor, Editorial Pages, Bangkok Post.
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