Would Thaksin dare to sue a monk?

Dare the prime minister sue a monk? - Bangkok Post, October 6, 2005
[The Bangkok Post's editorials and comment pieces are becoming more and more like The Nation's...]
...Believed to be a saint, Luangta Maha Bua commands a nationwide following who believe in his every word.
When he made his unhappiness with the Chuan administration public, for example, the Democrat-led government did not last long.
Last week, the popular forest monk, who used to be Mr Thaksin's staunch supporter, slammed Mr Thaksin with a far more serious accusation than that of Mr Sondhi's. We have to wait and see if Mr Thaksin dares sue the monk or not...


[2015 note: Like many Thai newspaper articles from the early days of the Thai internet, this article is no longer online. Below is the complete text of the original article.]

Dare the prime minister sue a monk?

In the realm of image-making, reality does not count all that much. Perception does. That is why Thaksin Shinawatra's image makers must have a big headache right now.

The laments expressed in Mr Thaksin's defamation lawsuit against his former ally, media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul, clearly show how critical Mr Thaksin's image problem has become these days.

It is no big deal for politicians to face corruption allegations. One must grin and bear it as part of the job. But being painted in a negative light in relation to the country's two most sacred institutions, namely the monarchy and the Buddhist clergy, is any politician's worst nightmare. Few have survived such political assassination.

In his 500-million-baht lawsuit, Mr Thaksin complained that Mr Sondhi has not only accused him of being disloyal to the monarchy but also of intervening in monastic matters by appointing his family's favourite monk as the acting Supreme Patriarch, which he said was completely false.

But if Mr Thaksin's image makers think that the lawsuit would effectively prevent the empty allegations from creating even more false perceptions about their boss, then they might be in for a big surprise.

To start with, the lawsuit will surely arouse more public interest in the allegations, not douse them. Those who have not heard of the allegations before will now certainly like to find out if Mr Sondhi's concerns have grounds or not.

To Mr Thaksin's dismay, believers of Mr Sondhi's conspiracy theories will find plenty of material to back them up, be it the notorious picture of Mr Thaksin in the Emerald Buddha Temple, the auditor-general stalemate, Pramual Rujanaseri's book on royal powers, to name just a few.

For those who have heard of the allegations, they will have plenty of opinions to spice up the debate which will do no good to Mr Thaksin's image. In other words, the rumour mill will continue to dog Mr Thaksin for a long time yet.

Mr Sondhi, meanwhile, is not Mr Thaksin's most fearsome critic.

Believed to be a saint, Luangta Maha Bua commands a nationwide following who believe in his every word.

When he made his unhappiness with the Chuan administration public, for example, the Democrat-led government did not last long.

Last week, the popular forest monk, who used to be Mr Thaksin's staunch supporter, slammed Mr Thaksin with a far more serious accusation than that of Mr Sondhi's. We have to wait and see if Mr Thaksin dares sue the monk or not.

It is widely known that Luangta Maha Bua does not see eye to eye with Somdet Phra Phuttacharn, leader of the Mahanikaya sect. During Mr Thaksin's first term, his loyalty still lay with Luangta.

Even when a large number of monks took to the streets to demand the setting up of a Ministry of Buddhism and to declare Buddhism the national religion, Mr Thaksin bluntly turned down the proposal, which was believed to have been endorsed by Somdet Phra Phuttacharn.

Many also believe the Ecclesiastical Council's proposal to restructure its administration through the drafted new Sangha Bill was turned down for the same reason.

Mr Thaksin fell out of Luangta's favour when his government refused to amend the Sangha Bill to return to His Majesty the King his old royal authority to choose a Supreme Patriarch.

Any remaining ties were cut when the government appointed Luang-ta's arch-enemy, Somdet Phra Phuttacharn, as acting Supreme Patriarch. The decision is also widely resented by the Supreme Patriarch's followers.

Whether the allegations against Mr Thaksin are true or not has become secondary to the question: why are so many people willing to believe them?

If Mr Thaksin cannot answer this question and look at himself honestly in the mirror, his image problem will continue to dip further as public perception increasingly turns against him.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor, Bangkok Post.
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