What’s Chalerm’s Goal?

Pheu Thai ‘won’t back’ Chalerm bill – Bangkok Post, May 26, 2013
…Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra recently ordered the ruling party to adopt the Worachai bill.
This would provide amnesties for most people convicted of crimes related to political violence, though would exclude red shirt protest leaders and those who ordered the use of force to quell their demonstrations in 2010.
In contrast, the Chalerm bill would offer a blanket amnesty to all those convicted of crimes relating to political unrest, from the 2006 military coup through to the fatal clashes in 2010 between the red shirts and the military at Ratchaprasong.
Pheu Thai MP for Maha Sarakham Surajit Yontrakul said his group will on Tuesday ask the party to pass a resolution to promote Mr Chalerm’s reconciliation bill as an urgent item…

[There are several theories about what is going on here. One is that the Charlem amnesty is the one Thaksin really wants (as it would cover him), but the Worachai bill gives cover to fidgety Pheu Thai MPs loathe to put their comfy positions on the line to bring Thaksin back. After getting both bills comfortably into parliament, it would easier to get the full amnesty passed (or both passed) with the Worachai one as a constant decoy.

Chalerm's role in all of this is important. On one hand he can be depended on to speak out loudly and aggressively and take the heat on controversial issues. He has been the point man for amnesty since Pheu Thai came to power, thus allowing Yingluck to successfully play the role of a nearly nonpolitical prime minister, akin to presidential positions in other countries where prime ministers form governments and the elected president genteelly handles foreign policy trips and friendly relations with other nations.

Chalerm is from the pre-Thaksin political era. He is from a time when there were no political enemies, only the goal of being in a sitting government. He could and would join with anyone who afforded him and the opportunists who follow him the boon of being in power. He is no way bound to the aspirations of northern Shinawatra family political clique.

As someone with long-held dreams of being prime minister, Chalerm is looked upon with deep distrust within the government. His recent foray to rally the Red Shirts in the northeast puts him in the company of a small number on Pheu Thai MPs who closely associate with the Red Shirts.

The rank-and-file government MP has been loathe to become connected with the Red Shirts. From the perspective of the government MP, the ultimate goal has already been obtained--being elected as part of a popular sitting government that can pass spending bills at will.

While the Pheu Thai MP may give lip service to bringing Thaksin back and the necessity of amnesty, there is little reason beyond that to put their comfortable positions on the line to bring Thaksin back and have the subsequent packing of the government with Shinawatra relatives lower everyone's status.

Because of this, Chalerm is still desperately needed as the pugnacious point man in upcoming parliamentary moves on amnesty. Whether he is able to gain some credit with Red Shirt groups or is seen as the old-time political opportunist remains to be seen. Ultimately, why would this canny political outsider really work to return Thaksin to the country (and inevitably to the premiership) when this would mean his own political dreams of being PM would be permanently ended?

For all his drum beating on Thaksin's part, all involved know that Charlem's dream remains that some political deadlock or chaos in the future would result with him emerging as a compromise prime minister figure who might have credibility with the Reds as well as with the opposition who know him as an old-time politician and not a true Thaksin acolyte.

It is this intensely Quixotic dream that he offers to all the powers that fear a Thaksin return to power.

Is it all too crazy to contemplate? Perhaps, but 1970s right-wing villain Samak Sundaravej was tipped to lead the Thaksin-directed People Power Party in 2008 and later unsuccessfully tried to forge his own coalition and move the government out of Thaksin's orbit. So a Chalerm strike on the premiership is not as crazy as anything else that has happened.

The past decade has seen numerous epoch-shattering events, from Thaksin's attempted reforms and his cooping of state power and the media to the endless clumsy attempts to unseat and marginalize him. This was against a backdrop of an unprecedented cult of personality that that all but marginalized the opposition that appears to think it is still playing on a pre-Thaksin political battlefield.

Thaksin's unrelenting push for amnesty and a return to power is the fire that stokes resistance. The lack of any alternative to a government he directs means those who oppose him will have to continue to look for some fragmenting of his influence--whether it be independent Red Shirts with their own agendas or an old time power broker like Chalerm.]

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