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Only The Sister Can Save Us

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by Voranai Vanijaka



When Pol Gen Priewpan Damapong made his pilgrimage to see Thaksin Shinawatra and sing "Happy Birthday" to the former prime minister, there were three common reactions. One was disgust at the national police chief for kowtowing to a fugitive convict. Another was adulation for the national police chief who paid homage to his former brother-in-law and all-around Thai hero. It's all a matter of perspective. The last one was "Who cares?"


The first two reactions amount to a dilemma of national proportions. We are stuck. Thaksin is still the centre piece of this chess game. Where do we go from here? The answer is nowhere fast.


Both Thailand and Thaksin are caught in a bind, the consequences of which are the continued stagnation of the country and an atmosphere of distrust and paranoia.


As things stand we have the Thaksin political machine, the Pheu Thai Party, in charge of the government, officially at any rate. The red shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) is ready to roll out on the streets whenever they are called upon.


On the flip side, the traditional elites still have a strong, if informal, hold on the country through the military, certain bodies of the government and the Democrat Party, with the yellow shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) ready to rock when called upon.


This has been the status quo since the Pheu Thai won the general election on July 3, 2011 and gained an absolute majority in government. This status quo is far from the desires of the traditional elites, but the ballot box dictates a reality that they have learned to live with, biding their time.


Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda and army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha do not mind being seen in public with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They smile and are gentlemanly, putting on a show of reconciliation. One makes the best out of the situation, biding time.


Meanwhile, the battle wages on, and at stake is Thaksin's amnesty and the prospect of his return to power, formal power that is, not as the informal leader of the country in exile. The political manoeuvrings - the shifting alliances, colourful street parades, reconciliation bills and court decisions - are strategic moves in this battle.


While the high and mighty on both sides play Russian roulette for and against one man, Thailand as a nation is left on hold, with development stagnant and in a state of paranoia about what nightmares may come if the pistol clicks to the chamber that isn't empty - in other words, when the huffing, puffing and bluffing get out of hand, as has happened many times before.


Allow me to humbly offer a way out. If Thaksin is Helen of Troy in this war (no, that's an awesome analogy, don't tell me it isn't), take him out of the game. Then Agamemnon might pack up and go home and King Priam can rest easy on his throne. What if Helen is no more?


Of course, I do not mean assassination, that would be uncivilised. I mean render him irrelevant, while keeping Pheu Thai in power, as was the wish of the majority of the Thai voters.


Who can render him irrelevant? Who can take out Thaksin, cut him off from Thai politics? Who can lead the coup? Ladies and gentlemen, may I propose the only person that has what it takes: her name is Yingluck.


The baht always stops with one person. There's always the leader providing the cult of personality to rally around. For the Pheu Thai and UDD, there was no one but Thaksin, but for the past year there hasn't been anyone like Ms Yingluck.


She commands the support and adoration of both Pheu Thai and UDD supporters. She has the masses melting in her hands. She has their hearts and minds with nothing more than the trademark smile, the embrace and the ''na ka''. Like her or hate her, and regardless of whether she's intelligent or dumb, there's magic in her.


Talk to the red shirts on the ground and push the conversation. They will admit they love Thaksin, but with Ms Yingluck and the Pheu Thai already in power, they don't think it's that necessary for him to return. There are other priorities; justice for the 92 deaths in the 2010 protests, for example. Of course, not everyone agrees on this. For many it is still all about Thaksin. But there's plenty of dissenting voices, and they can and will grow.


But Ms Yingluck won't and can't make the move. She's the younger sister in a Thai-Chinese family, and there's quite a lot of baggage that comes with that. As well, she owes her entire career, from high level executive positions in companies to the premiership of a country, to her brother. She won't. She can't.


Those who can, and might want to consider replacing Thaksin with his sister are in the upper echelons of Pheu Thai. Men and women long on political clout and bank accounts. Men and women with their own goals and ambitions. Men and women loyal to Thaksin but who might be sick of the jetlag from flying around the world to pay homage and seek favours. It's just logistically impractical. Bureaucratic reshuffling, cabinet reshuffling, police reshuffling and all the other reshuffling - Skype is just too impersonal.


Men and women loyal to Thaksin, but who are also proud; and naturally might prefer a different management style than that of a dictatorial CEO. Men and women who have their own patronage networks to feed and expand. Men and women who recognise that when the nation stagnates, business also stagnates - and why is anyone in this game called politics if not because of business?


With Ms Yingluck, they have the near-perfect brand ambassador, as she has the people's touch. With Ms Yingluck, they have the ideal leader, one that can be managed and led by, let's say, a council of wise elders.


With Ms Yingluck, they have sound logistics and can save that mileage for vacations instead of pilgrimages. With Ms Yingluck, she won't get in the way. With Ms Yingluck, the business allies and financial purses should also be happy - who wouldn't want to deal with her rather than her brother? Four Seasons Hotel, anyone?


She is like Abhisit Vejjajiva, the most important difference being that the masses love her.


But most important of all, with Ms Yingluck and without Thaksin, perhaps, just perhaps, the traditional elites can accept the situation and we all can move on as a nation, without the atmosphere of distrust and paranoia - and business can go on, as usual.


Don't think this is a crazy scheme. I jest you not. Who needs Juan Peron when we already have Evita? It would be a polite coup, a friendly, sisterly coup.


Or perhaps Thaksin might just step back on his own and let Thailand move on?


Well, it seems I have just come up with two unlikely scenarios.


Or maybe the traditional elites can step back and let the nation move on?


Wow, that's three unlikely scenarios.


Why are they so unlikely?


Because they require people in power to actually put the interests of Thailand above their own.


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Thaksin has totally miscalculated his chances of getting a reconciliation (read: amnesty) bill passed in the current state of affairs in Thailand, and it nearly backfired to the point of severely destabilizing, if not bringing down Yingluck's cabinet.


Thailand is on the verge of a certain unspeakable transition and some very powerful people do not want Thaksin's presence in the country to interfere with that when the time is on.


It is now clear for everyone that Thaksin's return is not going to happen in the foreseeable future, and this has a political consequence that perhaps neither Thaksin nor the PTP big guns expected: Yingluck is going to run for re-election and that will be a totally different setting than her first run when she was basically unknown.


In my view, everything indicates that, unless something goes badly wrong in Thailand, Yingluck will likely be re-elected and it will be on her own merits, this time around. Her standing as the true leader of the PTP will have to be not only accepted, but promoted by the other top party members in order to win such election; then Thaksin's political relevance would be somewhat reduced.


So perhaps, Voranai's scenario is not as unlikely as he writes. It all depends on the timing, the proceedings and the outcome of that 'unspeakable transition'.

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So perhaps, Voranai's scenario is not as unlikely as he writes. It all depends on the timing, the proceedings and the outcome of that 'unspeakable transition'.


Yes, that's what makes Thai politics so opaque. I guess Mr. T. is becoming increasingly desperate with every month stuck abroad.


Looking back at the past decade it shows that T. is very cunning in buying allies and playing to the base with his populist schemes, BUT in my opinion he never had a long term strategy how to deal with the anti-Mr. T. forces in LOS. Even worse by he himself dugg his own grave by trying to maximise his profits by all means (legal or not) even as a prime minister, instead on concentrating on ruling the country.


Unfortunately he is still so powerful that he is being able to stall any real developments in LOS.


Another question is, if Yingluk will become her own person with her own powerbase or if will she be moved in the second row in the event of Mr. T. returns.


I guess the longer Mr. T. stays out of the country the stronger Yingluk's standing _might_ become. Last year she seriously mishandled the flooding. Now there is the huge rice corruption scandal and the south seems to get worse. She can't always hide behind Chalerm.

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