Returning political kingmaker bets into a powerful establishment hand
Thailand's business community might like to think Thaksin "Tucson" Shinawatra return from "exile" in Dubai (of all places) heralds the "end to uncertainty". But is it? Shinawatra was a corrupt criminal on the run from Thai police and the judicial system. Like a crook, he hid in Dubai, lived in luxury with his wealth, much of which is as dubiously attained as those crooked and corrupt Chinese nationals who bought big into Singapore's top-end property market.
Shinawatra might serve eight months in prison but he would a protected prisoner prince in prison. Because who really trust Thai police any more than they can Thailand's military brass? From within the prison's walls, Shinawatra still wield enormous political and business power, and from where he will peddle influence over both realms. This does not make Thai politics any better than they have been at any old time. Certainly not over the last few months. If anything, it makes Thai politics and decision-making murkier. Corruption will rule the roost, to use an old cliche, because the top cock is back in town, even though the military brass remain in power. Whether the military operates in the background -- which appears most unlikely -- or in the foreground, does matter. And, as John Berthelsen puts it, "the dominance of the military-royalty establishment complex ... means a real revolution continues to elude" the ordinary people of Thailand who have suffered over the dictatorship of the Thai military and of course the Thai royal house. And with Shinawatra -- in my book as distrustful as Marcos Sr of the Philippines, Suharto of Indonesia, Hun Sen of Cambodia -- now having made deals with Thailand's corrupt military and gained the blessing of the opaque Thai royal household, one can be sure the ordinary people of Thailand will be repressed, not oppressed, and robbed blind of their country's fortunes (or what is left of them).
Shinawatra's return, despite his short prison term (a curious length for the crime for which he was indicted and found guilty, merely shows just how filthy the political-economy of Southeast Asia has been, and, I dare say, will become in the years ahead. But at some point the marriage of political and judicial convenience between Thai royalty, the Thai military brass, Thai police and Shinawatra will come to a head as the latter seeks to reinsert himself (as if he was ever out of it) in big business, either directly or through his corrupt cabal of cronies.
In essence, Thai politics and indeed Thai business are back to where they started: grasping each other's tentacles to please each invested interest to the hilt (think Marcos, Suharto, Mahathir and Najib's Malaysia, India's Modi, the corrupt military dictators in Burma, the corrupt Chinese military in China whose vast business dealings are so often overlooked, even by its dictator Xi Jinping).
If any one thinks Thai or indeed Southeast Asia's politics and economics have undergone "transformation" towards progressive "institutional" politics, even in Malaysia under Anwar Ibrahim, in the 2020s, they ought to have their heads read by a party of shrinks. This isn't a new and dynamic Southeast Asia but an old one, and the return of Shinawatra and Thailand exemplify the point beyond doubt.