Thaksin Promises He'll Forgive Everybody

Two weeks after Thailand’s general election, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shawawatra has opened up for the first time to the Thai public in a tell-all interview with a popular Thai talk-show, Tob Jode (Answering Questions).

During the two-part interview which was aired from July 18-19, Thaksin masqueraded as a moral leader who was ready to forgive his enemies. But there was one cynical flaw; he only saw faults in others but none in himself.

From his base in Dubai, Thaksin granted a much-anticipated interview following the landslide election victory of the Pheu Thai Party, led by his youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. Thaksin touched upon a number of contentious issues and offered to find a way out of the political crisis that has wracked the country since the coup that brought him down in 2006.

The former premier talked candidly about the problem with Thai law. “Thai society has become deeply polarized,” he said, “because of the politicization of the judicial process.” Thaksin declared.

“Thailand in the past five years has been shaped by rule by law, not rule of law. Whereas the latter is upheld by democracy, the former is maintained by despots.” He also added, “Law is supposed to bring peace to society, not mess it up.” Partly Thaksin’s criticism was perhaps to forewarn his opponents not to stage a “judicial coup” against his sister’s government. In 2008, the Constitutional Court removed two pro-Thaksin prime ministers: Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat.

Despite being toppled in a military coup, charged with corruption and kept from coming home on threat of prison, Thaksin said he had buried his tumultuous past. As a self-proclaimed devout Buddhist, Thaksin said he had succeeded in eliminating his greed, wrath and illusion. “I may not forget those who hurt me, but I have forgiven them,” Thaksin said.

“Those who are still angry with me, I wish to invite them over to Dubai. I will take them out for a nice dinner. This invitation is specifically for Khun Sonthi; both Sonthi Boonyaratglin (the coup maker) and Sonthi Limthongkul (leader of the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy). Without forgiveness, how can different political factions reconcile?”

Thaksin then compared the reconciliation process with playing a sport. He said, “Most Thais are fixated with revenges. They are so competitive that they ignore rules and regulations. Worse, the referees are not neutral.” In reference to his recent meeting with the South African hero Nelson Mandela, Thaksin said, “He told me to forgive, and I did.”

But when asked if he was willing to serve his two-year jail term, Thaksin argued that the sentence was politically motivated. “I am not a bad person. I was just obsessed with driving Thailand forward; this could come across as being aggressive. When you were moving ahead too fast, you often fail to look back, or to notice if you stepped on anyone’s foot.”

“I am not perfect. I have weak points. I should have known better how to balance between hard and soft powers,” Thaksin lamented. “I used an iron-fist approach in dealing with many issues in the past, but they could not solve all problems. Sometime, we must put on velvet gloves.”

His interview has been met with a mixed response. For one thing, what Thaksin said still matters to many of his supporters, and to his adversaries who remain in high places. The fact that the Yingluck government will be to largely stage-managed by Thaksin reaffirms that his political views will continue to dominate Thailand’s politics in the years to come.

Can Thaksin’s enemies trust what he pledged? Is it really realistic for Thaksin to forgive his political opponents who deposed him, tainted his reputation and took away his money and power? How essy is it going to be for all sides of the Thai crisis to just forget it and move on? If it is easy to do so, why has the conflict persisted?

Throughout the interview, Thaksin continued to defend himself while putting the blame on others. When the talk-show host asked if he regretted his violent policy toward the Thai Muslims in the south, he replied, “I was only implementing hard-nosed measures to counter their use of violence.”

Thaksin may open his heart, but he also immensely contradicted himself. How can the reconciliation process be a success when Thaksin, a key player in Thailand’s troubled politics, has never admitted any wrongdoing?

(Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. This does not reflect the opinions of the institute.)