Thaksin Reveals His Ambitions

In a wide-ranging interview with The Straits Times of Singapre from his base in Dubai, former premier-turned-fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra recently made no secret of his intention to return to Thailand and indeed run the country again.

The one-hour interview covered almost all aspects of Thailand’s current political crisis, with a special focus on the upcoming elections due to take place on July 3. It is certain to further irritate the Bangkok elite who, after all this time, have wanted to tear out Thaksin’s legacy in politics by the roots. They thought that the coup was their effective tool in getting rid of Thaksin and his kind of politics.

But the return of the ousted premier’s proxies in politics in 2008, and possibly in 2011, reconfirmed that the battle against his faction was, and will be, arduous. Not only do the elite need to fight with Thaksin and his cohorts, but also his political supporters in the far-flung north and northeast regions of the kingdom.

Thaksin acknowledged that he had asked his youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to represent him in the elections because he did not trust any politicians, even those in the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai party. In other words, Yingluck is simply his political nominee, just as were the late Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, who all once acted as his proxies.

The interview has received a mixed response in Thailand. And Thaksin, a fugitive after having been convicted in absentia of corruption, apparently realizes that his latest views would either attract more supporters or in fact create more enemies. Analysts are anxious to see if his new round of intervention will convince some Thais who are politically neutral to tilt towards the Puea Thai party.

Thaksin, at the beginning of the interview, accused Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of failing to heal the growing rifts in society after more than 30 months in power. He pledged on behalf of the Puea Thai party that if it were to be offered a chance to form a government, the party would bring back a sense of normalcy in Thai politics.

"Normal not in the sense that the Democrat Party wants. They carried the flag of reconciliation for two and a half years and they failed; they made the country more divided. It is now our turn to lead the reconciliation effort," Thaksin said.

In the meantime, he reiterated his support for the principle of democracy, something that his opponents would find ironic. Thaksin said, "It is time to come back to the principle that we respect the people’s views. If you can your country democratic, you have to respect the people’s will and then things will move on. I do not care about the criticism, I do not care about going back home or not; I care about when Thailand will come back to normal."

Thaksin then touched on the most controversial topic: a surge of complaints and charges of lèse-majesté, or insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej and members of his family. "If you respect and are loyal to His Majesty, stop showing loyalty by this stupidity; it only makes things worse," Thaksin stressed. The former premier also said that when he was in office, the King told him that he did not want to see the law used unnecessarily.

Thaksin used the opportunity to emphasize that he has always paid loyalty to the King, asserting that "The military was paranoid because it alleged I wanted to turn Thailand into a republic and be president. Actually, that is not true at all. When you become a leader, you have to be strong; otherwise you cannot change things that have been chronic for many years. Then when you become strong, they say you want to be president, which is nonsense." Thaksin added, "That is why we will have a lady prime minister so they will not think the lady will do this."

The interview revealed other aspects of Thaksin’s personality. He apparently seeks to create a new image of an imperfect leader who indeed made mistakes in the past, but would be willing to learn from them. Regarding the protracted conflict in the Thai south, Thaksin told the Straits Times, "I admit, being a policeman you are taught to use both iron fist and velvet glove. I used more iron fist and now I regret it. I should use more velvet glove. This is what I will change."

Thaksin said that if the Puea Thai won the elections, the party would grant the troubled southern provinces more autonomy, a touchy subject in the Thai political establishment, since this would allow some to question the homogeneity of the nation. Obviously, Thaksin’s discussion on this subject had one key objective: to gain votes from the Southeast residents. It is known that the south has long been the Democrats’ territory and Thaksin was unpopular there because of his hard-nosed policy in the past.

Lastly, Thaksin’s view on the ongoing conflict with Cambodia over the Preah Vihear Temple was his attempt to delegitimize the Abhisit administration. Thaksin condemned the military-led approach in dealing with Cambodia. He suggested, "We should talk, not just send in the military. If you shoot your own neighbor, how can you live together? If you are bigger or rich you should have a kind heart for people who are poorer or smaller."

The interview was very comprehensive. And as the July elections draw near, Thaksin may have thought that he needed to gamble by exerting his provocative perspectives. The end result may be to see more support offered to Yingluck, or perhaps more ferocious retaliation by his political opponents in the period leading up to the judgment day in July.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Views expressed here are his own.