Thaksin still pervades Thai political landscape

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Thailand's fugitive ex-premier, Thaksin Shinawatra is in the news again today, phoning supporters in the country and appealing for no celebration of his sixtieth birthday at Sanam Luang outside the royal palace in Bangkok. This follows some red-shirted United front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) supporters vowing to go ahead with the party despite Bangkok's Governor, Sukhumband Paribatra, saying he will deny any request.

File photo of Thaksin Shinawatra from 2005
Image: Helene C. Stikkel (US DoD).

According to Thailand's English-language Bangkok Post, UDD leader Shinawat Haboonpad expressed determination to see the July 26 celebration go ahead, "... we will show our civil disobedience and ignore his order".

The divisive impact of the populist Thaksin stretches back prior to him being ousted by a bloodless military coup in September 2006. As far back as 2005 figures within the Thai establishment were speaking against him; Thaksin used the courts to try and prevent dissemination of negative material, including the publication of a sermon by a respected Buddhist monk who compared him to Phra Devadhat, the Thai Buddhist equivalent of the devil. Bangkokians formed into the yellow-shirted anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) accusing the Prime Minister of corruption. Following the military intervention in 2006, and a groundswell of support among rural poor voters, the opposing pro-Thaksin groups formed into the UDD. Despite conviction in-absentia, Thaksin colours Thai politics, and has derailed efforts to stabilise the country's political institutions.

This past week it has been the lead-up to the December 2008 dissolution of the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP) government that has resurfaced. The then-Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat was barred from politics and his PPP dissolved by the country's Constitutional Court following anti-Thaksin yellow shirts occupying Bangkok's international airport and stranding as many as 300,000 tourists in the country. Now the country's Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya, a PAD leader, is facing pressure to step down for his part in the airport siege and blockade.

A report in Monday's Bangkok Post indicates that Thai authorities continue to pursue Thaksin. The Interior Minister said that an attempt had been made to arrest Thaksin in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, but he had evaded capture and managed to return to Fiji where he remains in exile and a fugitive.


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