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Friday, October 30, 2009

Nationalist fire counters Chavalit's move

If national reconciliation was truly one of the goals Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh set himself when returning to active politics, then he could barely have got off to a worse start.

Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's visit to Cambodia under the guidance of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to meet Hun Sen a day before the Cambodian prime minister flew to Thailand for the Asean summit last weekend seemed to shake the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, noted a Matichon writer.

Gen Chavalit claimed his move was aimed at mending fences with the Cambodian leader to ease tensions between Thailand and Cambodia before the 15th Asean summit in Hua Hin and Cha-am.

However, the ulterior objective seemed to be for Hun Sen to discredit the Thai government, which he proceeded to do, claiming Thaksin was politically persecuted, that he would welcome Thaksin to Cambodia any time and would not extradite Thaksin to Thailand even though the two countries have signed an extradition treaty.

Gen Chavalit, upon agreeing to become chairman of the Puea Thai Party, declared four strategic goals for the party:

- To prove to Thai society that Thaksin is loyal to the country and monarchy;

- To mend social divisions in the country;

- To solve the unrest in the lower South; and

- To mend fences with neighbouring countries.

These four goals are aimed at shoring up the image of Puea Thai, with Thaksin as its guiding light, and they have the ultimate objective of winning the next election and returning Thaksin to his former glory without having to serve his two-year jail sentence.

Puea Thai can also rely on its staunch allies, the red shirts, to continue to hold rallies to disrupt the government's administration with the aim of forcing the government to quit as soon as possible. The opposition party believes the Democrats and their coalition partners are seen in a negative light for being linked to various graft allegations involving spending programmes under the second stimulus package.

Unfortunately for Puea Thai, Gen Chavalit's move to involve Hun Sen in the attack on the Thai government has provoked a strong reaction from many Thai people, who have condemned both Gen Chavalit and Thaksin as "letting the enemy in". They believe Gen Chavalit's move at the behest of Thaksin will only further strain relations between Thailand and Cambodia, not mend fences as claimed by Gen Chavalit.

So Gen Chavalit's declared move to mend fences with neighbouring countries seems to have failed at the first attempt.

Puea Thai's other aim has been to prove to Thai society that Thaksin is loyal to the country and monarchy by attracting a number of retired generals to the party. These former generals and Gen Chavalit himself should be enough to assure the Thai people that Thaksin is loyal because soldiers have to swear to protect the country and King, Puea Thai believes.

Again, Puea Thai might not be able to shake off people's doubts that Thaksin is disloyal to the monarchy as long as the red shirts continue to demand the resignation of Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda. Their stance that Gen Prem should not act as His Majesty's representative also raises eyebrows since everyone knows it is the King's prerogative to appoint anyone to be his personal adviser and act on his behalf.

Meanwhile, the Democrat Party, as the leading party in the coalition government, has to respond to Gen Chavalit's move. The strategy is to claim that Puea Thai is using dirty political tricks by involving foreigners to attack Thailand.

As the country's leader, Mr Abhisit has to act diplomatically by claiming Thailand and Cambodia remain friends. However, Mr Abhisit might also worry that the Cambodian leader has received misleading information so he does not want Hun Sen to become a pawn in someone else's game.

Meantime, core executives of the Democrat Party came out in force to condemn Thaksin and Gen Chavalit's move as "betraying the country", a phrase which the country's respected elder recently warned Gen Chavalit about when he was considering joining Puea Thai.

The government has also appointed a national public relations commission to clarify the issue to counter the red shirts' satellite TV People Channel.

Gen Chavalit's next move to visit Malaysia and Burma with the aim of using the foreign stage to paint a bad image of the Thai government might not be so successful now the Democrats know of his intentions and are ready to counter them with effective public relations campaigns, concluded Matichon.

Govt must change tack

If the government cannot come up with something concrete soon to show the people it is working on their behalf, it's unlikely to win the next general election.

It's more than likely the Puea Thai Party will win the election and be able to form a single-party government, noted a Thai Rath writer.

Even though Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has told the media the Democrats are ready for the coming election and the party will gain more or less the same number of seats as Puea Thai, the Thai Rath writer thought this was only political posturing designed to show the people, Puea Thai, the red shirts and the coalition parties the Democrats are ready to dissolve parliament at any time.

However, it is widely believed both the Democrats and the coalition parties are not ready to dissolve parliament and contest a new poll. Since the coalition government wants to stay in power for quite a while yet, it must work even harder to show its achievements and solve the protracted problems facing the country.

The trouble is that this coalition government does not project an image of unity from the different ministries under each coalition party's supervision.

Even within the Democrat Party itself there seem to be conflicts judging from the continuing saga of the failed appointment of a new police chief.

This is different from Puea Thai, which plays politics both inside parliament and out with Thaksin phoning in and Twittering practically every day.

So it is not surprising that a recent poll showed that Mr Abhisit's popularity continues to decline while Thaksin has gained at his expense.

If the Democrats do not change the way they administer the country, the situation will worsen and there might come a time when Mr Abhisit has no choice but to dissolve parliament even if the party is not ready to contest an election.

Former prime minister Chuan Leekpai, now chief adviser to the Democrat Party, recently remarked there should be more discussion and consultation, not just among the Democrats but with their coalition partners as well.

Since taking charge of the country 10 months or so ago, Mr Abhisit seems to have accepted multitudes of outside engagements to speak practically every day. It's got to the stage where he hardly has time to talk and coordinate with ministers from different parties. So it is inevitable that small issues easily turn into bigger ones.

The Thai Rath writer recommended that apart from adjusting his working style by paying more attention to his coalition partners, Mr Abhisit should think about a cabinet reshuffle as now there has been sufficient time to judge which ministers need to be moved out to bring in more capable replacements to shore up the government's image.


On Wednesday, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva revealed he would not hold a meeting of the Police Commission to appoint a new police chief any time soon, even though he really wants to convene one as soon as possible. There are still differing opinions and information, but the situation was improving, he said.

Meanwhile, Puea Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit accused the government of pulling the strings behind the Council of State's decision that the government can proceed with stripping Thaksin Shinawatra of his police rank and royal decorations.

Mr Prompong issued a threat that if the government went ahead with stripping Thaksin of his rank and decorations, it would inflame the red shirts to come out to rally against the government. He warned the government to be careful in proceeding with such a step as it was no way to nurture reconciliation.

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