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Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Bitter-sweet court victory for Newin
Mr Abhisit and Mr Newin are buying time. Does Newin Chidchob now have more bargaining power after his victory in court?
The Buri Ram politician was in a good mood last Monday after the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions cleared him and 43 other defendants of corruption and malfeasance over changes in the controversial 1.44-billion-baht rubber sapling purchasing case.
The project was engineered by him back when Mr Newin was the deputy agriculture and cooperatives minister under the government of Thaksin Shinawatra.
Mr Newin is no longer a cabinet minister. His close ties with Thaksin are history after he defected to back the coalition government led by the Democrat Party.
Despite serving a five year political ban, he is the de facto leader of the Bhumjaithai Party. The party is led by Chavarat Charnvirakul, but the one who calls the shots is Mr Newin.
It is no secret this government was formed in a peculiar manner. Without outside help, Abhisit Vejjajiva would not be the government leader he is today. Without backing from Bhumjaithai, a Democrat Party-led administration would have been impossible. That is why key cabinet posts such as Transport were slotted to be put under the full control of Bhumjaithai as a reward for Mr Newin's decision to shift political support to the Democrats.
Until last Monday, the political future of Mr Newin was uncertain as he awaited the sapling case verdict.
The court's clearing of the political power broker has lead to speculation he might step up his demands on the Democrats.
But this assumption is wrong. Bhumjaithai has little bargaining power left. In fact, both Bhumjaithai and the Democrats are in the same boat as their enemy Puea Thai, the party financially supported by Thaksin.
Soon after the Thaksin-backed party was forced to sit on the opposition benches, many Bhumjaithai and Democrat executives were expressing optimism their parties would have better a chance to win the next election.
Their optimism came from by-election wins on Jan 11. But a reality check came in the northeastern political battleground, the region with the most seats _ and history shows that the party that wins over northeastern voters has a good chance of administering the country. Puea Thai won a by-election in Sakon Nakhon on June 21 and followed that success by defeating Bhumjaithai again a week later on June 28. In the two contests, Puea Thai won by a big margin, which stunned Mr Newin and his Bhumjaithai members.
The two defeats damaged Bhumjaithai more than the Democrats given that Mr Newin's political stronghold is in the northeastern region, the area which is the Achilles' heel for Mr Abhisit's party. That was the reason why the Buri Ram politician had to map out a new strategy and take the prime minister into hostile territory to meet rural voters and try to woo them over, starting with his home province.
Were Mr Abhisit to call a snap election today, it is no sure thing the Democrats would come first. Many believe Puea Thai stands a good chance of emerging as the winner again as it did last time under the People Power Party banner. With the popularity of Thaksin still strong in rural areas especially in the Northeast, there is no chance for Bhumjaithai to sweep up seats in the country's poorest region. Thus it is not surprising for Puea Thai members to continue the clarion call for by-elections.
There is an old saying that there are no real enemies or friends in politics. But that cannot be applied to Thaksin. Given what Mr Newin did to him by defecting to the Democrats, the convicted former prime minister will never forgive his former close aide. Any chance of seeing the alliance between Thaksin and Mr Newin being revived is impossible. Defeating Bhumjaithai in northeastern provinces will be a personal matter for Thaksin. That leaves Mr Newin with no choice but to stay with the Democrats to try to prevent a Puea Thai comeback.
Mr Abhisit and Mr Newin are buying time.
They hope the government's economic stimulus packages will erode Thaksin's popularity. They hope that when a new election is called the voters will have forgotten him.