Yingluck Shinawatra has yet to succeed, but she's inching ever closer. The Pitak Siam rally last Sunday and talk of a coup show just how nervous the other side is getting.
Bias and prejudice can cloud judgement. She's the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, and from the beginning the anti-Thaksin brigade dismissed her.
They mocked her usage of English, and even her Thai. They called her a nominee. They laughed at her intellect. The lady has her flaws and failings, no doubt, but Prime Minister Yingluck is succeeding - though not yet a success, the jury is still out on that - in something no one else has been able to do: bringing about reconciliation. This is the exact reason why it was deemed necessary to organise a rally against the Pheu Thai government last Sunday, before it's too late.
Of the 20,000 who showed up at the Royal Turf Club, some went because they love the King. Some went because they despise corruption. Some went because they hate all things Shinawatra. For most, it was a combination of all of the above, and then some.
But the reasons why they spent their Sunday at a horse track when there were no races are perhaps different from the reason the rally was called. A show of force was needed because the Thaksin political machine is winning, thanks to the sister that people mock and underestimate.
Everyone has a role. Everyone serves a purpose. Ms Yingluck was not chosen by her brother to make stirring speeches, debate intellectually or formulate strategic takeover plans. Thaksin already has people who can do those things. Expressing a political vision? Displaying leadership acumen? Thaksin himself performs those tasks.
Ms Yingluck does two things no one else can do. First, she gives the Pheu Thai Party and the red shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship and other supporters a symbol to unify around. A symbol at home can produce effects that a symbol in Dubai can't.
Proximity is important. Remember how the Thaksin political machine was in much disarray, lacking in leadership, before she was chosen? Most people acknowledge this.
Second, she convinces the other side to accept defeat and make the best of things _ we call this reconciliation. This is what people tend to overlook.
At this juncture in the Kingdom of Thailand, these two things are more important than the correct usage of language or intellectual discourse.
Reconciliation is much debated and controversial. At the superficial level, reconciliation is where two opposing forces make peace and get along on equal terms. A deeper understanding reveals that in actuality somebody will have to form the government of Thailand, and somebody else the opposition.
This basic fact of political science dictates that there must be winners and losers. After all, one country cannot have two governments. There might be a shadow government or a puppet government, but not two official governments in tandem.
Given this basic fact, reconciliation can only be had if the losing side accepts defeat and works out the best deal that they can, bargaining for a peace treaty using whatever power they have left, but never on equal terms. This is what Ms Yingluck is inching ever closer to.
With the threats of tanks and automatic assault rifles, Thailand's traditional elites in September 2006 won a battle, but not the war. Through the five years until the Democrat party lost the July 2011 general elections, they failed to bring about reconciliation. They failed to get the other side to accept defeat and make the best of the situation.
As we approach the end of 2012, Ms Yingluck is doing what no tanks, no Democrats nor even her brother could do.
Standing against total victory for the Thaksin political machine are instruments of the traditional elites - the anti-Thaksin populace, the Democrat Party, the anti-Thaksin media and the military. But the Democrats and the anti-Thaksin populace can be handled in parliament and in the voting booths every four years. The Thaksin political machine can match them vote for vote, and then some.
As for the anti-Thaksin media, the pro-Thaksin media can match them word for word, broadcast for broadcast, blog for blog, and then some. He's got the numbers on his side - and his allies, the merchant elites, can match the other side sponsor for sponsor, advertiser for advertiser, and then some.
Following key appointments, the Royal Thai Police and the Defence Ministry are now instruments of Thaksin, along with, of course, the UDD, and a good chunk of the merchant elites are his allies (as described last week).
The X factor is the military, as in a possible coup.
But as Bangkok Post military analyst Wassana Nanuam wrote on Oct 18, Ms Yingluck uses her female charm effectively when dealing with the armed forces and, if I may add, perhaps some of the traditional elites themselves.
The generals have both good and terrible qualities, but to think that they would fall for female charm is to underestimate them, though one should never discount the power of female charm. But along with female charm, Ms Yingluck possesses negotiation skills which depend on intelligence and ingenuity - give credit where it's due.
Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda and army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha would never give any of Thaksin's nominees a second look, but they are willing to deal with Ms Yingluck. Witness the many photographs of smiling faces and the events attended, not to mention the hush-hush, behind-the-scene talks.
This does not mean that the military will become an instrument of Thaksin. Ms Yingluck only has to get them to accept defeat by staying in the barracks.
This is why the most important words from the Pitak Siam group were not ''protect the institution'' or ''fight corruption'', but ''I would love to see a coup'', as core organiser General Boonlert Kaewprasit announced.
To show the military that he is not the only one who would love to see a coup, Gen Boonlert brought some 20,000 people with him as support - whether they realised or agreed with what they were supporting.
For you see, there are only three ways to defeat the Thaksin political machine - democratically, militarily or if the economy tanks majestically. We know the first two are unlikely. As for the economic factor, it remains to be seen.
If Ms Yingluck doesn't involve herself in parliamentary debates, it's because debating is not her forte. If she can't answer tough questions from journalists, it's because she's unseasoned and inexperienced.
But these things are not needed for the Thaksin political machine to achieve victory.
What her brother needs is for the military to stay in the barracks and for key political power brokers and the majority of the voting populace to stay die-hard fans of the Shinawatra clan.
So while people complain that she's always gallivanting about around the country, it's simply because as a unifying symbol, she needs to stay in touch with the people.
A deeper analysis would also reveal that she must keep the people loyal to her and her brother, and not be swayed by the different agendas of the many ideological factions within the UDD. No one else can do this but Yingluck Shinawatra.
So mock, criticise and dismiss her. But know that the generals are receiving her. Understand that the average UDD member wears the red shirt with - to paraphrase - ''YINGLUCK, YINGLIKE, YINGLOVE'' emblazoned on the back. They love her. They adore her.
She might be just what Thaksin needs to win this war, to get the other side to accept defeat and thereby bring about reconciliation. And if he's truly wise and doesn't let vanity get the better of him, he would do well to keep her as prime minister, rather than take the job back for himself.
But that's a possible future scenario. For now, she's inching ever closer. The rally last Sunday and talk of a coup simply show just how nervous the other side is getting.
Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at email@example.com.
About the author
- Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator