A Shinawatra only has to sneeze, and the entire country catches a cold _ it's a dangerous political game being played.
Two issues were revisited this past week: accusations that former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dodged the draft and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's defence at the Bali Democracy Forum of the actions of the red shirts in May and April 2010. When Mr Abhisit called the findings of the panel appointed by Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat a ``political ploy'', he was correct _ and as a political ploy, it's a dangerous one.
When Ms Yingluck told the Bali audience that in 2010 the people rose up and defended democracy because it had been abused and overthrown, it was also a political ploy and a good one at that. However, she only told a half-truth.
The entire truth is that the people did rise up and defend democracy, only to throw it away when Mr Abhisit conceded to a September house dissolution and November general elections. The entire truth is that, much like the coup leaders, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leaders also believed they ought to be above the law and shouldn't be prosecuted for the laws that they broke. Both sides share the same belief: that those who fight for an allegedly righteous cause should be above the law.
The entire truth is that in this political conflict, both sides of the divide do their fair share of abusing democracy and throwing it around like a rag doll. But the argument is still with the Thaksin political machine, as only one side launched a military coup.
Thaksin's people in the government seem to keep the conflict alive by fanning the sentiments of fear, hatred and anger. In this, they get the red shirts all fired up, but invariably and consequently they also fire up the anti-Shinawatra brigade, thereby leading to the dangerous possibility of military intervention.
Stories of a plot to assassinate Thaksin fan hatred on both sides. Allegations of draft dodging fan anger on both sides. They keep the conflicts alive.
The UDD is perhaps counting on its superiority in numbers, resources and organisation _ flamed with the passion to stomp feet and raise fists _ thereby demonstrating a show of force and power _ both in the streets and in the voting booths. This is coupled with continuous political harassment and intimidation (though to be fair the Democrat regime did this as well in its censorship of the opposition).
Perhaps with such a strategy, the UDD hopes the other side will be cowed into accepting defeat and making the best of things, thereby bringing about reconciliation. But this is a dangerous game; they must be careful not to provoke a military intervention.
Meanwhile, Ms Yingluck's half-truth in Bali was voiced to shape international perceptions on the Thai political conflict in favour of the Thaksin political machine. International sentiment may have limited influence on domestic politics, but the Thaksin political machine did not get this far without understanding both the tangible and intangible values of a good PR campaign. This is a good game.
They do this through global publications such as Forbes and through marketing gurus like Winkreative's Tyler Brule, who boasted connections with influential international publications when I interviewed him _ as well as the speech made by Ms Yingluck in Bali. The world only has a superficial understanding of Thailand's political conflicts, but that's only because every country has its own issues, while this little corner of Southeast Asia has little consequence on a global scale. As such, it is open to be yanked around.
While the other side may not like it, when Thai leaders shake hands with world leaders, whether they be President Thein Sein, Prime Minister Hun Sen or President Barack Obama, they are shaking the hand of a Shinawatra sibling.
In fact, Mr Obama congratulated Ms Yingluck on her leadership abilities. One may argue whether he's right or if he was just being diplomatic, but one can't argue the fact that he gave the endorsement before the world.
With the different strategies employed by the Thaksin political machine, the ultimate endgame is to get the traditional elites to give up and say to each other, ``Dudes, this isn't working. Let's just go with the flow. We will still be unduly powerful and make an obscene amount of money anyway.''
This is the type of reconciliation that is desired, one in which the other side accepts defeat and makes the best of things.
Democratically, the voting booths have belonged to Thaksin in every general election he's entered. Judicially, the court has already backed off from hearing a case for banning the Pheu Thai Party for its attempt to introduce a reconciliation bill that has been accused of aiming to grant amnesty to Thaksin. Militarily, the generals are staying in the barracks.
The Thaksin political machine is winning, but this may change in the future, if the cronies are not careful with their political game of antagonism, exploiting fear, hatred and anger. It's a time honoured political game, but it may backfire _ as two sides are playing the same game.
The People's Alliance for Democracy has done it by provoking the fear of Thaksin's power, the hatred for Thaksin's alleged disloyalty and the anger against Thaksin's corruption. This was manifested most recently via ASTV, which broadcast death wishes against Thaksin and his children in regard to the alleged plot to assassinate him.
The UDD has done it by provoking fear of the traditional elites' power, hatred against the military crackdown and anger against a military that overthrew a democratically elected leader.
Huffing and puffing invariably leads to smacking. It's a dangerous game.
Perhaps it's best for Ms Yingluck to pacify the generals with her soft touch and thereby keep them in the barracks. It seems the cronies are trying too hard to please the boss and thereby unwittingly undermining the sustainability of the Thaksin political machine itself.
Antagonism may be fun and self-gratifying, and might make the boss chuckle merrily in Dubai and make promises of cabinet posts, but it can also lead to dangers.
Cornered people might resort to desperate and extreme measures, as the Thaksin political machine itself did in the burning of Bangkok and provincial city halls in 2010 (among other deeds) and as the other side did with the 2006 military coup (among other deeds).
There was a glimpse of that desperation and tendency to go to extremes once again two Sundays ago at the Royal Turf Club, when Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit told the world he would love to see a military coup _ with some 20,000 applauding him, although it's anyone's guess if those individuals would actually love to see a coup.
The fear of a Thaksin political machine victory and of the red shirts roaming the streets, the hatred for Thaksin personally and the anger against all things Shinawatra in general, including the sister prime minister, are at a hysterical level.
The fear of the traditional elites making a comeback, the hatred for all things Democrat, including the traditional elites and their supporters, as well as the anger over the deaths in May and April 2010, are still very much alive.
This is a dangerous game for the Thaksin political machine as there are those on the opposing side counting on fear, hatred and anger to perhaps turn the tide. They hope that the sentiment will spread and that the generals will be convinced that they would have popular support if and when the tanks roll in.
Both sides are ruled by the same sentiments. Both sides will argue through fire, deaths and tanks that their cause is the righteous one. The fear, hatred and anger of the supporters of the two sides of the political divide, fanned by mutual sense of self-righteousness, are what may shape the future of this nation.
Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at email@example.com.
About the author
- Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator