Thaksin courts trouble by failing to hold his tongue

Thaksin courts trouble by failing to hold his tongue

Thaksin at the Seoul meeting: Foot in mouth disease?
Thaksin at the Seoul meeting: Foot in mouth disease?

Silence is golden, a universal proverb that is commonly defined as meaning that it is preferable under certain circumstances to say nothing. But it appears that fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is not a believer or practitioner of this old saying.

Before the 6th international conference on Asian leadership in Seoul last week, Thaksin's aides in the Pheu Thai Party allayed concerns raised by some media that the ex-premier, a speaker at the forum, might use the opportunity to criticise the government and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The conference coincided with the appearance of his sister and former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra before the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office-Holders at the first hearing of the corruption case regarding the rice pledging scheme.

In his speech, Thaksin talked about the global and regional economies, but did not touch on Thailand's domestic politics, although he said he was not so impressed with the performance of the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha during its first year in office. But he wished the government success.

On the sidelines of the conference it was a different story. Thaksin gave an interview to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, the sponsor of the conference, in which he accused the Privy Council and the palace of plotting the overthrow of his sister's government on May 22 last year by using protesters led by Suthep Thaugsuban of the People's Democratic Reform Committee and of his own administration in 2006.

Thaksin's implicating of the revered institution in the coups provoked a chorus of fierce attacks from his political opponents, among them Thai Post columnist Plew Seengern and former Thammasat University lecturer Somsak Jeamteerasakul, who himself is taking political refuge overseas.

Mr Somsak blamed Thaksin and Ms Yingluck for their own cardinal mistake in giving the military an excuse to overthrow their governments. He pointed to the controversial amnesty bill which sought to grant a blanket reprieve to all alleged political offenders, including Thaksin who has been sentenced to two years in jail for his role in the Ratchada land purchase scandal.

Writing on his Facebook page, Somsak said the refusal of Thaksin, Pheu Thai and red-shirt leaders to accept their blunder over the amnesty bill reflected their narrow-mindedness and self-interest.

The former Thammasat lecturer said Pheu Thai and the red-shirt movement had never admitted the truth that red-shirt thugs were responsible for the violence against the PDRC protesters during the prolonged rallies against the Yingluck government which pushed the country deep into political crisis.

But the fiercest attack appears to have come from Plew Seengern who, in his commentary on Saturday, accused Thaksin of being ungrateful to his own motherland and said the fugitive will never be able to set foot in Thailand again, nor will his ashes be allowed after his death.

The writer suggested Thaksin's latest criticism of the coup could stem from the fact he might have entered into some dealings with the Koreans which were later scrapped by the junta.

Belatedly, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha responded to Thaksin's criticism by challenging him to return home "if he believes that he is innocent — and if he doesn't, that means he is guilty".

The prime minister defended the monarchy, saying it was not fighting against the people but fighting to relieve them of poverty as witnessed by all the royally-sponsored projects being implemented across the country.

"But there are people who distort the truth and there are people who believe the distortion," the prime minister said. From his own assessment, the prime minister said, those who commit lese majeste are in the same league as those who seek to empower themselves and get rid of the military and the monarchy.

Gen Prayut was not in a bad mood when he responded to Thaksin's accusation, although he did not mention the fugitive's name. But the words he used may provide a clue as to how remote is reconciliation just so long as the Pheu Thai Party remains fiercely attached to Thaksin, or vice versa.

On the occasion of the first anniversary of the coup on May 22, the prime minister described the one-year tenure in office of the NCPO as just "a movie trailer". Just imagine what the real show is going to be like.

Veera Prateechaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.

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