Thaksin changes his tone, but not attitude

opinion April 17, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

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Ex-premier glosses over facts and remains adamant that a coup led to his exile 



In what some described as his least aggressive public comments, exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra still altered the truth considerably. He said in his latest Facebook post that it was a military coup that sent him out of Thailand. The statement needs to be analysed thoroughly because the country has seen two coups that were related to the man.

The first coup, in 2006, overthrew him. It occurred when he was outside Thailand, attending a general assembly of the United Nations in New York. Thaksin remained abroad after the military takeover, and returned to Thailand in early 2008 only after his political party regained political power in a democratic election. The civil Thai government was then headed by the late Samak Sundaravej, who was generally regarded as Thaksin’s nominee.

In the second half of 2008, Thaksin fled Thailand after a court found him guilty in the Ratchadaphisek land case, in which he was accused of knowingly letting his wife buy a government-auctioned block of land in violation of the law while he served as prime minister. 

He escaped a jail sentence while Thailand was under civil rule, with government power belonging to his political party.

What happened after that is fresher in memory. Samak lost his 

job; he was replaced by Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law and also known to be another nominee. A Thai court soon afterwards crippled Thaksin’s party for electoral irregularities and Democrat Abhisit Vejjajiva took over from Somchai as prime minister. Thaksin’s party rebounded in a 2011 general election, which installed his sister Yingluck as Thailand’s first female prime minister, but she was ousted in a coup in 2014 following vociferous street protests against her government’s alleged legislative efforts to “whitewash” the former PM in exile.

Thaksin has always decried “conspiracies” against his rule, direct or through Samak, Somchai and Yingluck. Due to many of the developments in the country over the years, it is easy to assume he was forced out of Thailand by a coup. The undeniable truth is that he fled to escape a jail sentence handed down by the Supreme Court when Thailand was ruled by his political party. The jail sentence was issued under an ordinary law, not one specifically designed to bring him down. The law states in no uncertain terms that a political office-holder and his or her spouse shall never be engaged in a business transaction with the government.

“Courts must safeguard the Constitution.” That was what the Los Angeles Times wrote in a hard-hitting editorial against new US President Donald Trump, prescribing possible ways to prevent a democratically elected leader from going out of control. In Thailand, courts must safeguard the laws too. This leaves a tantalising question: Did a coup send Thaksin into exile or did 

he simply flee as a Thai court tried to do its job? The difference between Thailand and America is the courts over there are now being encouraged to protect the law. Trump, though, can amplify the deja vu when Thailand is concerned by describing fishy business deals dug up against him in court as a “conspiracy”. 

Many agree that Thaksin sounded more reconciliatory in his latest comment than at most other times. But from what he wrote, the crux of the matter seems unchanged: In his view, he was a victim who did 

nothing wrong. He was still outlining the cause of national divide, albeit in less provocative language.