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Campaign against Abhisit could backfire

That you don't understand the technicality of Abhisit Vejjajiva's "removal" from the Army doesn't mean you shouldn't be worried. A glance at the relevant timings may reveal the bigger picture. Defence Minister Sukampol Suwannathat signed the order removing Abhisit on the day the opposition named the Cabinet member in its censure motion.

The no-confidence debate will take place virtually at the same time as an anti-government gathering, expected to be the biggest to date. To add to that, Abhisit's "punishment" and "appeal" will go through the likes of the Constitution Court, Administrative Court and National Counter Corruption Commission - the familiar "independent bodies" associated with key political climaxes.

Abhisit is supposed to lead the censure attack. That, we know. What we are not sure about is how Sukampol's removal order has affected the Democrat leader's MP status. The question may need to be settled by the Constitution Court, but the Administrative Court, which received Abhisit's appeal earlier this week, may have a big say in the meantime. An Administrative Court injunction could save Abhisit and give the government a big slap in the face. The Constitution Court may make things worse for the government, or, in case of the two courts having different opinions, find itself on a collision course with the Administrative Court.

The NCCC, meanwhile, can be spurred into action by the Democrats if they think they have a strong case of political persecution to pursue against Sukampol. All of a sudden, the defence minister is facing two or three battlefronts. The censure attack will certainly be fierce, with the opposition now having added motivation to pull no punches. And it doesn't matter who's behind the anti-government rally - whether it is a PAD reincarnation or new combination of anti-Thaksin elements - Abhisit's fate will likely draw big crowds.

It's understandable why the Pheu Thai Party wants to put Abhisit away. His eloquence often draws blood in Parliament, and nobody on the government side is equipped to effectively counter what promises to be a spectacular attack on Yingluck Shinawatra. More importantly perhaps, he represents the biggest parliamentary obstacle to political goals more difficult than surviving a censure debate - an "amnesty" scheme and charter revamp.

But just because he "should" be sidelined doesn't mean sidelining or attempting to sideline him is a good idea. There are countless reasons why the government should think again. Abhisit's "victimisation" - as he's calling it - could easily break the already fragile "reconciliation" agenda. He has international supporters who can point to what's happening in Thailand and proclaim that it's not a democratic struggle, but politics of revenge, pure and simple. His domestic supporters are likely to renew tension on Bangkok's streets. The aforementioned courts may side with him, leaving Sukampol and the government new legal timebombs to handle.

Last but not least, going after Abhisit for something he allegedly did in the distant past is a big political gamble as far as Thaksin Shinawatra is concerned. The latter's past is far more questionable, and affected his political role much more directly. If Abhisit needs to be politically neutralised just because of his conscription documents, what does that say about filing false assets reports when one was prime minister, or a prime minister letting his spouse purchase a piece of state land in violation of the law?

Pheu Thai lost Yongyuth Wichaidit after he became a high-profile casualty of the Alpine land scandal. Without much fight, he gave up the party leadership and Interior portfolio following indictment by the NCCC. Abhisit, on the other hand, has put up tough resistance, vehemently denying wrongdoing in acquiring conscription exemption. The Democrat leader faces the loss of his military rank as sub-lieutenant and salary over charges that he used falsified documents to apply for the position of military lecturer.

Attempts to throw "massacre" charges at Abhisit have proved laborious, with end results not expected any time soon. This has left his rivals to throw the considerably benign charges of using false documents to work as a military lecturer. On one hand, they can use these charges to send a pro-Thaksin statement that, "See? Nobody is perfect". On the other hand, they risk making Abhisit look good and Thaksin look worse.

Image aside, the Pheu Thai government should think more about the immediate consequences of the Abhisit affair. The anti-government protesters are building up "ammunition", and will pose sufficient threat with or without Abhisit in the picture. He may not be as popular as the prime minister at the moment, but as we all have learned, 100 zealous fans of a politician can be worth more than 10,000 lukewarm supporters.


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