Politics bids farewell to a controversial son
Veteran power broker Sanan Kachornprasart died at a time when he sought to be seen as a moderator in Thailand's deep political divideAccording to yellow-shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul, Sanan Kachornprasart died at a time when his political life was still at a crossroads. In so many words, Sondhi was saying Sanan should have done better. While the assessment sounds rather cruel, it could be true. Yet Sanan might have passed through too many crossroads to bother. The veteran is resting in peace and certainly won't care less whether he achieved professional fulfilment.
Sanan - who died last week after two months in a coma resulting from a blood infection and resporatory complications - had both critics and admirers, friends and foes. That is normal for anyone who spends most of his life in politics. He went through it all. He was one of the country's most influential power brokers, and he earned the unenviable brand of the first "big fish" to be handed a five-year political ban. He died at the sunset of his career, in twilight that couldn't hide controversial past deeds wrestling with his ambition to be remembered as a reformer.
Credit to Sanan: He took it like a man when the Constitution Court handed down the five-year ban shortly after the 1997 "People's Charter" came into effect. In the Thai political context, it looked like a trivial offence as well. He was found guilty of falsifying a Bt15-million debt in his assets report, and his downfall began there and then.
With his power and influence, Sanan could have manoeuvred his way out. His grim acceptance of the ban is one of the reasons why other politicians who faced the same fate cannot credibly portray themselves as conspiracy victims. Some people called Sanan a fall guy, made an example of by constitutional reformers. The point remains that Sanan could have chosen to fight but let the new constitutional order prevail.
Other than that, Sanan was pretty much a typical big-shot politician of his time. He took the blame for doing "dirty jobs" for the Democrats, but he was duly compensated with powerful party and government posts. His name was often associated with negativity in politics, even though most politicians are tarred with the same brush. Following the ban he parted ways with the Democrats, but his career still revolved around factional politics, in which horse-trading and shifts of allegiance went hand in hand.
As Thailand's political divide deepened, Sanan became, like many others, occasionally lost in soul-searching. As the political winds kept changing, it was hard to tell which direction was safe, let alone right. Again, like many others, Sanan found himself swinging both ways.
But at least Sanan sought to end what he proclaimed an unhealthy political phenomenon - or at least managed to convince many that he was trying. Before the heavy smoker fell seriously ill and was hospitalised in November, he tried to sell ideas for reconciliation, stressing that the country could not go on being this polarised. Being associated with the Chart Thai Pattana Party, infamous for always going with the political flow, Sanan's moves were greeted with more contempt than admiration. Billboards sprang up showing Sanan attempting to bring peace back to Thailand but, before he could do anything more concrete about reconciliation, illness cut him down.
Sanan is gone now and reconciliation is still far off, whereas the system that brought about his five-year ban has bred turmoil rather than graft-free politics. That ban might be seen as a scar on him. The way he faced it might deserve some positive reflection. As the man takes his rest in peace, his contributions, good or bad, to what the system was, is and will become, will be remembered.