Surapong's words and deeds insult the public and return discord to the fore
At the height of Thailand’s flood crisis, the Yingluck government gave Thaksin Shinawatra back his passport. That’s a fact that Thailand’s divided people will see in different ways. One side will say Thaksin is still a criminal convict, thus the covert stunt that took advantage of a nation in flood panic was not just a betrayal, but an act of contempt for the country’s rule of law. The other side must see the returned passport as another step toward restoring “justice”, disregarding the manner in which the document was requested and promptly issued. The question, however, remains whether the prime minister, who was in tears on a few occasions while visiting flood victims, should have at least waited.
With the Yingluck government also pondering a “reconciliation” bill that could cover amnesty for Thaksin, it seems that Thailand has emerged from the flood waters to go straight into the political fire. The semblance of peace effected by the months-long natural disaster is threatening to disintegrate. A country reeling from staggering economic losses and mental damage from the big floods will now have no choice but try to see through a new round of potentially explosive political divisions. As a Thai saying goes, we have fled from a tiger and run straight into a crocodile.
According to the Foreign Ministry, which was under pressure to make revelations after the Democrat Party tipped off the public about the returned passport, Thaksin made a request for the travel document on October 25. One day later, the passport was sent to him via diplomatic pouch. Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul made that possible by de-listing Thaksin as a national security threat. How the minister came to that conclusion, as well as the assumption that Thaksin, who’s still a fugitive, technically at least, should have more freedom to travel, we still do not know.
Due to the government’s secretive manner when it comes to Thaksin, all we can do is speculate. It’s notable that Thaksin got his passport before news leaked about the government attempting to include him in the list of Thai prisoners to be released to mark His Majesty the King’s birthday. The “pardon plan” did not exist and was a result of media “imagination” only, according to senior figures in the Yingluck government when they were pressed with questions about it in November. Does the passport confirmation tell us that the “pardon plan” was not media imagination after all?
Surapong will cite plenty of reasons that Thaksin deserved his passport back. But he also owes the Thai public an explanation for why he had to keep the re-issuance of the passport a secret. This secret would have remained but for an unsigned letter that a Democrat spokesman read out to the media earlier this week.
The minister will have to justify the secrecy. Like the “pardon plan”, Thaksin’s passport issue deserves total transparency. Surapong is a state official, which means he is accountable to the Thai public. Among the first questions to Surapong is on whether he ever intended to tell the Thai people about Thaksin’s new passport at all. And if he intended to tell the Thai public “at a later time”, when exactly would that have been? Why couldn’t he tell the Thai public immediately after the passport was issued? Did he keep silent because he thought it was a sensitive issue that could provoke national tension at a very bad time? If so, why did he do it in the first place?
Last but not least, why did Surapong say just over a week ago that he “will” give Thaksin back his passport as a New Year or even Christmas gift? Why did he use the future tense when talking about something that he had already done? Again, his actions warrant speculation because of his own suspicious manner. Perhaps he was aware that the news was about to be leaked, so the lie was a desperate effort to absorb some shocks to be generated from the Democrat disclosure.
Maybe Surapong did not think about it, but he did not insult the Thai public just once. He has done it twice already, and all indications are that he has not spoken even half the truth yet.