The 'Rashomon effect' haunts the political scene

opinion June 21, 2012 00:00

By Suthichai Yoon
The Nation

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How serious is the split between some Pheu Thai MPs and certain red-shirt leaders over the future of their common chieftain, Thaksin Shinawatra?

The opposition Democrats’ strategy was to drive a wedge into the Pheu Thai Party. There had been little chance of success until Thaksin’s “reconciliation” effort irked some red-shirt leaders who, perhaps for the first time, expressed opposition to what they described as a “betrayal” of their common stand against the country’s elite.

Thaksin said in his controversial phone-in to his supporters that he appreciated the fact that the red shirts had delivered him ashore, that the next stretch of his journey would be by land, and that he probably didn’t need them anymore. In a way, he was suggesting, not in so many words, of course: It was good while it lasted, but please understand that I have other priorities to consider, too.
Thaksin probably didn’t expect such a sudden angry reaction from some of the red shirts. They had fought alongside him because they’d always believed he was ready to climb down from his “elitist” tower to join the grassroots movement. Now, as victory drew near, they sensed that they weren’t really on the same page after all.
Thaksin decided to put on hold the reconciliation bill after strongly negative reaction prompted the hardcore elements of the red shirts to suspect that he was trying to strike a deal with their sworn enemies in the establishment. 
When the Constitution Court ordered the House to withhold voting on the third and final reading of the constitutional-amendments bill, these red-shirt leaders and some Pheu Thai MPs were determined to go for a showdown.
To their horror, Thaksin beat another retreat. House Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranond declared that he wasn’t going to press the point. He announced that the House session would be closed and the final vote on the two bills would be postponed until the next session in August. That meant, in effect, a six-week truce, and six weeks in politics is long enough to effect unexpected changes.
No, in making that U-turn, Thaksin wasn’t listening to the Democrats. He simply needed time to consolidate and regroup. Somehow he would have to reconcile the jarring differences between the red-shirt leaders who demand a collision course with the Constitution Court and the Pheu Thai MPs who insisted that a temporary retreat would be a “safer option” to avoid a potentially disastrous route.
Naturally, the more radical among the red shirts saw the MPs as “spineless”, lacking in any real political ideology, while the “old guard” in the party considered those red-shirt leaders naive and unreasonably stubborn.
Thaksin is caught in a great dilemma yet again. Of course, his main objective is to pave the way for his return as a free man. The majority in the House can pass laws to clear the path, but the allegation that the legislative branch is overstepping the judiciary’s authority is too strong to ignore.
The red shirts could apply pressure through major street demonstrations, but some of them are beginning to wonder whether such an effort might end up helping the elite, with Thaksin on the other side of the wall.
The delicate task of pacifying the angry red-shirt leaders and keeping Pheu Thai MPs in line is complicated by the return of the 111 banned former Thai Rak Thai executives, some of whom are demanding seats in the Cabinet. 
Thaksin wants his “Team A” to replace the current “Team C”, but that can’t be done without alienating a large base of support within his own party – and offending some of Prime Minister Yingluck’s very own inner Cabinet members.
There was a time not so long ago when victory looked quite close at hand. Suddenly things began to drift apart, and now nobody is quite sure where reality meets delusion. 
The “Rashomon effect”, it has been explained to me, “is the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it”.
That seems to be a good description of what’s happening in the ongoing scenario.