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There's light at the end of the tunnel

The pale white dot is not showing Thaksin Shinawatra a road home, of course, but the faint light he sees is not a train coming at him, either. We all know that every honeymoon must come to an end, and fragile yet high post-coup expectations may be starting to run into some tough realities.

While there's not much the man in Dubai can do at the moment, at least he can begin to hope that the National Council for Peace and Order will end up looking overrated.

Let's be realistic. Even if the NCPO veers off track and crashes, Thaksin's desire for a return to power or to reclaim his seized assets will remain extremely ambitious. But if the NCPO bombs out, it will give him a great deal of satisfaction. The dim light at the end of the tunnel represents the possibility of vindication, of being able to reassert his claims that he's not responsible for all the troubles of Thailand.

Where does the light come from? First, the NCPO's handling of energy affairs is not making everybody happy. This is despite the fact that while some friends of the NCPO are feeling alienated, some "foes" may be feeling thankful. But all in all, oil interests are tricky and the NCPO is navigating a minefield that could blow its "popularity" away in an instant.

Second, the race between the NCPO's bid to expose rice scheme corruption and its critics' attempts to highlight post-coup "oppression" might not end in the junta's favour. This is not because the rice programme is squeaky clean, but because scandals like missing, faked and rotten rice are old news. Stories about media censorship and a clampdown on freedom of expression, on the other hand, are sexier.

Third, cracks have appeared in the uneasy alliance among the yellow shirts, the Democrats and the military. If they never really trusted one another before, the trust gap is even wider now. The yellow shirts' ASTV was never General Prayuth Chan-ocha's biggest fan and most likely will never be, while old wounds are being reopened between the yellow shirts and the Democrats. As for the oldest political party and the NCPO, they are eyeing each other like a jealous girl eyeing her most flirtatious boyfriend.

A weakening of the alliance was expected, but it was this kind of scenario that helped the resurgence of the Shinawatras and the red shirts after the 2006 coup. This time it might not come to another Shinawatra leading a pro-Thaksin party monopolising political power, but rifts among the allies could mess up promised reform. Who would benefit if the "reform" process fails? It's a no-brainer.

There is more to cheer Thaksin up. The ousted former prime minister probably doesn't realise it yet, but he and the Thai generals can't live without one another. Well, they actually can, but their lives would be largely insignificant. General Prayuth would be nearing a quiet retirement, poised to lead a golf gang and ready to clink champagne glasses with US diplomats on the fourth of July. Thaksin would be a rather unpopular "democratically elected" prime minister being slapped on the wrist from time to time by the West.

Their rivalry has blocked those scenarios. For their own good, some might say. In other words, being the world's richest prime minister, frowned upon left and right due to corruption and human rights issues, is not as fascinating as being a world-renowned victim of political persecution being shown sympathy by the United States, United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia and major international organisations. Money can be boring and it can't buy that "champion of democracy" status - unless, of course, it is "unfairly" taken from you by those who "conspired" to kick you out of power.

As for the Thai generals, they would have faded into the sunset in an uneventful country that has not had a taste of real war for decades. Thanks to Thaksin, their names are being flung around foreign news agencies and taken notice of by the powers-that-be in Washington, London and Canberra. Instead of unceremoniously doffing their uniforms when they reach mandatory retirement age, neither loved nor hated, the generals have written their names in the history books, for better or worse.

So the political enemies should thank each other. And if great reform comes out of their rivalry, they can present fresh evidence to the world that trust and friendship are probably highly overrated. After all, love didn't hasten space programmes or speed up nuclear technology. Mistrust, fear and prejudice did.

If Thaksin is seeing a pale white light, so should the rest of Thailand. At the ends of different tunnels, of course. After all they have done, Thailand's political foes might be doing this country great favours after all, highly optimistically speaking.


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