The Foreign Ministry's likely U-turn on the issue of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's passport reflects a strategy of "nipping in the bud" any threat to the Yingluck government after realising the dangers of a political backlash if it refuse
The Foreign Ministry early this week was preparing to issue a letter to the Ombudsman’s Office, stating that it will not review its issuance of a Thai passport to Thaksin. But the latest development is that the ministry has had a change of heart.
The ministry on Friday submitted a letter to the Ombudsman’s Office requesting that the office give it another 30 days to collect complete information and relevant documents to clarify its issuance of a travelling document to Thaksin.
Acting on a complaint filed by Somsak Kosaisuk, former core leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the Ombudsman’s Office submitted its recommendation on September 13 that the Foreign Ministry review the issue of Thaksin’s passport. The ministry must respond to the Ombudsman within 30 days.
The decision whether Thaksin’s passport should be cancelled is not so complicated that the ministry needs more time to scrutinise the matter. When it first received the request from the Ombudsman’s Office, the ministry did not seem to be perturbed. The U-turn could be interpreted as a change in the government’s stance on the matter.
Reports said that the ministry’s review of its decision could point towards Thaksin’s passport being revoked again.
Thaksin’s Thai passport was revoked the first time after his government was brought down by the September 19, 2006 coup. Two months after General Surayud Chulanont was installed as PM, Thaksin’s special passport as PM and his ordinary passport were revoked. The Foreign Ministry cited its 2005 ministerial directive number 8 that PM and diplomats must give up their special passport after leaving the office. According to the protocol, the Foreign Ministry can resort to revoking travelling documents in such circumstances.
Thaksin was given back his ordinary passport when Noppadon Pattama became Foreign Minister in 2008 but his passport was revoked again by the Abhisit government.
After the April 11, 2009 riots, when the red shirts forced the cancellation of a summit of Asean leaders in Pattaya, then foreign minister Kasit Piromya cited Foreign Ministry directive No 23 (7) to revoke Thaksin’s passport on the grounds that his stay overseas had caused damage to the country and to foreign countries. Kasit said that Thaksin had incited the red shirts to stage riots, which posed a security threat to the country.
Since the passport issue has been regarded by Thaksin as a political subject, once his sister became the premier, he got his passport back. The Yingluck government pointed out that it has a different political perspective from those of the Surayud and Abhisit governments on the matter.
But what’s behind the government’s sudden change of heart over whether to revoke Thaksin’s passport?
The answer is this issue can be used by the judicial activists to exercise their mandate.
If the Foreign Ministry ignores or rejects the recommendation, the matter would not be put to rest but likely be brought to the Administrative Court by the Ombudsman’s Office.
The Foreign Ministry cannot rule out the possibility that the Administrative Court would order the ministry to revoke Thaksin’s passport. If this is the case, the Yingluck government would come under attack from many state agencies. First, the National Anti-Corruption Commission can take action against relevant state officials from directors-general, the ministry’s permanent secretary, the Foreign Minister and PM Yingluck Shinawatra.
The fact is that Thaksin does not really need the Thai passport because he has a Montenegro passport that he can use to travel everywhere except to Thailand. The revocation of the passport once again will only be a blow to his ego.
But it looks like he has to give in otherwise he would be opening a legal channel for the judicial activists to exercise their power and history may repeat itself. His nominee PM may be replaced again.
One strategy the Pheu Thai Party must stick to is to avoid doing anything that could lead to the party being disbanded. Thaksin knows too well he must nip in the bud this impending storm over his passport.