Although Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's visit to Buri Ram on Sunday may have been eclipsed somewhat by the leaked audio-clip scandal, there's no denying the significance of her visit to the hometown of former political veteran Newin Chidchob, who
While billing it as a visit to meet locals and follow up on the province’s policies, including the credit-card scheme for farmers and promotion of the silk industry in Phutthaisong district, political undertones were never far away.
Some members of the ruling Pheu Thai Party believe Yingluck’s visit to Newin’s stronghold had underlying political objectives as the Newin faction, through Bhum Jai Thai Party, still holds seven MPs seats in the province out of nine. The other two belong to Pheu Thai Party.
Over the past decade, Newin has been instrumental in arranging high-profile visits of two premiers to his impoverished province in the Northeast.
The first to visit was then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2005, when Newin was a Thai Rak Thai Party MP and a PM’s Office minister. This visit raised a few eyebrows because Newin was instrumental in holding a mobile Cabinet meeting inside Phanom Rung Historical Park. This reportedly pleased Thaksin so much he granted Newin’s province a financial injection.
Thaksin’s second visit was the following year, when the People’s Alliance for Democracy had made Government House inaccessible. During this trip, Thaksin rode into the province ceremoniously on the back of an elephant.
In late 2007, Newin arranged for late Samak Sundaravej to kick off his election campaign for the Northeast in Buri Ram, which helped People Power Party win the general election in the wake of the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin and propelled Samak to the top position. At this rally, 136 MP candidates for the Northeast were introduced. Samak was so pleased with Newin’s efforts he included him in his influential “Gang of Four”.
The second premier to be escorted to Buri Ram was Thailand’s 27th prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, in 2009. This came after Newin’s faction swapped sides in Parliament – a move seen by many pro-Thaksin MPs as an act of betrayal.
While Newin had nothing to do with the prime minister’s visit on Sunday, MPs under the former politician’s influence advised local residents with anti-government sentiment to stay at home and not consider any protests.
Some see this as a move to extend an olive branch to Yingluck and her older brother – fugitive former PM Thaksin.
Key people close to Newin have reportedly intimated they want to team up with their former boss Thaksin. One was quoted saying: “I respect Yingluck as the sister of our boss... We dearly want to be in good terms with ‘PM Thaksin’ again because he raised us.”
Meanwhile, within the ruling-Pheu Thai Party, there is hardly any talk about his “ungrateful” faction – a term usually used in reference to Newin and his group of MPs. In fact, some even praised Newin for his skills in dealing with political matters. Some compared his skills with that of key men in Pheu Thai including the ability to promote the government’s performances to the media, as well as a charter-related campaign. This comes at a time when the red shirts seem to be becoming harder to control.
When these things are seen in combination with Thaksin’s yearning to return home and political storms brewing in the background, the significance of Yingluck’s visit to Buri Ram becomes a bit clearer.