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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Abhisit’s time almost up

Abhisit’s time almost up

It is the last day of the year and no one will be more glad to see the back of 2012 than Abhisit Vejjajiva, the former Thai prime minister and current leader of the opposition.

Last month, a committee appointed by the defence minister declared that the former PM had forged documents to avoid military conscription.

As a result, the government is seeking to strip him of the rank he was given when teaching at an army academy and wants to make him to repay his salary.

Worse followed at the start of this month when Abhisit was charged with murder over the death of a taxi driver shot by troops during the Red Shirt protests in Bangkok in May 2010.

Abhisit was prime minister at that time and he authorised the military to use lethal force, if necessary, to disperse the demonstrators.

More than 90 people were killed, and after a lengthy investigation, Abhisit and his former deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, have been charged with “giving orders that led to the deaths of others with intent”.

In addition, the ruling Pheu Thai government has asked the Department of Special Investigation to check into alleged irregularities in the sale of rice when Abhisit was prime minister.

It appears that some officials, with or without his knowledge, may have violated the law against price collusion in the sale of rice and that this led to unfair competition in the bidding process.

As well, Abhisit and Suthep face allegations that they broke Thailand’s Political Party Act when they made flood compensation donations during their term in office.

As if all this were not enough, Abhisit’s Democrat Party is in disarray over who to choose as its candidate for the coming gubernatorial election in Bangkok.

The current city governor, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, is a Democrat and is keen to run again for a second term, but Abhisit and other party leaders regard him as far too wishy-washy and want to replace him.

They have sounded out the party’s No 2, Korn Chatikavanij, but he has spurned the call because his goal is to take over the No 1 slot and hopefully become the next premier.

With that in mind, he has no wish to be sidelined in the governor’s residence for the next four years, because he’s pretty sure that Abhisit will be gone by then.

A lot of others think so too. Not because of the murder charge, but because Abhisit’s performance as opposition leader has been woeful.

Last week, a survey revealed that 18 months after being defeated in the 2010 general election, Abhisit’s approval rating has sunk to 16 per cent, while Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is up at 52 per cent.

The guy is dead in the water. That was evident earlier this month when he was interviewed about the murder rap by the BBC’s mild-mannered Mishal Husain.

Smiling boyishly, he began by saying everyone knew what had happened during the protests and knew that the charges against him were very far-fetched.

Mishal promptly retorted: “Why are they far-fetched? You were the person in power, you must have authorised the use of force in tearing down the protest camp.”

Immediately, Abhisit looked rattled. And after admitting that he had indeed approved the use of live ammunition, he squirmed this way and that when she asked him if he had regretted the decision.

All he would concede was that he was sorry that people had unfortunately died.

It was a cringing display, but that said, Abhisit is not going to be jailed, let alone executed, for the murder charge, because he is just too tight with the Thai establishment.

He will, however, be tied up fighting the charge and rebutting the other allegations, so his already tepid performance is likely to get even worse.

And if the Democrats do lose the Bangkok governorship on February 17, he will almost certainly be replaced by Korn soon afterwards.

 

Contact our regional insider Roger at roger.mitton@gmail.com
 

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