Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thaksin visit backfired, analysts say

Thaksin visit backfired, analysts say

Thaksin visit backfired, analysts say

091116_02
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks with former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra before his departure from Siem Reap airport on Saturday.

THAKSIN Shinawatra’s trip to Cambodia last week, though brief, may hold long-term consequences for the fugitive former Thai prime minister’s hopes of a political comeback on his native soil, analysts say.

Though Cambodia called Thaksin’s appointment as government economics adviser an “internal affair”, the deposed premier’s trip was the closest he has come to Thailand since fleeing last year to avoid a jail term for corruption, and was widely seen as a bid to reinject himself into Thai politics and put pressure on the government of current Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen also joined the offensive against Abhisit, who gained his seat last year through a vote of parliament rather than a general election, telling reporters last week that Abhisit had “stolen” the premiership and challenging his Thai counterpart to call new elections.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, too, offered an implicit but uppercase attack on Abhisit’s legitimacy in justifying its decision not to extradite Thaksin.

“The condemnation of HE Mr Thaksin Shinawatra is logically the consequence of the military coup d’etat in September 2006 ... while he was OVERWHELMINGLY and DEMOCRATICALLY elected by the Thai people,” its statement released last week read.

Now that Thaksin has left, however, political observers are suggesting that his gamble may prove self-defeating, giving Abhisit the opportunity to secure a popular mandate.

“If Thaksin’s not careful, this could be a turn-off among his supporters,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, said last week. “It’s one thing to fight among ourselves, as Thais have done for the past four years, but once you have an outside hand intervening, Thais may unite against that outside force.”

This unity may be the legacy of Thaksin’s trip, according to Bertil Lintner, a political journalist and author based in Thailand, who said the ex-premier’s Cambodia visit “has backfired badly at home in Thailand”.

Lintner cited a survey conducted by Bangkok’s Assumption University ABAC poll earlier this month, as the Thaksin controversy was gathering steam, in which Abhisit scored a 68.6 percent approval rating, compared with his performance of 23.6 percent in September.

Abhisit’s biggest gains, Lintner noted, came in northern and northeastern Thailand, traditional Thaksin strongholds. A more recent ABAC poll found 51.9 percent of respondents approved of Abhisit’s handling of the bilateral row, the Bangkok Post reported Sunday.

Abhisit, who is not required to call elections until the end of his current term in 2011, has shown signs he is paying attention to these numbers. “The likelihood is that there will be early elections once the economy is firmly grounded,” he told The Wall Street Journal on Saturday, without mentioning a specific date.

Andrew Walker, a Southeast Asia expert from the Australian National University, said Thaksin may not have counted on an upswing of nationalist sentiment in Thailand during the diplomatic dispute, adding that “at least some of [Thaksin’s] supporters may be a bit puzzled as to why he seems to be siding with Cambodia.”

Lintner said there are “many Red Shirts who wish [Thaksin] would leave Cambodia as soon as possible”, though he noted that it is too early to say whether the apparent mood swing of the Thai electorate will be permanent.

Thaksin himself maintained over the course of his time in Cambodia that he was here simply to provide economic advice. Asked about the economic future of Thailand during a lecture he delivered last Thursday at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, however, he could not help but mention his country’s fractious domestic politics.

“The future of the Thai economy depends on reconciliation. If there is no reconciliation, trust and confidence will never come back to Thailand,” he said, adding: “They need the proper people to run the government.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh authorities ban march for Human Rights Day

    Phnom Penh authorities have banned a planned march as local NGOs and workers’ unions gear up to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Monday, with a youth group leader saying they would march nonetheless. The UN

  • US Embassy urges reconciliation

    The US has urged Cambodia to restore the independence of the media, drop charges against Kem Sokha and other political prisoners, and end the prohibition of political activity by opposition parties. However, senior government officials see the request, issued by US embassy spokesman Arend C

  • Government deports 235 Chinese scammers

    THE Immigration Department of the Ministry of Interior on Thursday deported 235 Chinese nationals, 35 of whom were female, via the Phnom Penh International Airport for their part in a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) online money extortion scam. The deportees were arrested on November 26 over the

  • EU companies voice concern over impact of possible EBA withdrawal

    European companies operating in Cambodia voiced concern over the potential repercussions of removing the Kingdom’s Everything But Arms (EBA) preferential scheme, as the EU Ambassador to Cambodia, George Edgar, led an EU-organised media trip this week. Speaking in Siem Reap province as part of