11 July 2024

Politics, whether it’s an extreme dictatorship, mild fascism, or full-blown democracy, is all about magnifying opponents’ faults and belittling your own in the full glare of the public. Motives are to retain power, or get it, or come back to it. Thaksin Shinawatra cannot escape that reality, so the biggest question concerning his current resurgence is: How risky is it?

Some will say risks do not exist for someone who has nothing to lose. Others will say Thaksin is not that someone, especially if he still wants to return to Thailand as a hero and “through the front gate of the airport.”

Those in-between view him as a politician with not much to lose currently, but with a goal ambitious enough to require smart implementation. If he is defeated in the present showdown with the Thai government, he will just retreat into his shell and nothing much will change, although his supposedly great chances may never come again.

Thaksin’s problem is that he has to weigh between helping keep the “inefficient” Prayut government in sharp focus through every online channel he could access and sitting on the fence waiting for the Thai administration to fall by itself. The dilemma is clear: the second scenario may never happen if he doesn’t give it a little nudge.

The pros are obvious. Thaksin can benefit from Prayut Chan-o-cha’s troubles whether they stemmed from inefficiency or anti-incumbent sentiments. The former prime minister’s business management styles and diplomatic connections make many people wonder what it would be like to have him at the helm at this critical juncture. His online activities are triggering and responding to such curiosity regarding the “Thaksinomics. They practically say: “I’m here. Use me.”

The cons are glaring, too. It has to do with a major rule in politics, which requires him to highlight Prime Minister Prayut’s shortcomings, not his own. Thaksin’s re-emergence does not only emphasize things about Prayut, which most people know about anyway, but also revives unfavorable memories about himself that he wants the public to bury. The “servants’ share scandal”, the Ratchadapisek land grab, Tak Bai, the baht devaluation rumors, the Suvarnabhumi airport “cracks” are among issues making their way back.

Prayut is bleeding, but Thaksin himself has old wounds that should not be reopened. Another potential problem is that his online activities, whether they are sincere or political, are unlikely to do his “Return Home Through the Front Gate” promise any good. That kind of a heroic comeback requires Thaksin to be considered a genuine savior, not conniver, a tough ask if he continues to aggravate the national divide or be seen as doing so.

Thaksin is not best known for brilliant political calculations. The “all-the-way” political amnesty push that critics said was designed for himself rather than activists fighting for him, how he gave birth to and promoted the Thai Raksa Chart Party, and how he conducted himself prior to the last general election are among slips that later turned into costly mishaps.

With help from his children, “Thaksinofficial” would soon be up online. News about it is coinciding with anti-government extremists going rogue in Thailand and more or less responsible for scenes that brought back some harsh memories about the tumultuous red-shirt uprising over a decade ago. Those scenes are unlikely to affect die-hard believers on both sides of the national divide, but can have great bearing on the people in the middle, the “market” that Thaksin wants to win over.  

Now, he’s wielding Clubhouse like a sword and Thaksinofficial” would allow him to expand limited communications to make it a much larger “direct” contact between himself and the Thai public. If the whole thing works, he will not only accelerate his enemy’s downfall, but also emerge as a true alternative.

So, Prayut is battling two waves at the same time. The coronavirus is in front and Thaksin is at the back. Will the Thaksin wave capsize the Prayut ship? Or will Prayut ride out the storm using the supposedly hostile political wave? Like Thaksin, the prime minister, who is frowned upon even by some supporters, is a gambler. He must be betting on Thaksin coming out to help draw the fire.


By Tulsathit Taptim