Thailand’s unanswered question: where is Thaksin?

January 28, 2014 6:17 am

Thailand’s unanswered question: where is Thaksin?

By Michael Peel in Bangkok

He hasn’t posted on his official Facebook or Twitter accounts for over a month and was last sighted on Webstagram posing with his daughters at the end of the trans-Siberian railway in December. Yet, nine years since Thaksin Shinawatra last won a contested election in Thailand and more than five years since he set foot in the country, his is still the name on many people’s lips in the run-up to fresh polls on Sunday – if they go ahead.

For his enemies, the self-exiled billionaire telecoms magnate is the dark corrupting hand behind all the administration of his younger sister, Yingluck, has done before and during a political crisis that erupted in November and led to violent clashes in Bangkok at the weekend.

To his core supporters – many of whom are due to rally nationwide on Wednesday – this scion of a political family in his north Thai heartland is a king across the water, still commanding fierce loyalty seven years after his ousting by the military.

“That coup of 2006 is the cause of all the problems in Thailand,” declared Attakorn Kantachai, a north Thailand radio presenter and pro-government activist, whose business card carries a picture of him with Mr Thaksin in Cambodia. “Thaksin’s policies benefited the people.”

The February 2 poll that Ms Yingluck’s ruling Puea Thai party has sworn to hold and the opposition to sabotageare in part about her absent brother and his legacy. Uprooting the “Thaksin regime” from southeast Asia’s second-largest economy is the main aim of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee activists who have been blockading roads in Bangkok since January 13.

Skirmishes are part of a battle that has raged since Mr Thaksin was removed from power, after notching landmark landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005 by wooing rural voters with subsidised healthcare and cheap loans.

Convicted of corruption in 2008 in a case he says is politically motivated, Mr Thaksin has since remained in a peripatetic exile centred on the Gulf emirate of Dubai, leaving both friends and foes to watch closely for signs of him shaping events at home before an eventual return.

Mr Thaksin has kept a pretty low profile by his standards since an abortive attempt by the Yingluck government to pass an amnesty law to whitewash politicians on both sides, including himself, accused of serious crimes.

He has said little about Thai politics other than a December Facebook post deploring its cruelty. Interviewed briefly by the Financial Times at a Dubai mall in November, he said he didn’t want to come home if he was “part of the problem”.

Yet, for all that apparent reticence, there is no secret about his influence on the government of his sister 18 years his junior, whom he once described as his “clone” and who campaigned for the 2011 election using the slogan “Thaksin thinks, Puea Thai does”. Mr Thaksin has traditionally set policies – such as the massive rice subsidy that is wildly popular with farmers but is unravelling amid cash shortages and allegations of corruption – and talked regularly to officials.

Noppadon Pattama, Mr Thaksin’s legal adviser, says it is natural the former premier speaks to Ms Yingluck: “they are brother and sister”. But he denies Mr Thaksin is orchestrating remotely the crisis strategy of a government that has often seemed a step slow in responding to events.

“Sometimes people do call him for advice, I won’t deny that,” Mr Noppadon said. “But the major part of the task has been carried out by those in Thailand.”

The latest reminder of how Mr Thaksin remains everywhere and nowhere in Thailand will come via the rallies planned this week of the “red shirts” who first sprang up to protest against his defenestration by the army in 2006.

It’s also a measure of his divisiveness that the red shirt leader, Thida Tawornseth, is still passionate about the ex-premier’s groundbreaking embrace of elections in Thailand’s coup-plagued politics – but more equivocal about the dynasty he has carved out for his Shinawatra clan in the process.

“For me, I don’t care about the family,” Ms Thida said. “But I care about the principle of democracy.”

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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