The cat's away,
Samak will play



Prime minister Samak Sundaravej no longer needs to worry whether any of his decisions and actions will upset Thaksin "Maew" Shinawatra, the de facto big boss of the ruling People Power Party.

By Nattaya Chetchotiros
President of the Thai Journalists Association and Assistant News Editor, Bangkok Post

The decision to run away from justice and seek political asylum overseas by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife Khunying Potjaman does not surprise anyone. Even the SET index rose on expectations that the country's political tensions could ease after Mr Thaksin left the country.

Alas, this does not mean an end to the protracted political trouble.

The Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions has now issued arrest warrants for the famous couple after Khunying Potjaman jumped bail and the two failed to report before the judges in the Ratchadaphisek land case.

The situation did not leave Mr Thaksin with many options. With all the political developments, he must have foreseen what would happen to him and must have planned many courses of action to choose from. But when his wife Khunying Potjaman was sentenced to three years in jail over the tax avoidance case and later released on bail, Mr Thaksin came to realise that he was left with little choice but to flee.

This decision might be less than a dignified one as it contradicts what he had announced earlier during his high-profile return to Thailand in February from his self-imposed exile overseas following the Sept 19 coup. At that time, the former premier announced that he would fight all the cases to prove his innocence.

Ignoble though it may be, the decision to go into another political exile overseas should be more prudent than doing nothing but face the prospect of being sent to jail.

His handwritten statement detailing his reasons for not returning shows that he knows exactly what he is doing.

From what he wrote, the implication is clear that for him, the game is not yet over. There are many rounds of the fight still to come.

He said he had been treated unfairly and told his supporters to be patient because "today is not my day".

He said he will come back if he gets the chance.

Every single word in the statement gives vent to his bitter feelings about the treatment he has received.

Mr Thaksin and his family is believed to be rich enough to afford to live comfortably overseas for a long period of time.

But his political power is now beginning to wane, as opposed to the judiciary, which is going from strength to strength in its efforts to exert its authority.

The bitter explanation he offered in his statement will be of little help to the fleeing ex-PM. It only reflects negatively on him. To argue that he was forced to flee because he has been denied justice is an especially low point in his line of reasoning.

Wasn't it his own choice to return from self-imposed exile after the Sept 19 coup to fight the lawsuits against him when the People Power party won the election to form the government, with Samak Sundaravej as prime minister?

In his statement, he also talked of a plot being hatched to take his life. For those who are counting, the rumours about perceived threats on Mr Thaksin's life have been bandied about four times, including when he was still the prime minister.

Nothing ever happened and none of the alleged assassins has ever been identified or arrested.

Besides, it is widely known that after his return to Thailand, Mr Thaksin was given tight security; he was probably even more secure than the present prime minister himself.

His rationale would have made much more sense if the present government had been supported by the coup-makers.

But as it so happens, Mr Thaksin and his cronies have been fighting a losing battle in the courts at a time when the friendly PPP is in government.

As it turns out, the control over state mechanisms and levers of power in government does not seem sufficient to save their necks.

As the run of bad luck for Mr Thaksin and his family continues, he might now be wondering if his hard-core supporters will still stand by him or fail him when he most needs them?

The so-called "gang of four" in People Power is now increasingly rising to power. The gang's existence was alleged by MPs of the Isan Pattana faction, who said top people in the party were trying to cash in on state projects.

The gang is said to comprise Prime Minister Samak, his secretary-general Theerapol Nopparampa, Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee, and Newin Chidchob, the banned-from-politics but influential figure who is said to control a faction of northeastern MPs in PPP.

Mr Samak himself has shown that he is reasserting himself as prime minister and this should make Mr Thaksin come to terms with the fact that it is not easy for him to regain power in the near future.

Nobody in the PPP has faulted Mr Thaksin's decision to flee to London. Members of the "gang of four" themselves have claimed it was they who advised Mr Thaksin to take this option.

Cabinet members in the government also said the flight by Mr Thaksin should help ease political tensions. Mr Samak will enjoy more freedom to make political decisions.

The prime minister no longer needs to worry whether any of his decisions and actions will upset the person thought to be the de facto "big boss" of the PPP.

Mr Thaksin's morale should be low at the moment. But he is not the type to take defeat lying down.

As his statement, written in long-hand, suggests, he is waiting for his day to come.

Bangkok Post