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Thailand’s Thaksin down but not out: Analysts

Thaksin Shinawatra suffered a setback after Thailand broke up protests by his supporters, but the fugitive former premier will continue to loom large over the country’s politics, analysts say.

world Updated: Apr 15, 2009 13:12 IST

Thaksin Shinawatra suffered a setback after Thailand broke up protests by his supporters, but the fugitive former premier will continue to loom large over the country’s politics, analysts say.

They say Thaksin is more isolated than ever after authorities arrested protest leaders loyal to him and issued an arrest warrant for the exiled tycoon for inciting days of unrest that left two dead and 123 injured.

But while his calls for “revolution” fell flat when protesters melted away in the face of a military crackdown, Thailand’s deep and enduring social problems mean that many will continue to regard him as a potential saviour.

“Many people now will find him totally unacceptable. Those (politicians) who supported him rather strategically will understand that and ease away from him a little bit,” Thaksin’s biographer Chris Baker told AFP.

“But I don’t think this will diminish his symbolic importance for the great mass of his supporters. I think they will still look upon him as the lost and persecuted leader,” he said.

The billionaire remains Thailand’s most divisive political figure, loved by supporters for his populist championing of the poor but accused by his opponents of massive corruption and authoritarianism.

His ouster in a military coup in 2006 has come to symbolise the rift here between town and country, the haves and have-nots, the new blood of his movement and the traditional power bases of the palace and armed forces.

But the sunsequent years of turmoil have taken their toll, with many former supporters switching allegiance to his opponents.

They crossed the floor of parliament and backed the telegenic, Oxford-educated Abhisit in December, after a court ruling forced Thaksin’s allies from power following months of rival protests.

Divorced last November by his wife Pojaman and living away from his children in exile, the former leader is also suffering from having more than two billion dollars of assets frozen in Thailand.

Thaksin encouraged his supporters, known as “Red Shirts”, with a string of fiery video and telephone speeches after they surrounded Abhisit’s offices in late March, but faced accusations of using them to further his own goals.

“His strategy backfired,” Thai columnist Thanong Khanthong wrote Wednesday in The Nation newspaper, known for its anti-Thaksin stance.

“Thaksin failed to get critical mass support... and many Thais were disgusted by his ability to destroy the nation in exchange for his return to power,” Thanong wrote.

But his supporters continue to feel they have been robbed of their democratic rights, and some analysts believe any long-term solution to heal the social chasm dividing Thailand’s society must include the former leader.

“I wish the government and maybe Thaksin himself would try to use more contact, dialogue, diplomacy,” said Gothom Arya, a peace expert at Thailand’s Mahidol University.

“Otherwise we will not be able to solve the problem in the long term,” he said.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said the government’s hardline approach towards the protesters is unlikely to suceed in the long-term.

“If the government refuses to respect and recognise the claims and grievances and disenchantment of the Red Shirts, then there is no end to this crisis,” he said.