If they were to be honest, even the harshest critics of Thaksin Shinawatra would grudgingly admit that, in this second millennial, he has been the most talented and capable Thai politician. Question his morals, one may. Question his intelligence, one shouldn’t. But even the most capable men make blunders. Miscalculation, egotism, over-eagerness or just pure bad luck, anything can happen.
As well, hindsight is everything. A strategic move is only brilliant, if it succeeds. If it fails, then it’s a blunder. You might win every battle, but if you lost the last one, that makes you the loser, just ask the Carthaginian general, Hannibal. You might win every battle, but make a wrong alliance, then your head could end up on a spike, just ask the young wolf, Rob Stark, formerly known as King of the North.
Not that anyone could have done any better, but here they are, Thaksin’s top 6 blunders, not in order of importance, but in chronological order.
- Attempting to control the military. Modern Thailand is ruled by a triumvirate of unequal. The all-important monarchy, held in the highest regards, the national identity, the hearts and minds of the people. Not everyone might feel the same way today, but the rule still applies in general. In second place is the military, with primary interest in protecting the status quo, often operates like a money-making corporation and somewhere down the list of things-to-do, serve the people. The third-wheel (not including the present dictatorship regime) is the cowed and submissive civilian government, doing the dirty work of day-to-day operations and receiving the blunt of the people’s wrath whenever things go wrong. Banking on his success and popularity as prime minister, Thaksin attempted to change the power dynamic by reeling the military in under his control. Theoretically and democratically, the military ought to be under full control of the civilian government. But theoretically or realistically, Thailand was never quite a democracy. And so, it wasn’t meant to be, which led to the 2006 military coup d’tat.
- Burning of buildings. As election campaigning heats up, all factions are pulling out all the punches, and the punch that burns the most, are all the VDOs and images of red-shirt leaders telling their followers to “burn it all down”. Some may call it negative campaigning, but there’s no such thing as negative or positive campaigns. There’re only effective and ineffective campaigns. Images of angry faces screaming “burn it all down” and the smoky ruins of buildings are impactful. The trick is this, one might not want to vote for the junta leaders, but stirring emotions of fear and hatred would serve to caution many not to vote for the Thaksin faction.
- Rice-pledging scheme. It was supposed to be just “business as usual”. Every government does it. In fact, it’s a part of Thai culture, a time-honored tradition. Your allies and patronage network helped you to win something, you return the favors by spreading the cake around. The Democrats had rubber. The military have submarines and watches. What’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is, time-honored tradition is the equivalent of modern-day corruption. Hence, the fuel that first fired up the protests against the Pheu Thai government.
- 4am booty call. The word “corruption” is convenient and often-used. But underneath the hypocrisy, we all know well that all governments corrupt. What truly roused the passion of the 2011 protests against the Pheu Thai regime – the cause the ignited the explosion of fury, was the attempt to pass a blanket amnesty bill at 4am in the morning. Sneaky. Treacherous. A strategic blunder. The opposition might tolerate a nominee party in government. The opposition would never tolerate the return of Thaksin.
- General Prawit Wongsuwan. Back in 2004, when General Prawit stood meekly at Thaksin’s desk, requesting for the post of army chief, Thaksin might have thought he was grooming an ally. Perhaps he thought he could win the loyalty of the soldier. But General Prawit was always a politician in uniform, and in politics, there’s no loyalty. As such, instrumental to the 2014 military coup d’tat was General Prawit, the man who always know what time it is.
- To be… continued. Lastly, the attempt to nominate Princess Ubolrattana as prime minister candidate for Thai Raksa Chart Party. If it had worked out, critics would hail it as a brilliant move. Machiavelli would go “Mio Dio!” Bismarck would cry “Beeindruckend!” But it didn’t work out, so Cardinal Richelieu wrinkles his nose, “Merde!” Two immediate consequences followed: Firstly, Thai Raksa Chart Party might be banned. Secondly, it is more gasoline for spurring the fear and hatred of Thaksin. This is not just burning buildings, rich pledging and 4am booty call, this one involves the highest institution of the land.
But of course, the game is far from over…