via Khmer NZ
The Cambodian government announced on Aug 23 that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had resigned as a personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and as economic adviser to the Cambodian government, citing personal difficulty in fulfilling the roles. This paved the way for Bangkok and Phnom Penh to restore normal diplomatic relations, noted Nongnuch Singhadecha writing for Matichon.
Even though some Thai critics remarked that it was a staged act by Thaksin and Hun Sen and that the Thai government should not put much faith in Hun Sen, Nongnuch believed it was in Cambodia's own interests to dismiss Thaksin as an adviser - otherwise Thailand would not resume normal diplomatic ties.
After Thaksin resigned from his positions, the two countries returned their ambassadors to their posts in Phnom Penh and Bangkok respectively. Diplomatic relations had been downgraded to the charge d'affaires level when Thaksin was appointed adviser in November last year.
Nongnuch speculated that Hun Sen finally realised that supporting Thaksin openly and wholeheartedly was not in the best interests of Cambodia. As time passed, Hun Sen realised that holding "junk stock" like Thaksin and hoping for a quick profit would not materialise and that Thaksin was static on a declining trend and could even plunge to a lower level than his IPO price as there was no positive news to support him. In the parlance of stock speculators, Thaksin stock has no future.
The situation after the red shirt unrest in April-May with the total defeat of the red shirts made it quite clear to Hun Sen that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who Hun Sen used to ridicule as unlikely to last long, could now consolidate his position and that it would be sometime before a new general election is held, and it is not even certain that Puea Thai will take power. The economic news in Thailand is also encouraging in that GDP growth for the first and second quarter was at the forefront in Asia, consolidating the position of Mr Abhisit even further.
Hun Sen's open support of Thaksin was the main obstacle to unifying Asean, which aims to become a common market and attract trade and investment to the region. The Asean market boasts more than 500 million people with Indonesia alone having 240 million. The region is a magnet for overseas investors from the West and Asian economic giants China, Japan and South Korea. Those countries do not want to see Asean countries mired in conflicts just because Hun Sen saw personal ties with Thaksin as more important than the interests of Cambodia and Asean.
Objectively speaking, Hun Sen committed a diplomatic misstep in taking on board a fugitive from justice. It soured relations between Thailand and Cambodia. Whatever angle one looks at it from, there was no need for Hun Sen to officially announce the appointment of Thaksin as his personal adviser and an economic adviser to the Cambodian government. If Hun Sen had been wiser, he would not have put all his bets on Thaksin and announced the enmity against Mr Abhisit. He could have quietly appointed Thaksin on an informal basis to help him and the Cambodian government. With no official announcement, Hun Sen could have avoided souring diplomatic relations with Thailand while hedging his bets if Puea Thai came to power.
On the Puea Thai Party front, Thaksin loyalists argue that he was not dismissed from his advisory position but resigned voluntarily to improve relations between the two neighbours. If that were the case, Nongnuch wondered why Thaksin had not thought about this when he accepted Hun Sen's invitation to become an adviser. If he had not really wanted to sour relations between the two countries, he should not have accepted the position in the first place. The fact he accepted meant he cannot deny that he wanted to show the Abhisit administration and its backers that he was still accepted as a respected international figure by Thailand's neighbour to the point where that country did not care much about good relations with Thailand.
Nongnuch said if Thaksin was really behind the violence aimed at toppling the Abhisit administration, as many believe, he should now know that using force and violence to fight the military establishment is futile, seeing the failure in April last year and April-May this year. Violence will not succeed as it is not the democratic way.
If the red shirts continue to agitate and obstruct ruling politicians who are doing their duty in the countryside, it will give even more legitimacy to Mr Abhisit's claim to continue to rule until his term expires late next year without having to be forced to dissolve the House early for a general election, citing that the situation is still not peaceful and that candidates may not be able to campaign freely throughout the country without facing obstruction.
The resounding defeat of Puea Thai in Bangkok's local elections on Sunday, Aug 29, even though the Democrat Party did not sweep all seats, means that Bangkokians do not think too much of the red shirts torching Bangkok in May.
Puea Thai claimed only 42% of eligible voters bothered to come out to vote and thus this election did not reflect the true feeling of Bangkok voters. Nongnuch begged to differ, arguing that with the two main parties fighting tooth and nail to win over Bangkok voters, it would be unthinkable that the true, die-hard red shirt supporters would sit tight and let the Democrat supporters have their day as the memory of the red shirt defeat in May was still fresh in their minds.
'Harvest time' for MP candidates
The market for buying MPs is open. There has been constant news of MPs defecting to other parties since the dispersal of the red shirts in May. Does it portend a dissolution of the House leading to a new general election, a Post Today writer asked.
The movement of MPs defecting to other parties has occurred during two important political sessions: the government censure debate in the House of Representatives and the 2011 budget bill debate.
The no-confidence debate resulted in a cabinet reshuffle after most Puea Pandin Party MPs abstained from voting for Bhumjaithai ministers. This forced Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to rethink the cabinet, kicking Puea Pandin ministers out of the government. However, former Puea Pandin secretary-general Chaiyos Jiramethakorn was able to persuade some fellow Puea Pandin MPs to stick with the coalition government by defecting to Bhumjaithai. He was rewarded with the post of deputy education minister in the reshuffle.
Yet, all was not well with the opposition Puea Thai Party when some MPs, including list MP Somboon Wanchaithanawong and Nakhon Nayok MP Wutichai Kittithanesuan, decided to jump ship for Bhumjaithai while Sakon Nakhon MP Chumphol Boonyai and Saraburi MP Porapol Adireksarn defected even before the censure debate.
Meanwhile, during the 2011 budget debate, there was constant news about MPs defecting. It was believed the budget bill would allocate many more funds to certain constituencies that belong to the government camp than to the opposition. Some Puea Thai MPs would rather get money into their own turf so as to prop up their popularity. For this reason, they would rather defect to a party that could siphon a lot of funds to please the local voters. The Bhumjaithai Party is a favoured destination as the party controls three important ministries: Transport, Commerce and Interior.
When debate on the budget bill was over, Puea Thai suffered three more defections to Bhumjaithai: Roi Et MP Piyarat Muensaen, followed by Natee Suthinpueak (commonly known as movie star Krung Srivilai) and Chiraphan Limsakulsiriwat, both Samut Prakan MPs.
Bhumjaithai is not the only party encouraging MPs to make a move. Former premier Banharn Silpa-archa's Chart Thai Pattana Party has also made an alliance with the "three Ps" of Puea Pandin (Phinit, Phairoj, Precha) who together command 12-14 Puea Pandin MPs. Time will tell whether Puea Pandin Party will merge with Chart Thai Pattana to contest the coming general election or remain a loose political alliance.
The Democrat Party is the odd one out in not seeming to be interested in the MP market. But for now, the only coalition party that is attracting MPs from other parties is Bhumjaithai.
The question is, what makes Bhumjaithai so attractive that some Puea Pandin and Puea Thai MPs have decided to jump ship? The Post Today writer conjectured that Bhumjaithai was in a good position to court electoral votes as the party controls the important Interior, Transport and Commerce ministries, which could easily influence local politics in various areas.
The second factor is the party's financiers are quite strong, as strong as Puea Thai. Chavarat Charnvirakul of the SinoThai group and Vichai Raksri-aksorn of the King Power group are two big shots who could rival former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra himself.
The last factor is de facto leader Newin Chidchob, who is regarded as a loyal, generous and dependable politician who never abandons his fellow MPs.
However, the reasons for some Puea Thai MPs defecting are not solely to do with the appeal of Bhumjaithai and its de facto leader Newin. Internal conflicts within Puea Thai are playing an important role. During the April-May disturbances, some MPs in Puea Thai did not feel at ease that their boss had allowed the red shirts to dictate the party's direction, creating confusion among local MPs who were asked to pay the expenses of some red shirts leaders to join the protests in Bangkok.
When the red shirts were defeated at the Ratchaprasong showdown in May, some Puea Thai MPs began to question the boss's strategy of employing the red shirts to topple the government, which is backed by the military, saying Thaksin and the red shirts were committing suicide for daring to fight the military. The result was always going to be obvious.
Some Puea Thai MPs were also miffed by the red shirt leaders in Bangkok as well as red shirts in the provinces who competed with local MPs in fielding candidates for local elections and Bangkok's by-election. They were dismayed that Puea Thai leaders let the red shirts grow so powerful that friction arose between Puea Thai MPs and the red shirts leaders.
Another factor was that some Puea Thai MPs saw the Abhisit government becoming stronger and stronger as Mr Abhisit managed to convince the coalition partners not to abandon the coalition government. They also dare not hope to see the Democrat Party dissolved by the Constitution Court as no one knows how long it will take to deliberate the party fund case now before the court and reach a verdict.
All these factors have prompted some Puea Thai MPs to abandon the party and seek shelter with Bhumjaithai as they think they will have a better future in terms of financial support and influence in contesting the coming election.
But this does not mean the defection of some Puea Thai MPs will lead to a general election soon if Mr Abhisit chooses to continue to administer the country for a while longer. However, nothing is certain in politics and a general election could be held at any time. For this reason, all the political parties are accumulating a war chest to fight the coming general election, concluded Post Today.