Pieces in place to dismantle Thaksin's political network

Pieces in place to dismantle Thaksin's political network
Ousted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra greets in a traditional way as she leave Parliament after delivering a statement during the National Legislative Assembly meeting in Bangkok January 22, 2015.

Thailand's anti-graft agency has scored victories on several fronts.

After weeks of wrangling, it got state prosecutors to agree to bring criminal charges against ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra for dereliction of duty.

Last Friday, its bid to impeach her sailed through the military-appointed assembly.

Hours later, its chairman was quoted by local broadcaster Thai PBS as declaring commitment to its bid to impeach another 306 former parliamentarians, most of them from Ms Yingluck's Puea Thai party.

Slowly but surely, the pieces are being put in place to eradicate Ms Yingluck's powerful clan and network from Thai politics.

Thailand's military government, say analysts, appears to be going for broke by following the script desired by the hardliners among its supporters.

But few think Ms Yingluck will actually be put behind bars.

Although she faces a maximum 10-year jail sentence if convicted in the court for political office holders, having a popularly elected leader in jail would create a martyr too problematic for the junta.

Besides, she is popular in her own right, despite being seen as a proxy of her brother, exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

And the military is all too aware of the apparent dismay among foreign governments when it temporarily detained her after the coup in May last year.

What is more likely to happen, say observers, is that political rules will be revised to bar her and her network from politics altogether.

Since seizing power, Thailand's generals have abrogated the Constitution, packed the interim legislature with military officers and appointed a panel to write a new Charter from scratch.

The draft of this charter, Thailand's 20th, is expected to be ready around the middle of the year.

"We are architects building a house... for the 67 million people living in Thailand," one of the drafters, Lieutenant-General Navin Damrigan, told The Sunday Times recently.

Using question-naires, workshops and forums, "we can get a good idea of what the people want".

Legal scholars like Mr Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang from Chulalongkorn University don't buy that.

"It seems clear now that whatever you say, the junta will draft it the way they like it."

Critics say the future Constitution could come with a clause that bars individuals who have been banned from politics from taking part in elections.

This will exclude not just Ms Yingluck - now banned from politics for five years - but also her sister Yaowapa Wongsawat, brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat, as well as former ministers like Phongthep Thepkanjana and Chaturon Chaisang.

All of them are part of Thaksin's extensive political network now being steadily dismantled by the coup-makers.

If eventually realised, the chances of rapprochement between Thailand's opposing political camps will look even more remote.

Animosity runs deep as conflict between Thaksin and the royalists and old elite has consumed the kingdom in the past decade.

Where does that leave the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, the mass "red shirt" movement that mobilised tens of thousands to support Puea Thai when its government's position seemed precarious early last year?

"We will not move just because of one person's problems," says one of its leaders, Ms Thida Thavornset, referring to Ms Yingluck.

"We will only move if the issue involves the entire country."

More importantly, the group does not want to risk a violent backlash from the authorities now wielding martial law.

tanhy@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 25, 2015.
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