Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Six booby traps waiting to blow a hole in Yingluck's government
Every fairy tale has to end with an inauguration ceremony of some kind.
The simple reason why is that all hell usually breaks loose afterwards. To Yingluck Shinawatra, the Election Commission has presented either the final obstacle to what is seen by some as a romantic political journey, or the first real glimpse of what lies beyond the shower of flowers, cheers and adulation from her supporters.
Yesterday's belated endorsement by the EC shattered the slight possibility that the inauguration might collapse and she might be mercifully spared all the menace knocking on the prime ministerial door. Already, her Pheu Thai Party is admitting that a "big mess" awaits Thailand's first female leader, and, for all its tendency to exaggerate, this one is a spot-on assessment. Where Pheu Thai is possibly wrong is the assumption that the looming misery is something exclusively left behind by the Democrats.
Whether Abhisit Vejjajiva's party is to be blamed, or the "big mess" originated from somewhere else, a floodgate of serious problems is set to open sooner rather than later. Dealing with them will not be easy, but first she will have to prioritise them, which is equally difficult.
Here's my little bit to help. It is not a "Dos and Don'ts" list. Some problems will definitely come whether she courts them or not. It's just the way things are after a fairy tale. This severity ranking, which, of course, is subjected to possible changes, is my thought on what Yingluck should be afraid, or very afraid, of:
Wealth declaration. This is by no means a Democrat mess. Yingluck said a lot during Thaksin's assets trial and she could now get entangled in her own words. One may get away with millions of baht, or even tens of millions of baht, that went missing between then and now, but hundreds of millions of baht would be hard to ignore and easy to trace. If she said she owned something back then, she could be asked where that something is now. One mistake and she could be accused of perjury or indicted for filing a false assets report.
Severity rating: 8
The Cabinet landmines. How many red shirts will be ministers? How to choose a new chief of defence that won't send the over-sensitive Thai military ballistic? How can she avoid, or conceal, Thaksin's fingerprints in the Cabinet set-up? Who should be the foreign minister, with so many hot potatoes waiting?
Good news is, a Cabinet can always be formed against all odds. Bad news is, when a government becomes weak immediately, this is when seeds of instability are irretrievably planted.
Severity rating: 7
The amnesty death trap. Yingluck can't get enough warnings over this. Even some of her moderate supporters have begun to agree that any attempt to absolve Thaksin Shinawatra, no matter how well and seemingly fairly it is plotted, will shove the new government to the brink.
In an interview aired by TPBS on Monday night, Thaksin was asked why he couldn't just "do a Nelson Mandela" and get it over with. He reiterated he would never spend a single day in jail for a crime he said he did not commit. The impasse, therefore, remains, but that doesn't mean Yingluck has to bridge it. She will have to resist the strong urge and pressure to absolve him, though.
Severity rating: 9
The impossible promises. So much fuss has been made about the "impracticality" of Pheu Thai's economic and welfare pledges, like Thais have never been lied to. Truth is, "It's all about Thaksin, stupid". As long as Yingluck doesn't touch the amnesty, she can go on breaking her election promises all day and the most she'll lose is her face, not her job.
Severity rating: 3
The black Cambodian comedy. Good news is, the yellow shirts are virtually blaming the outgoing Abhisit government for everything related to our eastern neighbour. Bad news is, the Democrat leader never hugged Hun Sen so passionately and spent quality time with the Phnom Penh head's innermost circle.
More good news is, the Democrat leader never hugged Hun Sen so passionately and spent quality time with the Phnom Penh head's innermost circle. (Yes, you read it right. All I'm saying is "the hug" can either be good for Yingluck, or blow up in her face if things go seriously wrong between the two countries).
Latest signs from the International Court of Justice suggest it is too diplomatic to embarrass either country, and at least a year will pass before the ICJ "clarifies" its 1962 Preah Vihear Temple verdict.
But Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon remain in Cambodian jail and doubts remain over whether they will accept Thaksin's helping hand.
All in all, there will be occasional excitement, but nothing that smart diplomacy can't handle. As long as the Yingluck government doesn't give Cambodia a lucrative something, like a gas concession, while conceding Thai border "sovereignty", that is.
Severity rating: 6
The Thaksin big bang. This is last but not least. Contacts with the man when Pheu Thai was in opposition were one thing, but flying to see him, having him phone in, or letting him publicly dispense advice to the government from now on could trigger a catastrophe.
Yingluck and many Pheu Thai members will be "state officials" in a few days and Thaksin remains a fugitive convict. Every law requires her to find his whereabouts or seek his arrest, and her opponents will take full advantage of that. They will keep their radar on around the clock, not for whether she will fulfil that obligation, but for whether she or other government officials are keeping in contact with him.
Fair or unfair, this is potentially a nuke that could blow the new government away. All it'll take to detonate is a wayward Cabinet member found in Dubai or Brunei or a loose-tongued justice minister who announces "I talked to him last night."
Severity rating 10