Thitinan on Abhisit, Thaksin, and Bangkok’s airports

Chulalongkorn University political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak has a column in today’s Bangkok Post on the current state of Thai politics: “Censure may serve to strengthen govt

Some snips:

After three months in office, the Democrat party-led coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has defied expectations by holding ground and beginning to consolidate its rule.

Mr Abhisit has shown a steady temperament and sound grasp of policy issues, having reassured many foreign audiences near and far about Thailand’s readiness to move on. The favourable international reception he has earned has fed into his legitimacy and standing at home.

In the face of the global economic turmoil, his government’s various stimulus packages have been rolled out in succession, and more are in store. His Establishment backing remains intact, despite cracks in the Democrat party’s alliance with the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) whose street protests indirectly facilitated the party’s path to power.

As intra-coalition squabbling and corruption scandals along with the adverse effects from the economic downturn are likely to be the Abhisit government’s chief challenges, the no-confidence motion in Parliament, which has been moved up by a week as an apparent tactic to throw the opposition off balance, is unlikely to sap government stability.

And there’s this, about the current squabbling over whether to close Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport:

The no-confidence vote will likely go down along party lines. As long as the Newin Chidchob faction, a breakaway coterie of old-style politicians from Puea Thai, supports the government, Mr Abhisit’s coalition is likely to sail through comfortably. Cracks within the coalition based on the Newin faction’s vested interests may cast doubt on the final vote. The Newin backers, who have insisted on centralising all commercial flights at the main Suvarnabhumi Airport to the benefit of a duty-free monopoly and construction firms with interests to expand the near-capacity airport, will try to exercise leverage on the no-confidence vote.

This is why Mr Abhisit, who disagrees with abandoning the older Don Meuang International Airport, is being flexible on the one-airport policy.

And on Thaksin:

Thaksin himself, exiled and under a criminal conviction, is fully rallying his UDD troops through video-conferences from unspecified places overseas. Conspicuously on the offensive, Thaksin is desperate with few attractive places to reside. He appears to want to make a deal, and somehow navigate a way back to the country in view of his lost power and his more than $2 billion in assets frozen by the authorities after the September 2006 military coup.

But distance and time have been unkind to Thaksin. His phenomenon is still potent enough to agitate and stir up trouble for the government, but not enough to depose it in the way the PAD and Establishment forces overthrew his proxy governments under Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat last year.

Mr Abhisit now has the upper hand. Unless Puea Thai comes up with damning evidence on corruption and misrule, the Abhisit government is likely not only to survive but to build on its nascent momentum for a lasting term, whose longevity may be more determined by intra-coalition management and the adverse impact of the economic slump.

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