Thaksin wants to return to Thailand
DUBAI ― Despite the blockbuster election of his sister Yinglick Shinawatra as Thai prime minister last summer, her much-older brother Thaksin, himself prime minister from 2001-2006, is still in exile in a luxury townhouse in Dubai, isolated and restless, awaiting the opportunity to return.
Today, however, Thailand’s most controversial political figure even admits that as its ambitious leader he was sometimes a hard man to like. He told me: “I was so angry then ... so full of anger. And in my speed of reaching my anger and in showing it to everyone ... I was too fast with all that.” He says this with a kind of resigned sadness.
“That is my bad quality. My good part is being very constructive and creative in my thinking. But when I cannot stand the pressure, I’m too easily angered.” It is clear that this is the part of his psyche he has come to regret.
The military coup against him in 2006 was a dreadful setback for Thai democracy, as well as unconstitutional. But it also true that some of the ugly unfairness derived in part from risky behavior this very rich man’s enemies could almost invariably point to as suspect. In effect, he continued to act as a businessman even while he was prime minister. To his critics and many Thais (and outside observers), this was carrying the “CEO model” of PM too far.
But he was rich beyond belief ― a billionaire ―even before he became prime minister. And so I wonder what he would say to this now: “Is it business or politics that is more cutthroat? Or about the same? Or impossible to say?” His response: “Business has explicit rules of the game which every party respects but in politics, especially in the pseudo- democratic countries, the rules have not been respected and the referees have never been fair.”
He shifts in his armchair in the living room of his own in leafy suburban Dubai and admits that to some extent at least, the problem Thaksin had in running the country was Thaksin. His natural impatience, which in general is a plus in the private business arena, became a dysfunctional liability when trying to build a consensus for new policy directions.
I ask him: “Now, I’ve only known you for a short period of time, and I can see you’re a strong guy. So I wonder whether you had anyone on your staff when you were PM who was not afraid to come up to you and say, ‘Prime Minister, if you don’t do X or Y or Z you’re going to have a serious problem.’ My theory is you didn’t have anybody to do that for you.”
He lets out a faint sigh and nods: “That is the weak point in Thai culture. Thais dare not speak negative to the boss. Any negative thing or any kind of negative comment that can annoy the boss ... well, they try not to.”
Thaksin is at the left side of the living-room couch, poised on the edge. Usually he is sitting back.
“So I think that the only thing we can do with this is to ask for reconciliation. They’re afraid of me, they don’t trust that I’m not out for revenge. But I’m not out for revenge.”
Me asking: “If ― or when ― you go back, would you promise your people in the military, and in the PAD opposition and so on, amnesty? Forgiveness?”
“No witch-hunt. I think forgiveness is the key. I mean it. I want to forgive and make the whole country forgive each other. Because, if you don’t forgive, you cannot reconcile your country. You cannot be one nation anymore.”
Me pushing: “But some people say it would be better for Thailand overall if Thaksin says, ‘I’m never going back.’ But you’ve never said that, because in fact, you want to go back.”
“I definitely want to return.”
“Right, right. So it’s clear in your mind that if you go back, it’ll be better for Thailand than if you don’t go back?”
“Definitely. If I were to go back successfully, you know, the people who are fighting against me now will not be fighting. And if I go back, and if I do not take revenge, and if I forgive everyone, those who don’t like me will start to feel more at ease.”
“And so what you’re saying is that you would be happy ― let me see if I got this right ― you would be happier to go back to Thailand, even if not as prime minister, but something lesser, than to stay here in Dubai for another 10 years? It’s pleasant here, but part of your soul is in agony here.”
“It is in agony, right?”
“Right, right. My body’s here in Dubai, my soul is there ... in Thailand.”
Columnist and author Tom Plate has been writing about Asia and America for the last 15 years. He is the distinguished scholar of Asian and Pacific studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Contact him at email@example.com. The above article is an excerpt from his new book, “Conversations with Thaksin,” book number three in the “Giants of Asia” series (Marshall Cavendish International, Singapore).