Unraveling Thaksin's Return and Thailand's Election of Its 30th Prime Minister
Updated: Sep 1
After a 100-day hiatus followed the Thai election on May 14, 2023. Subsequently, the Thai National Assembly appointed the 30th Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, nominated by the Phue Thai Party. This notable political transition followed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinnawatra's return to Thailand after a 15-year self-imposed exile in Dubai, UAE. We consulted our Geopolitical Analysis AI on this development and will delve deep into the underlying political dynamics explaining why Thaksin's decision to return is pivotal for Thailand. The article will conclude by addressing the growing ethical debate in Thailand, emphasizing how perspectives from both sides of the "Antigone" debate can be misleading when viewed through a metageopolitical lens.
Yesterday, Thailand witnessed three pivotal political developments. At precisely 9:08 AM, Thaksin Shinnawatra touched down at Don Mueang International Airport aboard his private jet from Singapore. After due legal proceedings sentencing him to eight years of incarceration, the former leader was moved to a private medical room at the Bangkok Remand Prison. Official health reports citing four health issues combined with his age, north of 75, warranted special treatment. Over midnight Thaksin finds himself in Royal Suite 1401, a private chamber on the 14th floor of the Maha Bhumibol Rachanusorn 88 Phansa Building, his high blood pressure necessitating this specialized care.
In parallel developments, the court reinforced its prior verdict, acquitting all six defendants associated with Suthep Thaugsuban, Thaksin's prime political adversary. Suthep vocalized that with Thaksin returning to face the justice system, their political tiff seems essentially neutralized. He emphasized that his rivalry with Thaksin was never anchored in personal animosity.
Meanwhile, by late afternoon, following brisk deliberations, Srettha, nominated for the role of prime minister by the Phue Thai Party (PTP), clinched a sweeping 482 votes out of 728 from the National Assembly. This majority, set against 165 dissenting voices and 81 no-shows, coronated him as Thailand's 30th prime minister. Buzz suggests that the royal decree affirming his premiership is en route to PTP's headquarters tonight.
Of note is the apparent split among military senators: A majority of Srettha's senatorial endorsements, tallying at 152 votes, stemmed from General Prayuth Chan-o-Cha's faction. This, more than support from General Prawit Wongsuwan's camp, hints at underlying tensions, likely provoked by cabinet reshuffle decisions from the Palang Pracharat Party (PPP).
Why Thaksin Made This Decision?
Thaksin's enduring sway over the PTP is evident. This isn't the handiwork of a routine politician or those idealists trapped in their own puritanical visions. Thaksin, seemingly schooled by political pasts, has demonstrated astute calculus. His support for Srettha—over other notable candidates, including his own daughter, Paethongtarn Shinnawatra—combined with his efforts to bolster the PTP in the recent elections, underlines this. His choice to return to Thailand isn't just another tick on a timeline; it's a seminal moment. By doing so, he aims to conclude the two-decade-long political schism famously characterized by the Red and Yellow shirt divide, possibly heralding a fresh epoch for Thai politics.
Our geopolitical analysis AI shed light on Thaksin's intricate, albeit perilous, political calculus. Wisanu Krue-ngarm, the recent caretaker justice minister, points to a potential bid for royal pardon – a lengthy process spanning months to years. The outcome won't hinge on Thaksin's terms, but solely on his majesty the king's discretion, informed by counsel before a final verdict.
Political stalwarts like Chatoporn Phrompan and Chuwit Kamolvisit once predicted Thaksin would pivot away from Srettha, instead installing his daughter as a sort of "political hostage" to keep him in line (this is borrowing from the known Siamese history that Prince Nares had been taken as a royal hostage by the Burmese king to ensure the Siamese king's fidelity,) suggesting that the PTP's potency pales in comparison to its predecessor, the Thai Rak Thai party (TRT). Such prophecies, however, proved flawed. Our metageopolitical analysis hinted at a notable Thai political transition even pre-election: a tilt toward democracy, albeit marked by necessary appeasements to conservative elites. Contrary to the view that a faltering PTP might spell disaster, it ironically paved the path for potential reconciliation. Having been bested by the Move Forward Party (MFP) in the general elections, Thaksin and the PTP are no longer prime adversaries to the entrenched elites. This created a golden window of opportunity, and Thaksin, recognizing its rarity, acted decisively.
It's crucial to note Thaksin's cautious calculated approach, given that his sister and former prime minister, Yingluck Shinnawatra, remains in exile and hasn't sought a return alongside him. Zooming out, this audacious move strengthens Thailand's judicial system and rule of law. Thaksin's willingness to serve prison time belies rumors of his abandoning political allies or enjoying a carefree exile in Dubai. Such chatter can now be consigned to the annals of political lore.
Taking a Long View Over Siamese Political System
Contrary to the consensus among Thai political analysts, peaceful governmental transitions have been a rarity in modern Thai history since the Siamese revolution in 1932. Tranquility in power transitions was only witnessed post the Black May uprising in 1992, a period that lasted a mere 14 years before the 2006 coup. Prior to this, Thailand grappled with a succession of coups. Historically, this pattern harks back to ancient Siam, where the dual monarchy system — the front and rear palace — typically culminated in power grabs. The front palace, or the viceroy, would often oust the former king's descendants to seize power. This political turbulence was remedied by King Rama V. Following the Front Palace Crisis from 28 December 1874 to 24 February 1875, he abolished the front palace system, instituting the role of the Crown Prince in its stead.
The table presented underscores the "realpolitik" beneath Thailand's political landscape, pushing aside both the progressive cry for Western-standard democracy and human rights, and the royalist's conservatively tinted view that celebrates patrimonialism, even forgiving political corruption as a rationale for coups. Both narratives display a certain naïveté. Our compilation suggests that the precise nature of Thailand's political system, past or present, becomes secondary when political imbalance arises, be it from internal rifts or external pressures. Such instability can precipitate violent governmental or even regime changes, often leading key figures of the incumbent establishment into exile. The turbulence isn't confined to the leadership alone. For instance, between 1938 and 1948, over 3,000 Thai criminals and political detainees were incarcerated at Tarutao island. Among them was Prince Sithiporn Kridakara, a member of the Chakri dynasty, who subsequently held the position of Minister of Agriculture in post-war Thailand under Khuang Aphaiwong's third premiership.
Thaksin's assertion that he "won't be like Pridi" speaks volumes about his grasp of Thailand's underlying "realpolitik." He's deftly navigated the current landscape of the PTP. With its recent position as a secondary victor, neither the PTP nor Thaksin can maintain the unassailable political stronghold reminiscent of the TRT era. This presents a unique juncture reminiscent of John Kingdon's policy streams theory. The present scenario permits the PTP to seek reconciliation, particularly with senators from Prayut's faction and other significant Thai political players. Such moves can only help to attenuate Thaksin's reputation for aggressive and corrupt tactics. Ultimately, this could steer Thailand back towards a semblance of political normality.
The Moral Debate: Antigone
Rather than framing the discussion within the conventional bounds of the authoritarian versus democracy debate, we direct attention to the moral intricacies laid out in the play 'Antigone'. Such depth is vital when guiding Thailand and ASEAN through the intensifying geopolitical rivalry between China and the US in the coming decade. Sole reliance on morality may not offer the nuanced answers required in such complex terrains.
In the play, the main character, Antigone, is faced with a moral dilemma. Her brother Polynices has been killed and is denied proper burial by King Creon, who is also Antigone's uncle. Creon's decree is based on Polynices' rebellion against the state, and the king believes that maintaining order requires that Polynices be treated as a traitor. Antigone, on the other hand, believes that the laws of the gods and the demands of justice and familial loyalty require that she bury her brother, despite the king's decree.
The conflict between Antigone and Creon in Sophocles' "Antigone" illustrates a profound ethical dilemma, and applying Kant's philosophy to it can be complex. It's important to remember that Kant's moral philosophy comes from a different historical and cultural context, so applying it directly to the characters in a Greek tragedy may involve some interpretation.
Antigone's Stance on Justice: From a Kantian perspective, Antigone's commitment to a higher moral law, such as the laws of the gods, might be seen as consistent with Kant's emphasis on moral duty. Kant believed in acting according to principles that could be universally applied, and Antigone's insistence on familial loyalty and religious duty might align with this.
Creon's Stance on State Order: Creon's emphasis on the laws of the state and the need to preserve order might also find some support in Kant's writings. Kant believed in the necessity of lawful governance and that acting within the laws of the state is often aligned with moral duty.
However, the situation becomes more complicated when we consider other aspects of Kant's philosophy, such as the idea that moral actions must be performed out of duty and not merely in accordance with duty. Antigone's actions could be seen as performed out of a sense of moral duty, whereas Creon's might be interpreted as more aligned with consequentialist thinking, focusing on the need to maintain order rather than on a higher moral principle.
Additionally, the tragic outcome of the play, where both Antigone and Creon face devastating consequences, could be interpreted as a critique of rigid adherence to principles, whether those principles are based on divine law or state law.
In conclusion, applying Kant's philosophy to "Antigone" doesn't necessarily yield a clear answer as to which practice proves higher moral. Both stances could be argued to align with different aspects of Kantian ethics, and the play itself may be seen as an exploration of the tensions and complexities that arise when different moral principles come into conflict. It illustrates that moral dilemmas often do not have easy solutions, even when analyzed through a sophisticated philosophical lens like Kant's.