Saturday, September 13, 2008

SAMAK FALLS FROM GRACE

Thailand Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who showed no sign of bowing to the popular protest and intense media criticism mounted against him in the past few weeks, was eventually tripped up by a technicality and forced to resign.

To see a divisive and controversial leader step down on a technical charge related to pocketing modest cooking show fees is less than satisfactory and raises questions about the sense of proportion and even-handedness of the judicial process. On the other hand, even Samak and his supporters saw in the technicality a face-saving ploy that would allow him to immediately be re-nominated by his party and resume his position as prime minister afresh after an interim of a few days, perhaps after demonstrators had finally dispersed.

But while intense protests culminating in the PAD takeover of the ceremonial Government House, combined sporadic student protests, and continued pressure from the opposition might have been something the overly-confident Samak was uniquely gifted to ignore, his party could not ignore accumulating social pressures, civic strife and the deleterious effect the political standoff was having on the economy.

Thaksin Shinawatra, the unusually wealthy and unusually influential former prime minister now in the UK, was said to support Samak's re-instatement as prime minister according to Thai newspaper reports. But in a sure sign that Thaksin's stock has dropped significantly ever since he skipped bail and absconded to Britain, his nominee did not get the nod.

So Samak was, in the end, felled not by his opponents but by members of his own party who could no longer muster up the enthusiasm to support a divisive figure in the face of widespread opposition.

In this indirect sense, the protests and chorus of voices calling for Samak to step down had a positive effect, not so much to remove the unpopular prime minister, which was said to be the main goal of the protests, but to make it harder for him to be re-appointed.

So far the PAD has not yet shown the wisdom to let well enough alone, clean up the grounds of Government House and go home. Instead, the protests continue, rain or shine, creating solidarity and resentment, with a momentum of their own. But to what end? Where do things go from here?

Only time will tell, and time is running short.