Thailand’s July 3 election may represent the final chance to rid the country of the “venom” of fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said.
“This is the best chance for us to remove Thaksin’s venom from society,” Abhisit said yesterday in a speech to 5,000 supporters outside a shopping mall in Bangkok that was torched during a crackdown on pro-Thaksin protesters last year. “It’s time to show the world that Thailand is not the property of one person or one color. The country is the property of all Thais.”
Abhisit was appealing to opponents of Thaksin whose street protests helped remove allies of the former premier from power twice since 2006. Concerns that an election victory for the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai party may spark unrest prompted overseas investors to withdraw $812 million from Thai stocks this month, the most among Southeast Asian markets.
Opinion polls show Abhisit’s Democrat party trailing Pheu Thai, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s youngest sister. Abhisit told supporters that Pheu Thai plans an amnesty for Thaksin, allowing him to return to Thailand and reclaim more than $1 billion in seized wealth.
Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup, has directed party affairs from overseas since fleeing a jail sentence two years later for abuse of power, a verdict he says was politically motivated. He detailed Pheu Thai’s economic policies via video link from overseas last month, and the party’s campaign slogan reads “Thaksin Thinks, Pheu Thai Does.”
‘Reconciliation and Unity’
“I’d like to ask Thai brothers and sisters to use today as a good start to move forward to reconciliation and unity,” Thaksin posted on his official Twitter account today. “I would like to apologize to those who I upset and made unhappy in the past and until now. And for those who criticize and hurt me, I forgive them. I won’t be upset or take revenge. We have to cross over the past and move the country forward together.”
Last year, a court seized about 60 percent of the 76.6 billion baht ($2.5 billion) that Thaksin’s children and relatives earned from the 2006 sale of holding company Shin Corp. to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings Pte. Yingluck netted about 985 million baht in the deal, according to stock exchange filings.
“I am ready to do everything, but I won’t give amnesty to a corrupt man,” Abhisit said. “I won’t return 46 billion baht to Thaksin.”
‘We Don’t Want Red Shirts’
Hundreds of screaming women of all ages greeted Abhisit as he arrived at the late-night campaign rally, giving him yellow and red roses as he squeezed past them on his way to the stage. At the same location a year ago, Thailand’s military ended two months of protests by pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protesters, sparking arson attacks and clashes that left more than 90 people dead.
Democrat Party officials told about 40 people to remove T-shirts that said “We Don’t Want Red Shirts” to avoid inciting unrest.
Abhisit’s party won 27 of 36 Bangkok seats in the 2007 election in finishing second to Thaksin’s allies. Two years earlier, Thaksin’s party had claimed 32 of 37 seats in the capital in a landslide victory that saw it control 75 percent of the Parliament.
“If the Democrats lose Bangkok, they lose everything,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute for Strategic and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Moves to highlight Thaksin’s wealth, jail sentence and last year’s protests that led to arson attacks represent “a one-upmanship from the Democrat party aimed to turn the tide in Bangkok,” he said.
No ‘Policy for Amnesty’
Yingluck, in a June 8 interview, said “amnesty will not be special for himself but will be equal with everyone,” referring to her brother. “We have to sit down and talk together how we can make Thailand move forward.”
Pheu Thai “doesn’t have a policy for amnesty,” party member Yongyuth Wichaidit said during a debate with Abhisit earlier yesterday in Bangkok. “Pheu Thai will not interfere in the process. There is still a lot of misunderstanding about amnesty.”
The benchmark SET Index has fallen 5.8 percent this month, Asia’s second worst performer behind Hong Kong. The baht has lost 0.7 percent in that time.
Of the 500 parliamentary seats up for grabs next month, 375 are chosen in districts and 125 through proportional representation. Pheu Thai held a 17-point lead against Abhisit’s Democrats for the party list vote, according to a Suan Dusit Rajabhat University poll released on June 19 that surveyed 102,994 people nationwide from June 4 to June 18.
“The probability that Pheu Thai will gain more seats than the Democrats is high,” said Rakpong Chaisuparakul, an analyst with KGI Securities (Thailand) Pcl. “But setting up the government is up to negotiations.”