After 100 days, jury still out on Thaksin
BANGKOK (AFP): After 100 days in office, the jury is still out on Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — literally. Thailand’s constitutional court is deliberating corruption charges against Thaksin. If convicted, he may be forced out of office and barred from politics for five years. That pressure has seen him scrambling to leave a legacy by pushing through his populist political agenda. But it has also caused him to stumble headlong into a series of embarrassing political gaffes. And those bloopers have left ordinary Thais mulling their own verdict on their impulsive new prime minister. Soon after being sworn into office on February 9, a Thai Airways jet he was due to board blew up on the tarmac at Bangkok’s airport. Thaksin was quick to announce that the blast was caused by a bomb, strongly hinting that he knew the culprits. But ensuing investigations pointed to nothing more than an accident. A US FBI report published in April confirmed that no explosive materials had been found, and concluded the blast was caused by overheated fuel tanks. That farce was followed by a potentially more embarrassing scandal over fake US bonds and claims by an eccentric senator that he had found enough gold left by the retreating Japanese after World War II to pay off Thailand’s massive foreign debts. Thaksin immediately rushed to the site of the stash – and into the limelight again – to examine the hoard, and lent further credence to the senator’s claims by ordering increased security there. The bonds turned out to be amateur fakes and the gold was nowhere to be seen. Thaksin quickly backed off, but not without a large helping of egg on his face, dished out by a scathing media which dined on it for weeks. “It is too early to say [whether Thaksin] has succeeded or failed with his job,” says Chaiwat Khamchu, Chulalongkorn University’s political science dean. “But I give full marks for his efforts in implementing his agenda to solve the country’s problems, in which, like a company chief executive, he tries hard to create concrete outcomes.” Analysts put his speedy action down to the constitutional court case hanging over his head. Thaksin is accused by the National Counter Corruption Commission of failing to disclose 100 million dollars in assets in official declarations filed four years ago. The prime minister says his wealth was gained through legitimate business and the commission’s charges against him are a “legal techinicality.” Either way, the jury is still out on Thaksin, and that “technicality” could cost him the country’s top job.
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