Thailand: Thaksin wields his influence by Skype
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Thailand: Thaksin wields his influence by Skype

At the end of January, Thomas Fuller had an article in the New York Times entitled “In Thailand, Power Comes With Help From Skype”. Key excerpts below:

The country’s most famous fugitive, Thaksin Shinawatra, circles the globe in his private jet, chatting with ministers over his dozen cellphones, texting over various social media platforms and reading government documents e-mailed to him from civil servants, party officials say.

It might be described as rule by Skype. Or governance by instant messenger, a way for Mr. Thaksin to help run the country without having to face the warrant for his arrest in a case that many believe is politically motivated.

We can contact him at all hours,” said Charupong Ruangsuwan, the interior minister and secretary general of Mr. Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party. “The world has changed. It’s a boundless world. It’s not like a hundred years ago when you had to use a telegraph.”

To illustrate the point during an interview, Mr. Charupong took out his iPhone and scrolled through a list of phone numbers for Mr. Thaksin. (Mr. Thaksin gives different numbers to different people, often depending on seniority, party officials say.)

If we’ve got any problem, we give him a call,” Mr. Charupong said.

Mr. Thaksin himself declined to talk by phone, or Skype, for this article.

Ms. Yingluck, 45, has on occasion sought to play down her brother’s role. Soon after taking office, when Mr. Thaksin joined a weekly cabinet meeting via Skype, reporters asked who was really the head of the government.

Many of the Skype sessions are reported in the Thai news media. This month, Mr. Thaksin had a video chat to discuss coming elections for governor in Bangkok. The one-hour video chat made news because party officials reported that Mr. Thaksin had told his colleagues that it did not matter whom they nominated because even a utility pole would defeat the opposition.

Mr. Charupong, the interior minister, says Mr. Thaksin’s distance gives him useful perspective and likened him to the coach of a soccer team (in this case, the cabinet).

Elaborating on the upsides of having the brother-sister team in charge, he said: “It’s like we have a prime minister in the country and another prime minister overseas. And we work together. This is our strength.

The Bangkok Post in September 2011:

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra confirmed the belief that he is the real boss in charge of the new government when he lectured cabinet ministers on how to run the country via Skype.

Cabinet members from the Pheu Thai Party on Wednesday were called to a meeting at the Pheu Thai Party’s head office for a Skype date with Thaksin, who remains a fugitive overseas.

A Pheu Thai source said Thaksin had found that messages he had tried to convey to the ministers through Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, his younger sister, were not getting across.

Therefore, he had to call “a cabinet meeting” via Skype to make sure he could communicate more directly and more effectively with the ministers.

BP: This information is provided by a source, but the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed Thaksin spoke to Puea Thai Cabinet Ministers. The Nation:

“I have two advisers: Thaksin and former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat. I asked [Thaksin] for advice; he did not Skype the meeting unsolicited,” said Yongyuth, who is also Pheu Thai Party leader.

Since the Bangkok gubernatorial race loss by Puea Thai, Thaksin has remerged. The Nation:

Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s address to Pheu Thai Party via Skype on Monday once again proved that he is the leader, something Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been consistently denying, at least in public.

Thaksin spoke on a number of topics, from personal to political issues, in a manner that shows he is in full command. His orders to the Pheu Thai Party were testimony to the fact that it is he who calls the shots.

During his address, he instructed the party to push for charter amendment, especially provisions related to party dissolution, and also on the amnesty bills.

BP: Also, see the Bangkok Post. Again, it was sources, but again we have confirmation. The Bangkok Post:

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra did not order Pheu Thai to push for an amnesty law when he talked via Skype with the party’s coordinating committee yesterday, his legal adviser and close aide Noppadon Pattama said on Tuesday.

Mr Noppadon admitted Thaksin had phoned in on Skype, but said reports that he ordered Pheu Thai to push for quick action in passing an amnesty law for political offenders were not correct.

BP: Noppadon is probably right on the “quick”. Most articles quoting sources about what Thaksin said didn’t mention  “quick” although it seemed to have been interpreted by some as such. It is going to take many, many months for any amnesty bills to pass anyway. Thaksin’s Skype phone-in was more confirmation that he wants amnesty to go ahead.

Last week, Thaksin had another skype phone-in, this time with Puea Thai members (and also again yesterday) as well as meeting with some reds (and possible others) in Hong Kong. It can be debated the precise words that Thaksin told people, but there is no doubt he is phoning in and “giving advice”. Thaksin has come out of the shadows again and his influence on the government is demonstrated through these phone-ins. To deny this is silly. Perhaps, he should consider whether his phone-ins are for his benefit or for that of the PM?