Suthep Thaugsuban was greeted with fanfare when he led protests in the streets of Bangkok, shutting down commerce and traffic across swathes of the city and paving the way for the military coup that ousted the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. In that respect, the veteran politician succeeded in his mission in bringing down a political rival and earned praise for removing an administration widely regarded as intolerably incompetent.
But, like so many others before him, Suthep let his success go to his head. Swarmed by fans wanting their picture taken with him, draped in garlands, a fortune in donations in his movement’s bank account, he concluded that all the adoration was directed at him. In fact, all the cheering was neither for him nor for his People’s Democratic Reform Committee. It was for the departure of Yingluck.
Citizens across the South and Central regions wanted her removed by any means necessary, but the way she was extracted was another sign of the weakness that has long permeated Thai society – the readiness to embrace shortcuts and quick-fix solutions rather than the rule of law. The approach has time and again proved unsustainable.
Suthep was riding high in 2014, at the peak of his political career, but it was always marred with controversy. He could be said to embody everything that’s wrong with Thai politics.
He is a reflection of a system of gutter politics we are finally beginning to evolve away from. Yet today Suthep is back on those same streets, seeking to prop up his Action Coalition for Thailand Party (ACT), which was established to help keep the military junta in power with an electoral mandate. This time, though, the people of Bangkok are not hailing the return of hero “Loong Kamnan”, as he became known in 2014. The response is quite the opposite – chiefly because Suthep vowed then that he’d never again become involved in politics, yet here he is.
Suthep now maintains that he will take up no political position offered by the next government, but his credibility is such that even his former friends in the PDRC are doubtful.
At least one fellow former protester even handed back the whistle he’d blown five years ago amid shrill demands that Yingluck step down. Suthep needs to accept that he no longer has any role in politics, and certainly not in Parliament, and that he served his purpose with the completion of that prior mission in 2014. But his ego got the better of him.
The decline in his popularity cannot completely be attributed to a broken promise. It also stems from the fact that voters today are more mature in their outlook and wiser in their demands and expectations. They want fresh ideas and new blood, not a holdover from the tainted past.
Suthep was being insufferably pretentious when he compared reneging on his promise to a form of self-sacrifice. It underscored his loss of integrity, and if there is one attribute that ought to belong to politicians, it is integrity.
The higher the climb, the harder the fall, and Suthep rose higher than anyone else when he abandoned his post as deputy premier, quit his Democrat Party and marched on to depose a despised government. We can see that success now as just one battle, not the final victory. The political crisis in Thailand is still far from over.
Published : November 14, 2018
By : The Nation