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Will Thai ex-PM Abhisit's words come back to haunt him?
Publication Date : 20-09-2013
The words of statesmen and other important figures are often recorded in history and offer lessons for posterity. Thailand is no exception. According to a Thai saying, "You are the master of your own words until they have been spoken. Then those words become your master."
This is particularly true in politics, chiefly due to the fact that many politicians tend not to keep their word, leading to a loss of credibility.
The heated political climate has only made the scrutiny of politicians' words, from both sides of the political divide, more intense - and the consequences of one's words can be immediate.
Comments made by opposition and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva on stage at a political rally are the latest to be subject to such scrutiny, becoming tantamount to a new toy for political debate and discussion. Many observers were puzzled by Abhisit's utterance of "stupid woman" on the rally stage - the comment was construed as a reference to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra - and wonder how damaging it will be to his party's popularity.
Abhisit claims it was intended solely for the ears of his party's supporters, but the media were there to record and report on the rally. Looking back, in the days before the Sept 19, 2006 military coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister, Abhisit was attacked for his support for a plan to have a prime minister royally appointed under Article 7 of the then constitution. His opponents mocked him as "Mark Mor Jed" (Article 7 Mark), "Mark" being Abhisit's nickname.
Now that he has employed such words as "stupid", "slutty" and "whore" in public political discourse, insisting all the while - unconvincingly, to some - that these are not references to anyone in particular, it is to be expected that this old Oxonian would be on the receiving end of a merciless political attack.
Let us not forget that the sharing of text and video is impossible to block in this age of social networking. Now that Abhisit's comments have gone viral, his denials that he was referring to Yingluck could only serve to make the whole affair doubly damaging.
As for Thaksin, he made his ample share of verbal blunders and gaffes, damaging both himself and Thailand - and the Democrats were quick to exploit his words. Thaksin recently acknowledged that there were times when he said things that were not well thought through, or off the cuff, which had negative repercussions. Thaksin's words in fact are partly responsible for the deep political division of Thailand into the pro and anti-Thaksin camps that we see today.
It's unclear if Abhisit has learned any lessons from Thaksin on how careless words can come back to harm the speaker.
Let us not forget that the opposition Democrats often criticise Yingluck for her verbal mistakes, which they say are not befitting of a prime minister. Now that the leader of the Democrat Party has employed unbelievably aggressive words, which are deemed as rather immature, such criticism could become a double-edged sword.
Perhaps it's time for Abhisit to change his stance, and this includes his party MPs who have embarked on the same path. They should not express themselves in an unfitting manner, either inside or outside Parliament. Doing so could lead to an anti-Democrat backlash in which some voters, while not necessarily voting for the Pheu Thai Party, might decide not to vote for the Democrats either.