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Yingluck, please throw away your passport
Publication Date : 11-09-2013
People of my age may be familiar with a song entitled "I've never been to me". Before some of you start screaming, no, it's not its sexual content that I'm associating Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra with. I just need a reference point for my article, and this song has what I need, because it's about someone who's touring the world like there's no tomorrow and missing a lot in life in the process.
Yingluck is travelling like crazy - much more than the woman in the song. Should we have a problem with that? No, not if rubber planters aren't blocking roads and railways and burning their produce. And of course not, if she hadn't said repeatedly, here and abroad, that her government considers political reform to be vitally important.
Friendly countries are Yingluck's comfort zones. If she wasn't Thailand's leader, you couldn't blame a woman for wanting to get out of the kitchen when it gets too hot. But a political leader, male or female, cannot escape from domestic issues, especially if those domestic issues directly or indirectly involve his or her family.
Yingluck is working, the government and her supporters insist. Still, even if she is given the benefit of the doubt and the countries she has been to are her mobile offices, her sense of priority - or that of the people who advise her - is questionable. Every day we read news about world leaders cancelling foreign trips because certain things are happening in their own countries. And every day, when certain things are happening in Thailand, it's almost a foregone conclusion that our prime minister's passport is being stamped somewhere else.
Now you see her, now you don't. The tactic benefited Pheu Thai, especially in the early days of the Yingluck government, when her naivety rendered the Democrats helpless and her reluctance to address issues related to her big brother was forgivable. It's different now. The more Yingluck refuses to answer questions about amnesty, reconciliation and charter amendment bills, the more she is seen as an escapist, and the greater the public's mistrust becomes. Like it or not, she has to start facing the fire.
That she refused to be drawn into political mudslinging was a breath of fresh air, or so her supporters thought. That honeymoon is long gone and her elusiveness is becoming part of the problem. For Pheu Thai, it has left the matter of life and death - political reform - in the hands of zealots. To the opposition, it's proof of "See? It's all about Thaksin." To one side of the political divide, she's a runaway prime minister. On the other side of the polarity, she's a poor woman thrust into the political limelight and unfairly victimised.
To the politically neutral (trust me, they exist), let the song I mentioned speak for them:
"Please lady, please lady, don't just walk away,
'Cause I have this need to tell you why I'm all alone today,
I can see so much of me still living in your eyes,
Won't you share a part of a weary heart that has lived a million lies...."
Her opponents want her to be grilled in parliament. Many of her supporters want her to stand up and fight. Neutrals want her to tackle head-on the allegations that her government's reform agenda is a thinly veiled scheme to win more power, whitewash Thaksin and get his money back. Only Pheu Thai strategists want her to keep trotting the globe.
We are not that stupid, the strategists may say, and we are not giving you ammunition for more jokes to circulate on the social media. Yingluck addressing a direct senatorial election or telling parliament why her government is subsidising rice farmers but not rubber planters is, admittedly a tall order, but it comes with the job - because she is Thailand's prime minister.
Political trouble has infected all parts of Thailand, not just the "ideological" realms where people type angry words to relieve their stress or, better still, get paid for it. Rice farmers and rubber planters are among the innocents bearing the weight of the national divide; it is their plight and the government's decisions on whether to help them, with how much, and how quickly, that have thickened the political mud.
Yingluck may find herself abroad, but to many Thais, she has "never been to them". She can choose to keep on travelling, or she can confront political enemies here who ridicule her "reform" ideas that she often speaks of overseas, unopposed, describing them as Thailand's best chances for genuine peace.
Yes, the kitchen is overheated, but political leadership carries big price tags, and one of them is the type of confrontation that her trips abroad help her to avoid.