The handling of the anti-government Pitak Siam group last year was most effective. Employing security personnel strategically, flexing just enough muscle and banging just enough heads so that the leaders of the movement called it quits, without any human rights organisations going nuts.
Of course, there might also have been backroom negotiations.
It might have been dumb luck that last weekend, when pundits thought mass protests would escalate over the first reading of the amnesty bill, a much more important piece of news broke that same weekend. Well, at least much more important to the psyche of the Thai people.
Popular young starlet Janie Thienphosuvan was getting married to billionaire ageing playboy Chonsawat Asavahame. He who is of the infamous political family whose father is currently a fugitive on the run from corruption convictions. He who supposedly was already married to iconic singer Nantida Kaewbuasai, who is getting on in years.
When the news broke, it would not have been a surprise if many protesters ran home and spent the entire weekend glued to those celebrity gossip shows that are on air 24/7. Perhaps that’s why the Democrat leadership had to call off the protest. Half of them had already left.
Timing is everything. This could have been dumb luck favouring of Pheu Thai, as the marriage news stole all the headlines. However, if this was somehow orchestrated to zap the wind out of the anti-government protest, then whoever came up with the strategy deserves a salute and an apple pie for the sheer brilliance of it. To have come up with such a strategy is to have an uncanny understanding of the Thai cultural psyche.
On top of which, 18-year-old Ratchanok Intanon won the badminton women's world championship, stealing even more headlines and injecting a happy mood into Thailand. Surely, this one wasn’t orchestrated.
Celebrity scandals and winning something ‘’inter’’ are two proven methods to move this country. Should anyone think that one or the other, let alone a combination of both, is not a potent enough factor to sidetrack political activities, then you simply do not know Thailand.
However, most certainly orchestrated was the art of misdirection in the political reform forum proposed by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Throw in fancy foreign names like Tony Blair and Kofi Annan, then the issue is no longer about amnesty, but about an Englishman and a Ghanaian who have nothing to do with Thai politics. Well played, indeed. As such, another week came and went with a lot of political noise that came to naught.
It is then puzzling indeed that a government capable of sound strategies could also have given such an abysmal performance during the 2011 flood crisis, come up with the ludicrous rice pledging scheme and, the latest guffaw, green-lighted the effort to monitor Line social media comments, supposedly in the interests of national security.
Perhaps intelligence only kicks in when political survival is at stake, and is kicked right out the window where national propriety is concerned.
But since Pheu Thai has the popular vote on its side, the government stands at an advantage. Whether through brilliant strategy or dumb luck, all it has to do is flex its muscle when needed and misdirect when required to, but it must do so carefully.
Pheu Thai simply has to bide its time through the military reshuffle, which will be finalised at the end of September. This is where it can manoeuvre loyal generals into key positions. And then it needs to bide more time until the military reshuffle next year, when army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha retires, leading to a possible appointment of a new army chief loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra.
One must understand that Pheu Thai does not fear protesters on the streets, but it does fear tanks on the streets. The military is the game changer. For the past 60 years, the partnership between the monarchy and the military has ruled Thailand. The former is the holy symbol, the latter is the street muscle.
If the Thaksin political machine – which includes Pheu Thai and its affiliates, its allies in the business elite and the red-shirts – are to rule Thailand into the future, forging a partnership with the military is the key. Everything else is but political noise, window dressing.
If successful, this doesn’t mean that the monarchy is going anywhere. It simply means this would be a triumvirate previously unequalled. The holy symbol, the political machine and the street muscle. Then of course, there is also biding time until the next general election, when Pheu Thai can stamp its authority on democratic legitimacy.
The problem is, many things can happen between now and then. The blind loyalty of its support base and the ineptitude of the opposition movements may perhaps have the government thinking it can goof and guffaw with impunity. But how much and for how long? As well, it has been shown time and time again that patience is not the virtue of the big boss in Dubai.
But the game is in the hands of the political machine. It can act wisely and humbly until the time is ripe to goof and guffaw with wild abandonment, say three to five years. Or it can continue to goof and guffaw dangerously during these sensitive times, thereby feeding the opposition ammunition and teasing the tanks to come out.
Political noise is mere pollution. The military is being wooed by Thaksin, but not yet wed. They have exchanged Line messages and follow each other on Instagram. But the military hasn’t changed its Facebook relationship status.
In fact, Thaksin may be blocked and unfriend-ed if he tries to score a homerun without first rounding the second and third bases – as he did earlier, pre-2006.