Was the Thaksin Experiment Worth the Trouble?

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s tenure as an unpaid economic adviser to the Cambodian government officially ended on Monday with applause from government officials for a job well done.

They said the billionaire fugitive had boosted the government’s economic credentials with his strong knowledge of international business and rejected criticism that the appointment had been made to upset the Thailand, who are still seeking the arrest of their former premier on terrorism and corruption charges.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that he believed Mr Thaksin had provided considerable value to Cambodia by sharing his business expertise. “Mr Thaksin is very well known as a successful businessman…. He gave advice to Cambodia on how to manage its economy during the global financial crisis,” Mr Siphan said.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap agreed, saying that Mr Thaksin had provided much insight for his Cambodian colleagues. “To prevent the effect of the economic crisis, Mr Thaksin encouraged Cambodia to strengthen its agriculture, attract more investors and tourists and improving the service sector,” he said.

But was this anything Cambodians did not already know? Neither Mr Yeap, Mr Siphan, nor other government officials contacted, however, could provide any details on what measurable benefit Mr Thaksin had provided Cambodia.

Other observers were more inclined yesterday to examine the political nature of Mr Thaksin’s appointment and what it had achieved in the context of the relationship between Cambodia and Thailand.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, lead researcher for political and strategic affairs at the Asean Studies Center, said in an e-mail yesterday that Mr Thaksin’s appointment had always been viewed by outsiders as “very superficial, political and temporary.” He added that it was difficult to tell whether Cambodia had increased its political capital by aligning itself with the fugitive former Thai premier.

“If we are to explain the Thai-Cambodian crisis in the context of personal conflicts between both countries’ leaders, then the decision of Hun Sen to appoint [Thaksin] served the purpose of attacking and irritating the Thai leadership,” he said.

“Hun Sen, as leader of a smaller country, showed the world that Cambodia would not allow itself to be bullied by a bigger and more powerful neighbor. From this perspective, Hun Sen was not only successful in using Thaksin to tarnish his opponents in Thailand but also gained some political points among his Cambodian supporters for his courage to rise against Thailand.”

But Mr Pavin noted that the appointment had also led to further tension between the two neighbors. “If one looks at the Thai-Cambodian relations, Hun Sen’s decision to appoint Thaksin further deepened the mutual distrust and suspicion,” he said. “Today’s difficulties in this bilateral relationship are partly the result of Hun Sen’s decision.”

SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said yesterday that the 10-month appointment had achieved nothing for Cambodia. “Mr Thaksin managed to bring Cambodia into a more complex situation with Thailand where he was more of a liability than an asset,” she said.

“I think Prime Minister Hun Sen has realized that his ‘eternal friend’ is a heavy liability and, personally, I am glad that it all ended yesterday.”

 

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