The View From Asia

Shadow boxing with power elites from the past

Asia News Network writers look at the complications that arise when political players out of power return to the spotlight. Here are excerpts.

Return of the Umno misfits

Joceline Tan The Star, Malaysia

There has been a storm of opinions in the mobile chat groups of Umno members regarding news that the six MPs who quit the party will be allowed back in.

The opinions range from outright disgust and opposition to a more forgiving acceptance of the six, whose rebellion last month was the catalyst to the Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi taking leave of absence.

News claiming that the six MPs would be rejoining Umno was met with harsh remarks such as sampah, or garbage, and traitors in those chat groups.

Those who oppose their readmission declared that there would be no forgiveness for their betrayal, with one commentator saying that "the general who runs away from the battlefield deserves to face the firing squad".

However, Kelantan opposition chief Alwi Che Ahmad took a different stand and is advocating a second chance for the rebels.

Mr Alwi said: "I know that our members are still very angry with them. What they did was wrong but if people want to come back, we should accept because it is not easy to get six parliamentary seats.

According to The Nation's Tulsathit Taptim, Thailand's former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra's current passport controversy reflects what must have become the clan's expertise in using "borderline" documents to do big things.
According to The Nation's Tulsathit Taptim, Thailand's former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra's current passport controversy reflects what must have become the clan's expertise in using "borderline" documents to do big things. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"Their aim was not to join Bersatu. They are out to stop Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from becoming prime minister and they wanted Zahid to step down."

But he said the group cannot come back to their previous party posts in the divisions or supreme council, and will have to start as ordinary members.

The avalanche of opinions has not stopped even though Datuk Seri Ikmal Hisham Abdul Aziz, one of the six, has denied outright that he is rejoining Umno. Sources close to the six said none of them have applied to return to Umno. As of now, they remain as independent MPs.

But it is understood that something is brewing behind the scenes to help pave their way back to Umno. Well-placed sources claim that Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein could be playing a key role in reconnecting the group with Umno.

Mr Alwi said the Umno grassroots had not followed the leaders who left the party. "It shows that nowadays, people do not respect those who jump from one side to the other," he said.

Arroyo versus Duterte

Joel Ruiz Butuyan Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippines

There's a virtual chess match going on between two opposing camps in the Philippine government. This is the feeling one gets when reading the verbal skirmishes between the two warring factions of the ruling administration.

One camp is led by President Rodrigo Duterte, while the other is headed by former president and current Speaker Gloria Arroyo.

The Arroyo knights include House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr and Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, while their pawns include the members of the House committee on rules who conducted a hearing in Naga City to skewer and fry targeted officials of the Duterte camp.

The Duterte rooks and bishops include Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, and their pawns include the other Cabinet secretaries and allied senators who have expressed support for the embattled members of the Duterte faction.

The clashes are happening largely among the minions of Mr Duterte and Ms Arroyo.

The hostilities began when Ms Arroyo, Mr Andaya and their favoured allies were accused of huge budget insertions amounting to billions of pesos that they allegedly allotted for their congressional districts. In particular, Ms Arroyo was accused of favouring her district with 2.4 billion pesos (S$61.9 million) in pork barrel funds, while Mr Andaya's district was lavished with 1.9 billion pesos.

There were no convincing denials made by the Arroyo camp. Instead, they countered with their own charges of anomalies against the Duterte camp.

In particular, Mr Andaya, has fired a barrage of charges against Mr Diokno, accusing the him of masterminding the insertion of 75 billion pesos in the 2019 budget for public infrastructure.

Mr Duterte and Ms Arroyo have started to join the fracas. Ms Arroyo has called on the Duterte administration to produce "tangible results" this year to ease poverty. Mr Duterte countered that his administration has "achieved more" compared with the combined terms of Ms Arroyo and Mr Benigno Aquino.

The whole sordid spectacle appears as a war between pots and kettles. It is during lucid intervals like this that the politicians are being honest about one another.

Bring out the beer and let's enjoy watching this truth-telling episode among the leaders.

Shinawatra shadows loom

Tulsathit Taptim The Nation, Thailand

Even before former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra entered politics, his family was involved in dubious, if not totally illegal, business documentation. In fact, it was something in his pre-Thai Rak Thai past, the massive transfers of shares from his inner circles to people who were not supposed to have them, that kick-started Thailand's ongoing and detrimental national divide.

The trend of the Shinawatras using suspicious documents has continued. His younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra's current passport controversy reflects what must have become the clan's expertise in using "borderline" documents to do big things.

However, whether it's really "borderline" is open to debate in the latest case, because if the words of a senior Cambodian government official are to be believed, the former Thai prime minister may have used a fake Cambodian passport to complete an important business registration.

Even if the passport was genuine, legal trouble could still plague her mega-money business dealings.

The Cambodian immigration official was spot on in saying that everyone knows she is a Thai, which means that accepting her "Cambodian passport" is tantamount to accepting her "political persecution" claims.

That's a big deal, with potentially great legal, diplomatic and business repercussions.

Thailand's upcoming election will have great significance in the international context. If one side triumphs, the Shinawatras can be travelling with "better" documents. If the other side wins, restrictions could increase and diplomatic headaches could multiply.

Whoever wins, chances are things will continue to be complicated.

Thai political power is like Jerusalem, as sworn enemies have been taking turns in controlling it. You can't continue betting on one side. Just be on guard and have a cool head when the Shinawatras come knocking.

• The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news organisations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2019, with the headline 'Shadow boxing with power elites from the past'. Print Edition | Subscribe