Fri, 30 Nov 2001

Thaksin reveals hint of self-doubt

Suthichai Yoon, The Nation, Asia News Network, Bangkok

The Prime Minister was crying for help and nobody took note. Since when have we become such an uncaring society? The CEO was subtly hinting that he was in a mental state of dilemma and none of us was lending a helping hand. We have left the country's chief executive in the lurch. We are an ungrateful and insensitive lot.

Most people missed it, but the chief executive made a rare confession on air last Saturday in his weekly radio address -- very few people took note. He said: "I ask myself: Am I too tense?"

It was the first time we had heard such a highly revealing disclosure of the country leader's inner feelings of uncertainty. I'd always thought he was a tough cookie -- that he could endure any amount of hardship and criticism. After all, he had given up a life of luxury and comfort to enter politics to shake things up -- and to do that, of course, he would have to have a will of steel.

When he decided to take on academics critical of some of his populist policies, he was clearly going all out to prove that those in their Ivory Towers would not get away with just making simple criticism. He would engage them in a drawn-out intellectual battle and he would prevail no matter how long that might take.

After all, he would have at least four uninterrupted years in office. The so-called intellectuals who don't appreciate his CEO- style of management of the country's deep-rooted problems could go to hell. He intended to make sure that no accusation went unanswered.

And, frankly, we in the press thought would have a field day reporting the highly stimulating exchange between the PM and his critics.

But then came the totally unexpected twinge of self-doubt in his weekly broadcast. The tough-talking leader suddenly posed in public a soul-searching question for himself. No, he didn't seem to be seeking sympathy. Neither was it a prelude to an imminent retreat from the political battlefield.

I am no psychoanalyst, but I suspect that he was issuing a warning to himself to keep control, but in a self-conscious kind of way. The chief executive, by posing in public the question of whether he was over-stressed, was probably suggesting that the burden of criticism over his performance was getting on his nerves. And he wanted to let the public know that he was aware of his own human vulnerability.

But again by raising such a personal question in public, the PM might have created a self-defense mechanism to steel himself against further onslaughts. He was telling everybody concerned that the critics were being unfair to a hard-working, super- active prime minister.

You know whom to blame if the PM suddenly caves in and becomes demoralized and is unable to fulfill his duty due to overly-harsh attacks from a handful of "arrogant and ill-informed" academics.

"Don't worry about Thaksin. Be concerned about the prime minister," he declared, picking himself up from a brief spell of desperation. Maybe he meant, you may not like him personally (for whatever reasons he can think of) but you shouldn't let your personal grudge undermine the work that a prime minister is supposed to do.

That's a significant psychologically moot point. Why the leader would think anyone has any bad feelings for him is intriguing indeed. Most commentators who have anything to say about Thaksin's performance inevitably believe that it's him as prime minister who has brought about the comments. As a person, he may be highly interesting and controversial, but in his private capacity, he clearly doesn't deserve national attention and such critical remarks.

Most of us probably care about Thaksin as premier more than Thaksin the man. And if he gets a bit moody at times over criticism, that's only to be expected. And if he hits back with some harsh words, that's also understandable. It's part of the game and it's all very healthy and constructive.

But when the CEO begins mumbling about whether he has over- reacted, we should all take heed. Is it the first sign of a sliding self-confidence? Or more ominously, is this a display of an emerging "mental fatigue syndrome"? We only have ourselves to blame if we have given our leader unfair treatment -- so much so that he is asking himself whether this job is pushing him to the edge of a nervous breakdown.

The last thing we want is for the PM to scream at his critics: "You are driving me nuts!" We would rather hear him say: "Give me more."