General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh ౼ Thailand's 22nd Prime Minister took office at the age of 64, after many failed bids during decades that he eyed the prime minister office. Chavalit has long been plagued with accusations of bribery and corruption. And regardless the fact that many educated Thais questioned his integrity to lead the country, he was often cited as the prime minister-in-waiting.
Chavalit started his political career, as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, during the term of General Chatichai Choonhavan in 1988. He was later appointed Minister of Interior, in 1992 to 1994, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, in 1995 to 1996.
In November 1993, the home of Newin Chidchob in Buriram was the recipient of two hand grenades. Unhurt by the blasts, Newin said that he had received the death threats following the no-confidence debate where he strongly criticized the commerce minister, and interior minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.
A no-confidence vote in late 1996, following a political turmoil, resulted in the Parliament dissolution, which removed then Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-Archa. The General Election was held and on 17 November 1996, the New Aspiration Party led by General Chavalit won the most seats and its leader became Prime Minister, with the approval of six coalition parties: the New Aspiration, Chart Pattana, Social Action, Thai Citizen, Seri Dhamma and Mass Citizen.
Political commentators at that time, told that it was the dirtiest campaign in modern history; widespread vote-buying and Chavalit's decision to virtually duplicate six-party coalition that was ousted in September (1996) amid charges of fraud and corruption has added to general cynicism about country's political system.
General Chavalit was appointed 22nd Prime Minister by the Royal Decree of King Rama IX on 25 November 1996. Once in office, he encountered pressure from many political factions which, coinciding with the increasing economic problems, forced him to resign, primarily due to the Asian Financial Crisis. Eventually, he stepped down on 6 November 1997, when the economic crisis had its final blow on Thailand and the unrest spread over.
Earlier, in the mid of May 1997, the Thai baht was hit by massive speculative attacks. On 30 June 1996, Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said that he would not devalue the baht. This was the spark that ignited the Asian Financial Crisis as the Thai government failed to defend its hard currency, which was pegged to the U.S. dollar.
Thailand's booming economy came to a halt amid massive layoffs in finance, real estate, and construction that resulted in huge numbers of workers returning to their villages in the countryside. Thai baht devalued swiftly and lost more than half of its value. Thai stock market dropped 75% in 1997.
Later on, on 7 October 2008, then Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh resigned and admitted partial responsibility for violence due to police tear gas clearance of Parliament blockade, causing injuries to 116 protesters, 21 seriously. His resignation letter stated: "I want to show my responsibility for this operation."
A heck of a Christmas present this year (2008) would be for Chavalit to come back.
An ignoramus in many aspects, he resigned over the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis by telling the world he knew nohting abuot economics! When told that Thailand shoudl not have prime ministers so ignorant that they know nothing about economics, the Thai woman said, "This is Thailand" (TiT).
Have political dinosaurs not done enough damage? Chavallit belongs in a museum, stuffed and left to wallow in his own grandeur. His own light shines brightly enough for the global rest of us, and if he is ensconced in a museum, away from important matters, all the better to Thailand.
But there is a dearth in the "Land of Smiles" of benevolent talent, and General Chavalit, in a twisted sense, fills that gap. Or is recruited to fill it. And time marches on...