MILLION BAHT QUESTION
The author of 'Thaksin, Where Are You?' says she earned a lot of money from the sales of her book, but Lt Sunisa Lertpakawat's future is uncertain. Her actions landed her in big trouble with the army, yet she would like to write another book about the ousted prime minister
Story by WASSANA NANUAM Photos by CHANAT KATANYU and PHRAKIT JUNTAWONG
Five months ago Sunisa Lertpakawat, a reporter at the army-run Channel 5 television station, asked a simple question which landed her in big trouble and brought her considerable fame.
Thaksin, Where Are You?, she asked in the title of her first book.
The book was launched last August at a time when the coup makers and the coup-appointed government were trying very hard to prevent the resurrection of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's clique.
Mr Thaksin's supporters opted to keep as low-profile as possible for fear that they might be closely watched.
That may be a reason why the 235-page book about the post-coup life of Mr Thaksin and his family, including harsh comments about the Council for National Security (CNS), become the talk of the town and provoked a severe response from the army.
Besides giving an account of Mr Thaksin's life, the book contains critical remarks by him directed at the Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC) and the "Superpower", an apparent reference to Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda.
In the interviews for the book, Mr Thaksin slammed the ASC for ordering a freeze on his assets.
The 32-year-old Lt Sunisa claimed she spent 200,000 baht out of her own pocket on the trip to see the deposed prime minister at his luxury apartment in London.
Lt Sunisa, who is facing a disciplinary inquiry and court martial, and is suspended from work, plans to further her studies in Europe.
Less than a week after the book was launched on Aug 1, then CNS chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin appointed a disciplinary panel to investigate Lt Sunisa for taking 21 days off without seeking prior permission from her commanding officers, as required by the army's regulations, to interview Mr Thaksin in London.
The ASC, which is investigating Mr Thaksin and his family for alleged corruption and abuse of authority, also reportedly asked Lt Sunisa to give further information about Mr Thaksin's business dealings she wrote about in the controversial book.
After coming under intense pressure and shedding a few tears, embattled Lt Sunisa thought she had had enough and tendered her resignation to the army the same month.
She has been absent from the public eye ever since.
But now that the return of the old power clique has become a real possibility following the victory of the People Power party in last month's general election, and with the return yesterday of Mr Thaksin's wife Khunying Potjaman - which is seen as a prelude to the return of her husband - being a supporter of the ousted prime minister might no longer be something to hide.
Many people even think that those who are, or are branded as, staunch supporters of Mr Thaksin and his defunct Thai Rak Thai party will finally see his light at the end of the tunnel and enjoy their lives again.
But Lt Sunisa, whose book was seen as a propaganda tool for Mr Thaksin, is still far from seeing that light. She says the army has not yet approved her resignation and has forwarded the case to the Army Court.
Lt Sunisa Lertpakawat shows her first pocket book Thaksin Where Are You? when it was launched last August.
This means she might face a criminal charge for absence from work without permission.
She has been transferred to an inactive post at the army secretary-general's office, but was suspended from work.
She does not have to go to work or report to her supervisor.
Although the young lieutenant has plans and dreams, including furthering her studies in Europe, she cannot make them come true at the moment.
"I can't do anything right now as the army has not approved my resignation while my case has been proceeding in court," said Lt Sunisa.
The only good thing was that she earned "millions of baht" from sales of the book and plans to use the money for her studies, she said, although she declined to reveal exactly how much money she made.
She said tens of thousands of copies have been sold so far.
Last month, she went to Europe to find a place to study. She wants to learn more about political science and mass communications.
"I did not go to see Mr Thaksin in London," she insisted. "At the time I was in Europe, Mr Thaksin was in the Middle East and Hong Kong."
Asked if her life would become better if the Thaksin-backed People Power party forms a government, Lt Sunisa said: "Whether or not Mr Thaksin returns to power has nothing to do with my life."
She added: "I have been unfairly branded as Mr Thaksin's supporter so, no matter how the political situation changes, I will remain the same Jeab [her nickname]," she said.
However, the former TV reporter said she was not sure that the PPP would lead the next government.
Lt Sunisa said that although interviewing Mr Thaksin had landed her in big trouble, she still wanted to interview him again and write another book about him.
"I want to ask him about the [PPP's] victory in the Dec 23 election," she said.