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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

THE FEUDING MINISTERS

Page 3


MEANTIME, SUPACHAI'S WTO BID hit an iceberg in the form of U.S. opposition. Realizing he was unlikely to be Geneva-bound, the commerce minister quickly reasserted himself domestically. The single-minded Tarrin, supported as ever by Chuan, indicated he would brook no deviation from his program. Supachai sympathizers fumed and Boonchu berated Tarrin for his aloofness. "Don't continue flying solo," he thundered. It was unprecedented. Worse was to follow when - following the postponement of the ill-fated March 15 meeting - Supachai leaked his memo.

He might as well have paraded in front of parliament with a sign saying "I Hate Tarrin" for the effect it had. Why did he do it? Says Chainarong: "Probably frustration. Supachai really feels he should know more of what's going on." Tarrin responded by saying he would listen to Supachai's proposals but that he was disinclined to tinker with the current reform program at this stage. Chuan was again forced to step in as the two titans moved closer to mutual destruction. A truce of sorts was reached and both men went back to the task at hand. Tarrin was to reduce taxes and introduce a second stimulus package, boosted by an injection of some $1.4 billion from the "Miyazawa fund" (named after the Japanese finance minister since Tokyo initiated it). Supachai even spoke glowingly of how the economy was about to turn the corner with the coming sale of three banks.

So is it all over? Well, yes and no. Like most marriages of convenience, the two sides, having been chided by counselor Chuan, will - at least until the next election - affect a pretense of geniality. Both men deny any personal rift. Tarrin says: "We both went out to say it's not true."

Still, the affair has rattled Chuan's Democrat Party members who, on April 2 and 3, will hold their general assembly. It could be an occasion for cheer - or bloodletting. Like any big organization, the Democrat Party is riven by personality clashes. Even the party's master tactician Banyat is dismayed by technocrat Tarrin's ineptness on the p.r. front, which could result in the gravest of all sins: losing votes. Despite these internal differences, the Democrat-led coalition under Chuan should comfortably survive to next year when it must hold an election. Self-interest will likely keep the partners together. If the economy does pick up, the Democrats ought to romp home as the biggest party and Tarrin especially will be feted. If not, it may be adios.

Whatever happens, golden boy Tarrin has clearly endured an unpleasant spell. But he will not quit. Supachai is also unlikely to go. Indeed, both have been touted as possible future leaders - though wiser heads dismiss the notion. Says Tarrin: "If you ask me about the political side, frankly speaking, I've had no time at all. I'm just dedicating my full energy to solving the country's economic problems." If only he would dedicate a bit of that energy to making a lasting peace with Supachai.

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