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More troubles for Thailand: The King speaks, an American “downgrade” and the South gets a hardliner

Updated On: May 29, 2007

More trouble is expected in Thailand especially with the May 30, Wednesday, ruling by the Thai Constitutional Court on whether “the former ruling Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) and its main rival Democrat Party violated election law last year”, the AP reported.

The situation is so tense that the Thai monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, broke his usual reticence and voiced his concerns on television last Thursday night. The king told the judges to carry out their duties boldly for the good of Thailand, “I urge you to prepare yourself to be ready to criticize or be criticized in the capacity of learned men to prevent the country from falling into a crisis. If you don't do anything, the country will fall.”

PM Surayud Chulanont has reiterated the King’s concerns and “asked political parties and the public to respect the ruling next week”, saying, “I want to ask the public to use their judgment ... there are always differences in opinions but negotiation and dialogue will be the best way out, not violence.”

Already the leaders of both parties have stressed they will respect the court’s ruling and not make trouble. Nonetheless, the junta is not taking any chances. The Bangkok Post reported that the junta has already “made preparations to deal with ‘red shirt’ protests against the possible dissolution” of the TRT and Democrat parties”. Surayud has already shortened his visit to China after the King’s announcement.

Coup leader and head of the Council for National Security (CNS) Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin “has issued an order to troops in Bangkok and neighbouring provinces to be on alert for protests leading up to the tribunal's ruling on Wednesday” as reports have shown that “supporters, including those who have been hired to cause unrest, have been travelling into the capital from places in the North and North-east (strongholds of TRT party)”.

At the same time, the situation is worsening in the South –notwithstanding the Organisation of the Islamic Conference’s (OIC) vote of confidence in Thailand’s policies. Things are set to become bleaker with the “hardline stance” that is now going to be taken with the appointment of retired Army Gen. Panlop Pinmanee as military adviser to the South. According to the New York Times, this “appears to be a signal from the Council for National Security that the conciliatory approach will change toward both Muslim insurgents in the South and opponents of the military regime”.

Gen. Panlop has declared, “The way to solve the problem in the South is to get the people on your side… But if the violence continues, the military should carry out ‘search and destroy’ missions against the insurgents… If we cannot make them surrender, then we have no choice [but] to destroy them.”

As to Thailand-US relations, Thailand is in a defiant mood after the disappointments in Washington last week. It is adamant to continue busting even more drug patents, according to Reuters. Moreover, the Thai Foreign Ministry dismissed giving too much importance to Republican US Congressman Mark Kirk's bill “that would strip Thailand of its designation by the US as a ‘Major Non-Nato Ally’ until democracy returned to the country”. Ministry spokesman Tharit Jarungwat has declared, “It is only the opinion of a US congressman. We do not consider it pressure from the US. The bilateral relations are still excellent.”

Whatever the case may be, Thailand is not allowing itself to be “cowed” by US and is “cozying up” to China by signing the Joint Strategic Plan of Action (2007-2011).  The Joint Strategic Plan of Action will be signed this week by deputy foreign ministers Sawanit Kongsiri (Thailand) and Dai Bingguo (China) in the presence of both countries’ premiers. The Bangkok Post has described this as “a blessing in disguise for the interim government whose relations with the United States have deteriorated amid questions regarding the coup, the Foreign Business Act and the latest intellectual property rights row”.

Other political analysts also believe that the time is ripe for engagement with China. Political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, Panithan Watanayakorn, said it was “smart of China to decide now to consummate the agreement which they have been contemplating for years” as “Washington considered Bangkok's leaning towardBeijing, especially during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, somewhat irritating. The Joint Strategic Plan of Action will concern the US even more”.

This five-year plan is “geared toward closer cooperation across a wide range of fields, from politics to communication”, the Bangkok Post stated.

Sources:

Analysis: Surayud moves closer to Beijing (Bangkok Post, 28 May 2007)

Junta prepares for red-shirt protests(Bangkok Post, 27 May 2007)

Groups seek clause for 'cultural zones' (Bangkok Post, 27 May 2007)

Abhisit vows to accept ruling without causing trouble (Nation, 27 May 2007)

TRT will not contribute to disturbance after ruling: Chaturon (Nation, 27 May 2007)

CNS steps up security ahead of judgments (Nation, 27 May 2007)

Politics troubling the King 'more than us' (Nation, 27 May 2007)

Surayud curtails visit to China (Nation, 27 May 2007)

Thailand braced for leap into political unknown (Reuters, 27 May 2007)

Govt. pooh-poohs US anti-coup proposal (Nation, 27 May 2007)

Thai Security Chief Vows a Tough Stand Against Muslim Separatists (NYT, 26 May 2007)