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Thai authorities overreact again to Thaksin’s publicity stunts

Updated On: May 22, 2007

It should come as no surprise by now that when Thaksin acts, the Thai authorities react with disproportionate force to reduce its impact.

Last Wednesday, 16 May, Thaksin called 3 Thai radio stations from his exile in London calling for early elections and reassuring the junta that he “will not travel near this region again”, the Straits Times reported. Thaksin also complained, “"I have spent almost one year abroad, but the country has not yet returned to normalcy. They always cite me as the problem but, as of now, no one wants to reconcile with me.”

According to the Straits Times, “all three radio stations are small and have limited reach (of only a few square kilometers) but all are critical of military rule”. Consequently, the authorities have shut down the stations on the basis of illegal operations and national security. Thaksin also regularly airs his views on his “websitewww.hithaksin.net, which is blocked in Thailand”.

The Thai National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has come out in open criticism of the authorities’ actions. NHRC commissioner Jaran Ditapichai said the “closure order made no sense” as “community radio stations have the right to interview Mr Thaksin who is free to speak”, the Bangkok Post reported.

The government’s action has set the Thai media on edge. Thakerng Somsap, chairman of the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, said “his association feared the government may also extend its closure order to silence the remaining 3,000 community radio stations as well”. He added that his association “would not sit still if the government tried to close down all community radio stations and would call for action to pressure the government to adhere to the democratic principles of free speech”.

Of course, the authorities are adamant they are right. PM Surayud has told the Bangkok Post that Thaksin is milking public sympathy. In a television interview on Saturday morning, Surayud said, “The court will give justice to the people… The government doesn't have to respond.” He also added that “political tension will be reduced once the Constitution Tribunal gives its rulings on electoral fraud charges of Thai Rak Thai and Democrat parties at the end of this month”. Head of the Council for National Security (CNS) Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin has also dismissed Thaksin’s actions, saying cryptically, “the people will ‘see for themselves’ what would shortly become of Thaksin's speeches broadcast by 87.75 FM radio.”

To tell the truth, it seems that nobody really is interested in the intricacies of the political turmoil after all this time. The people are tired. The latest Abac poll showed that one in three Thais had no opinion on the political situation. The Nation said as much when it came up with another scathing commentary on Thaksin’s media hounding. It said that “another ploy in his battle to keep the public aware of his moves is the constant feeding of news about his plans to buy the Manchester Cityfootball club for about 6.5 billion baht”.

The Today reported that Thaksin will need the Bank of Thailand’s “permission to withdraw the money needed” for the purchase. Thaksin’s lawyer, Noppadon Pattama, proclaimed that he “expects the central bank to give the green light because the money would be used for a good cause [as] Thaksin wants to help promote sports in Thailand via the takeover of Manchester City”.

It is strange that Noppadon is naively optimistic as the government is taking no chances where Thaksin is concerned. The Information and Communications Technology Ministry will meet with Surayud soon “to discuss how to handle a scheduled appearance by Thaksin on a pro-Thaksin website (www.saturdayvoice.com) next week”, the Bangkok Post noted. Moreover, the Nation said that “the Assets Examination Committee will endorse a report from its subcommittee calling for prosecution by the Attorney General of Thaksin and his wife this week”. Additionally, the Constitution Tribunal is expected to dissolve both the Democrat and Thai Rak Thai parties for electoral fraud end of this month.

Whatever it is, the government ought to concentrate on its reform agenda and not be over-obsessed with Thaksin. It is already in a precarious position with the tension between Surayud and Sonthi. In addition, at a Thai government-sponsored symposium in Germany, a female participant who wished to remain anonymous told the Nation, “I am rather disappointed that the government only focuses on pinpointing Thaksin’s mistakes, rather than the future of the country.”

Over in the South, things also seem to be unraveling between the leaders. General Pallop Pinmanee, adviser to the director of the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC), advocated “a decisive stand against southern separatists, as any talks with them could complicate efforts to end the insurgency”. This is in direct contradiction to Surayud’s reconciliatory approach, the Nation said. Sonthi has come out to directly refute Pallop. He said curtly, “I appoint him to be an advisor, not an operational officer so he does not need to work on the ground… If he has any useful idea or information about the situation in the south, just let me know.”

Sources:

Thaksin puts in $300m bid for Man City (Today Online, 21 May 2007)

Sparing Democrats and Thai Rak Thai would heal divide (Nation, 20 May 2007)

Govt told to look to the future and get over Thaksin (Nation, 21 May 2007)

Highlights of the week: Case against Thaksin, wife to move forward (Nation, 21 May 2007)

Panlop calls for tough stand against militants (Bangkok Post, 21 May 2007)

Panlop Pinmanee won't work in deep South (Nation, 21 May 2007)

40% expect poll in 2007 (Nation, 21 May 2007)

THAILAND: Thai radio stations shut down after taking Thaksin's calls (Straits Times, 18 May 2007)

Govt. slated for closing FM station (Bangkok Post, 19 May 2007)

Thaksin's stealth move springs unpleasant surprise (Nation, 19 May 2007)

ICT may block Thaksin web appearance (Bangkok Post, 19 May 2007)

PM: Thaksin calls in to ask for sympathy (Bangkok Post, 19 May 2007)

CNS unperturbed by Thaksin broadcast criticism (TNA, 19 May 2007)

Abhisit sees election fraud trials as mirror of wider problems (Bangkok Post, 19 May 2007)

Abhisit says he's target in poll trial (Bangkok Post, 19 May 2007)

Surayud says he ready to step down once told so by Sonthi (Nation, 19 May 2007)

Boonrawd: Groups try to divide PM, Sonthi (Bangkok Post, 19 May 2007)

Govt. slated for closing FM station (Bangkok Post, 19 May 2007)