The political drama unfolding in Thailand is heating up.
Not only are there tensions within the top echelons of Thai ruling society between the incumbent interim Thai PM Surayud Chulanont and the junta led by Council of National Security (CNS) chairman Sonthi Boonyaratglin, but there is now a war of words between Surayud and ousted premier Thaksin Shinawtra.
In all these spats, Surayud is adamant to show that he is the man in charge –wielding more authority than Sonthi and nailing Thaksin on corruption charges.
As he inked a Free Trade Agreement with Japan on Wednesday, amid strong public opposition at home, Surayud declared, “I’m the one who call the shots… I am not a military government.” Opponents of the Thai-Japan FTA claimed that the “agreement will allow Japan to dump chemical waste and genetically modified crops, as well as making drugs more expensive and Japanese investors more powerful”.
The Bangkok Post also noted that Surayud publicly denounced Thaksin for bringing “disaster” to the country. “In a nutshell, the triggers for the military's intervention were the unprecedented consolidation of political and financial power by Mr Thaksin during his five years as prime minister, his alleged abuse of state power, widespread corruption, curtailment of media freedom and a disastrous human rights record.” He added, “I can say that we are closing in on the final chapter of Mr Thaksin's future.”
For sure, the Thai authorities are homing in on Thaksin and his family. One, the Assets Examination Committee (AEC) Shin Corp probe panel chairman Viroj Laohapan stated that if it is proved that Thaksin “gave false declarations over Shin Corp shares, he may be banned from returning to politics until 2010”, the Bangkok Recorder noted. Two, AEC spokesman Sak Korsangruang and member Wirote Laohaphan announced in a press conference of the proceedings to be taken against Thaksin’s children, Phantongtae and Pintongta Shinawatra, for avoiding tax payments on their purchase of Ample Rich stocks. ThaisNews reported that the AEC “has seen fit to authorize the Revenue Department to collect more than 5.6 billion baht in personal income tax” from Thaksin’s son and daughter. They are also to be charged a “tax avoidance fine of 1.5 percent per month, amounting to more than 4.8 billion baht in fines as of April 7, 2007”. The total penalties to be collected from the Shinawatra family therefore stands at 10.575 billion baht.
Thaksin is obviously fighting tooth and nail to protect his name and assets. Through his lawyer, Noppadon Pattama, Thaksin told Surayud “that he would not return toThailand at this time for the sake of the country”. Noppadon has also slammed the authorities, saying, “Instead of promoting reconciliation as his government vowed to do, Gen Surayud took the opportunity while he was abroad to blame and attack Mr Thaksin. [Also] the Assets Scrutiny Committee is empowered by the junta, and they do everything the military rulers order.”
In another corruption probe, Thaksin and his wife Khunying Potjaman have “defended themselves in the 772-million-baht land deal being investigated by the Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC), saying it was legal”. Their lawyer Pichit Chuenban cited that under Article 100 (3) of the National Counter Corruption Act, the deal which focused on the decentralisation of power to other agencies was legitimate. ASC chairman Nam Yimyaem on the other hand is sure of the evidence to indict the couple.
The political uncertainty and unhappiness continued to deepen and the emergence of a small pro-democracy calling itself Saturday Voice Against Dictators and directing its criticisms against Prem Tinsulanondo, president of the Privy Council, and calling for his dismissal, was a new twist in the Thai political scene.
A former Prime Minister and a highly respected figure, Prem’s recent stature has been dented of late with suspicions that he had orchestrated the 19 September coup.
The Straits Times reported the claim by the group Saturday Voice that they had collected some 10,000 signatures urging his dismissal on grounds that he has interfered in politics. Leaders of the group said they would 'alert Prem' once they had 30,000 signatures, and would rally to demand his resignation if the number reached 50,000. Once the number of signatories reaches 100,000, the petition would be presented to the King, they added.
However, there were doubts if they could indeed muster such support, but what they have done so far have apparently already riled Prem who was reportedly upset that the CNS has allowed the movement to continue. (6 April 2007)
Anti-Prem campaign seen as provocative (Straits Times, 6 April 2007)
Thaksin, wife offer defence in land case (Bangkok Post, 5 April 2007)
AEC collects 10.575 billion baht from Shinawatra family (ThaisNews, 5 April 2007)
Lawyer tells PM to stop criticising Thaksin (Bangkok Post, 5 April 2007)
Thaksin banned till 2010? (Bangkok Recorder, 4 April 2007)
PM flays Thaksin in Tokyo talk (Bangkok Post, 4 April 2007)
Thailand, Japan Sign Free Trade Accord Cutting Import Tariffs (Bloomberg 4 April 2007)
Summary of Thai-Japanese FTA (Bangkok Post, 4 April 2007)
Marking a new era of partnership (Bangkok Post, 4 April 2007)
Interim govt. must deal with the consequences of FTA (Bangkok Post, 4 April 2007)