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Junta reinforces power as Shin Corp helplessly awaits potential seizure

Updated On: Mar 24, 2007

It will not come as a surprise to many people if the junta-led Council of National Security (CNS) takes over the reins of Thailand in the near future or if Thailandseizes Shin Corp’s assets from Temasek.

On the half year anniversary of the September 19 coup, CNS head Sonthi Boonyaratkalin announced that it was “not easy for the country to achieve the kind of democracy so wished by the people and a lot of intractable problems still need enough time to be tackled”, Xinhua reported. He told the public, “It is not an easy task to bring back real democratic rule.” Condemning the “dictatorial capitalism” that Thaksin administered, he added, “Our efforts to clear up the mess have experienced difficulties and delays because the country was once in a transitional period from the untrue democracy to dictatorial capitalism. He also defended the CNS’ respect for legitimate institutions with proper competence, saying, “In the past six months, we have never intervened nor dictated even in a single one the performance of any organizations we have set up.”

Whether or not this is an implicit hint that he and the other coup leaders wish to stay in power is uncertain. There are already other movements underway to secure the CNS position.

According to the Bangkok Post, Sonthi has not ruled out the possibility of becoming premier after the general election on the grounds of patriotism. He declared, “'I'm a Thai, and a patriot. If I can do anything to help strengthen the country, I will do it.” This has obviously alarmed democracy activists. Campaign for Popular Democracy secretary-general Suriyasai Katasila said “Gen Sonthi's remarks could be seen as showing intent to extend his power, and they put the government and the CNS in a negative light”.

Moreover, the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) has of Tuesday “agreed to continue the amnesty for the Sept 19 coup makers granted under the interim charter now in effect [and] will add a clause providing for it in the new constitution”, the Bangkok Post said. This was to guard against any prosecution of the CNS in the event pro-Thaksin factions won the next general elections. CDC chairman Prasong Soonsiri said, “It would not fair to them [the CNS]. They've been working so hard. They shouldn't face any adverse consequences because there is no law to protect them

In addition to this concession, the junta seems to be unduly influencing the new charter. The Nation noted that there are already rumours that the Thai people “will have to accept the version in which a ‘non-elected prime minister’ has room to assume power, no matter how strong the opposition is”. This is in blatant contradiction to the huge public outcry earlier this month against such a policy.

The Thai government is also intent on punishing all who were linked or colluded with former PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s misdeeds. Not content with charging him with “three counts of lese majeste which could put him him in jail for 45 years”, Temasek Holdings is likely to be penalized for its buy-out of Shin Corp. Police chief Seripisut Temeyavej was noted by the Nation as saying that “Surin Upatkoon, a former major shareholder of Kularb Kaew, has been summoned by police for questioning over charges of violating the foreign business law by holding Kularb Kaew's shares on behalf of Singapore's Temasek Holdings”.

If Surin is found guilty as Temasek’s nominee, then the sale of Shin Corp would be considered illegal. This could mean that Shin Corp assets would be a sitting duck for nationalisation, just as iTV was.

Sources:

Thaksin among 150 who face prosecution (Bangkok Post, 21 March 2007)

Surin faces questioning over Kularb (Nation, 21 March 2007)  

Sonthi does not rule out being PM (Bangkok Post, 21 March 2007)

CDC agrees to continue amnesty for coup makers (Bangkok Post, 21 March 2007)

Election by year's end, Sonthi vows (Nation, 21 March 2007)Few kudos for CNS (Nation, 21 March 2007)

Junta determined to have non-elected PM option (Nation, 21 March 2007)

Ex-Thai PM may face lese majeste charges, jail (Reuters, 20 March 2007)

Half year after coup, Thai army leader concedes democracy hard to achieve (Xinhua, 20 March 2007)