Home  
Thailand – impending cabinet reshuffle and seizure of iTV

Updated On: Mar 02, 2007

Thailand’s coup leaders must be feeling uneasy in their Council for National Security (CNS) seats and in desperation are cracking down on Thai society. Rifts between the government and junta, as well as within the government, have already begun to show.

This is set to intensify as Thailand –in the words of Energy Minister Piyasawat Amaranand –loses significant public confidence in its “goveernment and the country's economic and investment climate” with the latest resignation of Pridiyathorn Devakula as deputy prime minister and finance minister. The Federation of Thai Industries president Santi Wilatsakdanond has already called the Surayud government to account for Pridiyathorn’s resignation and ensure “his replacement will be as competent and acceptable to the country's financial and economic circles”, the Bangkok Post reported.

Even while the CNS downplays the terrorist threat in Bangkok, it is tightening the grip against political opponents. The CNS has “asked the government to move against acting Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party leader Chaturon Chaisaeng for defying orders by meeting supporters in the Northeast”, the Bangkok Post reported. CNS spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd said, “''The CNS, in its capacity as national security superviser, regards the meetings as in violation of the Council for Democratic Reform's (CDR) announcements [prohibiting political parties from all kinds of political activities], and potentially harmful to public order. This is not the time for political parties to freely engage in activities.” Observers have deemed this draconian measure which could lead to TRT’s dissolution as “a gamble”. This show of force to intimidate opponents and consolidate power could instead backfire if in “provoking an excessive response, the generals [will be portrayed] as bullies”, thus losing critical public support.

Already the junta has caused considerable public displeasure by suppressing media freedom, a list that “includes 300 community radio stations and more than 10,000 Internet websites”. A Nation commentary has criticized that in orchestrating an “artificial ‘national unity’… people… may be brainwashed into believing that differing views are alien to Thai society and not accepted, and that peaceful or genuine debate is not desired or even wanted”.

The Thai authorities are going even further now. While the government announced on Tuesday that it has “decided not to buy back satellites from Singapore's Temasek Holdings because of high risk”, it is simultaneously carrying out a thinly-veiled plot to punish Temasek’s Shin Corp buyover. The Thai government is preparing to “seize Shin Corp’s iTV subsidiary if the broadcaster doesn’t pay 100 billion baht ($2.9 billion) in fines by March 6 for not showing enough news and educational programs and failing to pay in full for a license”, Forbes reported. As “it’s impossible for iTV to pay that money”, iTV director Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan said, the takeover is imminent.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand has already suspended trading of iTV shares after “the government's announcement that it would terminate iTV's broadcasting licence if it fails to pay by deadline”, while the government is making arrangements to nationalize iTV and re-employ its staff. The latter measure is drawing flak from Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly as a waste of public money.

With so much dissent among top-level officials and potential terror attacks in Bangkok, the junta’s grand vision of a coup for the kingdom’s good is fraying at the seams. Anger may be so rife that rumours of a counter coup are circulating. If this really happens, Thailand may degenerate into long-term instability of yesteryear.

Sources:

Supreme commander: No counter coup (Bangkok Post, 1 March 2007)

Minister: Resignation impacts confidence (Bangkok Post, 1 March 2007)

Junta plays down Bangkok threats (Bangkok Post, 28 February 2007)

Minister confirms govt won't buy ShinSat (Bangkok Post, 28 February 2007)

A desperate need for level-headedness (Bangkok Post, 28 February 2007)

Cabinet gives iTV one week to pay, or pack up (Bangkok Post, 28 February 2007)

Panel will be set up to control embattled iTV (Nation, 28 February 2007)

Shin Corp's net profit plungs 60 per cent in 2006 (Nation, 28 February 2007)

Junta plays down Bangkok threats (Bangkok Post, 28 February 2007)

Bonrawd: Political temperatures set to rise (Bangkok Post, 28 February 2007)

SBPAC seen as lame-duck centre so far (Bangkok Post, 28 February 2007)

CNS sets its sights on Chaturon (Bangkok Post, 28 February 2007)

Clampdown on media freedom comes at a cost (Nation, 28 February 2007)

Pridiyathorn resigns over differences with PM (Nation, 28 February 2007)

PM to visit China on May 28 (Bangkok Post, 28 February 2007)

Defence minister warns of possible violence in Bangkok (Thai News Agency, 27 February 2007)