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Signs of “discord” – coup leaders not so impressed with Surayad’s performance?

Updated On: Feb 06, 2007

The influential Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) chairman Prasong Soonsiri has come out to blast the interim government in no uncertain terms.

As Prasong was strongly nominated by the coup-makers in the Council of National Security (CNS) to head the CDC, it seems to imply that the CNS is impatient with the Surayud’s government’s administration. It may also hint at the junta’s desire to stay in power to keep Thailand “in check” until things suit their fancy.

In an exclusive interview with the Nation over the weekend, Prasong listed systematically the faults of the government, clearly delineating the CNS from any blame as “it had already handed over administrative powers to the government”. 

Prasong told the Nation that the incumbent government’s Achilles’ heel was that it was indecisive and did not use its mandate to address urgent problems, especially the corruption charges made by the CNS against the Thaksin administration. Corruption was one of four major reasons the coup-makers’ gave for ousting Thaksin. The other three were “interfering in the work of independent organisations, causing divisions in society, and committing lese majeste”. He remonstrated the Surayud government for not working on these four crucial issues. He said, “This government [was] assigned to clean house, but… the house is still dirty and full of diseases, which are spreading… Instead, the government focuses on issues of the future, as if it will be in power for 4 or 8 years.” Non-punishment of graft had led to the Thaksin administration to maintain innocence and gain public sympathy.

Prasong put down the lack of government efficiency to the lack of will to punish wrong-doers in the former government. He said, “Members of this Cabinet are good people but they lack political experience and have not kept up with the [ousted politicians'] games. They know that they are in office for only a year so they do not want to make enemies, and this has become a weak point of the government.” This has led to nonchalance among officials who are lying low in case “the old power clique returns to power”. Prasong felt that these “power losers” were merely biding their time to make a comeback with their substantial economic clout through making the Surayud government and CNS unacceptable to the public.

Prasong’s implicit contempt for the Surayud administration revealed itself when he “pointed out that one power retained by the CNS chairman under the interim constitution was to remove the prime minister”. Yet he remained coy by saying, “I don't know… I won't talk about it. It's not my duty,” when the Nation asked if he felt Gen. Sonthi should remove PM Surayud or that the CNS had made a bad choice in choosing him to be interim premier. All Prasong would say was to warn the government to act fast lest the public anger rises and creates more trouble.

Bangkok Post also carried an article hinting that Thai people may yet vent their frustrations as “Surayad has yet to show his decisiveness”.

This is especially troubling as a recent Abac poll showed that PM Surayud “had fallen to a current approval rating of 48.2 per cent, down from a November high of 75 per cent” while that of Thaksin had “shot to 21.6 per cent from 15.8 per cent”.  Thus far, the Surayud administration and CNS have not reacted directly to the strong words of Prasong though Surayad has taken the step to sack the police chief, Kowit Wattana, for failing to make headway in charging anyone for the Bangkok blasts on 31 December 06.

On the Thai South, significant bilateral cooperation has been proposed just before the meeting between PM Surayud and Malaysian PM Abdullah Badawi on February 11-13. This includes the “exchange of personal information on citizens of both countries, which will include photographs and fingerprints”, to stem the tide of terrorists who cross the border after committing attacks. Thailand has since “begun issuing fingerprint-embedded ‘smart’ ID cards to the 1.2 million residents of the Muslim-majority provinces” to stop illegal border crossings and to crack down on any abuse by those people who claimed to have dual citizenship.  It is hoped that the bilateral talks may also “lead to progress on Thai attempts to hold unofficial talks with certain insurgent groups”, the Bangkok Post reported.

Furthermore, PM Surayud intends to safeguard Thai borders by building “a 27-km (17-mile) wall in the Betong district of the southern province of Yala, one of the three southern provinces bordering Malaysia”. On the last day of his visit to the South, he was reported by Reuters as saying, “If we don't build it, it could disadvantage us because we will face problems with border crossings and smuggling,” therefore there was no need for discussion with Malaysia PM Badawi when he comes next week. Coincidentally, Malaysia is also planning a “11.5km fence… along the border of Kelantan and Thailand’s Narathiwat province in Jeli”, the New Straits Times noted. This is “being finalised by the National Security Department and the armed forces” and is meant to clamp down on national security threats.

These actions to curb the escalating violence in the South do not come a moment too soon. Already the Thai police have claimed that their suspicion that the New Year’s Eve bombings in Bangkok are linked to the southern insurgency may be correct (5/2/07).

Sources:

Govts to share ID data on citizens (Bangkok Post, 5 February 2007)

City bomb blast evidence linked to South (Bangkok Post, 5 February 2007)

Thaksin rebounds in popularity (Nation, 5 February 2007)

Prasong lends weight to criticism of govt. (Nation, 5 February 2007)

Security fence coming up in Jeli (New Straits Times, 6 February 2007)

Thailand mulls security wall on Malaysia border (Reuters, 4 February 2007)

Bangkok, KL to crack down on dual citizens (Today, 6 February 2007)

Thai national police chief sacked (Today, 6 February 2007)

Surayud has yet to show his decisiveness (Bangkok Post, 6 February 2007)