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Smoke and mirrors in Thailand’s coup

Updated On: Oct 31, 2006

There really is no defence that Thailand’s coup has not reaped any results.

True, a new set of leaders have been installed but Thailand’s woes of democracy, economy and Southern unrest are still not acted upon, while the Thai leaders are scrambling to whitewash their positions following the latest political drama concerning Pojaman Shinawatra’s visit to Prem.

As reported last week, Gen. Sonthi told the Nation in an exclusive interview that he’d been planning the coup and that Thaksin knew about such opposition. From Sonthi’s words, it seemed as if the coup was hatched to prevent Thaksin’s dismissal of the general. In sum, the two major political factions of Thailand were locked in a power struggle rather than genuinely giving the people a political choice.

It now seems clear that restoring democracy is secondary given the “strong-arm” tactics Sonthi mentioned. He said that the Council for National Security (CNS) is keeping a close watch on political opposition, especially those “without permanent careers”. He added that “martial law will be helpful in tracking [this particular group]”. Martial law will only end when the threat of political unrest eases. Moreover, the “Armed Forces will deal with the [opposition] movement via mass psychology like when they handled circumstances in the past”. He also declared firmly he would not allow Thaksin to step on Thai soil.

The Campaign for Popular Democracy (CPD) has come out to castigate the ineffectual policies for interim governance. Suriyasai Katasila, the CPD secretary-general told the Bangkok Post, “government's platforms –which include political and administrative reform, policies covering economic, social, and foreign affairs, and national security –needed more detail so the public would know how they would be implemented… The policies were still unclear and lacked effective solutions”.  to deal with problems arising after the government of premier Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed on Sept 19, said.

Some of the suggestions included abolition of Thaksin’s economic policies which profited elite “TRT party financiers”, the need for educational reform, and a justice committee to “re-investigate the extra-judicial killings of over 2,500 people during the Thaksin government's war on drugs, the disappearance of Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, the deaths of over 20 environmentalists and the disappearance, alleged abduction and killing of people in the deep South”.

The past weeks has seen the escalation of sporadic fighting in the South, even as PM Surayud made a whistle-stop visit of Songkhla, ahead of his scheduled official visit this week.

Even if Surayud conducts a media blitz and the Thai people profess more faith in him than Thaksin, it is unlikely to reverse the creeping doubts about the coup.

According to political watchers, Thaksin’s wife, Pojaman, played her political cards expertly by visiting Prem. According to the Nation, “Prem may not be aware of the politics of speed or how political perception can shape public opinion in a certain way… By allowing Pojaman to meet him at home, Prem has irreparably undermined the cause of the coup, which is to remove the Thaksin regime... the ultimate symbol of cronyism that the military elite headed by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin has set out to destroy”.

Given that the new administration has not frozen assets gained by corruption, lese majeste cases are mere conjecture, and the Shinawatras are becoming viewed as victims of the coup, the Thai public is confused.

This is reinforced by the fact that when the People's Alliance for Democracy requested twice to meet Prem during anti-Thaksin demonstrations, he sent his representative to meet them outside his home. In the present case of Pojaman Shinawatra, he immediately granted audience. In the meeting, Pojaman seized the chance to project the “role of the good wife”, telling Prem that the government could seize dishonest gains if it found them, and she was willing to donate for the good of the Thai public.

It would seem that the tide is turning against Sonthi and the coupmakers, Surayud and his interim government, and Prem. If the situation is not handled sensitively, they might end up as the villains who hijacked Thai democratic progress. When that day comes, it would not be too late for Thaksin to stage a comeback.

Sources:

Sonthi tries for a public relations coup (Nation, 30 October 2006)

Surayud has better image than Thaksin (Bangkok Post, 30 October 2006)

Govt policies 'lack solid detail, solutions' (Bangkok Post, 30 October 2006)

Pojaman proves a formidable political 'femme fatale' (Nation, 29 October 2006)

Prem's silence fails to repair the damage caused by meeting (Nation, 28 October 2006)

Sonthi told Thaksin he would stage a coup (Nation, 27 October 2006)

'Inappropriate' meeting (Nation, 27 October 2006)

Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, chairman of the Council for National Security (Nation, 26 October 2006)