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Be patient and all will be well? Is Surayud promising more than he can deliver?

Updated On: Oct 27, 2006

Ever since the installation of the new government, interim Thai PM Gen. Surayud has promised lifting martial law by next month, calming the restive South and bringing peace and prosperity to the kingdom. However, are these all empty promises?

To be sure, Thailand seems to be in a worse shape than before.

In spite of this, Gen. Sonthi, the main coup-maker, has come out in an exclusive interview with the Nation to stress that Thailand “would not have survived without [the] coup”. Admitting to the intense pressure from all fronts, he confessed that the graft probes into Thaksin’s wealth had not borne fruit.

The Nation reported that the “post-coup investigation so far has uncovered no solid links between the overthrown leader and major corruption scandals”.  This causes the coup-makers now reorganized as the Council for National Security (CNS) to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, especially when proof of Thaksin’s misdeeds could give the coup the legitimacy it so desperately needs from its own citizens and the international community.

Sonthi also hinted that “Thaksin was smart in covering traces of graft” so “it will be difficult to implicate him [in major corruption cases]”. Moreover, Thaksin’s “hidden wealth [is allegedly] vast enough to fund a political comeback”, thus martial law must be enforced until “such a threat was at least minimized”.

Surayud is probably right in that Thaksin will not give up easily. Already, Thaksin has asked the CNS for an early return from exile despite the majority of Thais wanting him to stay away, while his wife Potjaman has now asked to meet Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda in an “apparent bid to secure safe passage home for her husband”, with promises that Thaksin will remain out of politics. Still, the powers-that-be are not taking any chances.

Solution of the Thai South is also an urgent issue that is not making any headway. On the anniversary of the Tak Bai incident of 2004, the army welcomes dropping the charges against “the 58 suspects as part of measures to bring about peace and unity in the deep South”. This suggestion was mooted by the National Human Rights Commission and was also supported Surayud. Nonetheless, “final approval depends on state prosecutors”, the Bangkok Post reported.

On a visit to Indonesia, Surayud has also voiced that “he would use Indonesia's peace process with separatist rebels in Aceh province as an example when trying to resolve the Muslim insurgency”. He also assured Indonesian President Yudhoyono that “he would not pursue the iron-fisted strategy of the previous Thai government in tackling the insurgency”.

Still, doubts abound about how effective the reconciliation efforts will be as many profound concessions must be made. The Straits Times quoted in agreement with former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad, who declared, “I don't see this thing as being settled where you just sign (with one group) and everything is over.” It is imperative that “dialogue will have to be combined with focused military operations; and military operations will have to be combined with political reforms. Bangkokmay well have to consider giving the southern provinces a considerable degree of autonomy and making Malay an official language”. These are all measures which were suggested earlier by the National Reconciliation Commission in June this year and were eventually ignored by the government.

As Francesca Lawe-Davies, an analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG) has said, “This symbol of injustice (Tak Bai) is still very powerful and although it’s positive that the government is considering dropping the charges against the protestors, what would be much more important would be a transparent investigation into the excessive use of force on that day… Even if the best possible policies were put in place tomorrow it would still be a long uphill struggle, but it's important the right measures be implemented.”

Sources:

Potjaman seeks meeting with Prem (Bangkok Post, 26 October 2006)

Myanmar, Thai coup stand in way of US-ASEAN summit (Yahoo! News, 25 October 2006)

Surayad: Aceh deal a model for Thailand's south (Straits Times, 22 October 2006)

Thailand's down south (Straits Times, 23 October 2006)

Military wants Tak Bai charges dropped (Bangkok Post, 26 October 2006)

Sonthi: Please be patient (Nation, 26 October 2006)

Kingdom 'would not have survived without coup' (Nation, 26 October 2006) Two years on, no justice for Tak Bai (Bangkok Post, 25 October 2006)Military wants Tak Bai charges dropped (Bangkok Post, 26 October 2006)

Cabinet approved revival of SBPAC (Bangkok Post, 25 October 2006)

Govt urged to drop charges against Tak Bai protesters (Bangkok Post, 25 October 2006)

Prem supports revival of two southern agencies dissolved by Thaksin (Nation, 25 October 2006) (Nation, 25 October 2006)

Thailand revives mediation body as three more killed in unrest (Nation, 25 October 2006)

Cautious welcome for revival of SBPAC (Nation, 25 October 2006)

Thaksin pushes CNS for A quick return (Nation, 25 October 2006)

Listen to what the people say, Thaksin (Nation, 20 October 2006)