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Can all the King’s horses and all the King’s men put Thailand together again?

Updated On: Sep 26, 2006

That is certainly what the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) led by Gen. Sonthi is trying to do. Last week’s coup was meant to unseat Thaksin so as to clean up the political mess that has plagued Thailand since last year.

The CDRM has taken definitive measures like clamping down on media and political freedoms. According to the Nation, Lieutenant General Palangoon Klaharn (the CDRM spokesman) warned of retaliation “against foreign media [if they] had insulted the revered monarchy in [the] reporting their coup” on Saturday. He also asserted the junta’s stand that “wiretapping is banned and anyone –wire-tappers, masterminds, [and] operators –would face the harshest punishment of fines and jail terms”.

The CDRM has also promptly moved against Thaksin and his “allies”. The revision of police appointments has seen pro-Thaksin personnel relegated to the “freezer”, the Bangkok Post reported. Moreover, Thaksin’s assets are under scrutiny. It is alleged that some of his wealth has been transferred to London where he is now staying. The CDRM has also announced that a special anti-corruption panel will be established to “investigate projects under the Thaksin administration” as well as of ‘“unusually rich” politicians who held office in Thaksin-led administrations during the past two years’. The deposed cabinet has thirty days (the deadline is 18 October) in which to “declare their assets and liabilities to the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC)”.Thaksin's wife Khunying Pojaman has now leftThailand. The junta reiterated that Thaksin, too, has freedom of movement, even of returning to Thailand. No extradition order has been made for Thaksin to return to Thailand to face charges.

Meanwhile, the CDRM is moving ahead with political reform. Its secretary-general, Gen. Winai Phattiyakul, declared, “The drafting of an interim constitution is finished. It is under consideration by experts. It is expected to be announced within this week. After that announcement, the next step will be the selection of a prime minister, which will happen by early next week.” The Nation also reported that after “the new premier sets up a government, a new council would be set up to draft a permanent constitution and pave the way for new elections” –a “process should take about eight months”, according to Gen. Winai.

According to internal sources, former central bank governor Chatumongol Sonakul is touted to be the interim premier but it seems that the CDRM has its sights on a lawyer so as to be able to procure the necessary political reform, before addressing economic issues. Whoever may be chosen, the Thai public is clear on what it wants. An Abac poll showed that 97.6% of Bangkokians cited honesty as the top trait they wanted in the new prime minister, and followed by strong leadership, decisiveness and patience.

Mixed reactions are surfacing as Thailand adjusts itself to military rule again. Although the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has approved of the coup and will stop its anti-Thaksin movement, other protests have arisen. The most recent one was at Thammasat University where students mocked the CDRM as the “Council of Demented and Ridiculous Military”. The Bangkok Post hit the nail on the head by questioning the “moral enigma of a popular coup”. It declared that “overthrowing an elected government, despite the fact that it was staged non-violently, and probably for a good cause, is wrong because of what it does to the society”.

Additionally, human rights groups, the Thai Journalists Association and Thai Broadcast Journalists Association have urged the junta to return power to the people swiftly, as well as to restore civil liberties, such as the freedom of expression and public participation in drafting of a new charter.

While hopes are high that the Southern crisis will be resolved with Gen. Sonthi steering the political landscape of Thailand, many do realize that it will not be an overnight improvement. As it stands, the public is skeptical of official policies on conflict resolution, and it is doubtful whether multi-party talks and engagement of insurgent groups will have a significant impact.

Sources:

Military set to publish interim constitution (Bangkok Post, 25 September 2006)

Pojaman leaves, family 'free to travel' (Bangkok Post, 25 September 2006)

Asset lists demanded by NCCC (Bangkok Post, 25 September 2006)

Most people want honest PM (Bangkok Post, 25 September 2006)

Revised list puts Thaksin's men in 'freezer' (Bangkok Post, 25 September 2006)

Time for the vision thing (Bangkok Post, 25 September 2006)

The moral enigma of a popular coup (Bangkok Post, 25 September 2006)

Thaksin is out, but not yet defeated (Bangkok Post, 25 September 2006)

CDRM called on to scrap decrees that inhibit rights (Nation, 25 September 2006)

New Thai PM to be named next week (Nation, 25 September 2006)

Army reiterates ban on political gathering and movement (Nation, 25 September 2006)

Second student protest against coup (Nation, 25 September 2006)

First explosion after coup hits Thailand, injuring 4 (Xinhua, 23 September 2006)

Community radio stations closed (Bangkok Post, 23 September 2006)

CDRM bans wiretapping (Nation, 23 September 2006)

Council 'watching' foreign press (Bangkok Post, 23 September 2006)

Southern policy in limbo (Bangkok Post, 23 September 2006)

Chatumongol tipped as PM (Bangkok Post, 23 September 2006)

Commission orders polls postponement (Bangkok Post, 23 September 2006)

Thai junta vows action against foreign media over coup reports (Nation, 23 September 2006)

Thaksin seeks privacy for family in Bangkok (Nation, 23 September 2006)

Public stages its first protest (Nation, 23 September 2006)

Short-term loss, long-term gain (Nation, 23 September 2006)

PAD ends its protest role (Nation, 22 September 2006)

PAD says coup's the right solution (Thai News Agency, 21 September 2006)