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Separating fact from fiction in Thailand: University protests, a disgruntled army, alleged coups, and a premier coy on his resig

Updated On: Sep 15, 2006

There is no end to the twists and turns of the Thai political soap opera as new scenes unfold daily – attempted assassinations, bombings, tussles between different factions, electoral controversies and political infighting.

One cannot really tell fact from fiction anymore. It is no wonder that while Thais are bored of the stalemate, they are also keen that the crisis is resolved.

The latest issues are about the integrity of the new Elections Commission (touted to be Thaksin-aligned), the date of the new elections, rumours of a military coup, as well as the perennial issue of whether Thaksin is really going to step down. What can the public really believe?

While the Bangkok Post has criticized the apparent partiality of the five new nominated elections commissioners, it stresses that the country has stagnated enough and the primary task at hand is to set a new polling date and to carry out the elections freely and fairly.

As to a potential coup, Thaksin has dismissed such talk. Army commander General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin has explained that the deployment of artillery and heavy armed vehicles was for the carrying out of military exercises. He was confident that the army-government relations would not be affected. Nonetheless, Defence spokesman Lt.-Gen. Chakkrit Intarathat has warned in the Bangkok Post, “The press had better turn their attention away from coup [rumour] coverage. It is widely understood that a coup d'etat would do no good, but deal another blow to the country.”

As it stands, the army’s top personnel are already infuriated that some of them are being maligned of masterminding Thaksin’s assassination earlier this month. The Nation has commented that Thaksin is treading on dangerous ground for if the army retaliated against these allegations made by his supporters and the police, Thaksin will be unseated. Moreover, there is no real proof to date as to the perpetrators of the car-bomb plot and it is widely believed to be merely a staged act to cause cleavages in the army, on top of the current confusion about the military reshuffle.

Thaksin’s resignation of course remains a mystery, if not fiction, judging by his previous hints to quit politics. In a recent pre-taped TV show, Thaksin spoke of his contributions to Thailand and said that he could continue to help Thailand even if no longer premier. This is precisely what his detractors do not want. Already university protests are underway to oust him. Anant Laulertvorakul, a coordinator of the Chulalongkorn University Network for Ethical Democracy and a lecturer at its Arts Faculty told the Nation, “Students and academics will mobilise until peace has returned. The upcoming election cannot whitewash a leader who is accused of a lack of ethics, has committed policy mistakes and faced numerous corruption charges… Thaksin should quit politics. It doesn't need to be permanent but he has to undergo scrutiny. If he passes, he can return. We want to see an election that leads to political reform.”

This is precisely what Pongpol Adireksarn, chairman of the Thai Rak Thai Party's party-list MPs, recommends. In an exclusive interview with the Nation, he said, “I'm not telling the next premier what he or she should do, but that person will… have to be independent and smart enough to manage the pressure and the questions that will follow.” He added that “if the successor can pass the first public test by investigating Thaksin, people will welcome him or her without being suspicious of the new premier as just a nominee of Thaksin”.

More significantly, things in the South seem to be moving along more rapidly without Bangkok’s interference. Gen. Sonthi “has set up a task force to initiate dialogue with major separatist groups despite opposition from caretaker ministers in charge of security”, the Bangkok Post said. The move to speak with the “exiled leaders of all separatist groups such as Bersatu, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Coordinate (BRN), the Gerakan Mujahidin Islam Pattani (GMIP) and the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo)” is an astute one given the widespread calls by the Southern Muslims for peaceful means of ending the conflict.

On another issue, the Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Kitti Wasinondh emphasized that while Thailand cooperated with the US in the war on terror, there was never any secret US jails that conducted torture against suspects. This was in response to the New York Times allegation of secret prisons in Thailand. Last November, the Washington Post has also accused the CIA of operating “secret prisons in eight countries, including ThailandAfghanistan and several European states”.

Sources:

Sonthi dismisses coup talk as rumours spread (Bangkok Post, 14 September 2006)

Academics rally to Prem (Bangkok Post, 14 September 2006)

Security beefed up ahead of 'Peace Project' meeting on fears of attack (Bangkok Post, 13 September 2006 )

TV tape has PM saying he may bow out (Bangkok Post, 13 September 2006 )

Let the new EC get on with its job (Bangkok Post, 13 September 2006 )

Scholars, students mobilise to expel PM (Nation, 13 September 2006 )

Brass losing patience over 'plot' (Nation, 13 September 2006 )

'Public will demand next PM probes Thaksin' (Nation, 13 September 2006 )

No secret US torture cell here, Foreign Ministry says (Nation, 12 September 2006 )

Muslim leader urges non-violent strategy to counter insurgency (Bangkok Post, 12 September 2006 )

Sonthi's team to meet rebels (Bangkok Post, 12 September 2006 )

Somchai: PM signals a break (Bangkok Post, 12 September 2006 )

University academics to begin campaign to oust Thaksin (Nation, 12 September 2006 )

Date of new election seen as a crucial factor (Nation, 12 September 2006 )

EC to consider a ballot 'no sooner than November 19' (Nation, 12 September 2006 )

Thaksin does not fear coup at home (Nation, 12 September 2006 )







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