Friday, January 29, 2010

Thailand - Full circle to another military coup?

THE STENCH of a military coup is thick in the air. There have been unusual troop movements, including tanks rolling in from Nakhon Ratchasima and Prachin Buri to the capital for reinforcement. Military units are making conspicuous appearances, one after another, to rally behind General Anupong Paochinda, the Army chief. They are venting their anger at Maj General Khattiya Sawasdiphol, who has become enemy number one of the Army.

Khattiya, alias "Sae Daeng", is now a regular speaker for the red-shirt movement, which supports a return of Thaksin Shinawatra to power. Tomorrow, the red shirts will rally in front of the Army Command Centre in Bangkok to protest against what they claim to be, perhaps correctly this time, a looming military intervention. The military are falling into rank yet again.

Thailand is facing the spectre of political violence once more, ahead of the Supreme Court's February 26 ruling on the Bt76 billion assets seizure case against Thaksin. This time the confrontation is between the Army and the red-shirt protesters, or so it seems. In the 2006 coup, yellow-shirt protesters took on Thaksin supporters in street demonstrations before the military stepped in to defuse the crisis.

The red-shirt protesters have somewhat spared the Democrat-led government, instead aiming their latest attack against the military. Maybe they believe it will be quicker to draw blood to incite radical political change by attacking the military than the sitting-duck Abhisit government.

What would the military do if the red shirts were to storm into the streets as they did during the bloody Songkran festival last year? The Army could either stay idle and watch the violence escalate, or roll out the tanks again to pre-empt the crisis. Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda's wearing a full Army uniform recently also sent out a symbolic message that the military was getting ready.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is no longer in charge of the situation. He will be travelling to Davos today to participate in the World Economic Forum. A senior Democrat joked yesterday that he wasn't sure whether Abhisit could return to Thailand after leaving the country today. The September 19, 2006 coup took place while Thaksin was in New York preparing to give a speech at the United Nations. Much worse, the Democrats' view on constitutional amendment is diametrically opposed to that of the coalition partners. In this parliamentary game, Thaksin is hidden behind the scenes ready to rock the boat.

Thaksin has "twittered" to his red-shirt supporters that he will be setting up a government in exile in the event of a military coup. Ironically, Thaksin can only return to Thailand via a military intervention on his behalf. So a coup might not necessarily be bad for Thaksin, though he still tries to champion the cause of democracy.

In a way, it is rather funny that the whole Thai Army is now going after Maj General Khattiya in an exercise to show unity. This amounts to, so goes the old Thai saying, the whole Army mounting an elephant to catch a grasshopper. Meanwhile, police at Nang Lerng station have been caught in an awkward situation. They were barred from entering the office of General Anupong at the old Chulachomkhlao Military Academy to probe an alleged bomb attack. The police simply recorded the bomb incident, as related to them by the military, without having a chance to investigate the site.

Maj General Khattiya has become a scapegoat for this bomb hoax. But who would believe his innocence after the lies he has been telling lately, like the boy who cried wolf?

His Majesty the King on Monday gave a stern warning to judges in a rare royal appearance at the Siriraj Hospital. He called upon them to exercise their judgement with bravery and justice. The Supreme Court judges have now got the message that they must perform their duties with righteousness.

Thaksin, who still believes he can make a comeback, has launched a broadside attack in his final battle. This is evidenced in his attempt to drive a wedge into the coalition government through the constitutional amendments, as well as allegedly lobbying the court, and preparing to mobilise the red shirts for the final stand.
Yet still, Thaksin's chance of a comeback lies in a military intervention staged in his favour. But it appears that there is a consensus in the military that Thaksin will now have to be dealt with decisively. Between now and February 26, Thais will endure another stormy episode in this power play. The Nation, Bangkok

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