Thursday, February 4, 2010

The pot simmers with the Thai military over the stove

APPROACHING the final battle. Even Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has admitted that the crisis situation will intensify in the period ahead of the Supreme Court's ruling on Thaksin's assets seizure case on February 26, and thereafter until March.

The military is getting ready to intervene with a pre-emptive strike at any time. General Anupong Paochinda, the Army chief, will be conspicuously absent from the country between April 4 and 14, during which time he will be travelling in the United States. He has stepped back and agreed, willingly or unwillingly, to hand over power to his deputy, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Prayuth is the man of the hour.

Anupong has insisted that there won't be a coup. In a way, he is correct. If a coup were to happen, he would not be around to make it. It is only a matter of time before the vicious cycle of Thai politics completes another circle yet again.

Thaksin Shinawatra is also getting ready. This is the moment he has been anxiously waiting for. He still believes quite confidently that he will prevail in a self-styled "civil war" staged by his "red army". Only over his dead body will he allow his Bt76 billion to be taken away. It is his last fortune. Thaksin's hardcore lieutenants Veera Musikapong, Jatuporn Promphan and Natthawut Saikua are making their final preparations. The red-shirt protesters are staging an uprising nationwide, targeting the military and government agencies. The red-shirt clusters remain small as they undergo training and do warm-up exercises.

But General Panlop Pinmanee and Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, alias "Sae Daeng", will emerge as the real leaders on the field. They have travelled to see Thaksin in Cambodia to receive their final instructions. To heighten the war mode, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has been appointed by Thaksin as head of the "people's army".

Chavalit yesterday denied that he would head a Maoist-style peoples army. "It's impossible for me to become the supreme commander of such an army because my brother, General Songkitti Jaggabatara, who is the supreme commander, will feel uneasy," Chavalit said.

But he seems to like this appointment. "Big Jiew" is the master of political intrigue. He believes he can do the impossible.

Prime Minister Abhisit can't do anything. He can only sit and wait. As a precaution, he has changed security guards, placing his own security in the hands of Police General Thanee Somboonsap. Before this, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban was responsible for Abhisit's safety. But look at what happened to Abhisit in April last year when he was almost beaten to death by red-shirt protesters inside the Interior Ministry. Abhisit is doing the right thing to play it safe. Of course, Suthep is getting mad.

The fresh signals of war had already started after a gang threw four bags of human excrement into the prime minister's Sukhumvit residence. How could the police and security guards allow that to happen? What if those four bags had been real grenades or bombs? If the life of Thailand's prime minister is not safe, how can we be sure that the life of any other Thai is also safe? The incident marks a sign of deterioration of law and order in this country.

The judiciary is also standing on shaky ground. His Majesty the King has recently called upon judges - the first time to those at the Administrative Court, and the second time to those at the Supreme Court - to perform their duty with bravery and justice. The judges have to defend justice until the day they die, the King said. The judiciary is the only hope this country has of saving the system. But nobody knows whether the judges will rise to the occasion when delivering their verdict on the assets-seizure case.

Thaksin is hoping to win the "people's war" to pave the way for his triumphant political comeback. The red shirts will create a crisis situation to test the patience of the military. If the military comes out onto the streets, there will be clashes. And if the military decides to stage a coup to pre-empt further violence, the red-shirt "army" will try to stage a counter-coup. Thaksin is confident of his support inside the country. The military is waiting patiently in the wings.

The outcome of this potentially bloody confrontation will be determined soon, most probably before the judgement day of February 26. By Thanong Khanthong for The Nation, Bangkok

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