Sunday, November 30, 2008

Daily Telegraph: Thailand now 1 of world's 20 most dangerous places

Things will get worse before they get better. Britain's Daily Telegraph has named Thailand one of the world's 20 most "dangerous" places, after Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, South Africa, Jamaica, and Sudan -- and on the same list as Colombia, Haiti and Eritrea.

Only last month, Bangkok was voted "the most popular tourist destination" in Asia by an American magazine. How things just came tumbling down within a few weeks.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thaksin in new video: New coup means bloodshed

Former Premier Thaksin Shinawatr talks to Thomas Crampton, former Bangkok-based correspondent for IHT and New York Times, presumly in a Hong Kong hotel. He said if there was another coup, blood will be shed. Thaksin continues to say that politics has interfered with the judiciary system. He apparently wants to be close to Thailand to direct Premier Somchai Wongsawat's every move.

Nov 29: Final showdow: Crackdown or coup?

It's the final face-off today: Crackdown against the protestors at the airport or a coup -- or one after another?

The three key players are: Former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, now believed to be in Beijing, is still believed to be directing Premier Somchai Wongsawat's every move from abroad. He just appeared on a video from Beijing declaring: A new coup would mean bloodshed.

Premier Somchai has declared a state of emergency at both Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports. He has named the interior minister to be in charge of dispersing the protestors -- starting with negotiations with the People's Alliance for Democracy.

PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul announced last night there won't be any negotiations until Somchai quits.

Interior Miniter Kovit Wattana countered this morning with a new threat: If PAD refuses to negotiate, we will proceed with the mission (clearing protestors out by force).

Army Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda is resisting Premier Somchai's order to crack down on the protestors. He also says he won't stage a coup.

Somchai yesterday sacked Police Chief Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwan, allegedly because the latter refused to comply with the "clear-out-the-mob" order.

Is Gen Anupong the next to fall? Somchai has said he won't sack any military officer, at least for the time being.

PAD (the yellow shirts) and pro-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (the red shirts) who have threatened to come out in full force against a coup, are probably both pressuring the army to go for the "last resort" especially if blood is shed, either through the crackdown or clashes between the anti-Thaksin and pro-Thaksin groups.

There is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Coup? Stop the tank in Bangkok's traffic jam

THAILAND'S ruling party today called on its supporters to clog Bangkok's streets to prevent a possible coup attempt after Prime MinisterSomchai Wongsawat rejected army demands that he resign, Bloomberg news reported.

'People who have cars and cabbies should drive and block any tanks that may come out if there is a coup,' Mr Suthin Klangsaeng, a deputy spokesman of the People Power Party, said in comments broadcast on Thai PBS channel. 'Anyone opposing a coup should also take to the streets.'

So, Bangkok's notorious traffic jam is actually quite democracy-friendly, then.

Emergency decree tonight!!

The Cabinet, holding a special meeting in Chiang Mai today, decided to
declare a state of emergency at the country's two major airports: Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang.

Premier Somchai Wongsawat was expected to go on television tonight to assign police to enforce the emergency decree to clear protestors from People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) from the two sites. It is feared that violence may break out if police move in because PAD protestors have vowed to resist any attempt to evict them from the two protest sites.

Rumours of a military coup have intensified today despite Somchai's assurance that he won't sack Army Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda who proposed yesterday that the premier dissolve parliament to call a new election and PAD cease its protest activities.

Anupong today cancelled an earlier scheduled meeting of the Channel 5 board of directors which he chairs. He was said to have been accompanied by Army Chief-of-Staff Gen Pravit Jan-ohcha to have a surprise meeting with Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda.

The army spokesman told a press conference that the convoy of tanks spotted on Bangkok streets today was a demonstration for military cadets -- and had nothing to do with any attempted coup.

Once the emergency decree is declared, a new confrontational atmosphere will erupt between police and the protestors. But the private sector has complained bitterly about the damage caused by PAD's seizure of the country's main international airport.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

PM lands in Chiang Mai, goes on TV to reject call for new election

Suvarnabhumi: Closed until further notice

Suvarnbhumi closed, where will PM land?

Operation Disruption launched by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) late last night may confront Premier Somchai Wongsawat's decision to declare a state of emergency when he attempts to land somewhere in Thailand on his way back from Apec Summit in Lima, Peru.

But will Somchai carry out the threat? How can PAD justify its seizure of the country's main international airport that disrupted the lives of so many Thai and foreign passengers? It's a high-risk move that PAD would spend lots of time and energy to explain to the public in general.

The military said there won't be a coup. But that doesn't mean the army could keep a "live-and-let-live" attitude when chaos reins and a paralysed government seems incapable of running the country.

A PAD core leader, Suriyasaid Takasila, said last night that if Somchai quits as premier, PAD would consider calling off the six-month seizure of Government House. But if Somchai insists on clinging to power, the chaotic situation in Bangkok will deteriorate. Clashes between the red and white-shirted elements will intensify. Tourism will be hard hit. People's morale will be badly hurt. And the country will plunge deeper into the political abyss.

The only solution: PM Somchai stands down. PAD calls off its protest. A new, bipartisan coalition set up to draw up a new constitution to pave the way for a new general election that will guarantee free, fair and transparent pollings.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Who is a rebel?

Gunman caught red-handed....

PAD's guards were fighting a running battle against pro-government taxi-drivers this evening. Gunfire was heard before eleven persons were injured and rushed to Paolo Memoiral Hospital.

The clash took place at Vibhavadi Rangsit 3 at around 5.00 pm.

Reporters saw about 20 PAD guards running down a truck when it reached the soi to confront the taxi-drivers.

Some of those involved in the fight were seen using pistols to fire at their opponents.

Suriyasai Takasila, a core leader of PAD, said he couldn't confirm or deny whether the gunmen were PAD members. "But we have been under attack from the other side in the past few days. So, if some of us had to defend ourselves, it's quite justified."

But resorting to violence goes against PAD's longstanding principle of "civil
disobedience." He countered: "But the pro-government side has been attacking us with M79 grenade-launchers."

Things will apparently get worse before they get better.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An extraordinary statement about an 'ordinary crime'

Premier Somchai Wongsawat, speaking from Peru where he is atteding the Apec Summit, was only provoking another angry outburst from the anti-Thaksin camp when he said the latest M79 attack on protestors at Government House early yesterday was "just an ordinary crime case."

"I would also like to know who did it," he said, conveniently ignoring the fact that the use of M79, a grenade-launcher, is considered illegal in peace time, no matter who uses it. At least seven protestors of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) were injured, one of them seriously (shown in the picture).

This was the second attack of its kind in three days. One person was killed and 23 injured in a similar attack early Wednesday. Police have been unable to identify the people behind the daring attack.

There was little doubt that the series of attacks was aimed at frightening PAD away from holding a mass rally on Monday at Parliament House in what they have described as "the ultimate war" to topple the Somchai government. Today (Nov 23), the pro-government elements are holding their own rally under the theme of "Today's Truth" at Wat Suankaew to counter the PAD.

If the premier says it's just an "ordinary crime," then you can be sure that more "ordinary crimes" will certainly follow.

Either he is fantastically naive or inexcusably malicious.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thaksin launches his 'last war'

His divorce from wife Potjaman may have raised eyebrows everywhere. And this picture of him with lovely singer Lydia has nothing to do with the ongoing conspiracy theory behind his move.

I am convinced however that the divorce is but a tactical move for Thaksin Shinnawatr to pave the way for his "last war" to make a political comeback. He recently told his close aides in Hong Kong that even if he beat a retreat, his political foes would still be determined to "kill" him.

One speculation has it that Thaksin, as part of the divorce, would spend about Bt10 billion (or around half of his share of the post-divorce wealth split) to kick off campaigns in all forms and shades with particular emphasis on mobilizing the masses in the rural areas to clamour for his return.

Thaksin is also expected to make use of the network of political affiliates such as the United Front for Democracy and the "We-Love-Thaksin" movements as well as some of the 111 former members of the banned Thai Rak Thai Party to engineer the comeback campaign.

Several politicians loyal to Thaksin have offered these scenarios as a result of Thaksin's "go-for-broke" strategy:

1. Thailand may split up along the former Soviet Union style.
2. Civil war may be inevitable if Thaksin stages his "last war" without regards for the ensuing chaos.
3. Bloodshed is unavoidable if the end justifies the means.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

PM, Army Chief: Who's scaring whom?

A strange memo has just gone out from the defence minister's secretariat to all military units concerned to deny that a committee has been set up to investigate the army chief for having gone on television to "discredit" and "smear" the prime minister.

It wasn't that long ago that the army chief together with the supreme commander and heads of the navy, air force and police went on Channel 3 to talk politics. The famous quote from the army chief was: "If I were the prime minister, I would have quit (to take responsibility over the Oct 7 incident)."

The immediate reaction from most analysts:Premier Somchai Wongsawat, who is also defence minister, is afraid that such a rumour could anger Army Commander-in-Chief, Gen Anupong Paochinda,to the point that a new confrontation between the premier and the armed forces could explode into a new crisis.

Was it just a rumour? Well, it was almost a "credible rumour" when even the name of the head of the probe team was mentioned: Air Chief Marshal Kampol Suwannathat, the defence ministry's general officer, who promptly shot down the story, saying there was no basis to the speculation at all.

The rather odd memo of denial said it was the army chief's personal right to express his political opinion.

Even more interesting was the statement in the memo stating: "The prime minister is not angry with the army chief. They continue to work together harmoniously."

Will that put an end to the rumour or will it re-ignite a new one?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ailing Samak faces protest at Houston airport

Samak Sundaravej and his wife Khunying Surat flew into Houston, Texas, early this morning (Bangkok time), only to be greeted by a group of protestors who held up posters reading: "Houston PAD members (don't) welcome traitor..." and "Fate doesn't have to wait until next life..."

The protestors call themselves members of the People's Alliance for Democracy in Houston. Somehow, they found out the arrival time of the former prime minister who was accompanied by his wife on a United Airline flight that left Bangkok early yesterday.

Samak, after over a month of treatment for liver cancer at Bumrungrad Hospital, is reportedly getting further treatment at an unnamed American hospital.

It was not clear how Samak reacted to the protestors who were holding the posters right next to him at the airport lounge.

He has been convicted to two years in jail by the court for a libel against former Deputy Bangkok Governor Samart Rajpolasith. His lawyers say he has not filed an official appeal.

(Pictures from Manager Online)

Thaksin, Prem...No love lost between them

What's Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat up to when he said today that Gen Prem Tinsulanond, former premier and President of the Privy Council, "could play a role" in mediating an end to the ongoing conflict?

But nothing has happened since Somchai sought a meeting with Prem as soon as the former assumed office.

Now, every political pundit in town knows that Prem and former Premier Thaksin Shinnawatr, Somchai's brother in law, eye each other with deep suspicion, no matter what they say publicly about each other.

Now, a group of the ruling People's Power Party, is collecting signatures from MPs (they claim to have got 90 so far) so that they can appeal to Prem to take on the role of the "middle man" to get all parties concerned to come to the negotiation table.

That move, of course, has been seen as a cynical gesture from the government MPs who, without a doubt, realize that the relationship between Thaksin and Prem remain somewhat soured in the background. It's no secret, of course, that Thaksin has always harboured the suspicion that Prem ("someone with extra-constitutional power") has been behind the move to unseat him. Prem has kept quiet throughout and has never publicly responded to the accusation. Sources close to Prem say he remains suspicious of Thaksin's political ambition...and the danger of his "the-end-justifies-the-means" attitude.

Is the PPP's MPs' move to enlist Prem's help in resolving the national conflict in fact a trick to corner him. Is Thaksin behind this new plot to embarrass Prem?

Not a few political analysts will tell you the jury is still out.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Chamlong: We'll talk...but only on these conditions

On the surface, Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang, a core leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy, seems to have taken a softer position. He has opposed any negotiations with the government all along. Today, he gave the first indication that PAD may be ready to sit down for the first round of serious negotiations.

But several conditions will have to be first met: First of all, PAD, he says, will only talk to the government and no third or fourth parties will be involved. Secondly, a "middle man" who can be trusted by both sides will have to moderate the talks. No time frame is given. No agenda is proposed.

But hold on, before you think Chamlong has really taken a sofer stand, listen to what he added on to his list of conditions for talks: Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat will have to quit as part of the deal.

That's a tough stand. But then, PAD has denounced Somchai as Thaksin's "true nominee" from Day One. So, that final but unnegotiable condition isn't anything new anyway.

Do I think the PAD-government talks will actually happen? Not for now, I am afraid. Both sides are going through the motions of wanting to appear flexible but deep down, neither is ready to step back from their current positions.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Split right down the middle

Thaksin Shinnawatr's "phone-in" show on Saturday didn't help bridge the widening gap between the red-yellow warring parties. On the contrary, things got worse because Thaksin was talking mostly about his personal problems, and not the nation's dangerous, deteriorating sense of national harmony.

A leading academic trying to propose a peaceful, third way out, had this to say to underline how hopeless the situation is when we talked over a cup of tea yesterday:

"I am afraid nobody is listening to anyone. The country is split right down the middle. No one knows what is right or wrong anymore. Right is wrong and wrong is right. If this goes on, I am afraid it will end up with people killing one another. Must there be more bloodshed before we can find a so-called neutral person to step in to end the confrontation? In fact, is there such a "neutral" person around?

I am desperately looking for that little ray of light at the end of this dark, dark tunnel.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thaksin's thinly-veiled plan to seek amnesty

The Thaksin's "Phone-In Show" last night had one
obvious aim: to seek enough sympathy from the crowd
to ask for a public request for royal amnesty from
the two-year imprisonment term handed down last week
by the Supreme Court for Political Office Holders.

But is it legally permissible? Premier Somchai Wongsawat,
Thaksin's brother-in-law, said he won't be proposing
the amnesty for the ex-premier. "Besides, only the affected
person can submit such a request."

Government spokesman Nattawut Saikua said Thaksin won't
be seeking amnesty anyway.

National Insitute of Development Administration (NIDA)
Rector Sombat Thamrongthanyawong said a convict can only
seek a reduced jail term when he has started serving
the prison term, not before.

"Or else, pressure could be applied to the government to
initiate a bill to seek amnesty. But then, it's against
the constitution to take such action for any one person,"
he said.

Thaksin's revealing statement that sparked this line of
speculation was: "Only through royal kindness or people
power can I return to Thailand again."

To my mind, the more tell-tale statement was when Thaksin
kicked off his ten-minute phone-in (from Hong Kong) with
this seemingly innocent question to the estimated 50,000-strong

"Do you miss me?"

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Red rally, yellow rally

As I write this at around 8.00 pm, the "Red" rally at the Rajamangla Stadium (capacity 49,000 seats) is in full swing. The "Yellow" rally at Government House is also gathering momentum. Thaksin Shinnawatr, believed to have flown from London to Hong Kong yesterday, was supposed to make his "phone-in" at 8.00 pm. But the organizers just said that would be postponed until 10.30 pm.

No reason was given for the delay. Originally, Thaksin was to call in "live." But later reports suggested that he had decided to tape it in advance -- and it would be a 8-minute clip instead of the earlier scheduled 20-minute live talk.

The pro-government Red speakers (United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship or UDD)were apparently encouraged by the big turnout. They called for the ouster of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) from Government House and the shutdown of ASTV, which has served as PAD's mouthpiece.

The huge poster at the stadium declares: "We fight against coup..."

The anti-government Yellow movement leaders, boosted by a much bigger turnout than any other of the past 160 days of the occupation of Government House compound, declared repeatedly: "The Red gathering is not our competitor....they are just Thaksin's lackeys."

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat told reporters this morning that he was "concerned" about the rising tension the new confrontation could bring about.

Military leaders say they are on alert to prevent any possible clashes between the Red and Yellow members.

I expect no clash tonight but that doesn't mean the PAD and UDD won't raise their stakes in the next few days to step up their respective bargaining powers. No solution is in sight.