Saturday, August 15, 2009

Living with ‘time bombs’

Thai Takes

IT IS business as usual for Jirayu Tulyanond, a staff member of the Thai Finance Minister, on Monday.

He has several tasks on his to-do list that include planning for Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij’s visit to Thailand’s north-east, attending a meeting on land and property tax, strategising the launch of Thai Khem Kaeng (Thailand – invest for strength) – a 1.5 trillion baht (RM155bil) programme to create two million jobs in three years.

Not on Jirayu’s to-do list, however, is fret over speculation that something big (perhaps a riot or a coup) will erupt in Bangkok on Aug 17.

According to The Nation editor-in-chief Suthichai Yoon in his blog, “several po-litical time-bombs are ready to explode in the next week or so – some of which could be defused by (Prime Minister) Abhisit (Vejjajiva), but there are others that could spin out of control”.

And Suthichai listed three “time bombs”.

On Monday, the Red Shirts will file a petition with five million signatures to seek royal pardon for self-exiled Thaksin Shinawatra who had been convicted of corruption.

The Nation editorialised that the event is designed to repeat the Red Shirts’ attempt at a People’s Revolution on Songkran Day of April 13, 2009.

“One that day, however, they failed to ignite violence on the streets to the point that would allow a military intervention. The blue camp (aligned to Newin Chidchob) was subdued.”

The editorial continued: “Subsequently, the red-shirted protesters were quashed from the streets. Now they are re-grouping and planning another attack or another attempt at the People’s Revolution for the benefit of one individual.”

On Monday too, the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions will rule in the 1.44 billion baht (RM149mil) rubber saplings corruption case involving 44 defendants who were former ministers and senior officials in Thaksin’s government.

One of them is Newin, a Thaksin loyalist who betrayed his boss when he formed Bhum Jai Thai Party to enable Abhisit to cobble up a seven-party coalition government in December last year.

Newin recently denied an allegation that the Bhum Jai Thai Party launched a campaign by collecting millions of signatures to oppose the Red Shirt’s royal petition in an attempt to influence the court in the rubber saplings corruption case.

If Newin was found not guilty, doomsayers predict that the Red Shirts and the Blue Shirts would clash on Monday.

Suthichai’s third “time bomb” is the unfinished affair related to Thai national police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwan. Sondhi Limthongkul, the co-leader of the Yellow Shirts, alleged that Patcharawat had obstructed investigation into the assassination attempt on Sondhi.

Subsequently, Abhisit ordered the police chief (who will be retiring in September) to go for a holiday in China and the prime minister appointed Wichien Pojphosri as the acting police chief.

On Aug 8, Patcharawat suddenly returned from his Chinese holiday and reclaimed his post. Then Abhisit announced that Patcharawat was re-assigned to the Thailand’s restive southern provinces for a mission and Wichien was reappointed acting police chief.

The snub to Patcharawat, conspiracy theorists believe, might lead to a volatile situation as the police chief’s older brother, Prawit, is the Defence Minister. They speculate that the two brothers (and other politicians and men in uniform) might conspire to bring down Abhisit’s coalition government.

I asked Jirayu why he was unfettered about speculations of a coup or a riot on Monday.

“Life goes on for the policy-makers. The petition is another attempt by Thaksin to drum up interest and excitement for his case,” he explained.

Monday, according to Jirayu, would be a non-event just like the promised “big surprise” announcement on Thaksin’s recent birthday. “The big surprise was him opening Twitter and Facebook accounts,” he said.

“From my perspective, the government is seven and a half months in power. It still has the support of its coalition partners and important segments of society such as the bureaucracy, business community and military.”

In a posting titled Mark Your Calendars, Mr Wrigley, an anonymous blogger covering Thai politics and economy in, on Thursday wrote: “August 17th – Petition and Newin Verdict. Could be something or nothing.”

Although Mr Wrigley was more inclined to “nothing”, he cautioned: “It’s Thailand, so always keep you umbrella open for the rain”.

(Published in The Star on August 15, 2009)