Thursday, September 21, 2006

Why the Coup d'Etat?

Today troops surronded the office towers housing companies owned by deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin according to the Bangkok Post. The Thai King has issued a statement supporting the junta(Bangkok Post).

So why the coup d'etat? The White House and the Australian goverment say the coup was a drastic and unneccesary step.

Singapore isn't very pleased about it either.

No wonder: Perhaps the coup d'etat will lead to a review of the recent sale of a Thai telecom firm owned by deposed Prime Minister Thaksin. He sold it to the Singapore giant Temasek. Exploiting a legal loophole, the PM paid no tax when he sold his company, infuriating the Thai middle class. This was the move that pushed many moderate Bangkok residents off the sidelines: corruption had gone too far. Thaksin tried to go on the offensive at that point -- January and February -- by calling a sudden election. The results of the March election (which the PM won) were annulled by the election commission, citing irregularities by the PM's Thai Rak Thai Party. (The opposition parties boycotted the election, instigating mass street protests in Bangkok).

Next week the new airport will open -- Thaksin's mega project. Apparently a Thai massage parlor was a major beneficiary of goverment contracts. Businessmen have told me that as much as 1/3 of the $4 billion cost of the airport represented kickbacks to friends of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin.

Thaksin was to have stood for re-election this October. However, the anti-Thaksin movement probably realized Thaksin would win if another election were held in October. Thaksin has the support of many rural Thais (Only 12 million of Thailand's population of 60 million live in the capital). It's Bangkok's middle class that had no stomach for Thaksin's corrupt practices, not to mention his brash nepotism (he recently started filling Thai army posts with family members).

The Bangkok elite accuses Thaksin's Thai-Rak-Thai party of buying-off the rural voters. "Vote-buying" is a phrase that comes up in talking with Bangkok residents.

Looks as though Thaksin will be living in exile in London for a while. I guess he'll have to buy some new clothes, but as Thailand's richest man, he can afford to go shopping.

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