Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Rumors there will be a Second Coup d'Etat in Thailand

The Thai-language newspaper Manager is apparently carrying a report that rumors are presently cirulating in the Thai capital that there will be another coup d'etat in Bangkok tonight. Earlier, The Nation had repored "Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin Monday ruled out the second coup, saying none in the army would stage it." Writing in the Asia Times, Shawn Crispin provided an interpretation of events that is most helpful if one is to make sense of this kind of rumor:
Significantly, the bombings come against the backdrop of rising tensions between military officials attached to the CNS, led by coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratklin, and the interim civilian-led administration it later appointed, led by Surayud, a former army commander and close advisor to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. While Sonthi has dictated personnel decisions, the methodical Surayud has maintained a firm grip on policy and processes. Behind the scenes, Surayud has come under growing fire from certain coup makers for not moving fast enough in prosecuting Thaksin on corruption charges, one of the military junta's four stated motivations for launching the coup, seizing power and suspending the progressive 1997 constitution.

The disgruntled coup makers have been particularly critical of appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula, who served as central bank governor under Thaksin's government and has complicated a probe into a dodgy Bangkok land deal by the ousted premier's wife, Pojamarn Shinawatra, which his central bank legally endorsed.

So far Surayud has allowed investigations into Thaksin's and his political associates' alleged wrongdoings to take a slow but arguably sound legal course, apparently towards the broader reform aim of restoring judicial integrity and independence after years of political meddling under Thaksin. Yet the slow pace and so far inconclusive results of the various corruption investigations have been widely criticized in the Thai media, with some commentators starting to dare whether the coup that popularly ousted Thaksin was ever justified....

Whoever was responsible, the bombings will no doubt provide powerful new ammunition to CNS elements already skeptical of Surayud's stewardship and will no doubt give rise to new complaints that the former army commander has not done enough to guard against a possible rearguard action among Thaksin's alienated supporters inside the military. Significantly, CNS leader Sonthi was traveling in Saudi Arabia on New Year's Eve and cut his trip short to tend to the damage.

Despite its heavy-handed administration, the CNS still fears the prospect of Thaksin's many rural supporters converging on Bangkok under a pro-democracy banner and mounting large-scale protests against the coup leaders, which, by their own laws, they would be legally required to crack down on.

The New Year's Eve bombings will also provide strong new justification for the establishment of the CNS's 14,000-strong "Special Operations Force", a new secretive security force comprised of army and police officials aimed nominally at maintaining peace, law and order across the country, but which critics fear will be mobilized to ferret out and crush political dissent against military rule. Notably, the 556 million baht (US$15.3 million) earmarked last week by the cabinet for the controversial new security force came under strong media criticism just days before the bombings.
Crispin concludes: "What is clear from the outset is that elements inside the Thai military itself had as much - if not more – political motivation than other potential actors for launching the crude and deadly attacks." (hat-tip Bangkok Pundit)

Other Breaking News from Bangkok from late this afternoon:

The Nation recently reported that "A bomb-like object was detected inside the Major Cineplex Building, Rajayothin branch at 5:30 pm. Bomb disposal police were checking the object."

There was much speculation in Bangkok that renegade police officers might be behind the bombings. Further bomb attacks are feared likely.

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