Highlights of the Week

The political atmosphere is steadily heating up in the lead-up to the anti-government rally by the Pitak Siam group at the Royal Plaza on Nov 24-25, with the opposing sides stepping up their war of words and litigation and more outsiders joining the fray.

Gen Boonlert Keawprasit

 National police chief Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew, who was tasked by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra with handling the protest, alleged without providing any evidence that a group of businessmen had set up a  six billion baht fund to topple the government through the Pitak Siam protest.

The police chief also hinted that he might ask the government to invoke the Internal Security Act to cope with the planned protest, just in case it breaches the law. He also said that about 50,000 police would be mobilised to control the rally, but not all of them would be deployed instantly, just gradually as the situation warrants.

But not all the red-shirt leaders agreed with the police chief’s proposed use of the Internal Security Act. Pheu Thai list MP and United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) co-leader Korkaew Pikulthong said the use of the special law would paint the government in a negative light. He suggested the government waits until the protesters break the law and then invoke a special law.

Mr Korkaew also said it wouldbe wrong to overestimate the value and strength of the Pitak Siam leader, Gen  Boonlert Kaewprasit, whom he described as an old soldier who poses less threat than an active soldier.
If the government is scared of Gen Boonlert, then he should be arrested and charged with treason, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who looks after security affairs, charged that a political party, which he failed to name, was instrumental in mobilising people to join the Pitak Siam’s anti-government protest. He said Gen Boonlert’s actual followers are few in number should not pose any real threat to the government.

Gen Boonlert has made clear his desire to see the government forced out of office. He said that parliamentary politics should be “deep-frozen” for five years, during which time Thailand should  be administered by an appointed government comprising clean and honest people.

The retired general categorically denied the allegation that his Pitak Siam had received six billion baht from a business group to try to overthrow the government. He insisted that the rally on Nov  24-25 will be peaceful.

Democrat heavyweight Suthep Thaugsuban has challenged Mr Chalerm to explain just which  political party has been mobilising people to join the Pitak Siam protest. He said the Democrat Party would play by the rules of the game, which is parliamentary politics. The party would become involved in street politics only if the government tries to ram through the parliament the reconciliation bill or a new constitution.

Retired army chief Gen Chaisith Shinawatra and some of his classmates from the Chulachomklao military academy emerged publicly to slam Gen Boonlert and accuse him of inciting public rebellion against the government.

By design or by chance, the Pitak Siam rally will coincide with the Opposition’s censure debate targetting the prime minister and a few other cabinet ministers, which is scheduled for Nov 25-27, with the vote on Nov 28.

As a precaution against the possible scenario of protesters laying siege to the parliament during the censure debate, emergency escape ladders have been placed in the parliament compound to enable MPs to flee if the gates are blockaded.

And right in the middle of the heightening tension, Thailand will play host to two foreign VIP visitors. US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Thailand on Sunday and Monday, followed by an official visit by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Both leaders will be give an audience with His Majesty the King at Siriraj hospital.

The highlight of President Obama’s visit will be the negotiations between US and Thailand on the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, which has been seen as a US attempt to curb China’s influence in the region.

The Bank of Thailand, the banking community and several non-governmental organisations have warned the government to exercise caution and not jump quickly into signing the TPP agreement without first consulting the various parties most affected, because the agreement may impact on Thailand.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has faulted former education minister Chinnavorn Bunyakiat and his deputy, Ms Narisara Chavarntanpitak, and a few education officials of malfeasance in office in connection with the procurement of education equipment worth 5.3 billion baht under the Thai Khem Khaeng programme of the previous Democrat government.

The two former ministers and other implicated officials have been told present a clarification regarding the allegation at the DSI on Thursday. Mr Chinnavorn said he would assign a representative to explain on his behalf.

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About the author

columnist
Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor