Thailand remains split as verdict looms on ex-PMs assets – RTÉ World Report

Thailand is divided between Redshirt supports of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecoms billionaire who briefly owned Manchester City, and Yellowshirts, who claim that Thaksin is a threat to country’s revered monarchy.

This has all fed into a new round of military coups rumours. These are nothing new to Thailand, which has endured 18, some unsuccessful since absolute monarchy was ended in 1932.

Thaksin was deposed by the last coup, in 2006, and now is plotting a return to Thailand from exile. The current government is largely backed by the army, and opposes Thaksin. But is unstable, as it depends on a number of former Thaksin supporters for its narrow majority.

Adding to the volatile mix is the Kings health, with the octogenarian monarch in hospital late last year. Criticising the Thai royals can incur hefty jail time, with one of the world’s harshest lese-majeste laws in place. The Thai media and political establishment steers clear of this, and Thaksin tempers his attacks on Royalist politicians with claims that he reveres the King like all good Thais should.

Some in the government want the country’s constitiution revised, saying that it was imposed by the army after 2006. It is thought that the government could fall, if the constitution is not changed. And while Thaksin cannot return yet, as he faces corruption charges, it is thought his supporters would win an election. If that happened, they would try to change the law to allow Thaksin to return.

However, all this could change in coming weeks. On February 26, the High Court will rule on whether to confiscate worth of Thaksin’s assets, which are currently frozen, amid allegations of irregularities in telecoms contracts.

In the run-up, Redhsirts have vowed to take to the streets, in another round of seemingly endless protests. Late in 2008, Yellowshirt opponents of Thaksin blockaded the country’s main airports, stranding hundreds of thousands of tourists, and denting the tourist-friendly image the country thrives on, just as the global economic crisis was hitting hardest.

Some of the coup rumours speculate that the Army wants to pre-empt these protests, if they get out of hand. While the military has a dominant behind the scenes role in Thailand, it does not want to be seen cracking down violently on protestors, so would rather nip this in the bud.

Thats one view. Another holds that if wants to forestall the collapse of the government to prevent the constitution being amended, and to prevent the likely Thaksin victory in any elections.

The acting government spokesperson told journalists on Friday that he does not see any need for the security forces to use emergency powers, but added that the authorities are keeping their options open.

It raises questions about the rule of law in a country that depends on open markets and foreign investment, as well as tourism.

At a seminar discussing Thailand internal security laws on Friday, a well-known politics lecturer lamented that “in Thailand, law is about the exercise of power, not the exercise of justice.”

Later on Friday, I spoke with some Thais praying at the landmark Erawan Shrine in downtown Bangkok. Separately they acknowledged that they were on different sides of the Red-Yellow divide, but one, a twenty-something marketing executive named Kung, said that she was really part of a less-vocal middle ground that does not stick so closely to either side. We have no Orange shirts in Thailand, she joked.

But the divide is there nonetheless, and permeates the army as well. However its unclear what will happen in coming weeks and months, with coup plots, elections, more protests and a perhaps a royal succession all on the cards.

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