Fri, May 19, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Thai military chief seeking audience with King Bhumibol

AP , BANGKOK

Thailand's army commander has requested a meeting with the king to ease the influential monarch's concern over a political crisis that has left the government in limbo, a state-run radio station reported yesterday.

Earlier this week, General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin sought to allay fears of a coup by reaffirming the army would not interfere in the crisis and warning military supporters of outgoing Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to stay clear of politics.

"The situation in the country is a cause of great suffering for His Majesty," Sondhi said. "If there is anything I and the army can do for the country, I am ready to do it because I am a soldier under the king."

After months of silence, King Bhumibol Adulyadej stepped into the political arena last month, saying the country was in a "mess" as a result of undemocratic elections and urged the country's top courts to resolve the impasse.

"I would like to stress that the army will not stage a coup because a coup would destroy the democratic system. What the army can do now is educate the public by making the majority of the people understand real democracy," said Sondhi, who is known to enjoy close ties with the king.

The military, mostly led by the army, has staged 17 coups since 1932 during the country's difficult transition from absolute monarchy to a parliamentary system. The last coup was in 1991 when the military toppled the government of prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan.

This time, the military held back as anti-Thaksin demonstrators took to the streets, accusing the prime minister of corruption, cronyism and abuse of power.

The key anti-government group, the People's Alliance for Democracy, plans another demonstration on Monday to urge the Election Commission to resign for mishandling last month's general election.

The poll effectively returned Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party to power but led to a political stalemate that blocked a new government from being formed.

Opposition parties boycotted the April 2 snap polls, prompting a landslide electoral victory for Thai Rak Thai. But in some constituencies where Thai Rak Thai candidates ran unopposed, parliamentary seats remained empty making it impossible for parliament to convene and form a new government.

Bhumibol publicly chastised the top courts for failing to find a solution to the deadlock, prompting the Constitutional Court to rule the polls unconstitutional and annul them.

The Supreme, Administrative and Constitutional courts have since urged members of the Election Commission to step down for mishandling the election, as have other critics who claim the commissioners are government pawns.

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