Thailand’s generals warn of a coup as tensions intensify

PROTESTS:The People’s Alliance for Democracy is attempting to replicate its campaign in 2006, which helped lead to the government’s downfall


Fri, May 30, 2008 - Page 5

Thailand’s powerful military has indicated that it might stage a coup as tensions mounted over a controversial minister and anti-government groups planned a major street protest.

Rumors of a coup have circulated in the Thai capital in recent days as the army and opposition parties escalated their attacks on Jakrapob Penkair, a minister attached to the prime minister’s office accused of insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The military has strong loyalties to the palace and has in the past also used alleged attacks against the monarchy as a pretext to seize power in some of Thailand’s perennial coups.

Supreme Military Commander General Boonsang Niempradit told reporters yesterday that “no soldier wants to stage a coup to topple the government but I cannot guarantee that there will be no more coup.”

Just five months have passed since elections in Thailand brought an end to more than a year of military rule, but already anti-government rallies are filling the streets, raising fears of further political instability.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has so far gathered crowds of up to 8,000, but the group is attempting to mount protests similar to its campaign in early 2006, which eventually helped lead to the toppling of the government.

The protesters have since Sunday barricaded a section of a major avenue in the historic district, demanding that Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej stop trying to amend the country’s new Constitution.

The current charter was drafted by a panel named by royalist generals who staged the 2006 coup against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Samak’s drive to amend the charter has proved deeply divisive among Thailand’s political elite. He had originally proposed amending only a few key clauses, notably the articles allowing courts to dissolve political parties over election fraud.

But his People Power Party (PPP) now says it would rewrite almost everything except the preamble.

The PAD is calling for a large rally tonight, but it is unclear whether it will lure enough protesters to achieve its stated aim of toppling the government.

“If it’s less than 10,000 then it has a nagging significance. If it’s a high five digits or six digits then you’re talking about a critical mass,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, head of international security studies at Chulalongkorn University.