To sack or not to sack national police chief


It will be crucial for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to decide this week whether to remove national police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwan.

Reports of a decision to axe Patcharawat intensified last week, when deputy national police chief Thani Somboonsap reported to Abhisit about his investigation into the shooting of People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Sondhi Limthongkul.

Thani told Abhisit he was facing big obstacles which blocked the probe from further progress.

Abhisit’s insistance yesterday he wanted the case to go ahead signalled Patcharawat’s likely removal, although Abhisit said he would discuss it further with Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban.

The PAD, in reluctant alliance with the Democrat government, believes powerful people among police and the military were part of the Sondhi assassination plot.

In the meantime, the case remains under Suthep who’s in charge of national security as well as the Royal Thai Police. He has protected Patcharawat by saying he was not aware of any plans to remove the national police chief – and last week joined Patcharawat and his brother, Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan – on a visit to the South.

That would be in addition to the serious disciplinary charge recommended against him by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the source said.

The NACC resolved to charge three more people in connection with the October 7 incident,NACC member Wicha Mahakhun said.

The police crackdown on yellow-shirted protesters, who attempted to prevent then-prime minister Somchai Wongsawat from delivering his policy statement at Parliament, left two people dead and more than a hundred injured.

Any action presents a hard choice for Abhisit.

Patcharawat was appointed national police chief in the Samak Sundaravej government. He was removed by the succeeding PM Somchai Wongsawat for failing to stop the rallies of the Sondhi-led People’s Alliance for Democracy, the yellow shirts, which led to the airport seizures.

Patcharawat, like Thani, is scheduled to retire in September. Therefore, Abhisit must decide whether to proceed with the case or to support Suthep – which would stop the investigation just where it is.

However, if Abhisit decides to remove Patcharawat, the result would be like a row of collapsing dominoes. Besides hurting the images of police and the military, Patcharawat’s removal would hurt relations with Defence Minister Prawit – who is highly respected by Army chief General Anupong Paochinda.

The decision would also be a slap in the face of Suthep who is the “government manager” and link to all factions during the government’s formation. And Suthep would not leave alone. Bhum Jai Thai Party de facto leader Newin Chidchob would go with him.

Departure of the coalition party would certainly hurt the government’s number of seats in the House, leaving the Democrats with no choice but to lead a minority government.

Pressure for the removal of Patcharawat, as well as Anupong, arose from security’s failure to prevent the chaos in Pattaya and Bangkok during the anti-government red-shirts’ rally in April, which ruined the Asean Summit and threatened Abhisit’s life. Sondhi’s case followed soon after – but Abhisit did not remove the top brass.

Now, as fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his red shirt supporters intensify their activities, Abhisit is required again to make an important decision.



Thanong Khanthong

The Nation Weblog / Published on July 28, 2009


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