Crisis is defused for now

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Political trouble was avoided yesterday, but fuses are sure to be re-lit in the coming weeks

It was a stormy Monday, with a big downpour from the heavens. But the political undercurrents were even more spectacular. The red-shirted supporters of ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra made their way to the Grand Palace to submit a petition for royal clemency on his behalf.

Their original schedule was to submit the petition on August 7. But when they realised the Supreme Court’s Division for Political Office Holders would be reading out a verdict on the rubber sapling case on August 17, they decided to delay their march to the same date.

Newin Chidchob, leader of the Bhumjai Thai Party, is among 43 defendants in the rubber sapling case. Most people believed the court would find them guilty of corruption. So the timing of both events was manipulated by protesters in the hope of causing another explosive political event.

Fortunately, nothing has happened – as yet.

We saw around 30,000 red shirts making their presence felt at Sanam Luang, in front of the Grand Palace. They came in full force with 500 boxes containing the petition document and the signatures of some three million people. From Dubai, Thaksin phoned in to talk to his supporters and to thank them. Once again he wrote his own script to mix appearance and reality. He told his crowd that he was loyal to the monarchy, and once again we heard that he has been the victim of injustice because his enemies would like to destroy him.

The political symbols were played out to the extreme, with his supporters wearing red, carrying red boxes and assuming a revolutionary stance.

When the red shirts learned the court would delay the reading of the verdict on the rubber sapling case to 2pm, they also delayed their plan to submit the petition from the morning to the same time in the afternoon. Veera Musigapong, one of the core leaders of the red shirts, led Thaksin’s supporters to the Wiset Chaisri of the Grand Palace to hand in the petition.

A representative of the Office of the Private Secretary of His Majesty the King came out to accept the petition.

As is the usual protocol, the Office of the Private Secretary of His Majesty the King does not comment on this kind of matter. It will pass the petition to the Abhisit government for vetting before it decides whether or not to take up the petition for deliberation.

The whole petition procedure is flawed from the outset.

 First, Thaksin has to respect Thai law before he attempts to seek clemency. Second, his family members must seek royal clemency for him – not his hired servants. It appears that none of his family members have signed the petition. Third, the petition should be submitted in a low-key manner rather than in an atmosphere of political intimidation.

So the petition procedure can only be looked upon as a ploy for something big to happen, to coincide with the Supreme Court’s verdict that would terribly upset Newin and his blue-shirted supporters, who also went over to Sanam Luang to give him a morale boost.

In the midst of the outcome of the verdict, the blue-shirted mob could have got angry. Then the red shirts could also have become irate. But the crisis was defused.

Adisai Bhodaramik, a former commerce minister and one of the sapling case defendants, could not show up at the courtroom to listen to the verdict. His lawyer informed the court right before the reading of the verdict that Adisai was sick and still in the US. All other defendants were present, except Adisai. By law, the Supreme Court could not read out the verdict if all the defendants were not present. The verdict reading has to be delayed now for a month until September 21.

The judges, however, did not buy Adisai’s excuse. They issued an arrest warrant on him. Next time, the Supreme Court will go ahead and read the verdict without any distractions or excuses from defendants.

There is a high possibility that Newin and the other defendants will be found guilty by the court. If that were to be the case, the Thai political landscape would be drastically altered. The chances of Thaksin’s return to Thailand would be even dimmer, unless he was willing to serve his time.

Since the Supreme Court announced a delay in the verdict reading, there was no reason for the blue shirts to create any problems. Nor was there any excuse for the red shirts to rock the boat further. Without either group creating turmoil, there was no justification for any military intervention.

The steam from a boiling kettle was released. Another stormy episode has passed. But what’s next in store?

Thanong Khantong

Thai Talk, Published on August 18, 2009

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