Constitution at centre of Thailand battle

Even by the standards of Thailand's untouchable elite, it was considered bad form.

Constitution at centre of Thailand battle
A decorated policeman was shot dead in a Bangkok bar in 2001 after a fracas with the son of a top politician. The next day, the son, a military officer, went AWOL before surrendering six months later to the Thai embassy in Malaysia on a murder charge.

Then, two years later, he was acquitted due to a lack of evidence since nobody in the bar at the time will testify.

Four years on, and Duangchalerm Yubamrung is back in the headlines in the Southeast Asian nation having been reinstated this week as an army sub-lieutenant.

The fact his father, Chalerm Yubamrung, is Interior Minister has nothing to do with it, he insists.

Whatever the reason, the episode is causing uproar because it is seen as a return of the arrogance that typified the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecoms billionaire ousted in a 2006 coup after months of protests by Bangkok's middle classes.

Although the coup ultimately failed in its mission -- the administration that came to power after a December election is stuffed with Thaksin acolytes -- many Thais hoped it might have curbed some of the more outrageous excesses of his ruling inner circle.

The Duangchalerm saga suggests otherwise.

Analysts say that if it carries on in this vein, especially with regard to a quest to rewrite the army-drafted constitution, it risks inflaming public anger to point of rekindling the protests that preceded the coup.

"If the government arrogantly thinks it can do whatever it wants to benefit its cronies just because it has a majority in parliament, people will be agitated and start hitting the street again," political analyst Prayad Hongtongkhum said.

Battle rages on

Even though the chances of another coup are remote given the mess the army made of running the country after 2006, the struggle for control of Thailand rages on between the royalist establishment and the brash, modernising forces of Thaksinism.

The constitution is now the main battleground.

The sole opposition party and allies of the ex-coup leaders accuse the six-party coalition government of trying to whitewash itself by changing the charter, which is threatening three parties with possible dissolution for poll fraud.

The Election Commission accuses senior members of the People Power Party (PPP), led by fiery TV chef Samak Sundaravej, and two of its junior partners of vote buying in the December election -- charges that could see the entire parties disbanded.

To the PPP, however, such catch-all clauses in the constitution are a "Sword of Damocles" crafted by the military to keep any elected government in check. As such, they must go.

"To them, the charter is tantamount to constitutional coercion imposed posthumously by the military junta," said political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

With any court ruling on the electoral fraud charges months, if not years, away, the shadow-boxing and brinkmanship over the constitution look set rumble on, although pollsters say that alone will not be enough to trigger any government collapse.

"People in general still have a good feeling toward the Samak government, which has been talking about pay rises for civil servants, labourers and plans to fight expensive oil prices," Rajabhat Dusit University chief pollster Sukhum Chaleysub said.

"Only when people feel the government isn't doing enough for them or doesn't care about their survival could the constitution be the trigger point to get people onto the street," he said.

Reuters
Last Mod: 27 Nisan 2008, 13:38
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