CNS going flat out to finish off Thaksin
The Council for National Security is doing everything it can to finish off Thaksin Shinawatra before steering Thailand back to democracy, reports Somroutai Sapsomboon
The Council for National Security (CNS) is racing to finish off ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra once and for all. Only with the threat of Thaksin's political comeback completely removed will it steer Thailand back onto the democratic path.
Led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the CNS is adopting a four-pronged strategy to destroy Thaksin and his regime. The coup was just the beginning.
First, the CNS will hammer away at Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party until it becomes a coffin.
The latest blow to it is the exit of one of its key players, Suwat Liptapanlop. Suwat, who controls Nakhon Ratchasima, the gateway to the Northeast, Thaksin's stronghold, reportedly held talks with key CNS members before leading his faction out of Thai Rak Thai.
Yesterday he used his birthday party to announce he was leaving Thai Rak Thai and taking 29 former MPs, mostly from the Northeast, with him. He will ally himself with Pinij Charusombat and Preecha Laohaphongchana, creating a group with about 70 former MPs.
Suwat will have all 16 former MPs for Nakhon Ratchasima under his umbrella. Even die-hard Thaksin loyalist Suporn Atthawong is joining him.
With the exit of Suwat and the group surrounding Pinij and Preecha, Thai Rak Thai will be left with only 150 former MPs, 40 from the North, 80 from the Northeast and 30 from other regions.
Dismantling the Thai Rak Thai will also help ensure that the new constitution passes a national referendum, as the party's members could have rallied their former constituents to vote against it.
Thai Rak Thai is also facing a lawsuit over allegations that it committed electoral fraud in the botched election of April 2 last year. The Constitution Court is to hold the last hearing into this case on April 17, and the decision could come two months afterwards. If found guilty, the party will be dissolved.
It is possible, however, that even if the party is dissolved its former executives may be spared from being banned from political office for five years.
Suwat, formerly a Thai Rak Thai executive, may have received a signal that he would be spared, prompting him to leave the party.
Suwat is close to CNS secretary-general General Winai Phatiyakul. They both attended St Gabriel's College and are linked to General Arthit Kamlang-ek. Winai was once an aide to Arthit, while Suwat was secretary-general of the Puangchonchaothai Party, which Arthit led after he left the army.
It is possible that the court will not order the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai. The damage inflicted on the party has been so massive that it would be impossible for it to become the core of a new government. What's more, dissolving the party might provoke a backlash from its 14 million grass-roots members.
The second prong of the CNS's strategy is the permanent elimination of Thaksin from politics. To do this it is going after him with corruption scandals.
Progress is being made in the investigation into Thaksin and his family's assets. The purchase by Khunying Pojaman Shinawatra of land from the Financial Institution Development Fund may provide a convenient way of implicating Thaksin as he signed a document allowing his wife to make the transaction. It is illegal for public-office holders and their spouses to bid for state assets.
But the CNS also believes Thaksin is shooting himself in the foot with media interviews. In particular, his recent interview with Time magazine in which he tried to link the coup with the palace has damaged him.
Third, the new constitution may contain provisions that would effectively block Thaksin from returning to power. For example, it could bring an end to party-list MPs, a system that benefited Thai Rak Thai. It could also enshrine a new voting system to weaken the power of political parties by allowing constituencies to elect more than one MP.
Charan Pakdithanakul, head of the constitution-drafting sub-committee responsible for the clauses on political institutions, is also proposing that anyone convicted of a criminal offence, regardless of its severity, be banned from taking a ministerial post. As Thaksin will face several criminal charges, this could block him from returning to politics.
Fourth, if they run in the next election Thai Rak Thai candidates may face the kind of hurdles candidates from rival parties faced in previous elections: plenty of yellow and red cards.
Will this four-part strategy work? One way or another, the CNS must finish off Thaksin. If it does not, its members could face his wrath if he regains power.