Nov 27, 2008

World - Thailand;Somchai rejects Army chief’s call for polls

P. S. Suryanarayana

Not putting pressure on Premier: Gen. Anupong

Dissolution of Parliament and an election proposed

Protesters: Somchai is Thaksin’s proxy

SINGAPORE: Thailand plunged into political uncertainty on Wednesday, as anti-government protesters continued their siege at Bangkok international airport, even as Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, rejected Army Chief Anupong Paochinda’s proposal of a crisis-busting general election.

Returning home after an overseas visit, Mr. Somchai, the man at the centre of the spiralling political crisis, said in a late-night TV address that his government was legitimately elected by the people themselves. There was, therefore, no need for a fresh election now, he said.

Earlier, General Anupong said, in televised comments, he was “not” really seeking to “pressure” Mr. Somchai out of office. Dissolution of the House of Representatives and a follow-up election were being proposed as only a matter of advice, so that the people could help resolve the crisis, he said. Calling for an end to the PDA’s protest as well, he said the suggestions were based on his consultations with civil servants and independent opinion-makers.

Airport pandemonium

Thousands of protesters, grouped as People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), had earlier taken complete control of the state-of-the-art Suvarnabhumi Airport after storming it on Tuesday night. According to observers at the scene, there was little or no attempt by the security agencies to prevent the airport take-over, even as brief scuffles between the protesters, some of them armed, and aviation officials occurred.

Shortly after the siege, authorities started announcing flight cancellations; and all operations at the airport were completely suspended on Wednesday, with the PAD activists occupying the air-traffic control tower as well. And, an ordeal began for the stranded international passengers.

With help from Thai authorities, Air India diverted its regular flights to an airport near Pattaya. And, it turned out to be a smooth ad hoc arrangement, with the passengers acknowledging the extraordinary situation. It was not clear how long this alternative would have to be continued, according to airline officials.

The prolonged campaign by the Thai protesters, grouped as People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), is driven by allegations that Mr. Somchai is the political “proxy” of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in the 2006 military coup. Recently convicted and sentenced to jail, Mr. Thaksin jumped bail while on a foreign tour and remains a “fugitive” abroad. He had won a massive popular mandate before being toppled at the crest of a protest wave against his “political excesses.” Mr. Somchai, in contrast, heads a coalition that came to power in the wake of the election the coup masters held about a year ago to “restore democracy.”

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