Thailand Premier Thaksin Faces His Biggest Protest

Thailand Premier Thaksin Faces His Biggest Protest
Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) — A year after winning Thailand’s most decisive election victory in decades, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra faces increasing dissent, falling popularity and the largest anti-government demonstrations since he came to power.

As many as 100,000 protesters will gather in central Bangkok tomorrow in a rally that prompted the U.S. and British embassies to warn their citizens to stay away from the area.

Thailand Premier Thaksin Faces His Biggest Protest
Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) — A year after winning Thailand’s most decisive election victory in decades, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra faces increasing dissent, falling popularity and the largest anti-government demonstrations since he came to power.

As many as 100,000 protesters will gather in central Bangkok tomorrow in a rally that prompted the U.S. and British embassies to warn their citizens to stay away from the area.

Critics of the 56-year-old billionaire premier are angered by a share sale that earned his family a tax-free $1.9 billion last month. They also oppose plans to place public school teachers under the authority of local administrators and to sell shares in public utilities. Confidence in the government last month fell to its lowest in 10 months, a university poll found.

“It’s a major political miscalculation on his part,” said Chris Baker, author of “Thaksin: The Business Of Politics In Thailand.” “He’s going to be pursued by people on this.”

Tomorrow, as many as 3,000 Thai police will be deployed to maintain public order, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement e- mailed to Americans living in the capital. Groups critical of protest organizer and government critic Sondhi Limthongkul may confront demonstrators, the e-mail said.

Thaksin, whose three-quarter majority was the most decisive election victory since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, is also battling slowing economic growth. The economy expanded an estimated 4.5 percent in 2005, according to the central bank, down from 6.2 percent a year earlier, because of rising fuel costs, drought and the December 2004 tsunami. It may grow as little as 4.75 percent in 2006, the bank said Jan. 30.

Confidence Slumps

Confidence in the government fell to 97.63 points in January from 99.99 in December, Suan Dusit Rajabhat University said on its Web site. That slump is damping investor confidence and threatens to crimp a rally that drove the nation’s benchmark stock index up as much as 14 percent in the past three months. The SET rose 0.3 percent to 746.54 at the midday trading break after losing as much as 1 percent earlier. For the week, it has lost 1.9 percent, set for its second weekly decline in three.

“The market is dominated by local investors and local investors tend to worry about political matters,” said Lance Depew, who helps manage about $250 million for a hedge fund at Quest Capital Ltd. in Bangkok.

The Thai baht, which had risen 4.5 percent against the dollar in 2006, is set for its first weekly loss in five. It was down 0.08 percent to 39.4 at 12:40 p.m. in Bangkok.

Minister Quits

Adding to Thaksin’s problems, Culture Minister Uraiwan Thienthong today announced she had quit, citing “political ethics,” Thai News Agency reported. Uraiwan’s husband is Snoh Thienthong, leader of a faction of the ruling Thai Rak Thai Party who has criticized the premier for his leadership style.

Thaksin, who has led Thailand since 2001, is hitting back at critics. “I’m not worried,” he said this week. “We can’t just do everything that a minority is asking for as the majority is still expecting us to work for them.”

Criticism of the government increased last month when Thaksin’s family, named Thailand’s fourth-richest by Forbes magazine in 2005, sold its 49.6 percent stake in Shin Corp., which controls Advanced Info Service Pcl, Thailand’s biggest mobile phone operator, its sole satellite operator, a television network and a half share in budget airline Thai AirAsia.

The sale, to Temasek Holdings Pte, a Singapore government investment agency, was Thailand’s biggest corporate takeover and netted the family 73.3 billion baht ($1.9 billion) — exempt from capital gains tax because the transaction went through the Thai stock exchange.

Wrongdoing Denied

The stake was sold “so there won’t be criticism of conflicts of interest,” Thaksin told reporters last month.

The Thaksin family has denied any wrongdoing, acknowledging only that they incorrectly filled out a form on one transaction.

Protest organizer Sondhi, co-host of talk show “Thailand This Week,” which was banned from state television in September, has taken criticism of Thaksin and his cabinet into Bangkok’s parks and streets with rallies and marches since November. The rally tomorrow is near a statue of King Rama V, on the same road as Sanam Luang, site of past protests including a 1976 military crackdown on a student rally that left dozens dead or wounded.

Mass protests have altered Thai politics on three occasions in recent history. In May 1992, General Suchinda Kraprayoon, who was a leader of a military coup a year earlier, had to quit as prime minister after King Bhumibol Adulyadej stepped in to stop violence that saw soldiers kill at least 43 people when they opened fire on demonstrators who requested Suchinda’s departure.

In October 1976, a period of democracy started three years earlier ended brutally when troops and militias cracked down on students gathered at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. And in October 1973, Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, a military dictator, was ousted in a popular revolt after soldiers shot at protesters. That violence killed at least 77 and left hundreds wounded.

Former Thaksin ally Sondhi drew parallels between his campaign against the premier and these earlier clashes on his Web site in December. Today, Thaksin asked his supporters to stay at home tomorrow to avoid any violence.

1 Comment so far

  1. Michael (unregistered) on February 28th, 2006 @ 4:47 am

    However people feel about what might happen with Thaksin, I think we can agree that the political situation here is pretty damn exciting. So, we should all be pretty pissed when Ms Gloria Arroyo over in the Philippines tries to steal the spotlight.

    Thaksin dissolved parliament, but Arroyo will always upstage him by declaring a National Emergency, affecting Marshal Law, court marshaling her military, infiltrating her own party, shutting down the country’s independent newspapers and even attacking her OWN army to try and prevent a 3rd coup in…what, just 4 years?

    Ms. Aroyyo, can’t Thaksin have a little bit of fun?

    …This is why Thaksin and Thailand are getting no international press coverage outside the region. The Times in London and New York are busy reporting on Arroryo’s own circus.



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