Anti-Thaksin rally: Coalition gains momentum

The Nation, Bangkok, 12 February 2006

ANTI-THAKSIN RALLY: Coalition gains momentum

Pravit Rojanaphruk,

Pennapha Hongthong

The new Royal Plaza alliance of senators and civic groups has boosted the credibility of the movement to oust Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and produced an array of new issues from free trade to human rights violations and the plight of the rural poor

Yesterday’s rally drew about 50,000 people, who listened to a diverse range of speakers criticising the PM. Media firebrand Sondhi Limthongkul vowed to stick with the new alliance until Thaksin was ousted.

“I’m becoming more confident now that Thaksin has less than a month left in power,” said Chucheep Pangsapa, who joined the rally from Roi Et. “Today I heard much more information than I had ever known before, such as the impact of the FTA [Thai-US free-trade agreement]. Thaksin has done too many bad things to our country.”

At press time, the situation at the Royal Plaza remained tense as more than 1,000 police and security officers had gathered inside the nearby Dusit Zoo, standing by to ensure that the massive crowd dispersed after midnight.

A plainclothes policeman at the nearby Metropolitan Police Bureau was upset by the treatment of his boss, police chief Kowit Wattana, who was surrounded by protesters when he tried to enter the rally site, as well as the abuse and shouts of hatred against Thaksin, a former police officer.

“We should do it like Black May. Set up termination teams, put them on the back of pickup trucks and they can just press [the gun triggers],” he said, referring to the death squads sent out to liquidate or kill protesters after the clash in May 1992.

One of the new speakers who brought the crowd to life early in the evening was Senator Kraisak Choonhavan. “For six years I had no chance to speak [in the Senate] as they turned off the microphone [when I wanted to speak]. The system we’re living under is not a democratic system. Television [only] shows people giving flowers to the prime minister ... Enough is enough! As chair of the Senate’s House Committee on Foreign Affairs [I realise the government] has only one policy, and that is to allow foreign businesses to take over the country. I won’t accept this,” Kraisak said as the crowd cheered.

“In Chiang Mai, people [who oppose the FTA with the US] say the same as the crowd here. They say [Thaksin] ‘Get out’ and they don’t want the FTA.”

Ministers and core leaders of the Thai Rak Thai Party yesterday watched live broadcasts of the anti-Thaksin rally in their war room at the party’s headquarters.

They included Agriculture Minister Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, Labour Minister Somsak Thepsutin, PM’s Secretary Prommin Lertsuridej and PM’s Office Minister Newin Chidchob.

Somsak said Thai Rak Thai Party MPs would meet on Tuesday to discuss the political situation.

Thaksin meanwhile arrived back in Bangkok from a visit to the southern province of Yala at about 5pm. He did not give an interview.

At first Thaksin wanted to go to his party’s offices from the airport but he changed his mind en route to go directly to his residence. His motorcade then skirted around the rally so that Thaksin could see first-hand what was going on.

Early in the evening Sondhi picked up the microphone and roused the huge crowd, calling the prime minister “a very cunning demagogue”. He said the gesture to have a referendum on constitutional reform, even though the premier has opposed it all along, was evidence that Thaksin’s back was firmly against the wall.

He explained that shared leadership of the anti-Thaksin movement was necessary as the PM had become a problem for the whole of Thai society. “Today’s fight is not just about Sondhi alone ... but that of the whole nation. But I won’t run away and I will stay with the alliance as long as Thaksin is shameless enough to stay as prime minister.”

The referendum on constitutional reform is a tactic to distract public attention and buy time, he added. “He’s creating a new agenda to cover up old issues. He’s a prime minister who can lie better than others on earth, and when I caught him [red-handed] he moved on to another issue.”

He said that as long as the media was under the government’s control, people would become less informed, and that growing corruption and takeovers of state enterprises by nominees of Thaksin was leaving nothing for the country.

With the crowd apparently significantly less than at last week’s rally, Pibhop Thongchai, adviser to the Campaign for Popular Democracy and a committee member of the 15-person People’s Alliance for Democracy, would not make a prediction of size. But he said the decisive factor of whether Thaksin will quit depended on the strength and power of students and university lecturers.

Suriyasai Katasila, another committee member, said Thai students abroad were now being mobilised and urged to take a stand.

Although the alliance is now working as a group, security and stage construction is still being done by Sondhi’s team. Sondhi said he was not sure if his “Thailand Weekly Talk Show” would continue, but an aide said it would probably go out to the provinces to inform rural people about Thaksin.

Each group in the alliance said they would stage their own anti-Thaksin activities on top of the joint rallies.

The next rally will be held on February 26.

source: The Nation