Saturday, 30 April 2011

Weekly highlights

via CAAI

Published: 29/04/2011 at 12:12 PM
Online news: Local News

With the House dissolution yet to be announced, the Pheu Thai Party has already started electioneering with Thaksin Shinawatra announcing key policy platforms via a video link, but the fighting on the border between Thai and Cambodian forces stole the headlines.

The week-long artillery duels and the troop clashes along the border in Surin and Buri Ram provinces dominated the front pages of all newspapers and television news headlines almost the entire week, along with the brief skirmish around Preah Vihear in Si Sa Ket.

The two warring sides poured troops and heavy weaponry into the battle zone.

This latest outbreak of armed conflict, which centred on the old Ta Muen Kwai and Ta Muen Thom temple ruins, has cost the lives of seven Thai soldiers and one civilian, with dozens of others injured.

Just over 41,000 Thais were evacuate to temporary refuges as artillery shells hit many villages, and healthcare facilities were closed down in the area.

Casualties on the Cambodian side were not clear, although news agencies reported eight deaths, and the Thai army insisted that Cambodian casualties were many times higher than the Thai toll.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Army Commander-in-Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said separately that the Thai army would retaliate in kind against Cambodian attacks, whereas Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen accused Mr Abhisit of being a warmonger and said that Cambodia, although a smaller country than Thailand, could defeat Thailand, like an ant which can fell an elephant.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (left) shakes hands with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen during the 4th Ayeyewady – Chao Phraya – Mekong Economic Cooperation (ACMECS) summit at the Council of Ministers in Phnom Penh on Nov 17, 2010. AFP PHOTO

It was not until Thursday that situation shows signs of improving when an uneasy ceasefire was worked out between Lt-Gen Thawatchai Samutsakhon, commander of the 2nd army region, and Lt-Gen Chea Mon, chief of Cambodia’s 4th army region, at a meeting at a border casino opposite Surin province.

However, more troop clashes occurred on Thursday night and into Friday morning, with one Thai soldier killed and four wounded.

Indonesia, the Asean chairman, has called on the two countries to exercise restraint and to observe a ceasefire. It has urged Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya to meet with his Cambodian counterpart, Hor Nam Hong, to discuss an end to the violence before Mr Abhisit has an expected meeting with Hun Sen at the sideline of the Asean summit in Jakarta on May 7-8.

On the local political front, election fever is taking hold even though Prime Minister Abhisit is yet to announce the House dissolution expected next week.

The opposition Pheu Thai Party appears to be most enthusiastic and has unofficially kick-started the electioneering with de facto party leader Thaksin Shinawatra addressing a party caucus and unveiling some of the party’s key policies, which include - one free tablet computor for every student; a huge floodwall to prevent Bangkok from being inundated, and reclaimation of land from the sea off the capital; a 300-baht minimum wage; corporate tax deductions for industries; and new railway mega projects.

Despite the five-year political ban he is still serving, and the jail sentence handed down by the court in absentia, the ousted former prime minister has decided to lead the party in the election campaign even if this means there is a risk the party itself may be dissolved as a result of his involvement.

He is also said to be the one who decides which party members will stand as candidates in the new single-seat constituencies, and which ones will make it onto the party list, and how high up.

About 200 people have already applied to stand on the party list. These are people hoping to be appointed, rather than elected, to the House under the proportional representation system. Among them are Olarn Chaiprawat and several red-shirt leaders. The list will however be shortlisted to not more than 125.

Thaksin has not disclosed who will be in the Number One slot on the party list. This candidate will be automatically in a position to become the next prime minister if the party wins more than half of the 500 seats in the House, or puts together a coalition government.

It has been widely speculated that Thaksin’s youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, may be his choice for top position. There are other contenders however, including Pol Gen Pracha Promnok, former national police chief and former leader of the Puea Pandin Party, who recently joined the Pheu Thai Party.

Whereas Pheu Thai, the Democrats and most other smaller parties are well into preparations for the general election, the New Politics Party, the political arm of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), is in disarray.

Pressured by PAD hard-core leaders such as Sondhi Limthongkul and Chamlong Srimuang, the party members voted at an assembly not field any candidiates in the election. The party was also supposed to launch a campaign for viters to check the “no vote” box on their ballot papers.

A security officer points to the front seat of a sedan hit by a bomb blast in Pattani province on April 26, 2011. (Photo by Abdulloh Benjakat)

But New Politics Party leadeer Somsak Kosaisook remains defiant. He says it's the job of the executive to decide whether to run candidates or not. He has called a party executive board meetiong today, Friday, and he expected the board will overturn the decision to boycott the election.

Mr Somsak also described the PAD's urging of a “no vote” and postponement of a general election for several years as being undemocratic and tantamount to a coup d'etat, and he resigned his PAD membership.

In the far South, the seventh anniversary of the Krue Se mosque massacre on Thursday April 28 passed without any major incident.

The most violent action of the week was the motorcycle bomb attack on Pattani governor Niphon Narapitakkul in Pattani on Tuesday. Suspected militants detonated a stolen motorbike stuffed with about three kilos of explosives as the governor’s car passed by.

Shrapnel from the explosion punctured three of the vehicle's tyres and peppered the body, but the driver still accelerated away. Neither the governor nor anyone else in his delegation were hurt - but they were shaken up.