Thai king endorses authority of coup leader

Thai king endorses authority of coup leader 

Thailand‘s
King Bhumibol Adulyadej yesterday endorsed a coup leader to head the
new governing council, according to a televized announcement.

“In order to create peace in the country, the king appoints
General Sonthi Boonyaratglin as head of the council of administrative
reform,” according to the announcement on state-run television.

“All people should remain peaceful and civil servants should listen to orders from General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin from now on.”

The king’s endorsement is widely seen as giving legitimacy to the new Council of Administrative Reform.

Sonthi led a takeover overnight without firing a shot, sending
soldiers and tanks to guard major intersections and surround government
buildings while the popularly elected Thaksin, accused of corruption
and undermining democratic institutions, was abroad.

Coup habits hard to kick

Throughout months of political stalemate, Sonthi swore the military had moved on from its days of meddling in government.

But having broken the mould as the first Muslim military chief
in an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, the decorated Viet Nam War
veteran demonstrated that some habits are just too hard to kick.

With Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at the United Nations in
New York, Sonthi and his counterparts in the navy, air force and police
carried out Thailand’s 18th military coup in 74 years of on-off
democracy.

Flanked by the heads of the other branches of the military and
the police, the stocky 59-year-old appeared on national television
yesterday morning to announce the formation of a “Council of Political
Reform.”

“The Council has no intention to run the country by ourselves
and will return power, under the constitutional monarchy, to the people
as soon as possible,” he said.

Whatever the long-term outcome, the move was a major about-turn
for Sonthi, who took up the position as army commander-in-chief a year
ago, painting himself as a modern, professional soldier who shunned
interference in politics.

“Don’t worry about coups,” the former special forces officer
told reporters in November as speculation mounted about a military move
to resolve a looming political stalemate stemming from a Bangkok street
campaign against Thaksin.

“The country needs a strong economy, society and stable government. Coups will ruin the country,” he said.

However, as the crisis deepened with an inconclusive and then
annulled election in April, his frustrations and unswerving loyalty to
King Bhumibol Adulyadej started to emerge.

Loyalty to the king

“The country’s problem, which originated some time ago and
which has prevailed until now, has saddened His Majesty, which has
upset and worried me,” he was quoted as saying in a Thai paper.

“As a soldier of His Majesty, I would like to help him relieve
his worry and the Army would adhere strictly to whatever advice he
gives us,” he said.

Analysts said the promotion of a Muslim to head of the army
appeared to be a deliberate attempt to resolve a separatist insurgency
in Thailand’s Malay-majority far south, where more than 1,700 people
have died in 2 years of violence.

However, the native of central Thailand rejected the notion, saying he had been appointed purely on his track record.

“I’d rather use the mouth and negotiations than weapons to fight
the insurgency,” he said on his appointment, which was expected to last
for two years before his retirement at the age of 60, as is standard in
the Thai military.

Last week, he organized a peace rally in the south and opened
the door to potential negotiations with the still unknown leaders of
the insurgency a stance that put him at direct loggerheads with his
political masters.

Perhaps sensing rumblings within the ranks, Thaksin made sure
Sonthi was at his side when he made a surprise trip at the start of
August to see leaders of the military junta in neighbouring Myanmar.

Last week, Sonthi returned alone to the generals’ new jungle
stronghold in the heart of the former Burma, although insisted on his
departure for the three-day visit he was going only to forge closer
military ties.

Locals take events in their stride

Despite waking up yesterday to troops and tanks on the
streets of Bangkok, most Thais took the military coup in their stride,
hoping it would mean the end to months of political strife and
division.

While the bloodless putsch against Prime Minister Thaksin came
as a surprise, many people in the Thai capital saw it as a timely move
to halt a deepening crisis that has left the country in political limbo
for nine months.

“I’m glad the coup took place because things have been ugly for a long time,” said motorcycle taxi driver Rittiporn Yomram, 36.

“The question is how long the army will hold on to power,
although if they hadn’t come in, this situation would only have
worsened.”

Military Humvees and jeeps were parked outside Bangkok’s glitzy
shopping malls, with troops on street corners and guarding metro
stations normally thronged with thousands of commuters.

Banks, stock markets, schools and government offices were
closed, while newspapers stalls were sold out after the army cancelled
normal television and radio programmes.

Somsak Nurnsai, a street cleaner, said people were confused
about what was going on, although he said he was confident there would
be no repeat of the violent chapters of Thailand’s coup-prone history.

“At first, I knew nothing, and I wasn’t sure what the army was
going to do when the tanks came in,” he said. “I don’t believe there
will be violence. Thailand has come a long way since those days.”

Motorcycle taxi driver Somsak Khanok, 33, said he welcomed the
military’s move. “People have been creating problems for months now,
and as long as the army doesn’t turn to violence, this revolution will
be a good thing,” he said.

Source: China Daily

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