Bangkok airport blunders aim to embarrass Thaksin: analysts

BANGKOK (January 29 2007): Cracks on the runway, corruption claims and
now safety issues Bangkok’s new airport has suffered blow after blow
since its swanky opening, but analysts say the public hammering could
be a ploy to discredit the ousted premier.

Suvarnabhumi Airport,
built at a cost of three billion dollars, appears an easy target for
Thaksin Shinawatra’s critics, especially as he made the scheme a
personal crusade, once camping at the building site in a show of
support.

Taking on a project that had been in the pipeline for
40 years, he raced to open the airport before many experts believed it
was ready.

When the new hub finally opened to much fanfare on
September 28 last year, the twice-elected premier had been toppled by
the military in a bloodless coup just over a week earlier.

Since
then there has been a catalogue of complaints, culminating last week
with news the transport ministry was considering whether to move
flights back to creaking old Don Muang airport because of around 100
cracks on runways and taxiways.

Since Thaksin had pushed the
airport very strongly … it would be very nice for the military regime
to say ‘see, that was all just public relations’
,” said Michael Nelson,
politics lecturer at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

It would be a nice thing to show the world that in fact, behind the scenes, it was all cronyism and corruption.”

Military
leaders have justified their take-over by saying democracy was being
undermined by widespread corruption during Thaksin’s five years in
office, but they have yet to uncover any hard evidence of graft.

They want to discredit him as much as they can, even if they can’t nail him for anything concrete,” said Nelson.

The
problem was compounded when Thailand’s aviation authority declined to
renew an international safety certificate for Suvarnabhumi.

Political
analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak, also of Chulalongkorn, agreed that
focussing on the problems would embarrass Thaksin, now living in exile.

This was Thaksin’s pet project, his showcase project,” he said. “It has blown up in his face.”

But Thitinan said the problems appear to be genuine.

“No
one denies there are serious construction problems… I don’t think the
military is digging it up just to discredit Thaksin,” he told AFP. The
opening was repeatedly delayed because of construction problems and
graft allegations, most notably involving the purchase of 26
bomb-detecting scanners from the United States.

Since then,
complaints have ranged from grumbles about inadequate toilet facilities
to worries that air stewardesses were being sexually harassed by
builders.

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