Thailand: Bombers Baiting the Military?

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September 30, 2007 20 52  GMT

Summary
Hours after Thailand’s outgoing military chief, Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, said he will to accept the post of deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs in the Thai Cabinet, a bomb exploded near the army headquarters Sept. 30. Though this looks like the opening shot in Thailand’s usual cycle of pre-election intimidation bombings, it could also be an attempt by opposition factions to provoke a confrontation between the military and its traditional adversaries.

Analysis
Thailand’s outgoing military chief, Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, confirmed his willingness to accept the post of deputy prime minister supervising security affairs in the Thai Cabinet on Sept. 30. Hours later, a bomb exploded outside the Royal Survey Department near the army headquarters, injuring two bomb disposal officers who had been called to the scene three hours earlier.

At first glance, this looks like the start of Bangkok’s typical cycle of pre-election intimidation bombings, given that the country’s much-anticipated elections are less than three months away.

However, its timing — on the same day that Sonthi retired as army chief and Defense Minister Gen. Boonrawd Somtas confirmed the coup general’s impending entry into the interim government — indicates the bombing is more likely an attempt to provoke a confrontation between the military and factions opposed to its involvement in the civilian government.

The most likely suspects are opposition elements still loyal to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Despite the military-installed government’s success to date at squashing all attempts by opposition elements to foment coups with sufficient momentum to overthrow the incumbent government, the threat of a Thaksin comeback lingers in Bangkok.

To demonstrate its commitment to keeping its promise to the Thai people to hold democratic elections Dec. 23, the regime recently lifted its ban on the registration of new political parties. But in doing so, it also opened up a new back door for Thaksin loyalists to re-enter mainstream politics via groups such as the People’s Power Party; it has only been four months to the day since the Thaksin-founded Thai Rak Thai Party was disbanded. These groups are now set to continue playing upon the public’s aversion to any continuation of military rule until the December elections.

Sonthi’s entry into the Cabinet was not unexpected, as it has been publicly discussed for awhile. Nonetheless, in terms of maintaining the regime’s credibility, it is a high-risk move to insert a coup general into the government, particularly in the sensitive pre-election period.

Given the lack of control the Cabinet has over Sonthi’s public pontifications about his future political ambitions, his inclusion in the Cabinet opens up a significant new source of uncertainty — not only for everyday governance but also for the regime’s ability to keep the election process on track.

Related Headlines
Geopolitical Diary: Sonthi’s Retirement Plans
Jun 27, 2007
Thailand: Screw-Tightening and a Draft Constitution
Mar 28, 2007
Thailand: The New Leader’s Challenges

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