King urges Thailand to heal its political rifts

ReutersIndia

Tue Dec 4, 2007 4:07pm IST

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BANGKOK (Reuters) – Revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej told Thailand’s 65 million people on Tuesday to heal the nation’s deep political rifts in this month’s general election or risk sinking the country.

“Without unity, the country will meet with disaster,” King Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, said in a radio address on the eve of his 80th birthday, a major national celebration.

His comments echoed those he made at a trooping of the colour ceremony at the weekend showing the King’s clear unease at the political instability that has reigned since last year’s coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Many analysts say the Dec. 23 election is likely to lead only to further polarisation between Thaksin supporters in the countryside and the royalist military establishment and Bangkok middle class that ousted him.

In the worst-case scenario, some analysts see Thaksin’s friends and foes facing off in the streets, making further military intervention inevitable.

King Bhumibol enjoys almost universal respect as a champion of the poor and the environment.

However, his detractors — most of whom live outside Thailand — say draconian lese majeste laws under which insulting the monarchy can be punished by 15 years in jail have stifled any criticism of his role in society.

Despite being a constitutional monarch, he has made several forays into politics during 61 years on the throne that have witnessed 18 military coups. He has variously come out in support of democratic and military governments.

Thaksin, now living in exile in London, won landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005 and is still hugely popular in the countryside where the majority of Thais live.

He faces corruption charges, which he denies, brought by a special investigation launched by the generals who accused him of presiding over rampant graft.

Thaksin’s party was dissolved and 111 of its leading officials, including him, barred from politics for five years for election fraud.

The People Power Party, which his supporters took over, is likely to win the most seats in the election but fall short of an absolute majority, analysts say.

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