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Thailand remains on Edge: Many Predict New Challenges to The Military Government

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By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
January 8, 2007

In Thailand, more and more knowledgeable political hands see a dim near term future.

"The country is going to be in commotion," said Surin Pitsuwan, a former foreign minister who is no longer in the government. "Old elements will certainly regroup. I think the ruling group has been jolted into a new realization that things are not going to be as calm as they thought."

A week after up to eight bombs disrupted New Years Eve revelers in Bangkok, the government of Thailand has no suspects in custody and has not produced any evidence that has been shown to the news media. The government has made many accusations in public, mostly accusing supporters of the previous government headed by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of terrorism.

The government also sowed the seeds of fear and disruption itself when late last week senior members of the government warned the population that more bombings were likely.

The Thai stock market and tourism industry have declined sharply.

The string of lethal bombings that disrupted New Year's celebrations in Thailand has signaled the start of a difficult year as long-time political foes struggle for control of the country's future.
Three people were killed and more than 40 injured in the New Year's Eve explosions.

Meanwhile, the military junta now in control of Thailand is seeking to "return Thailand to the Thais."

Pramon Suthiwong, chairman of Thailand's Board of Trade business group, said that a new law under consideration is expected to limit foreign ownership in Thai companies to about 50 percent, while redefining voting rights for local subsidiaries.

"We proposed several options to the Commerce Ministry, but basically Thailand will give them a period of one to two years to adjust themselves to comply with the new law," Pramon told AFP.

Critics of this plan include the Joint Foreign Chamber of Commerce in Thailand. The Chamber met with representatives of more than 18 nations that do business in Thailand and then issued a stark assessment. The Chamber and the nations that do the most business in Thailand warned the changes could prove disastrous and urged the government to postpone plans to change the law.

"Such a radical change of this law, of the Foreign Business Act, will lead to a further erosion of business confidence," the chamber's president, Peter van Haren said.

The proposed changes to the law would essentially force companies to sell shares to Thai investors, who would struggle to buy up so much stock from thousands of companies doing business here, he said.

The new law, therefore, would not benefit ordinary Thai, most of whom do not have money enough to heavily invest. Therefore, the wealthy, like the members of the military junta now in power, would become the beneficiaries.

Our assessment at Peace and freedom is this: we expect a long year of discord and unhappiness in Thailand. And if the junta government delays the re-establishment of the democratic government, there will be further unrest inside Thailand.

When we asked Thai students and graduate students about the suspension of democratic freedoms inside Thailand, they said, "Yes, we have a history of military takeovers and coups. But after each one, democracy is normally re-established within about a year. If this government wants to stay in power beyond 2007, they may see a lot of protests and rioting in the streets."

In Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf took power in a coup on October 12, 1999. His coup d'état ousted Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. General Musharraf assumed the title of President on June 20, 2001. Every year since 1999 General Musharraf of Pakistan has promised to re-establish the democratic government "within about a year."

Wantanee in Thailand contributed to this rport for Peace and freedom.

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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