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Thailand's PM Thaksin Shinawatra Resigns

Thailand's PM Thaksin Shinawatra Resigns


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra resigned on Wednesday (April 5), and appointed a loyal colleague, to end anti-Thaksin street protests before the June arrival of the world's kings, queens and other royalty to honor Thailand's revered monarch.

Thaksin named Justice Minister Chitchai Wannasathit, who is also a deputy prime minister and former police general, as this Southeast Asian nation's interim prime minister.

Chitchai, 59, received a Ph.D. in Justice Administration in 1976 from the University of Louisville, Kentucky, according to his official biography.

Chitchai, considered a close friend of Thaksin, has extensive police experience including previous posts as Immigration Commissioner, Secretary-General of the Narcotics Control Board, and Interior Minister.

"I have appointed Chitchai to do my work from now on. I need to rest," Thaksin told the nation on Wednesday (April 5).

"It's not that I'm not willing to fight, but when I fight, the nation loses," Thaksin said.

"I don't need to see bloodshed among Thais. Thai blood must not paint the land of Thailand."

Thais cautiously welcomed Thaksin's solution to the past two months of anti-Thaksin street demonstrations, amid speculation he may manipulate the country behind the scenes, or stage a comeback after June.

His enemies, led by Bangkok's middle class, academics, leftists and turncoat cronies, cheered Thaksin's downfall.

Thaksin's supporters, including many in the impoverished countryside who enjoyed his government's inexpensive health care, cheap loans and other welfare, expressed dismay.

Thaksin insisted his family did nothing wrong by using off-shore accounts to sell their telecommunications empire, Shin Corp., for 1.8 billion U.S. dollars, tax-free, to the Singapore government's investment wing, Temasek Holdings, in February.

Critics said he abused his position, after spending the past five years as prime minister muzzling the media, crippling institutions involved in good governance, and running Thailand as if it were his private corporation.

Thaksin's unsmiling wife and three adult children listened to his televised resignation speech on Tuesday (April 4) night at his Government House office, alongside other supporters.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to apologize to all of you for my decision not to accept the prime minister's job," Thaksin said on Tuesday (April 4), linking his departure with an altruistic quest to protect the king.

"This is because this year is very auspicious for the Thai people, as His Majesty the King is to celebrate the 60th anniversary of his accession to the throne on June 9," Thaksin said.

"Royal guests -- kings and queens from all over the world -- are to join the celebrations, but the protests have continued," he said, referring to 100,000 people who have been snarling Bangkok's streets, demanding Thaksin quit.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, born in Massachusetts, is widely worshipped by Thais who look to the constitutional monarch during extreme political disputes, trusting his guidance to restore peace.

Thaksin's resignation speech on Tuesday (April 4) came hours after his visit to King Bhumibol.

It was not clear what intervention, if any, the king played in Thaksin's departure.

In 1992, the king helped bring an end to bloodshed in Bangkok by calling on a coup-installed dictator, and a pro-democracy leader, to stop fighting after the military opened fire on protestors, killing at least 50 people.

That 1992 televised broadcast became an inspirational icon for Thais, and is often invoked as a pristine, moral high point.

Thaksin, in his Tuesday (April 4) announcement, referred twice to the king's 1992 speech, and quoted the monarch's warning at that time about how "the country will lose" if Thailand wallows in political chaos.

Thaksin's resignation came after his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party won about 16 million votes in a nationwide election on Sunday (April 2).

Thaksin had called the snap election after winning 19 million votes in February 2005, and hoped Sunday's poll would prove he was still popular despite his family's tax-free deal.

The three biggest opposition parties boycotted the election as a farce.

They told people to cast a "no" vote, so Thaksin's nominees would not muster a required 20 percent of the vote in constituencies where they ran as the only candidates.

In an impressive anti-Thaksin slap, about 10 million people cast "no" votes, making at least 39 of Thaksin's candidates ineligible to take their seats in Parliament.

Parliament should have all 500 seats filled before the prime minister can form a government. Before the election, Thaksin's party held 375 seats.

Fresh elections were scheduled for April 23 in those 39 constituencies, so Parliament can meet and appoint a new prime minister.

Leery opposition politicians indicated they would not participate in by-elections for the 39 seats, and may hold out for fresh nationwide election, because they want a bigger slice of Parliament.

They scheduled a mass rally in Bangkok for Friday (April 7).

*************

Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 27 years, and co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent


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