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Letter To Bush Puts Thai PM Back In Hot Water

Letter To Bush Puts Thai PM Back In Hot Water


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The surprise publication of a secretive letter to U.S. President George W. Bush from Thailand's distraught prime minister, warning of a "threat to democracy in Thailand," has provoked outrage, satirical abuse, and loud indignation.

In a 544-word letter, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said his political opponents are trying to "provoke violence" through "chaos" in the streets.

Hoping to rescue this Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian nation, he told Bush "our on-going war on terror" would continue, and Thaksin's victory in the next election "will have an important impact on the future course of democracy in Asia."

After mulling over Thaksin's June 23 epistle, Bush sent a 138-word reply on July 3 which said: "I appreciate your assurance that our good cooperation on issues of vital importance to us both will continue."

Bush told his beleaguered colleague, "Free and open political systems can be unpredictable."

"It is just a letter one national leader wrote to another," Thaksin told reporters, shrugging off attempts to embarrass him after failing to keep the notes from public scrutiny.

Thailand's increasingly anti-Thaksin media ripped into the prime minister, publishing the letters in full on Thursday (July 13) amid caustic headlines, including: "Dear George Letters Shameful."

A Bangkok Post editorial cartoon showed a smiling Bush telephoning Thaksin to ask: "So, you're being bullied?"

An unamused Thaksin replies: "Yes, George."

"How can a love letter be considered an act of high treason?" quipped the Nation newspaper's managing editor, Thanong Khanthong, in a satirical defense of Thaksin's missive.

"It is not right," complained former prime minister Chuan Leekpai, whose Democrat Party is the largest opposition group but repeatedly lost at the polls against Thaksin's nationalist Thai Rak Thai ("Thais Love Thais") party.

"If any foreign state wants to know something, they can ask, but we should not voluntarily write to them to let them know how we are.

"Our country is not in an inferior position," Chuan said.

"I don't know how the newspapers obtained the copies of Thaksin's letter and Bush's reply, but I can say both are genuine," government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee said.

Thaksin's critics were especially distressed by the way he told Bush about peaceful street demonstrations, which called for Thaksin's resignation and snarled Bangkok traffic during March.

The protests erupted because Thaksin did not pay taxes on the 1.8 billion U.S. dollars profit his family pocketed when they sold their Shin Corp. telecommunications empire in February to the Singapore government's investment wing, Temasek Holdings.

"There has been a threat to democracy in Thailand since early this year," Thaksin wrote Bush.

"Key democratic institutions, such as elections, and the observance of constitutional limitations on government, have been repeatedly undermined by interests that depend on creating chaos and mounting street demonstrations in Bangkok, as a means to acquire political power that they cannot gain through winning elections.

"Having failed to provoke violence and disorder, my opponents are now attempting various extra-constitutional tactics to co-opt the will of the people," Thaksin's letter said.

The prime minister's dig at his enemies for using "extra-constitutional tactics" refers to their successful destruction of a nationwide election in April, when they convinced many people to select a "no vote" choice on their ballots, resulting in an annulment of the poll after Thaksin won.

The opposition chose the "no vote" tactic because they did not have enough support among Thailand's 65 million population to win against Thaksin, who attracts strong loyalty in the countryside thanks to welfare schemes, cheap health care, easy loans and other populist policies.

Bush and Thaksin have expressed mutual admiration in the past.

Thailand and the United States are close military allies.

America used Thai territory to launch massive aerial bombardments against neighboring Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, before the U.S. lost its wars against all three communist countries more than three decades ago.

While visiting Bangkok in 2003, Bush upgraded Thailand to "non-NATO ally" status.

Bush also praised Thaksin for helping the CIA capture an alleged top Indonesian Islamist fighter, named Hambali, in central Thailand two months earlier.

Hambali's fate, after the CIA seized him, is unknown.

But in a February 2006 speech at the National Guard Building in Washington, Bush claimed Hambali was part of "a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane, using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door, and fly the plane into the tallest building on the west coast" -- the 73-story U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles.

Thaksin, meanwhile, hopes to win a fresh election, tentatively scheduled for October 15.

Thailand's Constitution Court, however, may dissolve Thaksin's political party, along with the opposition Democrats and three tiny parties, over allegations that they committed crimes against the constitution during the flawed April poll.

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

Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich, who has reported news from Asia for the past 28 years, and is 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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