Army chief urges Thais not to repeat past choices

AP News
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Posted: Jun 15, 2011 9:31 AM
Army chief urges Thais not to repeat past choices

Thailand's powerful army chief, who helped oust former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has urged voters not to repeat the outcome of past elections in next month's balloting _ an apparent warning against supporting Thaksin's allies.

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha delivered his advice Tuesday night in a special broadcast on the country's two army-owned television networks, as polls indicated that pro-Thaksin forces are again headed for victory in the July 3 general elections.

Thaksin was deposed in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect to King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

A sharp split between Thaksin's supporters and opponents has left Thailand in political turmoil since the coup, culminating in street protests in Bangkok last year that deteriorated into violence, leaving 91 people dead and more than 1,800 hurt.

Prayuth, an outspoken defender of the monarchy, said offenses against the royal institution had been increasing and voters should chose "good people" with good morals "who know what is right and wrong."

By bracketing his remarks about voting with the blast at critics of the monarchy, Prayuth implied that voters who respect the king should not support the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai party.

Thaksin's youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is the party's candidate for prime minister.

Prayuth said if the same people voted the same way as before, the results would be the same, an apparent reference to the string of victories by pro-Thaksin parties.

Despite those victories, the rival Democrat Party of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was able to take power in 2008 after controversial legal rulings and defections by lawmakers from smaller parties in Parliament.

King Bhumibol has long been a unifying figure, but at 83 and in poor health, there are serious concerns about the future of the monarchy because Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn doesn't command as much popular respect.

Royalists suspect that Thaksin sought to usurp the king's authority and don't want him to return from exile overseas, where he fled to escape a jail sentence for corruption.

Thai army chiefs have a history of being powerful political figures. The country has gone through 18 coups or attempted coups since becoming a constitutional monarchy in the 1930s.

Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit said Wednesday he saw Prayuth's comments as simply urging Thai people to vote in large numbers.

"We don't see that he is in favor of any particular party or against any other party," he said. "Pheu Thai is not worried about it. ... It is the people who will determine the future of the country. Nobody can manipulate them."