09/05/2008, 00.00
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Thailand: political crisis continues, economy in danger

by Weena Kowitwanij
Criticisms are raining down over the proposal by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to call a referendum. The timetable and procedure are unclear. For his opponents, it's nothing more than a stalling tactic. University students condemn both government and opposition, and call for new elections.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - It's nothing more than an attempt to "buy time" and maintain power, by prolonging a "stalemate" destined to become worse. This is the tough stance of the opponents to Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, whose proposal to call for a popular referendum - without specifying any measures or procedures - has not gained any supporters.

In a tough editorial attacking the prime minister head-on, the Thai newspaper The Nation emphasizes that the decision to call for a referendum "requires at least a month of preparation", and this prolonging of the situation of uncertainty would contribute to "worsening the crisis". The government, instead, "should assure peace and social order", the editorial continues, while the referendum "is only a desperate attempt to remain in office".

The leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) stress that they will continue their protest, and do not intend to abandon their government posts; they are calling for the resignation of the prime minister, accused of being a puppet in the hands of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, thrown out of office two years ago (in September of 2006) in a military state coup, and currently in voluntary exile in London. Demonstrations in recent days, although they did not bring an escalation of violence - thanks in part to the decision of General Anupong Laojinda to "reject the use of force" - led to one death and about 50 injuries.

Thailand has also seen the emergence of a "third front", asking the citizens to wear white or black and white, and to avoid the red hats that are characteristic of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship, or the yellow ones of the PAD. The movement is mostly composed of university students and is calling for: rejection of the proposed referendum; the dissolving of the legislative body and new elections; and the surrender of the leaders of the PAD, with the demand that they submit themselves to justice.

Nanthawat Boramanun, a professor in the law faculty of the University of Chulalongkorn, denounces the egotistical attitude on both sides, each of which "is aiming for its own benefit", to the detriment of the "real interests of the country". A political analyst emphasizes instead how a victory for the PAD at the ballot boxes would constitute a "dangerous precedent" in the carrying out of elections, ending with the destruction of Thailand's journey toward democracy, after the country's government "was chosen by the people through free elections".

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