- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

BANGKOK — The publication of a confidential letter to President Bush from Thailand’s prime minister, warning of a “threat to democracy in Thailand,” has provoked outrage, satire and indignation.

In a 544-word letter dated June 23, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said his political opponents are trying to “provoke violence” through “chaos” in the streets.

Mr. 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.”

The president added: “Free and open political systems can be unpredictable.”

After copies of both letters appeared in Thai newspapers, Mr. Thaksin told reporters, “It is just a letter one national leader wrote to another.”

A Bangkok Post editorial cartoon showed a smiling Mr. Bush telephoning Mr. Thaksin to ask: “So, you’re being bullied?” An unamused Mr. Thaksin replies: “Yes, George.”

“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 Mr. Thaksin’s nationalist Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party.

Mr. Thaksin’s critics were especially distressed by the prime minister’s description of peaceful street demonstrations, which called for Mr. Thaksin’s resignation and snarled Bangkok traffic during March.

The protests erupted because Mr. Thaksin did not pay taxes on the $1.8 billion his family earned by selling their Shin Corp. telecommunications empire in February to the Singaporean government’s investment wing, Temasek Holdings.

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

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

The prime minister’s dig at his enemies for using “extra-constitutional tactics” refers to their successful campaign to annul a nationwide election in April by convincing people to select a “no vote” choice on the ballots.

The opposition chose the “no vote” tactic because they did not have enough support among Thailand’s 65 million population to win against Mr. Thaksin, who remains popular in the countryside.

Thailand and the United States are close military allies going back to the days of the Vietnam War.

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

Mr. Bush also praised Mr. Thaksin for helping the CIA capture Hambali, a leading terrorist in Southeast Asia, two months before the visit.

Mr. Thaksin hopes to win a fresh election, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 15.

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