- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thailand’s interim government has set up an ambitious timetable to achieve both full restoration of democracy and public approval of a redrafted constitution within one year of the military coup that toppled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The coup, which ousted the prime minister while he was at the United Nations in September, elicited a warranted condemnation from Washington. The onus will remain on Thailand’s appointed government to faithfully follow the timeline, which outlines the path back from military rule to liberal democracy.

The coup arose out of a “political stalemate,” claimed Ambassador Virasakdi Futrakul during a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday. Opposition to the divisive Mr. Thaksin had increased and become more unified. The prime minster’s party, one of three major political parties in Thailand, was the first in the country’s modern history to win total control in both houses of the legislature, enabling it to rule without a coalition. Because of the way the Thai constitution was written, the ruling party therefore also controlled government oversight and watchdog groups, effectively eliminating checks and balances.

Mr. Thaksin, who was widely accused of corruption, had failed to receive a legitimate mandate; a special April election was widely boycotted and later declared invalid in court. A large protest had been organized to send the message to the prime minister not to return from New York. The ambassador, who served both governments, asserted that military intervention was needed to preempt possible violent clashes between anti-Thaksin protesters and pro-Thaksin counterprotesters.

For the United States, the two most important questions were how this overthrow would effect the important regional hub economically, and whether it would alter the Thai government’s level of cooperation with U.S. authorities tracking terrorists in Southeast Asia. The interim government is touting a policy of consistency and continuity, and it appears, at least in the short term, to be committed to both. Economic concerns seem to have been unwarranted: Thailand’s currency remained strong, its credit rating suffered only briefly and foreign investors, including large U.S. firms, remain confident.

Thailand has a strong history of cooperation with U.S. counterterrorism efforts, and it’s important for both countries that these efforts continue. The arrest of the terrorist Hambali, a link between Osama bin Laden and a regional Asian terror network, was a joint U.S.-Thai operation. Thailand itself faces a serious Islamist insurgency that has claimed more than 1,700 lives in the past two years in its southern region.

The interim prime minister has declared that his second priority, after national reconciliation and political reorganization, is dealing with the violent Muslim separatists. To ensure the political stability that is necessary for this mutually beneficial cooperation against Islamist terrorism, Washington should continue to strongly encourage Thailand’s interim government to adhere to the timeline it has established.

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