Page last updated at 14:46 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010

Thailand coup rumours circle Thaksin assets ruling

By Rachel Harvey
BBC News, Bangkok

Cadets in Bangkok, Thailand
Thailand's army has a history of taking matters into its own hands

Thailand's political divisions are under scrutiny once more.

The Supreme Court ruled on Friday to seize $1.4bn (£910m) in contested assets belonging to the family of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006.

Local media have been rife with speculation that the verdict might be the catalyst for further violence involving his supporters.

And, despite robust denials from the current army chief, there are persistent rumours that another coup could be in the offing.

Confident steps

Thailand's military has long played a pivotal role in the country. Its influence stretches far beyond traditional realms of defence.

The latest graduation day at Bangkok's military cadet school was an event full of pride and possibility.

More than 500 freshly minted cadets, destined for the ranks of the army, navy, air force and police, all in identical tight white shirts and peaked caps, marched across the parade ground.

These were the confident steps of Thailand's future military leaders, their polished shoes glinting in the sun.

The Thai people know very well that a year under the military regime didn't do any better than any other type of regime
Suchit Bunbongkarn
Military expert

Piyachart Siriboon finished top of his class. But his ambitions do not end here - he wants to rise to the highest ranks.

He is well on track - and certainly on message

"Our main duty is to protect the nation, the king and the people," he said.

"We also have other roles, less important, to help development in the country and improve lives."

The glaring omission in that list is any mention of a duty to serve the elected government.

Show of strength

The oversight is telling. Thailand's military has a history of taking matters into its own hands, most recently in September 2006.

Thaksin Shinawatra address a dinner in Bangkok, Thailand
Mr Thaksin has vowed to continue his fight to return to politics

One of the justifications offered by the coup leaders then was that Mr Thaksin had abused his position as prime minister to enrich himself and his family.

That argument was at the centre of the case before the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile Mr Thaksin still has influence even from exile in Dubai.

At a recent business dinner at a Bangkok hotel he was the VIP speaker, joining the guests via satellite link.

Defiant as ever, he berated the current government, a shaky coalition installed by parliament rather than elected by popular mandate.

His image stared down from screens all around the huge ballroom as Mr Thaksin vowed to continue what he called his fight for justice.

Show of strength

The police and army have been practising riot control drills amid warnings of possible violence from Mr Thaksin's supporters should the court verdict go against him.

This is a very deliberate show of strength designed to send a clear message.

Disturbances will not be tolerated and Thailand's security forces stand ready to intervene if necessary.

Our role is to protect, and anyone who wants to get political should resign
Piyachart Siriboon, cadet

But despite the recent hyperbole, that does not necessarily mean another coup is being hatched.

Seasoned observers, like Suchit Bunbongkarn, a military expert at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn university, says times have changed.

"They [the military] know quite well that if they launch a coup, it doesn't mean they can rule the country," he said.

"And the Thai people know very well that a year under the military regime didn't do any better than any other type of regime.

"So they tend to think, 'OK, let's give democracy a try'."

Military cadets like Piyachart Siriboon seem to be in tune with that new thinking.

"The police and army should not get involved in politics," he said firmly.

"Our role is to protect, and anyone who wants to get political should resign."

The young generation seems to be embracing new ways of thinking.

But in the current febrile atmosphere, many Thais will still question whether the old ways of the old guard have really been left behind.

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