The Thai government has mobilized thousands of security officers and issued strong warnings against rowdy protesters ahead of a much anticipated, politically sensitive court verdict.
Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is exiled in Dubai but maintains a strong following in Thailand, will find out Friday if the Supreme Court will confiscate all or some of $2.2 billion of his family’s money. The money was frozen by the military junta that seized power in 2006 and accused Mr. Thaksin of mass corruption.
‘Judgment Day’ of protests planned
Tensions have been rising for weeks over the ruling. Thaksin’s “red shirt” supporters had threatened to stage mass rallies in Bangkok this week, sparking travel warnings by foreign embassies, but decided on Wednesday to push back the "Judgment Day" of street protests, as the media have termed it, until after the court ruling. They set a new date for a rally next month that is optimistically predicted to pull in 1 million people, mostly from northern parts of Thailand where Thaksin remains popular.
The government and its media outlets have also hyped the drama in the courtroom and claimed that it will be a turning point in Thai politics after four years of turbulence.
More at stake than $2.2 billion
Both sides say the crisis in Thailand goes far beyond the question of Thaksin and his personal fortune. Red shirts argue that they are fighting for justice. Their opponents, known by their yellow shirts, say corrupt politicians like Thaksin are holding Thailand back.
One person watching the court proceedings with mixed feelings is Supinya Klangnarong, a free-speech activist. In 2003, she criticized Thaksin’s policy on telecommunications as a conflict of interests, since his family-owned Shin Corp held the largest mobile provider. The company promptly filed a criminal defamation case against her, which it lost in 2006, sparing Ms. Supinya from a possible jail term.
That same year, Shin Corp was sold to Temasek Holdings, an arm of Singapore’s government. Thaksin’s frozen $2.2 billion, which is in the name of his wife, children, and in-laws, is the proceeds of that sale.
One of the questions for the Supreme Court is whether Thaksin boosted the company’s profits with biased policies. Such a ruling would appear to bolster Supinya’s 2003 criticism that got her in hot water. “I still believe that Thaksin had a conflict of interests,” she says.
But she also knows that the military and its allies in the current government want to use the verdict to justify the 2006 coup, which she opposed. And that whatever happens, Thailand’s deep social divisions will remain. “It’s all become so political,” she sighs.