Press Release
March 21, 2006


Thailand is now more democratic than the Philippines in terms of respect for the citizens freedom of assembly but embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra may yet win the battle for his political survival despite the almost daily protest rallies by throngs of disgruntled Thais who are demanding his resignation.

Giving this assessment on the political situation in Thailand after a two-day official visit to Bangkok, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Nene Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today said street demonstrations against Thaksin are being staged by his detractors without fear of being dispersed by the police unlike in the Philippines where such activities are forbidden by virtue of the so-called calibrated pre-emptive response (CPR) policy of Malacañang .

It seems Thailand has surpassed the Philippines when it comes to expanding the democratic space as the people there can hold protest rallies without being bothered by law enforcers as long as they do it peacefully, he said.

While Mendiola or Don Chino Roces Bridge is now off limits to street activists, Pimentel said the demonstrations in the Thai capital are held even in front of the Government House (the Malacañang of Thailand).

The minority leader said that although Thaksin has called for a new parliamentary election to placate his enemies, his party has a good chance of capturing the majority of parliamentary seats, which may result in his retention as prime minister.

The best information I received is that Thaksins party would retain power if the elections are held as scheduled by Thaksins party, Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) on April 2, he said.

The resignation of Thaksin is being demanded by his political foes and detractors mainly due to corruption charges.

Pimentel said the casus belli for the oust-Thaksin campaign was the sale last January of US$1.9 billion worth of shares of stock of Shin Corp., a communications firm, owned by the Thaksin family to Temasek Holdings.

The funny thing is that the sale was not, legally speaking, against the law. It was not corrupt in the sense that we understand the word here. But critics of Thaksin cried foul because the sale was consummated the day after the Thai parliament passed a law exempting sales of stock from taxation, Thus, the battle cry: it might not have been illegal but it was immoral, he said.

According to Pimentel, the anti-Thaksin sentiment seems to have been sparked by one-man media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul, a former business and political supporter of the prime minister. It is amazing that the man who is not a public official, has been able to draw massive support from the public at least in Bangkok.

Pimentel said Thaksins critics use Philippine demo tactics, as for instance, shouting that they should do to Thaksin what the Filipinos have done to Marcos by ousting and exiling him.

Thai newspapers reported that the last anti-Thaksin rally drew about 100,000 participants while the counter-demo by pro-Thaksin group had about 30,000.

Pimentel said that while President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is trying to woo poor families with government-paid health insurance cards and half-priced common medicines, Thaksin is trying to outdo the Philippine president in this regard.

One of the things that Thaksin has going for him is that he has announced that all Thais would soon receive a medical package that entitles them to be treated medically for only 30 baths no matter what the ailment. That means that the patient, whether suffering from ordinary cough or from severe cancer, would be assisted medically in Thailand and would only be required to pay 30 bahts. It is not clear at this point from where the money would come to make the plan viable but it certainly is a pogi point for the prime minister, he said.

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