Commentary: Body blow
By Veera Prateepchaikul

The blows fell one, two, three on the ruling People Power party and de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra last week. But mortal danger lurks in Cambodia, and the government is accountable.

Veera Prateepchaikul is Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Post Publishing Co Ltd.

It was really a bad week for the People Power party and its de facto leader, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In just one week, they were dealt three crippling blows, including one which landed squarely across Mr Thaksin's face. It appeared as if Lady Luck suddenly deserted the party, leaving it to twist alone in the winds of fate.

The first blow came on Tuesday when the opposition Democrats grilled Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and, particularly, Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama over their alleged mishandling of the 10th-century Preah Vihear temple dispute which could place Thailand at a disadvantage in future border negotiations with Cambodia.

The damning evidence presented during the censure debate by Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva prompted the prime minister to order a rephrasing of a cabinet resolution adopted a week earlier which endorsed the Cambodian map around the temple and pledged Thailand's support for Cambodia's unilateral bid to list the temple as a Unesco World Heritage site.

The word "map" in the resolution was changed to "chart" to avoid future complications.

While the censure debate was in progress, a second blow was unleashed by the Administrative Court. The court ordered the reinstatement of Government Pharmaceutical Organisation board chairman Dr Vichai Chokewiwat and five other board members who were earlier sacked by Public Health Minister Chaiya Sasomsab, a PPP MP from Nakhon Pathom.

The third blow came on Wednesday when the Supreme Court sent Mr Thaksin's three lawyers to jail for six months for contempt of court in connection with the snack box that was stuffed with two million baht in cash. The three lawyers are also facing bribery charges which carry a maximum five years' imprisonment.

Moreover, they may have their law licences revoked for five years by the Law Council of Thailand.

Mr Thaksin's personal secretary, Pongthep Thepkanchana, said his boss has denied any involvement with the snack box scandal and is willing to testify if required. He said Mr Thaksin would not benefit by giving money to court officials.

It's possible Mr Thaksin knew nothing about the alleged bribery attempt. But since the three suspects were his lawyers, he was inevitably linked to the scandal. Hence, his reputation is bruised.

Although the censure debate was over and Mr Samak and his seven ministers survived it thanks to the united support shown by PPP legislators and the coalition parties, the wounds inflicted upon the government by scathing opposition attacks will not be healed unless there is surgery in cabinet. So some heads must roll, including Mr Noppadon's and Mr Mingkwan's.

But the government's difficulty is not yet over even if certain ministers are axed. The Preah Vihear temple controversy is very much in the air. The Administrative Court has issued an injunction in response to a petition filed by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) asking the court to freeze the Thai-Cambodian joint communique and the cabinet resolution pledging Thailand's support for Phnom Penh's bid to list the temple as a World Heritage site.

The court ruling may well deal a devastating blow to the government and, in particular, the prime minister and Mr Noppadon. It will provide PAD with deadly ammunition to press for Mr Samak's resignation.

But what is of greater concern are the implications of the court decision toward politics in Cambodia where an election is scheduled on July 27. Although the decision has no binding effect on Cambodia, it may be exploited by unscrupulous Cambodian media or politicians to whip up anti-Thai sentiments. It would be similar to an ugly incident some years ago when Cambodian media fuelled an anti-Thai frenzy over a statement about Angkor Wat by a famous Thai actress which eventually led to the burning of the Thai embassy and other Thai properties in Phnom Penh.

Hopefully, the tragedy will not be repeated. Otherwise, the Samak government will be held accountable.

Bangkok post