Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Military and Who Shot Sondhi Lim?

Bangkok Post:

The attempt to shoot and kill Sondhi Limthongkul, the media baron and leader of the UDD's arch rival, People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), on April 17 swung the military's reputation back under a dubious light.

Gunmen brandishing war weapons opened fire at the car in which Mr Sondhi was travelling to the ASTV station to host his morning talk show. Mr Sondhi suffered head injuries but survived the hail of bullets, while his driver ended up in critical condition.

The brazen shooting has made a joke of the emergency law currently in effect in Bangkok, and the incident reinforced the belief of people, particularly the PAD supporters, that only uniformed men with the protection of higher-ups had the capacity to pull off such a high-profile murder attempt.

Ordinary gunmen would have turned down the contract to silence a figure of such political significance as Mr Sondhi.

The owner of the Manager media group helped build the PAD movement into a political force to be reckoned with and, in the process, accumulated high-powered enemies.

His verbal attacks, veiled and direct, were aimed at major players, including former prime minister Gen Surayud Chulanont and even influential palace insiders.

One of his latest targets was Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, said to be the prime minister-in-waiting who had struck a secret deal with the de facto leader of Bhumjaithai party, Newin Chidchob. Mr Sondhi put forth the theory of a possible emergence of the "blue" power bloc, which has rattled the nerves of the ruling Democrat party.

Mr Sondhi's son Jittanart has openly cast suspicion - for the current chaotic state of the country including the plot on his father's life - on "one of four groups of likely perpetrators". He mentioned the police, a coalition of new power forces he calls "the Gestapo," a military element working towards the creation of the "blue" power faction, and "the prime minister-aspirant".

But Mr Sondhi's pounding has probably been hardest on Gen Anupong, upon whom he cast aspersions because of fraternal ties with convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is a fellow alumni at the Armed Forces Preparatory School. Gen Anupong was also chided for being impervious to some threatening political movements which Mr Sondhi said deserved a prompt response from the army.

The army chief has borne further wrath from the anti-Thaksin PAD over his comment that Mr Sondhi's attempted murder was purely a criminal incident.

The PAD echoed calls for replacements of the army and police chiefs and an overhaul of the national security agencies.

Thaksin was also expected to be a suspect in the plot to harm Mr Sondhi since he has Gen Panlop Pinmanee, the former deputy director of the Internal Security Operations Command, and army specialist Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol on his side.

But both men, with reputations for skill in staging underground offensives, have denied orchestrating any attempt on Mr Sondhi's life.

Even though the credulity of the Sondhi-Thaksin hostility being linked to the shooting has been weighed, Thaksin may fall off the list of prime suspects. He rarely took a swipe at Mr Sondhi during his addresses to the red-shirt protesters while Mr Sondhi appears to have left Thaksin in peace of late as well.

If Gen Panlop's expose' of the Sept 19, 2006 coup which toppled Thaksin was anything to go by, Mr Sondhi ought to be one of the few people with exclusive insight into the power revolt.

Mr Sondhi has unnerved people with potentially damaging revelations to share.

The assumption may be that Mr Sondhi simply knows too much and his existence no longer holds any purpose, with Thaksin's danger to the country now somewhat weakened.

Mr Sondhi is also perceived by certain powerful elements to be a thorn in the side and a fighter to be eliminated when the war is over.

The reality, however, is that Mr Sondhi survived the murder attempt and no detail will be too small in his sure-to-come exposure of those he thinks tried to put him away forever.

The intrigue promises to be explosive enough to bring the house down.

There seems to be some sort of triangulation. This is what happens when there is absolutely no check against the army and they have free reign to do whatever they want. The armed forces are not unified obviously and not under any political control. Why is General Anupong still around after so many failures? Thanong predicted a military re-shuffle. He was wrong again.

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