U.S.  MONITORS POLITICAL  DEVPT  IN  RP,  THAILAND

WASHINGTON
, March 1, 2006, (BULLETIN) (AFP) The United States is monitoring closely the political turmoil in its two Southeast Asian allies, Thailand and the Philippines, amid extra constitutional challenges to the democracies.

In Thailand, the main opposition parties are boycotting a snap election called by embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra amid mammoth street protests demanding his resignation.

In the Philippines, just days after President Arroyo imposed emergency rule after an alleged coup plot linking military and police officers, efforts to oust her remain alive even as she widens a crackdown on the suspected plotters.

The United States has big stakes in the two Southeast Asian states.

Thailand and the Philippines, are non-NATO allies, a status conferred only to close US friends.

There are concerns in Washington that Mrs. Arroyo, who herself first came into power in 2001 through a military-led revolt, would continue to cling on to her emergency powers in what has been one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies.

In Thailand too, the US administration appears worried that if there is violence, the king might intervene and signal to the prime minister that his time is up.

Philippine authorities have already detained four police officers and filed charges in court against 16 opposition figures.

‘’We will be watching with concern and interest the outcome of the court’s deliberations based on the evidence provided,’’ a US State Department official told AFP.

‘’We expect to see the state of emergency lifted as soon as possible as the situation turns to normal,’’ the official said, underlining the need for the government, the military and Filipinos ‘’to respect the rule of law, protect civil liberties and rights and reject violence.’’

Both Mrs. Arroyo and Thaksin were democratically elected.

Thaksin was elected two times by a landslide but faces attacks over media freedom, corruption and Muslim unrest, among other charges.

Mrs. Arroyo, on the other hand, regained the presidency by a relatively narrow margin in highly controversial polls amid charges of vote buying.

If the protests in Thailand turn violent, King Bhumibol Adulyadej might push for Thaksin’s resignation or the military might intervene, some analysts warn.

‘’We respect the constitutional democratic process and hope that events would continue to unfold in Thailand in a peaceful manner that will respect the rule of law and the will of the Thai people,’’ the State Department official said.

‘’We will continue to follow events closely,’’ he said.

The Thai king has intervened in politics only a few times over his long reign, most recently in the bloody wake of the military’s crackdown on democracy demonstrators in 1992.

‘’Historically the bar has been set very high for His Majesty to involve himself in such matters. He is revered in Thailand and has tremendous moral authority but has been judicious in the exercise of that power,’’ said Karen Brooks, a former White House Asia policy chief.

‘’The important thing is that this crisis be defused in a manner that strengthens Thailand’s democratic institutions rather than undermines them, and that will require restraint and responsibility on all sides of this equation,’’ she said.

The dilemma in the two countries is compounded by the fact that there are no clear alternatives to Thaksin or Mrs. Arroyo, Brooks said.

The political instability in the two economies is also causing anxiety among American businesses, although the region as a whole remains on their radar screens.

‘’When you have countries in the headlines with people in the streets, then investors and their boards of directors have to think twice,’’ said Ernest Bower, the former head of the US-ASEAN Business Council.

In Thailand, the crisis struck as many US companies were considering putting forward proposals for several mega projects.

‘’These projects are very much dependent on being able to sound out the prime minister and the bureaucracy what is needed and what type of creative financing it could bring in,’’ Bower said.

‘’The problem is there is very little bandwith to talk about business issues when politics are in the ascendance.’’

In the Philippines, US businesses are eyeing key opportunities in the banking, energy and information technology sectors.

‘’Some of these can go forward, particularly IT, but projects which involve decisions of political leaders, I think investors have to be careful about where they put their foot right now,’’ Bower cautioned.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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