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HAND Recollections, revelations of a
protest leader By Shawn W
BANGKOK - Media tycoon Sondhi
Limthongkul  and the massive anti-government
street protests he orchestrated set the stage for
last year's military ouster of Thai prime minister
Thaksin Shinawatra. Six months later, the
outspoken Sondhi finds himself in the news again.
Last month he was sentenced by a Bangkok
court to two years in prison on criminal
defamation charges related to critical remarks
made on his popular television talk show before
last year's coup about a high-ranking Thai Rak
Thai party official. Sondhi has appealed the
decision and is currently on bail.
Meanwhile, the Thai Rak Thai-linked new
satellite television station PTV is threatening to
file libel charges against Sondhi for comments he
made suggesting the new station's leader was
involved with a petition aimed at ousting Privy
Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, King Bhumibol
Adulyadej's chief adviser. PTV organizers have
recently tried to take a page from Sondhi's own
rally playbook, but so far have been able to
muster no more than 5,000 anti-government
Sondhi said during the
interview that he has no immediate plans
to the streets - neither to challenge PTV's Thai
Rak Thai party representatives, nor to censure the
interim government's sagging performance. Contrary
to many pundits' predictions, Sondhi was not
offered a position in the military-appointed
administration after last year's coup. In an
exclusive interview with Asia Times Online before
his recent defamation conviction, he claims that
as a "media man" he has no political ambitions.
He has recently locked horns with the
country's new military leaders through programs
aired over his satellite ASTV television station -
similar, though not yet as fiery, to the programs
that exposed and exploited Thaksin's political
soft spots. In a wide-ranging 90-minute interview
with ATol's Southeast Asia editor Shawn W Crispin,
Sondhi reflected on his year of living dangerously
and the country's perilous political road ahead.
Explain the situation
behind last year's September 19
are two theories. One is that they really wanted
to get rid of Thaksin. They saw Thaksin was very
detrimental to Thailand, particularly to the
All of them:
the military, [Privy Council president] Prem ...
You have to understand Thai politics. Whether you
like it or not, since 1976 you cannot analyze
political events without involving the monarchy
institution. That's for sure.
involvement of the king has depended on how severe
the situation was. In certain circumstances, the
king sends a mild signal and things come to an
end. Sometimes the king has to come out - like he
did with [coup leader] General Suchinda Kraprayoon
to stop the fighting [in 1992] - and send a strong
signal. But whatever the case, the request for
military intervention or for the king to come out
has always had one prerequisite: there must be
That old political theory, that
there must be bloodshed for the king to intervene,
did not work when its purpose was to get rid of
Thaksin. So that more or less upset their planned
solution. I remember vividly that when there was
[street protest] against Thaksin, I always had
people calling me: "Khun Sondhi, could you move
things a little bit forward, have a little
confrontation, let us see a little blood?"
Were these military
people making the calls?
[Nods]. Or [Prime Minister] Surayud Chulanont ...
I said no.
So did the Privy Council
play any role in organizing the protests you often
No, no, not at all. They wanted to kick out
Thaksin but they didn't have the people behind
them. That's why they mumbled and grumbled behind
Thaksin's back. And as time went by, they began to
see their political base waning.
Whom are we talking about
I would call them the old
feudalists. The feudal elite, people like the
[Kasikorn Bank founders] Lamsam family, those
types. They were beginning to see their power base
decline slowly. When they saw Thaksin start
intervening in areas that no politician [before]
dared to intervene in, which included military
reshuffles, they got even more scared.
That's the reason why they
had to fight back. If you recall, the palace
always insisted upon who would be the next
commander-in-chief of the army. They would let go
of the lower-ranking commanders, let Thaksin have
them. That's why the [pre-cadet] Class 10  came
up and Thaksin was buying time. So when [General]
Pravit [Wongsuwan] retired as army commander, it
became [General] Sonthi [Boonyaratklin] - although
want Sonthi. It took Sonthi almost a year to
reshuffle all the regiments and regional
commanders to prepare for a showdown with Thaksin.
But they could not move forward because
they need the man, because without him they cannot
fight. Unfortunately, there was a guy named Sondhi
[Limthongkul]. [It was] unfortunate for myself
too. I fought Thaksin and I was able to pull up
the mass, and they were excited because [the
elites] never thought in their minds - and later
on they admitted it - that so many people would
come out. So they were both shocked and ecstatic.
So, all the elites were pulling all their forces
Who exactly? Are we
talking about the likes of the Lamsam family?
I would never
know, I would never know. I was never contacted
personally and never carried money like 10 million
baht, no. But it always came in: 100,000 [about
US$3,000] here, 50,000 there, 100,000 here. There
were so many one hundred thousands coming in.
So you became the
traditional elites' de facto spokesman?
Exactly, exactly. The
situation was coordinated ... The king