(Adds analyst comment in fifth paragraph.)
June 15 (Bloomberg) -- Thai Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who commanded troops in the 2006 coup that ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, urged voters to pick “good people” in July 3 polls and warned criticism of the monarchy won’t be tolerated.
“We should come out to vote to solve the country’s problems by picking good people,” Prayuth said, according to a video on the website of the army-controlled Channel 7 station. He told voters not to pick the “same thing” in elections, the last four of which have been won by parties loyal to Thaksin.
Pheu Thai, headed by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra, is now leading in opinion surveys. The last three election results have been overturned by the coup and legal challenges, provoking street protests that have cost more than 100 lives.
The army has seen a growing number of insults to the monarchy during the election campaign, Prayuth said, citing examples of Thais who live overseas including former Thaksin spokesman and Cabinet minister Jakrapob Penkair. The military has accused Thaksin and his supporters of undermining King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 83, who took the throne in 1946 and has his picture hung in the majority of Thai homes out of reverence.
Prayuth is “clearly trying to set some of the ideological groundwork for possible intervention if that proves necessary,” said Andrew Walker, a professor at the Australian National University in Canberra. “It’s hard to see them accepting a Pheu Thai government when the prime ministerial candidate is so transparently a proxy for Thaksin.”
Credit Suisse Group AG and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. downgraded the nation’s equities this week on concern over the election, inflation and increased valuations. Thailand’s baht weakened toward a three-month low as global funds sold $678 million more Thai equities than they bought this month.
The benchmark SET Index fell 0.4 percent as of 4:13 p.m. local time. The baht lost 0.1 percent to 30.49 per dollar as of 4:15 p.m., according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The currency touched 30.54 on June 13, the weakest level since March 3.
Thailand’s constitution says the king “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.” The lese-majeste law makes it a criminal offense to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir apparent or regent. Offenders face as many as 15 years in prison per charge.
“We can’t let them violate the law,” Prayuth said. “Thailand can be the Thailand of today because of the royal institution.”
In 2009, 164 lese-majeste cases went before the lower courts, up from 33 in 2005, according to statistics compiled by David Streckfuss, an academic at Khon Kaen University in northeast Thailand. A court revoked bail last month for two Thaksin allies who led anti-government protests in which 90 people were killed, on the grounds they made political speeches that insulted the royal family.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva set up a panel to vet lese-majeste complaints after he took power in a 2008 parliamentary vote. The body is designed to establish “the norms and the precedent cases clearer to law enforcement agencies,” he told reporters yesterday.
Thaksin has directed party affairs from overseas since fleeing a two-year jail sentence for abuse of power in 2008. He read the party’s economic policies to a Bangkok rally last month and its campaign slogan reads “Thaksin Thinks, Pheu Thai Does.”
Overturning Thaksin’s verdict “would set a new and very dangerous precedent,” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters yesterday. “Bringing Thaksin back with amnesty is likely to cause a lot of controversy. It’s not something the people want, it’s not something the country wants.”
Thailand has seen 18 successful or attempted military takeovers since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932. In 2009, about 100,000 pro-Thaksin protesters marched to top royal adviser Prem Tinsulanonda’s house in Bangkok to demand he quit for backing the 2006 coup, a charge he denies.
--With assistance from Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok. Editors: Ben Richardson, Patrick Harrington
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