Friday, April 23, 2010

A simple guide to Thai anarchy and chaos

Political upheaval is underway. Most people are confused as to what exactly is going on. Here are my observations:

1. The red shirts are rallying against the 2006 coup. They are staging a modern version of a people's revolution. They have all three elements necessary for a revolution: A party, mass support and an army. The April 10 clash between red shirts and troops represents the first round of an armed struggle against the government.

They are applying pressure with the street rally, via parliamentary means and also through violence. At the same time, a third party is carrying out acts of sabotage almost on a daily basis outside the capital.

2. The red shirts want to amend the Constitution to weaken the monarchy. Dr weng Tojirakarn, one of the red-shirt leaders, admitted the other day that one of the political aspirations of the red shirts is to reduce the Thai monarchy to a similar status to that of Japan, the UK, the Netherlands and others.

3. The chief sponsors of the red shirts are Thaksin Shinawatra, the Pheu Thai Party, the elite, the military and an unnamed militia, the police, big businesses, NGOs and leftists. This movement also appeals to the masses both in Bangkok and upcountry.

4. In essence, the red-shirt phenomenon is a clash between new money and old money for power - which has little to do with the claims of the masses.

5. Apart from weakening the monarchy, the red shirts intend to give amnesty to banned ex-Thai Rak Thai politicians and also to core leaders of the red shirts now detained under the Internal Security Act.

6. I am surprised by the change of heart of many characters at this juncture. Rosana Tositrakul, a progressive senator, sprung a surprise by proposing amnesty for the red-shirt leaders so they can have a soft landing after the dispersal of the rally. Kasit Phirom, the foreign minister, recently spoke in Washington DC and called for reform of the Thai monarchy in a changing world. Anand Panyarachun, a former prime minister, views the red shirts as part of a social and political movement similar to the human rights movement in the US. He found nothing unusual in Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and Somchai Wongsawat's request for His Majesty the King to mediate. Banharn Silapa-Archa was more straightforward, calling the move by Chavalit and Somchai as "inappropriate" because this crisis should not involve the monarchy.

7. The Democrat Party is at risk of being dissolved. The Election Commission has ruled that the party should be dissolved for financial irregularities. But the case will have to be vetted by the attorney general and it may or may not go to the Constitution Court. There have been attempts to accelerate this process to dissolve the party. If Abhisit dissolves Parliament, he would serve as acting PM. If the Democrats are dissolved while he is PM, there will be a political void. With a dissolution, there exists only the Senate. The Senate president will go through a process to pick a new PM. The Constitution could even be amended to allow a non-MP to serve as PM. Thus the motivation of some who call for a House dissolution.

8. PM Abhisit is indecisive. He is afraid that if troops move in to evict the red shirts, they might be met with armed resistance. If there are more deaths, he will be blamed. Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban and Army chief Gen Anupong Paochinda are also reluctant to use force. The indecisiveness and stalemate has raised security problems in the capital to boiling point.

9. Negotiations for a truce are difficult. Abhisit has called the armed red shirts "terrorists". If he were to hold talks with the red shirts now, it would amount to negotiating with terrorists. It is difficult to distinguish the terrorists from the innocent protesters.

10. The mechanisms for maintaining law and order are breaking down. The police are doing virtually nothing against repeated red-shirt violations of the law. Illegal weapons are brought into Bangkok in vast quantities.

11. People in multicoloured shirts, tired of the chaos, are coming out to air the message of peace. They have been partially infiltrated by the yellow shirts, who are waiting anxiously for the government to take decisive action against the reds.

12. We are on the threshold of anarchy and a possible change of regime. If no action is taken or solution found, a clash between the reds and the multi-coloured shirts could take place again to widen the conflict. By that time, a civil war might not be avoided and it will be almost impossible handle.

13. All parties are playing at brinkmanship, holding the entire country hostage. Abhisit himself is caught between a red-shirt revolution and an impending military coup, as the situation appears already to be out of control. The Nation, Bangkok By Thanong Khanthong

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