THIS IS THAILAND
A Week in Review: May 1-7, 2010
If you think Thai soap operas are overdramatic, try following Thai politics. A hospital, a roadmap and a whodunit. We’ve had it all during the last seven days in Thailand. Read our week in review here...
Following the Chulalungkorn Hospital fiasco, Deputy Prime Minister and head of the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), Suthep Thaugsuban, seized on the anti-red sentiment by ordering that the red barricades be cleared as far back as Sarasin Intersection.
Meanwhile, there appeared to be conflicting voices coming from within the United front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) as division grew in their ranks. It is, perhaps, the only real testament to their claimed desire for democracy that they have almost as many leaders as they do foot soldiers. However, even a democracy needs an elected leader to give it direction.
Aware of the bad publicity that the hospital raid had caused, one of the red’s more politically savvy leaders, Weng Tochirakarn, ordered red guards to dismantle the barricades. However, the token gesture was initially resisted by red extremists including their paramilitary wing under the control of army specialist Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol, widely known as Seh Daeng, until he received a direct phone call from the reds’ true leader, Thaksin Shinawatra. Reluctantly, one lane was opened up to allow traffic into the besieged hospital, although in true red fashion, they set up their own illegal checkpoint to monitor all traffic.
On Sunday, the reds softened their stance after publicly admitting that raiding the hospital had been a mistake. The barricades were moved back almost as far as the Sarasin Intersection. However, they stubbornly continued to hold Lumpini Park fuelling speculation that the red army had concealed weapons inside central Bangkok’s largest green area.
Other news on Sunday centred on rumours about Thaksin’s health. While some felt that he had remained quiet in a propagandistic attempt to distance himself from his loyal but losing supporters, others speculated that he was sick, suffering from cancer or even dead. Such is the charisma of Thailand’s very own archetypal super villain that conspiracy theories and rumours abound. A supposed telephone call with a reporter from the Nation did little to quell the rumours.
A faint light appeared to flicker at the end of this seemingly never-ending tunnel on Monday when Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejajiva, presented his 5-point roadmap to national reconciliation. The five points included respect for the Monarchy, measures to combat financial disparity, a free but responsible media, an independent inquiry into all the deaths and injuries caused during the unrest, and amendments to the constitution. If the offer was accepted by the reds, the government would dissolve parliament in September and call an election on November 14.
While the roadmap was clearly seen as a carrot, it was balanced by a pretty sturdy stick. On the same day as the roadmap was announced, the government displayed the armoured assault vehicles it was prepared to use if the rally didn’t end soon. This was accompanied by an announcement that if the red shirt leaders resisted arrest with weapons, their lives could not be guaranteed.
The government had made it clear that it would go ahead with the roadmap whether the reds accepted it or not. However, the early dissolution of the house was dependent on red compliance and cross-party support was hoped for.
While Jatuporn continued to bark his homicidal rhetoric, most of the red shirts were making positive noises and even the opposition Phuea Thai leader, Chalerm Yubamrung, voiced his approval.
The only sticking point was over amnesties for red shirt leaders, but the government, publicly at least, stood firm and insisted that all criminal acts, including terrorism charges, against the leaders would be dealt with by the courts, although the rank and file supporters would not be charged. Some behind the scenes negotiations were clearly taking place but it seemed to be just a matter of time before normalcy was returned to Bangkok.
However, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) was not to be denied and the yellow shirts re-entered the political arena by declaring their opposition to the roadmap on the grounds that the PM was too weak and that the red shirt leaders must be prosecuted for their terrorist activities.
The government’s careful handling of the situation has been viewed by neutral observers as admirable since it has repeatedly refused to “take the bait”. However, this patience has come at a price. Many innocent people have been affected by the red’s occupation of Bangkok’s main commercial district and while the plight of the average red shirt supporter still receives some (albeit rapidly diminishing) sympathy from many law-abiding Thais and expats alike, the criminal acts of the red leaders can not be overlooked.
The irony is that it is the yellow-shirted PAD that is most vociferous in its condemnation of these criminal acts. Some two years after occupying both of Bangkok’s airports and Government House until the government of the day was dissolved under electoral fraud charges, yellow shirt leaders remain free. While they, admittedly, took a far less violent approach than the red shirts, their lack of prosecution is seen by many reds as double standards – one of their favourite rallying cries.
Despite the politicking, the week had been relatively peaceful until tragedy struck again late on Friday evening when two fatal attacks took place on security forces in the Silom area. In the first attack, one policeman was killed while two more policemen and two civilians were also injured in a motorcycle drive-by shooting. A short time later, a grenade attack on security forces next to Lumpini Park resulted in the death of another policeman and injuries to five more police officers and three soldiers.
The knee-jerk reaction was to blame the reds, but I am not so sure. We certainly have enough suspects in this particular whodunit.
Thaksin would benefit from the mayhem caused by a civil war and if his loyal red shirts won, he could return to Thailand a free man, reclaim his lost billions and take revenge on those he holds grudges against.
Seh Daeng is a spiteful and bitter man who is known to be angry that he has been suspended from the army for openly supporting the reds. He is suspected of involvement in other attacks.
The PAD has recently re-entered the fray, demanding martial law to deal with the reds. Stirring up anger and hatred against the reds would clearly help their cause.
The government may outwardly be displaying patience, but their bargaining position is always strengthened when the reds cross the line. Could they have ordered this and earlier attacks to discredit the reds?
Perhaps time will reveal the answer, but this is turning into a very dirty war.
Paul Snowdon – May 8, 2010
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28 Nov 2015, 03:42
I really wish there were more artilces like this on the web.