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A Week in Review: May 29 - June 4, 2010

The protests and rioting might be over, but Thailand’s problems are far from resolved. The action moved from the streets to government house this week, but instead of a civilised political debate, we were served up a debacle of political immaturity.  Read our week in review here...

As the dust settled on more than two months of street protests, public intimidation, rioting and arson, many police chiefs found themselves being transferred to inactive posts as punishment for their...well...for their inactivity.  A punishment that falls somewhere between poetic justice and sardonic irony.

Meanwhile, the action of the last seven days moved – for the time being at least – indoors as it evolved from the naked aggression of street protests into the more civilised confrontation afforded by judicial and political processes.

On Sunday, the mostly pro-government multi-coloured shirt group submitted impeachment charges against ten Puea Thai MPs. A day later Thaksin hired highly renowned war crimes lawyer, Professor GJ Alexander Knoops from the Nertherlands, in a somewhat melodramatic attempt to discredit the government for human rights violations.

Having previously investigated atrocities in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, the professor might be better employed running due diligence tests on his new employer, who is accused of human rights atrocities of his own at Tak Bai and in his controversial war on drugs during which almost 3,000 of the citizens he was elected to serve were arbitrarily executed.

On Monday, the eagerly-anticipated censure debate began. With the opposition Puea Thai party promising to reveal damning evidence implicating the government as wanton aggressors in the recently ended protests, there was a great deal of hope and expectation across Thailand that the truth behind what really happened would be brought out into the open and proven beyond doubt – one way or another.

We were in for disappointment. A succession of Puea Thai MPs showed their democratic immaturity by dragging the debate down to the level of childish name-calling rather than presenting any meaningful or indisputable evidence to support their vitriolic claims.

One of the first points on the agenda was Puea Thai’s claim that the government had blocked the red shirt sponsored People’s TV signal to the northeast of the country. However, when it transpired that the signal had been disrupted after red shirt protesters burnt a broadcast relay station in Khon Kaen, it set the tone for the impotent attack that was to follow.

The first truly meaningful point for debate was over the killing of 6 people in Wat Pathumwanaram, which had been designated as a “safe” area for protesters as the rally was drawing to an end.

Puea Thai presented pictures of troops on the sky train tracks as evidence that soldiers had killed the sheltering protesters, while the government’s defence centred on their apparently correct explanation that the pictures were either from different times or at different locations. The government also presented autopsy evidence that suggested most of the victims could not have been shot from an elevated position. Neither side was able to prove their claim conclusively.

The use of live ammunition by the troops appeared to be Puea Thai’s most credible point, while their claims that only a few “men in black” could not have killed so many people, that the army used excessive force on April 10, and that troops started the fire at Central World were at best lacking in tangible evidence or at worst nothing more than unsubstantiated conjecture.

Despite the serious nature of the topics, Puea Thai MPs seemed intent on degrading the debate into a playground squabble, which only served to give the impression that their arguments lacked weight.

In contrast, the MPs under censure remained largely calm and patient throughout, even when faced with such absurd nonsense as Jatuporn ranting that the government stirred up hatred against reds and made false claims that they were inciting acts of terrorism. Bearing in mind the widely-circulated videos of Jatuporn and other red shirt leaders making angry speeches in which they encourage their supporters to burn Bangkok to the ground, Jatuporn’s hubris took hypocrisy to a whole new level.

Wednesday was decision day, and not surprisingly, the six coalition MPs survived the confidence vote. PM Abhisit had the best return with 246 votes for (including 1 vote from a Puea Thai MP) and 186 votes against. The other five MPs were Deputy PM Suthep (245/187), Finance Minister Korn (244/187); Foreign Minister Kasit (239/190), Chavarat (236/194) and Sohpon (234/196).

Despite the positive results for the government, however, the voting exposed some rifts within the fragile coalition as several Puea Pandin MPs voted against Chavarat and Sohpon of the Bhum Jai Thai party. The rift is not one of ideology, but rather one of personal spats and backstabbing.

Puea Pandin MPs are known to be unhappy about the allocation of funds and ministerial portfolios. Their voting against the two Bhum Jai Thai MPs in the censure debate was nothing more than a power play. However, it backfired on them as Newin Chidchob, the de facto leader of Bhum Jai Thai, made an “us or them” ultimatum to the PM in response.

Over in the opposition camp, there was also trouble in the ranks. During the previous week’s budget bill, 25 opposition MPs either abstained or supported the government, and up to 4 voted for government MPs during the censure debate with abstentions once more in double figures.

Rumours were rife of MPs jumping ship from both sides, an all too common event in the immature Thai political system which consists of several small parties, which are in turn made up of smaller factions ready to change allegiance to the highest bidder at the drop of a hat. In such an environment, it is little surprise that strong ideological parties have failed to grow.

By the end of the week, the government reshuffled its cabinet and ousted 11 Puea Pandin MPs from the coalition, a shortfall that it made up with an equal number of defectors from other parties.

While the government ended the week stronger than it had started, a coalition of six parties and countless factions can never be considered a stable base on which to run a country.

Paul Snowdon – June 5, 2010

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