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A Week in Review: January 22-28, 2011

Political Bed Hopping...

While Thai men have long been infamous for their lack of fidelity, it seems that promiscuity in Thailand is more institutionalised than we sweet, innocent farangs ever realised. Find out why here…

Just as various shades of anti-government protesters were beginning to assemble on the streets of Bangkok early last week, Thailand’s ever vigilant and always effective police pounced to nab a “suspicious-looking” individual who turned out to be carrying 2 homemade bombs.

Under interrogation, the man, identified as Tawatchai Iamnak, allegedly confessed to having been hired to plant the bombs and cause unrest amongst the protesters.

Tawatchai, a red shirt supporter who also confessed to having been involved in three earlier bombings in Thailand, directed police to an apartment in Bangkok where four other people were arrested and an arms cache including several grenades and bullets was discovered.

It seemed at first glance like a cut-and-dried case of effective Thai policing, but few were convinced by such oxymoronic nonsense (for the second week running).

The reds claimed it was a set-up to make them look bad; the yellows claimed it was a set-up to scare away their supporters. It was to be the first of a series of bizarre events that would divide former allies and unite former foes in the sectarian world of Thai politics.

First, there was the anti-government protest – or should that be ‘protests’? In the immediate vicinity of government house, three sets of protesters set up camp at three separate sites. The once closely-aligned yellow shirts (PAD), Thai Patriots Network (TPN) and Santi Asoke Sect remained united in their disapproval of the government’s handling of border issues with Cambodia, yet increasingly divided in their individual efforts to achieve their common goal.

The three groups denied rumours of a rift but stressed that they just needed their own space right now.

To further complicate the issue, a red shirt group set up camp at nearby Democracy Monument to protest against the yellow shirts for interfering in Thailand’s foreign affairs. While nobody was overly surprised at the reds protesting against the yellows, there was to be a bizarre twist in this tale [sic] when – by the end of the week – the promiscuous TPN was brazenly wooing the red shirts into joining forces with them in an effort to bring about the government’s downfall and make the yellows jealous.

While the PAD tried to act as if it didn’t matter, it clearly still has feelings for the TPN and was hurting inside.

And what of the PAD’s own fast disintegrating relationship with the Democrat Party? Having played a significant role in bringing about the downfall of the pro-red Thaksin, Samak and Songchai governments to pave the way for the Democrats to take office, the yellow shirts it seems have now set their sights on bringing down their former ally proving that Hell hath no fury like a mistress scorned.

Proof of the growing division came last week when the yellow shirts openly condemned former PAD star campaigner and current Foreign Affairs Minister in the Democrat-led coalition government, Kasit Piromya, for his refusal to support their demands to stop being friends with Cambodia.

While yellow shirt speakers accused Kasit of neglecting his duty as Foreign Minister for refusing to take Thailand to war with Cambodia over a couple of square kilometres of rocky outcrop, Kasit himself provided the quote of the week when he said, "If there is any conflict (with neighbouring countries), we have to negotiate peacefully as friends. The PAD should not act like a baby or react with emotion." Ouch!

The government offered to hold talks with the PAD in a bid to settle the issue, but PAD leader Maj. Gen. Chamlong Srimuang obviously failed to heed Kasit’s advice when he defiantly announced that the protesters are not interested in talking and will continue to rally until their demands are met.

It is a source of mystery to many why both the red-shirted United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship and the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy insist on incorporating the word ‘democracy’ into their titles when they are nothing more than unelected representatives of a minority of Thai people who only wish to dictate and impose their self-serving conditions on the will of the masses.

I know that history is not a popular subject in Thai schools but did none of them learn about the catastrophic failures of fascism and communism?

So what exactly is the current anti-government rally about? The protesters are demanding that the government revoke the memorandum of understanding drafted in 2000 on boundary demarcation between Thailand and Cambodia, withdraw from UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, and use military force to evict Cambodians from the 4.6 sq km of disputed areas.

The government has refused the protesters’ demands for the simple reason that doing so would – in the first two cases – put Thailand at a disadvantage in terms of its international legal rights to the land and – in the third case – send Thai troops to war with a neighbour and trading partner over 4.6 sq km of rocky hilltop land.

Just as the UDD and the PAD seem to have confused democracy with dictatorship, so the Thai Patriots Network and its current allies appear to have difficulty differentiating between patriotism and nationalism.

Surely there are more important and more urgent issues that need to be addressed in Thailand. If the PAD, TPN and the Santi Asoke Sect really care about the well-being of their country, why don’t they protest against institutionalised corruption, the state of the Thai education system, or freedom of speech? All of these are in far greater need of attention than 4.6 sq km of a rocky hilltop.

Paul Snowdon – January 29, 2011

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