Richard Lloyd Perry
The key question is how such a mob, with a few light arms at best, was able to occupy a key strategic installation such as an airport so easily and for so long. If foreign soldiers or armed terrorists, like the ones who attacked Mumbai last week, had stormed Suvarnabhumi, there is little doubt that Thailand’s police and army would have fought stoutly against them. It wasn’t that they could not keep out the PAD, but that they chose not to. And this raises the next question – who is really running Thailand?
Despite their name, the PAD favours a constitutional restriction of democracy to reduce the influence of the rural voters who have repeatedly voted in the now exiled Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters. The majority of Thai voters may reject the PAD’s arrogant and self-righteous politics. But its apparent immunity over the past week shows that it has backing from institutions powerful enough to intimidate the police and the army.
Who might they be? The answers one hears, even from the best informed Thais, are vague and hard to prove. No doubt many of the PAD supporters are genuine in their disgust at Mr Thaksin and the adulation he won among the rural poor – but this does not explain how they were able so blatantly to flout the law.
Sondhi Limthongkul, the movement’s chief leader, is a wealthy media mogul with a popular television station, but he alone could not have sustained the PAD for so long.
Darker rumours – and they are little more than that – infer support within Thailand’s powerful monarchy – perhaps from Queen Sirikit, who has been notable for expressing “sympathy” for PAD members injured in earlier clashes with the police. Her support for the movement, the speculation goes, is intended to counteract the influence which Mr Thaksin was said to have had over her son, the unpopular Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
All of this is difficult even to talk about in Thailand, where the crime of lese majeste – defaming the monarchy – is punishable with heavy prison sentences. Whatever the truth of what lies behind the sinister PAD, it will continue to exert its influence long after the boarding gates have opened and the unhappy tourists have gone home.
Who really knows who is pulling the strings behind the scenes? We know that the Thai media won't ever get their crack reporters on the job and discover the truth, because they are either lazy, incompetent or afraid. Everything we know about the shadowy world of Thai politics is based upon circumstantial evidence, supposition and educated guesses.
What we do know for certain is that there are double standards when it comes to enforcing the law and that the judiciary seems to be taking orders based upon political considerations. This is not the first time. They nullified the last election after taking orders from above.
The PAD is a protected class, no doubt. So who are the police, military and judges afraid of?
They are not afraid of the government, not afraid of getting sacked, not afraid of losing face, not afraid of the untold damage to Thailand's economy, not afraid of losing their professional dignity, not afraid of foreign criticism, and not afraid of losing authority and general respect from the Thai masses.
One can only speculate that there is one institution in Thailand that they are willing to lose so much in return for so little. That is the monarchy.
My personal opinion is that HMTK is probably fed up with the whole lot, especially after 60 years of the same nonsense, and that the notoriously right-wing Dowager Queen is calling the shots.
Coincidentally, Absolutely Bangkok is pondering the same question.