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Sunday, April 12, 2009

BBC on the ASEAN Summit Implosion

BBC


Four months ago, the telegenic, youthful leader of the Democrats, Thailand's oldest political party, emerged in triumph from parliament, having pulled off a remarkable coup.

After years in the political wilderness, Abhisit Vejjajiva had stitched together a winning coalition, wresting control of parliament from allies of Thaksin Shinawatra for the first time in eight years.


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Disrupting an Asean summit would bring them far greater international media coverage, and undermine Mr Abhisit's claim to have restored stability.


No surprise, then, that the red-shirted protesters from the UDD (United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship), the movement that has spearheaded the campaign against this government, chose to shift their rallies from Bangkok to this month's summit venue in the seaside resort of Pattaya.


As this was no surprise, the government had plenty of time to prepare - 8,000 police and soldiers were deployed to block all the routes leading to the Royal Cliff Hotel, where the summit was taking place.


It seemed unlikely protesters would be able to break through unless they came in massive numbers - and the crowds that eventually descended on Pattaya were never more than several thousand.

Yet the UDD, armed with no more than sticks and the odd slingshot, managed to push their way through police and army lines repeatedly.


At times the atmosphere seemed almost jovial, with one group of navy officers laughing and taking pictures of the red-shirts as they swarmed through.


Even right outside the gates of the hotel itself, soldiers refused to use force, and the protesters were able to barge their way in, which led to the humiliating evacuation of several Asian leaders by helicopter.

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Mr Abhisit had to make a grovelling phone call to apologise to Premier Wen, who, despite diplomatically saying he understood the prime minister's actions, must have been thinking: "This could never happen in China."


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But what explains the inaction of the military, a force thought to be staunchly loyal to this government?

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"If you take off the uniforms of these people, what you find are the children of poor families," Jakrapob Penkair, one of the protest leaders told me. "So they are ideologically aligned with what the red-shirts are demanding."

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So there was more than a hint of schadenfreude over the events in Pattaya from Jakrapob Penkair.


"I can't deny that we are pleased that they showed the disarray and fragmentation of the government forces, that Abhisit is not in control," he said.


They also show that Thailand's deep and complex political divide is still beyond the abilities of its politicians to resolve.


There are various things at play here.


1. The Thaksin question.


2. The deep-seated resentment of the upcountry poor who have been insulted and disenfranchised by the Bangkok elite time and time again. How many times can you be insulted and stepped on before you fight back?


3. Succession is always in the back of people's minds, and I think that was one of the biggest reasons for the coup since the aristocracy didn't want Thaksin managing the transition, but now I think that has moved to secondary status.


I think Abhisit and the Democrats blew it by allying themselves with the PAD and military. They should have never joined the PAD to begin with back in 06, they should have never given their blessings to the coup, they should have stayed away from the PAD and airport/government house seizures during the PPP interregnum period, and they should have prosecuted the PAD for their crimes.

Because Abhsit and the Democrats aligned themselves with the PAD and the military, they are now reaping karmic justice. It could have been avoided if the Democrats were not hypocrites.

Now, Thailand is stuck in a cycle of tit for tat with no honest broker to take the reigns of power and reconcile the country. Tulsie talks about tit for tat here. But maybe Tulsie should have cared about the country more than his personal vendettas against Thaksin. He took sides with the PAD and military. The Nation was always part of the problem and never part of the solution.

If you think about, Thaksin has probably won, because the only out I can see is for there to be a general amnesty for everybody. That is probably his personal endgame.

I think coups are now a thing of the past, because the military has proven itself completely incompetent when it comes to security matters. It is a good thing Thailand doesn't really have any external enemies. It would lose a war.

If anything, I hope the leading intellectuals will have the courage to point out the security appartuses of the country are in total disarray and need to be overhauled and reformed, but I doubt this will happen. There is not one entity in the entire country that can confront the military and police mafias. They may be incompetent, but they still have the guns.

If there is no general amnesty, I think the only thing that will take place is more emphasis on propaganda with The Nation leading the way, judicial activism with the blessings of the royalists, and repression headed by the army, but I think the cat is out of the bag and there is no returning to the days of sweeping all the political and social justice problems under the carpet with the elite continuing to have their feet firmly planted on the necks of the poor.


1 comment:

David said...

Prem and his "privy" and military mates have not resigned or flown the country

they have been shown to be out of control of their troops but while they are still in their offices the problem remains

until they are gone the redshirts have more work to do