As usual, the right wing has responded to the demonstrations for democracy with violence. In what is a typical PAD tactic, a woman deliberately drove her car into red-shirt demonstrators and wounded two people, one of them a municipal cleaner. Leaders of the demonstration have called on the police to act quickly to arrest the woman, who was caught on video and presumably should not be too difficult to track. However, according to one story, “Police rejected their demands,” apparently. Does that mean that police will not act at all or will not take her to the demonstration site? It is not clear.
Meanwhile, the police seem to be moving more expediently in the plot to assassinate Chanchai Likhitjittha (recently named as one of the chief plotters behind the 2006 military coup, allegedly), as well as exploding ten bombs and launching arson attacks on banks and government buildings. This is an extraordinary story which suggests that there is more to discover: it appears at the moment that several military figures (who may or may not be linked to members of the Democrat Party and General Prem Tinsulanonda, depending on which report is read) orchestrated an assassination attempt which has been foiled. Those who were to actually do the killing were working class blokes, who would easily be sacrificed by the military, presumably.
What could be the motivation for this plot? It could be to spread chaos and unrest (as occurred with the New Year’s Eve bombings a couple of years ago), perhaps as a precursor for yet another military coup. Let us see what else emerges, if anything.
Meanwhile, as many as 200,000 people demonstrated yesterday for democracy and an end to the Invisible Hand system. The Quisling has refused to resign (the Invisible Hand would not let him even if he wanted to) and there is talk of transferring the protests to Pattaya, where the ASEAN + 3 talks are due to be held.
Protest leaders are talking in apocalyptic terms that there must be a winner soon and that all must be resolved, rather than settling down to long-term protests. Still, the first call by an academic for parliament to be dissolved has already been made. Interesting times.
It costs between 30-50,000 baht to have someone assassinated in Thailand, apparently. There are various gangs of killers for hire around the country, according to the Bangkok Post and police seem to know who they are but lack evidence to prosecute gang leaders. A senior officer is claiming that there may be an increase in the work of assassins if a new election is to be called in a couple of months, which is what rumours suggest will happen and that a new political party will contest it wearing yellow. Political killings have been a feature of public life for decades, as I have written here before. Some killings are intended to terrorise people who might wish to challenge the status quo (e.g. labour union activists, human rights lawyers, environmentalists) and others are intended to remove rivals or their key supporters.
Now that court-decisions have acted to end the use of ideology in Thai politics, voting will return to the money politics, personality politics and vote-buying that was so prevalent prior to the 2001 election. An interesting paper in the Journal of Asian Studies by Katherine A. Bowie suggests that vote-buying has not been endemic in rural Thailand but was an aberration of the 1990s that was brought about by conflicts between laws aiming to decentralize politics and older laws from the absolute monarchy period. Outside of that time period, vote-buying has not been a significant issue in reality, although a different perception might well be gathered from paying attention to the national media here. The paper is “Vote Buying and Village Outrage in an Election in Northern Thailand: Recent Legal Reforms in Historical Context by Katherine A Bowie. The Journal of Asian Studies. Ann Arbor: May 2008. Vol. 67, No.2.
Khun Angkhana Neelaphaijit, wife of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit who disappeared a few years ago, has wondered whether one of the police officers identified by witnesses may have faked his own death. The officer concerned, Pol Maj Ngern Thongsuk, was reported to have been washed away on September 19th during the construction of a reservoir. The body of his relative, Khun Naruechai Chinwannarat, was apparently recovered but that of the Pol Maj has not been. He had been identified by witnesses as being involved in forcing Khun Somchai into a car on Ramkhamhaeng Road on the night he disappeared. Many people assume that he was killed (since his body has not been recovered, this is just an assumption by people) in connection with his defence activities of people in the deep south. Few court cases are brought about in the region despite the many thousands of deaths caused by the insurgency and a wide range of other alleged crimes.
Political killings have been quite common in Thailand of course. Notorious criminals such as Field Marshall Sarit would run up and shoot (according to my informant in this area) various Chinese workers accused, however lightly, of gangsterism and shooting them. These killings, like many others, tended to go unreported in the press – a few weeks ago, a letter to the Bangkok Post pointed out a shooting death almost at the gates of Chulalongkorn University which has subsequently gone unreported. Benedict Anderson, in an article in the New Left Review entitled ‘Murder and Progress in Modern Society’ some years ago distinguished between two principal categories of murder: ‘national’ killings which were performed by agents of the state and were anti-middle class in intention so as to reinforce the political status quo and the ‘local’ killings, which were performed by private mercenaries and were pro-middle class and intended to intimidate members of the subaltern classes and their self-appointed tribunes – that is, union leaders, community leaders and others standing in the way of progress.
There are too many guns available. The killings almost certainly continue, one way or another.