Rightists Respond with Characteristic Violence

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.

Is This the Day?

Is this the day? It might be.

Many thousands of red-shirted pro-democracy supporters are expected to demonstrate in Bangkok and throughout the country. They will make their demands – an end to the unelected Abhisit government and a return to the 1997 Constitution.

Yet two factors make this a very different occasion from previous demonstrations. First, despite the pathetic protestations of lying rightists and cronies, the pro-democracy movement has been decoupled from support for ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra. He supports the movement, of course and is allied with it but does not lead it. This has enabled many people who were pro-democracy but uncomfortable identifying themselves as Thaksin supporters to join the movement. The increasingly desperate attempts by the right-wing press (and foolish international media persons who should know better) to paint the movement as being entirely about Khun Thaksin in fact reveal the truth.

Second and more important, since Khun Thaksin named Privy Councillor Prem Tinsulanonda as being the chief conspirators behind the 2006 military coup, an enormous taboo has been broken in Thai society. Now people feel free to discuss whether they really want the unelected and enormously privileged few to have so much power and money. The general feeling in the air is that there is an unbottling of rage and resentment, particularly at Prem, who has increasingly sought to equate himself with the Royal family. It is widely believed (the habit is hard to break) that Prem has been the secret hand behind so much of Thai politics in the last quarter of a century and it is also believed by some people that every decision he has made has benefited himself and his cronies while condemning the mass of Thai people to penury. Today will be the first day on which this will become an openly stated theme of the demonstrators.

If the privileged elite in the unelected bureaucracy, the privy council and the military do not prepare to make a proper compromise, they could see the whole edifice of their power swept away in a torrent of protest. Things could change very quickly – then again, the military might again be ordered in by invisible people behind the scenes to suppress political dissidence. Or nothing could happen. However, there is a recognition in at least some parts of the Thai media that things have genuinely changed.

Courts at Centre of Politics Once More

Attention returns to the various courts, once more, where steps are being taken to try to resolve Thailand’s political future – not, unfortunately, being decided by the will of the people or the competition of ideas and ideologies but the decisions made by individuals appointed in often contested circumstances (which is yet another code).

First, the Constitution court has repealed three laws passed during the junta period of 2006-7, when the jackboots ruled through the ‘National Legislative Assembly’ of appointed cronies. This includes a conflict of interest law which is clearly unworkable. However, in typical Thai fashion, the laws were repealed not because they are unjust or brought about by an illegitimate military junta but because there was not a proper quorum in the assembly when they were passed.

An attempt will be made to revoke other junta laws, including the banning of 111 Thai Rak Thai MPs for whatever pretext it was that was used. Meanwhile, the PPP (largest party in the ruling coalition and successor to TRT) continues to work towards changing the constitution – perhaps even the one giving the junta and its cronies immunity for its seizure of the country. That will be controversial, of course.

Dozens more lese majeste cases are also being prepared, including one against ‘veteran social campaigner’ Sulak Sivaraksa. One problem is, for those trying to understand what if anything it all means, is that no one is allowed to repeat what the allegations are or they will be charged as well.

Ten ‘inactive’ political parties are about to be disbanded, apparently. There is a lot more – a worthless busybody is making more allegations about Thaksin, for example, while public prosecutors are preparing more charges against the public ringleaders of the PAD mob – which is incidentally refusing to allow the royal funeral motorcade to pass along Rajdamnoen Nok Avenue.

Court jaw jaw is better than war war, of course, although it is hard to be enthusiastic about legal proceedings as a way of making policy. Never mind, let’s see what happens after the Royal Funeral and the ASEAN meeting.  

Bangkok Protests Have a Long Tradition

Protestors have managed to shut down the Environment Ministry by blocking access to the main building – at least temporarily. The protestors are concerned about the scheduled building of two new power plants in Saraburi and Chachoengsao Provinces. The concern centres on the possible environmental impact of the new plants and the fact that, as they see it, there is no meaningful public impact into environmental impact assessments.

Protesting in Bangkok by people throughout the Kingdom has a long and distinguished history. When I have visited the ministry of Labour, for example (to visit my wife), it was a common sight to witness retrenched (redundant) or striking workers bringing their case to the centre of power. Historically, the power of the state, present in the King, was delegated to aristocrats or mandarins spread throughout the country and these officials were given permission to ‘kin mueang’ – literally, ‘eat the state.’ In other words, officials were expected to keep some portion of the national revenue (from taxes, monopolies and trading tariffs) for their own purposes – this is considered to be the origin of corruption in the country. It was only when the official took too much that people would rebel and begin a march on the capital to take their protests to the king.

Normally, of course, the king would send soldiers to kill or disperse the peasants before they got anywhere near the capital but the tradition remains. Thais tend to believe in the monument supposedly set up the King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, which promised them that all people could come to him and he would listen to their grievances. And so, it is common for protestors to come to Bangkok and set up camp to demonstrate about the issues that concern them and either receive a hearing and some kind of assistance or have to give up and go home.

In the current environment, with the spoilt brat anti-democracy activists PAD whipping up hysteria through a wrongly friendly media, protestors run extra risks. There is a real danger of violence at the moment. Visitors should stay away from protests – it is, after all, illegal for foreigners to be involved in political protests (it dates back to the Communist scare).