Well, it seems that reports of PM Samak Sundaravej’s political demise have been somewhat exaggerated. Breathless newspaper reports from the right wing press this morning (that’s, in fact, pretty much all of them) suggested Khun Samak was totally isolated and under extreme pressure and was sure to resign at the speech to be given to the media planned for this morning.
As it turned out, in what is described as a ‘rambling’ speech (I was teaching and did not hear it), Khun Samak surprised many (and delighted many more) by announcing that he was not throwing in the towel just yet. The Stock Exchange bounced on the news and faith was restored in human nature to some extent – it had been buttressed by further reports that the vast majority of the labour union movement had rejected the disgraceful, self-serving call by a tiny minority of union leadership for a strike in favour of the armed right-wing PAD thugs currently illegally occupying the government compound. Of course, it is difficult to know exactly how many supported the thugs because many of those involved would have taken a sick day off rather than officially gone on strike – laws against labour disputes are still shamefully fierce in Thailand and no national strike has ever been managed – this is a subject to which I may return subsequently.
The government is also proposing a referendum to sort out the political future – it will ask (there is some confusion about exactly how many questions will be asked and what they will be) whether or not the government should step down. Opinion polls fairly strongly suggest that the majority of Thais, even in Bangkok, prefer democracy to the authoritarian patronage system that the right wing PAD thugs are determined to bring about. Will it do any good? The PAD thugs have already made it clear that they do not accept the right of the poor to vote so why will they accept the referendum when it shows the majority of the people do not support them? Or is this a way for the government to return the onus on maintaining public order and the rule of law to the army – under the emergency decree, the army (which has been permitted to retain the bloated budget it awarded itself during the disastrous 2006-7 junta rule) should have taken action to disperse the armed right wing PAD thugs and arrested its leaders on outstanding arrest warrants for treason and other crimes against the state.