2Bangkok Situation Update: Botched raid and Anupong steps forward

2Bangkok Situation Update: Botched raid and Anupong steps forward - April 17, 2010
More answers to various questions about the present situation.

Why was the police raid to capture Red Shirt leaders botched?

It is not clear exactly the reason, but it is probably a combination of factors. Thai institutions are not know for coordinating well nor carrying out operations that require force with finesse. It is also true that some parts of the police are sympathetic to Thaksin and this explains the go-slow attitude of letting the leaders escape as opposed of fighting through a crowd to capture them. Also, the stigma of being blamed for tactical failure still haunts both the police and military and this results in hesitation and avoidance of conflict in a way Westerners perhaps cannot fully comprehend.

Whatever the reason for its failure, the bungled raid will allow each side to see the worst of the situation. The Red Shirts will again be emboldened as it seems the authorities do not have the stomach to capture them. Opponents of the Democrats will see it as another proof that PM Abhisit does not have the authority to command. Military leaders will see it a proof that a legalistic, gentle approach will not be enough to clear the Red Shirts and that a hardcore crackdown is the only way to save the nation.

The botched raid, any way one looks at it, bodes ill for any quick end to the conflict.

Above: The "coup on TV" from 2008

What is the military meeting about next week (on April 19)? Is the military still supporting the government?

The military has not wavered in its support of the government, but has made tactical moves to say it wants early dissolution--but only after the government pushes through the budget and annual reshuffle. Talk of dissolution is merely a public relations ploy to distance itself from the Democrat's decision-making (even assuming that the Democrats responsible for all the decisions made during last weekend's crackdown).

The crackdown exposed "rogue" forces participating actively against the military, validated the boasts of Sah Deang and Gen. Pallop, and is surely is resulting in both fear and hurt pride in army ranks. There will be a strong desire to avenge the deaths of soldiers and restore the army's self-held belief in its supremacy over the nation.

It is not clear the exact nature of the Monday meeting, but it is safe to assume it is the military's way to show a united face against further Thaksin-Red Shirt provocations. This time it will likely be used to underline the seriousness of the situation while displaying that the armed forces are united. The military remains happy to let the Democrat government take the blame for any actions against the Reds.

These kind of public moves by the military again demonstrate (at least at the highest level) that there is no desire for a coup. This is similar to the "coup on TV" from 2008 when leaders appeared on TV to call on the government to step down.

What is the meaning of the C-in-C replacing Suthep in handling emergency operations?

In effect the duties of governing and handling the security situation are being split between the government and military. Commander-in-Chief Anupong is going to personally take control of the Emergency Operations Command (it was formerly held by Deputy PM Suthep). It is very early to understand the ramifications of this, but it seems to show that the government and military are taking a harder and more serious line in relation to the recent bungled security activities.

This means that the authorities are taking the recent events very seriously and are willing to exert force and prestige in restoring the situation to normal. This shows that there is a desire for the government not to collapse under the impression that they cannot direct security forces. It means the military has been shaken by the apparent rouge soldiers who supported the Reds and have given the impression that Thailand in in a state of civil war. It means the military need to take action, but do not want an outright coup (despite calls already coming from the Red Shirts that this is a coup).

This could mean more deliberate and steady tough action against the Reds--and more bloody as well. The Thai military has always been an uncompromising and even cruel force when it acts on its own--but it does stand for the status quo.

[Update: Some in the Thai-language press are interpreting this appointment as a surprise move to force Anupong to take responsibility for action for carrying out government orders regarding security. Apparently, this is the Red Shirts' position as well--that the appointment was a surprise. Considering how closely the government and military have coordinated their activities so far, the Red Shirt interpretation seems unlikely.]

Is more violence likely?

The Red Shirts are emboldened and earlier in the week vowed to split Bangkok in two with a protest site that stretches across the city and through the heart of the tourist district (down Sukhumvit Road). [Update: This plan has already been updated to set up a new rally site in front of Bangkok Bank headquarters on Silom Road.]

At this moment there is little stomach for open conflict as both sides are jockeying to get their version of events out for maximum public benefit. As mentioned before, the Red Shirt activity on the ground is merely the extension of political behind-the-scenes jockeying to bring the government down by any means necessary. Abhisit's authority is hanging by a thread, but authorities will want to make sure he does not lose total legitimacy as all want him to be blamed for whatever tough decisions have to be made in the near future.

It is notable that the PM was not seen in public for most of the week. Once the brightest star of the Democrats' aristocratic elite, Abhisit seems destined to be sacrificed in his historical role as the sharp end of the spear against the first challenge to the authority of the traditional Thai state in the 21th century.

We also cannot ignore the growing calls in some quarters that an old-fashioned right-wing crackdown is called for to remove a relatively small group of people acting on Thaksin's behalf. Such a crackdown would, at the same time, set a precedent for other calculating political figures in the future--like Newin Chidchob--who might be tempted to use the same type of tactics in a future political crisis.

Ironically this desire for blood comes from the same progressive middle- and upper-class that opposed military moves in the early 1990s. This again goes to show that ideology plays little role in Thai politics and is instead driven by the "ends justifies the means" thinking.

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