2Bangkok Situation Update: Building the conditions to take action

From Komchadluek, April 19, 2010
The headline reads: "What will be will be" - CRES to manage the red rally - Increasing degree to seize Silom
The words on the red rally sign at top right: UDD kills soldiers…

2Bangkok Situation Update: Building the conditions to take action - April 23, 2010

Pressure and expectation is building that some attempt may be made to clear Red Shirts from protest areas in Bangkok.

A psy-ops tempo has been building since the Commander-in-Chief took over control of emergency operations:

* Public demonstrations have quickly and repeatedly sprung up around town showing support for the King and military. These have always received blanket coverage by the media.

* Each day, authorities have released damaging claims about the Red Shirts--that they use human shields, are amassing weapons, etc.

* Stickers calling Thaksin the president of a new Siam were plastered all around army-controlled areas and then pointed out as example of how Thaksin wants to usurp the position of royalty (Thaksin and the Red Shirts deny they are behind these stickers).

* Top military and political figures are speaking out daily that "action must be taken," "wrong doers will be punished," etc.

* The Red Shirts--even with their limited numbers--have been allowed to branch out from their rally site and construct crude bamboo fortifications--all of this duly reported by the press usually with quotes from local residents bemoaning how terrible this is.

* Groups of anti-Red protesters have been allowed to clash with Red Shirts in a possible attempt to create a pretense for military action to restore order.

This all seems to be preparing the public for "necessary" action.

There is a growing perception that every day the Reds continue to thumb their noses at the authorities, this increases the renown of the movement and weakens the authority of the state. What is ultimately a protest for the immediate political goals of Thaksin has seemed to take on loftier ambitions since the April 10 crackdown. Even though the crackdown did not lead to universal condemnation of the government or even real sympathy for the Red Shirts, the resulting failure of the authorities to exert themselves in any way has the Red Shirts pushing the boundaries and daring the authorities to show they can control the situation. In just the last week there have been incidents of Red groups halting military shipments of men and arms within the country. There were also attempts to detonate fuel storage containers in Pathum Thani and at the Bangkok airport. All of this is a challenge to the authorities to demonstrate they really are in control.

Earlier limited actions to remove the Reds from a few areas on April 10 dangerously dented the army's pride when it was out-gunned by a shadowy force that the Reds always claimed they could field. The military had been trying to protect itself from blame and acting cautiously under the cover of the Prime Minister, but Commander-in-Chief Anupong has had to take heat over handling of events that day. The Prime Minister has since ducked for political cover and repeatedly stated that action now is up to Anupong.

The military has always attempted to hold itself above law, above parody, and above questioning from the press as the ultimate guardian of King and country. The loss of face the military has experienced has led to a boiling desire for revenge to restore military prominence of position and to punish political leaders who have dared to challenge their authority. This sort of feeling--particularly in the cusp of a [redacted]--may be what actually propels action.

An uncertain variable is if the authorities have the will and ability to take action. The Red Shirts have repeatedly boasted that pro-Thaksin members of both the police and military are feeding them information--and so far actions by the authorities against the Red Shirts have indeed given the appearance of a conflicted and weakened establishment.

Any dispersal this time would have to be comprehensive. It would be seen as a big test of state authority. Another half-hearted attempt to dispel the protesters that fails or leaves the situation as is would be a devastating blow to the perception that the present Thai state is able to maintain order.

If or when a "dispersal" or "clearing" does come, the military will still want to insist it is not a coup and that the civilian government is in control. They want continuity of government so that the military budget and reshuffle can go ahead as planned. (In the unlikely event a coup does come, it would mean the military has decided that harsh and final action is needed--not only to end the Thaksin-Red Shirt threat, but to reorganize the armed forces and other organizations that are under the influence of Thaksin and his allies.)

Thaksin has the Red Shirt leaders exactly where he wants them--with many serious legal charges hanging over their heads. Confined to a small area to avoid arrest, they have nothing to lose and no choice but to put up a valiant public fight in hopes of provoking an immediate dissolution--a dissolution which would lead to a new government that would make charges against them go away. With the establishment now fearing an unraveling of their authority, the government and military seem to be locked into the type of showdown that could play into the hands of pro-Thaksin forces.

The authorities are probably very aware that the way this crisis unwinds will have a major impact on the future of the Red Shirt movement. How might a messy and brutal final assault on the Red Shirt shirt encampment influence the movement? How successful have the authorities really been in spinning the events of April 10?

It is entirely possible an anti-Red mob, made up of "loyal" Thais, could be employed in an attempt to reset societal standards by clashing with and stamping out the Red Shirt movement. This would also insulate the military somewhat or at least lead to calls for the military to intervene. Our previous report mentioned the Thai trait of forgiveness, but, considering the stakes of the current political game, great lengths might also be employed to preserve the continuity and status quo of the present state.

[This was posted before the grenades on Silom incident. An update taking those events into account is here.]

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