(Source: NBT screen grab)
Above: Prime Minister Abhisit (middle), Commander-in Chief Anupong (right) and an interviewer during today's televised discussion.
2Bangkok Situation Update: The PM/C-in-C address and the government's challenge - April 25, 2010
A televised interview featuring the Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief was broadcast this morning. With this discussion, the government is, in essence, redefining the situation with many of the same points we have presented over previous weeks:
- The government will not accept quick dissolution because of the wider issues involved.
- The Red rallies are just an extension of behind-the-scenes political intrigue.
- A key issue for the military is the existence of armed resistance to their authority (read this as "loss of face").
- Even Thaksin, in a tweet after the speech, mentioned that he disagreed that the government was putting such great importance on the budget and military reshuffle. This is telling as we have always maintained that these are the issues that this Red Shirt rally is being run to stop.
Many months ago, the government began its reaction to the Red Shirt rallies by ignoring them, then by downplaying them, then by saying people have a right to protest within the law, then by treating provocations around Bangkok very legalistically, then by responding with legal threats and arrest warrants, and finally with a disorganized volley of accusations (such as Kasit's "bloody terrorist" comment after the events of April 10) with initiatives going in several directions and an absence of the PM from the spotlight.
(Source: NBT screen grab)
Above: Prime Minister Abhisit speaking during today's address. At the bottom are SMS messages being sent during the show.
Once Anupong took control (or was pushed into taking control) of Emergency Operations, a series of very definite moves began taking place to counter the Reds, including the sudden emergence of anti-Red protest groups.
The speech today is an attempt by the Democrats to gain the upper hand in the standoff. The Red Shirts are under the impression that the authorities are very close to taking action--action that would have to be comprehensive and likely messy. Stern warnings are coming at the Red Shirt leaders from behind-the-scenes. This speech is part of government/military preparations to reset the stage of public opinion and press the military into their role as leader of any action.
The Democrats are once again trying to show that they are acting thoughtfully and reasonably, but unlike earlier addresses where the PM was front and center, this time he is clearly saying action is the responsibility of the C-in-C. The PM is much better when he is being interviewed like today--as opposed to earlier addresses where he looks like a slightly nervous teenager giving a public speech.
Viewers are already commenting on Anupong's somewhat stiff and uncomfortable body language in today's address. It is still difficult to divine how eager Anupong really is to act and what are all the forces acting on him. At once there must be hope he does not have to be a bloody C-in-C with the attendant legal cases following him after he retires, but at the same time the mantle of military pride and revenge must be resting heavily on his shoulders.
(Source: NBT screen grab)
Above: Commander-in Chief Anupong during the televised address.
On the ground the Red Shirt rally is being run for near-term political objectives by Red Shirt leaders who have nothing to lose. There will be a desire to turn up the provocations and pressure to the maximum.
The government and military cannot acquiesce and let the Red Shirts live to fight another day for a variety of reasons: the desire to make sure the Red Shirts cannot deliver a radical and pro-Thaksin government, the many attacks on top institutions at a once-in-a-lifetime juncture in Thai history, the perception that the authority of the state is being weakened, and military desire for revenge on armed opposition to its authority. Also, as mentioned in the past, there are a variety of interests, both pro- and anti-government, that stand to gain if both the Red Shirts and Democrats are badly damaged by a messy and bloody outcome, so all of these add to the pressure.
The abiding government/military hope remains that the crowds will dwindle, key Red Shirt leaders will be apprehended and smothered in legal cases, and that the army teaches a lesson to those who opposed it with arms. Thaksin influence has to dwindle along with calls for revolution and a new Thai state. All this has to happen within a framework of activities that restores the impression that the state is in control of the armed forces, police, security situation, highways, provincial halls, etc. A very tall order to get right.
Also: On Saturday, thousands of police from the provinces were given 5 minutes notice to head to Bangkok. After so many incidents of apparently pro-Thaksin bias, the police command structure is not trusted.
Abhisit says investigation going on about attempt to block NBT's satellite signal - The Nation, April 25, 2010
PM says Khattiya, Chavalit connected to master plan of red-shirt movement - The Nation, April 25, 2010
[It is beyond extraordinary for Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to be publicly named like this. Since the 2006 New Year's bombings, anger and resentment over Chavalit's activities has been boiling, but no one dared to publicly call him out.
As both a former C-in-C and prime minister with considerable rural power, he was perhaps the only person who had the residual authority to challenge the existing military power structure.
It is not feasible to reveal all the issues at stake, but it is interesting that the government and military seem to be aggressively widening the accusations and implications related to the Red Shirt rallies.]