Above: From Truth Today, May 7-10, 2010 - The caption reads: No description [The Thai letter on the man behind Abhisit is “por-pla." This initial is meant to imply that several top people such as Prem, Pruyuth, Pok [Anupong] , etc. desire death and chaos.]
Yesterday, at the height of the rioting in Bangkok, a group of older cleaning ladies were in my office. They were all from the provinces as most of the physical laborers are in Bangkok. When they saw MCOT running on a TV with various government figures and commentators, they started telling me how these people were no good and were all going to be killed soon. They kept pointing to the government men on TV and then making the "slit throat" gesture with their fingers.
Events of recent years have unleashed a huge amount of partisan information and unbridled hate into the political system that will likely challenge the Thai political system for years to come. However, it is important to contrast the distant and fearful international view of what is happening (such as CNN coverage that is focusing on violent events on the ground) with the background detail of what is propelling events and how they might play out.
The Democrats, the military, and Pheu Thai are all focusing on how these events are perceived by the public and what ramifications the actions now might have legally in the future or during the next election.
Claims by the Prime Minister of "civil war" have less to do with the ability of the Red Shirts to conduct civil war and more about justifications for tough action that will be taken. Such claims are part of an overall media campaign on local TV screens to prove the Red Shirts are violent and bent on "disunity" (more about Thai unity here and here.)
The end to the rallies was almost achieved last week through a secret, separate peace negotiated with the Red Shirt leadership, but this was sabotaged by Thaksin who attempted to have Seh Daeng discredit and replace the Red leadership so the fight would continue. This led to Seh Daeng's shooting (more about this here).
One fear is that violent activity in another part of the city or country could occur suddenly, but many of the hired guns and radical political young men have been drawn into the scuffles in Bangkok already. Newin and Chavalit undoubtedly have forces of their own and there are numerous semi-militant cells in the the North and Northeast.
However, the height of military involvement and the unshakable government coalition makes it clear to all that near term dissolution will not be tolerated--it is only a question of who gets wiped out during this operation and who the results will negatively impact.
The resolve of the military will be closely watched. Up until a few days ago, it was unclear if there was a willingness to confront the Red rally--especially at the south end of the site where Seh Daeng was controlling cells of militants who constantly skirmished with troops on Silom. The present operations--beginning with the removal of Seh Daeng--shows something has changed and there is some commitment to act though a final clearance plan. A coup still remains unlikely, but if one should occur it would indicate the need to go beyond legal norms in liquidating perceived threats to the state.
It will be up to the Red Shirts to prove they can field thousands more men from the provinces willing to fight their way into Bangkok. In the past, despite these types of claims, masses of real fighters on this scale have never materialized.
The government is moving through this minefield, but also seems confident that slowly increased pressure will bring the protests to an end and result in the incarceration of the Red Shirt leadership. Just like during the April 2009 rioting, the Red Shirts are purposely being allowed to run riot and then clips of this are repeated over and over on TV in a public relations campaign to prove to the public the Reds are rowdy and violent.
We previously mentioned, the desire all around is for the dual destruction of both the Red Shirt leadership and the Democrats for the purposes of future politics. This means many players will want the end to be as bloody and messy as possible. This means the Democrats' goals are becoming clear as well--serve out as much of their term as possible after removing any further threat of mass rallies during their remaining tenure--so this has to mean capturing or co-opting the Red leadership.
Those with a less politically centered view will be working to one goal after the Red leadership is deposed of--to ensure that the roused Red masses reassemble under the leadership of conventional political parties and will not again be harnessed again for more revolutionary goals.
Further in the future the question remains, can the military and the establishment tolerate the seating of a Pheu Thai government controlled by Thaksin? All of 2008 was a stalemated battle with Thaksin's People Power Party which expedited cases against the opposition, allowed anti-monarchy threats to proliferate, and halted official government activities in an attempt to change the constitution and pardon Thaksin.
It is likely that a blizzard of legal and procedural changes will be enacted in an attempt to combat a return of a Thaksin-controlled party. And certainly there will be further attempts to wean or split the Pheu Thai Party from Thaksin through ambitious figures like Chalerm Youbamrung.
Finally, the nature of media and modern campaign organizing techniques have enabled Thaksin to rouse legions of rural people with new political aspirations and expectations (more on this here). The definition of democracy for most of these people is the ability to make money and be prosperous and secure. This comes from the tradition of aligning oneself with powerful "big men"--like police or military men, other family members, employers, or politicians.
If all of these people can be harnessed to support the Pheu Thai Party, it will mean more worries for the establishment. However, it is thought that most of these rural voters are personally opportunistic about their votes and may be open to supporting any number of political parties that offer change.