2Bangkok Situation Update: Is everything in Thailand these days “unprecedented”?

Is "the degree of violence unprecedented"?

No. Present events are just one in a series of periods of civil conflict that happen in Thailand roughly every 10-15 years. While the nature and seriousness of each event differs, twentieth century Thai history was regularly punctuated by bloody carnage and near-breakdown of civil society just like this.

Making vicious threats and then acting on these threats is also not unusual. And as we have previous noted, the value of non-violence is not understood and valued in the same way as in the West. When the government spokesman says this arson and rioting is "uncharacteristic" of Thais, this is simply not the case.


Is Thai arson "unprecedented?"

No. Arson and threats of arson are perennial fixtures of protest in Thailand. Arson is a normal indicator of both personal dissatisfaction and especially dissatisfaction of major figures or political groups who feel they have been wronged or treated unfairly.

There is a long history of both unionists and locals residents burning down factories, hotels etc., over various grievances. Threats of arson--particularly burning Bangkok to ashes--were also a perennial theme of the Red Shirts.

Arson attacks happened during and after the protests in the 1970s and at the end of the Black May events in 1992. There was also an ongoing spate of arson attacks in the provinces in the months after the 2006 coup.

While the scale and locations of arson in this case are stunning to affluent Bangkok residents, neither the threats of arson nor the carrying of it out are outside historical norms.

If what the government faces now is a series of late-night arson attacks on schools in the provinces and some late night "political intimidation" bombings (men on motorcycles throwing explosive devices over walls), then the government can feel they have won and nothing out of the ordinary for these circumstances is happening. Any terror activities on a larger and more organized scale will indicate a greater challenge.


Was the crowd "out of control?"

It is most likely that the militant groups had already planned the final action to "run amok." There is plenty of evidence of radio communication and coordination between various parts of the encampment. Most of the times when fires flared up at both Sala Daeng/Rama IV and Din Daeng areas, the fires were nearly simultaneous. Fires also started simultaneously from five places at about 14:02 on May 19.

The places targeted were specific--business thought to be behind PAD funding and Thaksin enemies. Those aligned with the Red Shirts--like Amarin Plaza--were off limits. The arson after the surrender of the Red Shirts was planned and specific.


Will there be further terrorism or a civil war?

There will be a short lull while conventional political action is taken in parliament--a censure debate motion. It will be key for the Pheu Thai Party to replicate a frantic sense of outrage as has been common in recent parliamentary sessions.

After this there still remains a window of opportunity to cause the government collapse before it is too late to seat a government before the next military reshuffle. If Gen. Prayuth is confirmed as Commander-in-Chief, the hopes of seating a Thaksin proxy government led by Pheu Thai Party in the next few years will be gone.

Complicating further action is that further open protest or covert terrorism could be used to implicate and disband the Pheu Thai Party. The wide spate of top political figures either named as terrorists or banned already is a part of this effort already underway to enable the government to warn off who might be inclined to support Thaksin's goals.

The danger for Thaksin is that the Pheu Thai Party will fragment. Knowing that a purely Thaksin-proxy party would not be allowed to win again means that MPs will be carefully considering their fortunes. Pheu Thai MPs have been continually feted to switch parties--especially to Banharn Silpa-archa's political machine which is working hard to rebuild itself.

Banharn's grouping could be particularly appealing: lots of money, second generation of leaders in Banharn's family with real power, ability of Banharn to always land in a government coalition, and no taint of being Thaksin-connected nor part of the loathed Bhum Jai Thai which was set up as a rural rival to Pheu Thai.

Very telling are the huge cash withdrawals of 600 million and 800 million baht taken out by Thaksin's ex-wife in the week before the end of the rallies. This is to keep Thaksin's ability to influence events liquid in anticipation of the wide-ranging financial bans.


Why isn't the international community speaking out?

There is no Thai political party with a better understanding of quiet international diplomacy than the Democrats. The Democrats have been using this skill to quietly convince foreign governments to share and exchange intelligence and convince them that Thailand is facing agitation by Thaksin.

The international community values consistency and slow change. Ever since April 2009 when Thaksin and Red Shirt leaders were talking about dismantling the Privy Council and giving other indications that wholesale changes would be made to the Thai political system, the international community has been wary of attempts to destabilize the country.

Even if the international community felt a radical change was desirable, they would likely not be wishing Thaksin to come back and rule. The international community will be wanting the present regime to succeed and new elections to happen under normal circumstances. However, publicly they will take take a cautious and impartial stand as is customary in these cases.


Will Abhisit have to flee the country?

It is considered good form for a Prime Minster involved in this kind of action to leave the country for a time and remain silent on politics. Previous violent upheavals have been followed by this action. It is possible that once elections do occur and a new government forms Abhisit will likely follow this tradition.

However, for now Abhisit will continue as PM and elections will be pushed back as far as is practical. One of the points of this sacrifice on the part of the nation was to set the example that no politician--in this case, Thaksin--would be able to cause a government to fall through extra-parliamentary street action.

The scenario of the rural people taking to the streets is not novel, but had long been seen as a real possibility. It has long been feared that some Machiavellian politician--Newin, Sanoh, Sanan, Banharn, Chavalit, etc.--would use this sort of tact--march thousands of country people into Bangkok and threaten riots--unless some political goal was met.


If Thaksin has nothing to do with the UDD and does not communicate with them, why would he pay an international lawyer to speak for them? And what does Thaksin want?

As previous explained, the Thai rural poor do have grievances and it is likely that a new political power is being unleashed in the present Red Shirt movement.

However, the goals for Red Shirt rally in Bangkok in April and May was for one thing: to insist on immediate dissolution so a new, Thaksin-aligned government could be in power before the military budget and appointment of the next Commander-in-Chief occurred. The government would then proceed along the lines of the People Power Party government in 2008--stop all government activity until constitutional amendments and a pardon for Thaksin could be arranged.

To control the Commander-in-Chief appointment was key. With Gen. Prayuth expected to take the helm in October, the prospects that a government solely functioning to effect a Thaksin pardon would be allowed to take power are nil.

Why Robert Amsterdam having trouble answering if Thaksin is funding the Red Shirts?

This is pure speculation, but rumors have swirled for weeks that terrorism charges would be leveled at Thaksin as a final coup de grace. This could be why an unprepared Robert Amsterdam was having difficulty answering during his Al-Jazerra interview. If he indicated Thaksin was supporting the Reds in some way, this could lend credence to the charges and allow the government to link Thaksin to terrorism.

The Media and the "mob"

The Thai media loves to match technology to these pivotal violent events and show how protest has been influence by technology. 1992 was known as the "mobile mob" or "hand-phone mob" which was united and organized with new mobile phone technology. This also indicated that the protesters were affluent and urban as only these people had mobile phones.

This time around the internet and especially social networking have been linked to the ebb and flow of events as they allow everyone to have their own presence on the web, tweet in real time and share their videos their own TV channel on YouTube.

What is happening now?

The government has been very lucky in the speed and timing of the clearance operations. It has tried to be out in front of the news curve by defining the Red Shirts as terrorists and highlighting the ordnance they left behind.

Just like after Songkran 2009, the government is making the most of the destruction with non-stop propagandizing on TV and in the press. However, the knowledge of what really happened during Songkran 2009--including the intensity and falsehood of the rhetoric on stage which greatly exceeded that during 2010--apparently did not greatly impact the loyalty of pro-Thaksin people last time. There is little reason to think it will this time.

Thus indirect means will be employed to blunt the possibility that a political party controlled for Thaksin's benefit could come to power again. The considerable powers of the state--money, inducements, legal threats, promises of future benefits and leniency, all manner of inside deals--are being employed to meet and pacify Red Shirt aspirations.

Perhaps the greatest danger to the government making headway is the institutional bias towards Thaksin. The disloyalty of police and military, coupled with the tendency to be easily swayed by money to go slow or leak information, have repeatedly frustrated government efforts.

As we wrote on May 17, with the shooting of Seh Daeng it was suddenly clear that a major change had taken place and that a plan to end the situation had been agreed on and was underway. Part of this plan is the highly contentious financial blacklisting of Chavalit and now figures like Suriya Jeungrungreungkij. This financial ban is an extreme and serious action towards extraordinary dangerous political figures. They are going after these major people to split and ameliorate the power of Thaksin to influence politics through direct or indirect means.

A variety of criminal charges will eventually be dealt to those who are not willing to distance themselves from Thaksin's political goals and the more radical aims of the Red Shirt movement. Some who are charged will have agreed to cooperate in return for assurances of immediate probation. All of this is the typical way the Thai political system envelops and pacifies potential troublemakers.

Thailand has a long history of quickly and aggressively integrating disaffected parties back into the mainstream after periods of civil strife. Justice, punishment, and the truth of the matter will always take a back seat to the mantra of unity.

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