Cabinet meet irresponsible

Cabinet meet irresponsible - Bangkok Post, September 08, 2008

[2014 note: Like many Thai newspaper articles that detail the roots of the Thai political crisis--Thaksin's quest for absolute power--the full version of this article cannot be found online.
Articles in English that detail these events vanished from the early Thai interent where link structures were changed month to month and entire years of stories were unceremoniously dumped to save database space. Thus this page contains the complete text of this article.]

The cabinet is scheduled to meet in Udon Thani tomorrow in the first of a fresh round of the so-called mobile sessions popularised by Thaksin Shinawatra. Normally, these up-country "shows" have more positive points than negative. They provide locals with a glimpse of leading government figures. They give the ministers a chance to look around and chat with citizens whose concerns are often quite different than those the Bangkok-centric cabinet are used to dealing with. But tomorrow's meeting contains elements of a terrible risk. Whether by accident or design, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his ministers seem more likely to trigger a confrontation and more national division _ and bring more violence to the northeastern city.

Who pressed forward with this idea of the cabinet meeting in Udon Thani, and why? Certainly, if someone is trying to set the stage for a new round of violence, they could not have picked a better place to do it. All of the cabinet ministers appearing at once at a public place outside of Bangkok? And at a site of recent violence where tensions are known to be high? With local hotheads already mobilising to oppose a planned rally by hotheads of the People's Alliance for Democracy?

Yesterday, Udon Thani MP Kriangsak Faisi-ngam of the People Power party bragged he expected to mobilise 50,000 supporters "to provide moral support" for Mr Samak and the ministers. The PAD coordinator for Udon Thani, Charoen Mookachornphan, told the media on Saturday his group would be holding a rally by an expected 200,000 PAD backers. He warned _ or is that bragged? _ that if both rallies actually took place, it could lead to a violent confrontation. The militant leader of the anti-PAD group calling itself the Udon Thani People's Group for the Protection of Democracy, Uthai Saenkaew, issued his own warning that PAD protesters should not try to interrupt the cabinet meeting.

These are no idle threats. On July 26, around 1,000 members of the Khon Rak Udon (Udon Lovers) group attacked a PAD-led rally in Udon Thani. The pro-government thugs destroyed the speakers' stage, then chased and beat PAD supporters with axes, knives and clubs. Three people were gravely injured and at least a dozen others required medical attention. Mr Uthai was detained for allegedly instigating the mob and subsequent riot. Police allege he put a bounty on the head of Mr Charoen: 10,000 baht to anyone who could crack, literally, that particular skull.

If this is not a fair warning of brewing trouble, then nothing is. It seems as though the government, unable to make things better, has decided to make them worse. It is sickening to hear the PAD leaders and the provincial support group both spoiling for a fight. It is disturbing that the government would wade into such a tinderbox, seemingly happy to hand a box of matches to those who would start a fire.

Mr Samak must understand that this meeting should not and cannot go ahead. The self-appointed leaders of those who hold the most extreme opinions in the province need to cool off as well. The two sides lay claim to the word "democracy", yet both relish the settling of their differences with hatchets and truncheons.

The country was shocked at the brutality of the last clash in Udon. Now it seems the government, its supporters and its opponents are eager to sow the seeds of another round of pointless violence.

There will be other occasions for the cabinet to meet in the vibrant province capital. Rescheduling tomorrow's meeting to Bangkok will be in everyone's interest.

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