Analysis: Raw Power Politics on the Horizon
บทวิเคราะห์ : อำนาจการเมืองดิบบนขอบฟ้า


Above: The only candidate with no words on his poster. Thaksin election poster from 2005

In the news today: Jatuporn in mass protest call to deter coup plotters – Bangkok Post, January 9, 2012

We had been predicting this scenario since December–that during Thaksin’s Revolutionary Season, Red Shirts would surely be on the streets of Bangkok again this year.

The purpose of this is to create security and stability for rewriting the constitution to effect a Thaksin amnesty or pardon. The expectations for the results of constitutional amendments has already been stated by both Thaksin lobbyists and Red Shirts. Both have defined Thai reconciliation as Thaksin being able to return to Thailand.

The claim that efforts for Thaksin will be made “later in the year” or that there will be a long drawn-out period of committees working on amendments is a ruse. One way or another, a change to enable Thaksin to return will have to be cemented into place in the coming months simply because that is the only time it can happen. The Red Shirts will have to be on the ground providing security, the government will only get weaker as time goes by, and the reintroduction of the 111 banned Thai Rak Thai politicians into politics will introduce too many variables for Thaksin to juggle.

The change in the lese majeste law is being held back as a bargaining chip. If the constitutional amendment process is stalled or legal cases look to impact the government, then the threat is that the Red Shirts, as voices of the people, can call on the government to amend the law. With Red Shirts massing in Bangkok it would once again be up to a skittish military to use force in front of the world to stop them.

Pressuring the monarchy was always a key bargaining chip. The threat is–if you do not accede–there will be open opposition (of some kind) during this [redacted]. Part of the [redacted]’s image is built on the idea that no opposition exists and there is universal praise for it–thus the idea that open opposition could be mounted is an anathema.

Things have heated up and then cooled down from time to time. During the People Power Party year in 2008, Da Torpedo was put on stage multiple nights in a row to [redacted]. At other times, the government (or other Thaksin proxies) have warmly cosied up to Privy Councilor Prem and whoever the commander-in-chief was at the time.

In the past, the Red Shirts have taken up the main lead on tough issues to enable the Pheu Thai to steer clear of controversy. However, the power of the Red Shirt movement in the last election means that Pheu Thai MPs who are also influential Red Shirts have substantial clout in demanding roles in the government. Thus the Red Shirts have become entwined with the government.

From Thairath, January 8, 2012
The cartoon title reads: Anyone… just amending [the constitution] is good enough.
On the offering bowl (at the top): The 2007 constitution
On the bomb: Sharp-faced, black-tooth version. Consequences of the September 19, 2006 coup
Left ladder: CDC [Constitution Drafting Committee]
Right ladder: NRLC [Independent National Rule of Law Commission]
[This seems to say that the 2007 constitution should be totally scrapped and replaced with the 1997 version.]

However, raising the article 112 issue–the move to amend the lese majeste law as proposed by the Nitirat Group–has apparently backfired. This time, after a very long period of being sidelined by the new government’s popularity, the establishment finally have a powerful issue that has the government–and hence Thaksin’s attempts at return–on its back foot. Opposing the Nitirat appears to be generally popular and an issue with which the military has been able to openly threaten and pressure the government.

This is the significance of the 112 issue at this time. It gives the beleaguered establishment a lever to halt and perhaps batter the government–slowing it from making moves on Thaksin’s return.

This means the military and other powers will continue to pump up the hysteria for as long as possible–in their minds hopefully tainting other constitutional amendment issues with it. They will also create a hyped up air of fear in coming months to tar pro-Thaksin moves with this issue and prevent those in positions of authority from being labeled anti-monarchy by acting for Thaksin amnesty.

The establishment’s apparent success in co-opting the 112 issue means that Red Shirts on the streets in coming months is a certainty. There will be no easy out to obtain Thaksin’s amnesty as the military is more emboldened by the month.

How will the Pheu Thai hold up in the coming months? Pheu Thai is made up of many fickle factions. As usual, the key for Thaksin is to get MPs to risk their positions to prioritize efforts at amnesty of some sort. The MPs in the government will naturally want to draw things out to gain the most profit and popularity for themselves. The ideal outcome for the anti-Thaksin establishment would be a Pheu Thai that splinters away from Thaksin control and thus doom his ability to return. However, as in the past, Thaksin has been able to call the shots his way and generally maintain a well-ordered government working to his directions and ends.

The upcoming months also make it likely that power-players with their own agenda and goals–like Chalerm–become wildcards at keys times. A bloody or otherwise destabilizing incident means a golden opportunity for the ambitious. They can position themselves as a compromise prime minister–relying on backroom support from the military–to stave off both a Thaksin return and a military takeover.

From Manager, December 22, 2011
Army Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha says: People who want to amend Section 112 should live abroad.
Thaksin (sitting in Dubai): Poot! [spitting sound]

A coup, or some sort of further military intrusion in politics, can always be a danger, but probably not immediately. At this time the government is cowering and the military have openly flexed its muscle–the first time since the election when it seemed like the government was unassailable with the Red Shirts backing them up.

The reality of a new round of Red Shirts on the streets of Bangkok increases the chances of military involvement. A coup can happen for various reasons:

1. The government pushes too far on the lese majeste law or changes that dent military space and privilege in the power structure. However, we are not near this point now. In the most common Thai coup scenario, there are a series of signals to the government beforehand, as well as overwhelming public support, for the government to step down. This is because, in the Thai system, the military does not have carte blanche to move–they are one of a number of centers of power that act in unison to maintain their balance and authority. A coup is always a last, desperate resort when the military (or another center of power) feels it is being put at a permanent disadvantage regarding its influence and independence.

2. Most likely reason for a coup-> If the military senses a shock move by the government to fire the commander-in-chief. This was one of the reasons for the 1991 coup and has been a constant worry to the military in recent months. The perfect time for the government to act on firing to commander-in-chief would be once Red Shirts have flooded Bangkok again. If this is all the government can achieve during the next few months of protests, it would still be a stunning victory for them.

3.[redacted]… This is uncharted territory, but this situation could enable the military to take a more active role in “policing the peace.” [redacted].

From Thairath, January 6, 2012
The cartoon caption reads: The sound of waves in the moonlight
On the bombs: Movements, Overthrow the government, Opposition
On the paper boat: News

If you wish to discount the opinions and assertions above, a less sensational reason for mass gatherings of Red Shirts in the coming months is to make sure the movement remains cohesive amid signs that various factions in the countryside are quarreling over prosaic political issues. In addition, there is reportedly disillusioned with Red Shirt leaders like Jatuporn and Nattawud who are defining reconciliation as “forgive and forget” instead of revolutionary justice for Red Shirts who died in street battles in Bangkok.

A big confrontation with the military also runs against the tact taken by sitting governments controlled by Thaksin. The People Power Party and Pheu Thai governments both went out of their way–often to the consternation of their most uncompromising supporters–to maintain good relations with the commander-in-chief.

The other thing mitigating against another Red Shirt showdown is that we do not see the level of bitter calls for death and dissatisfaction in Red Shirt rhetoric and media that was present in the long buildup to the 2009 and 2010 sieges of Bangkok. This may only be because minds have been focused on the real power of the government to create acceptable solutions for amnesty–the success the military has had on asserting itself took everyone by surprise and thus necessitates a return to the streets.

If the Red Shirt move for mass demonstrations does go ahead, what does it tell us? It means that the years of negotiations with Thaksin over conditions for his return and cessation of political agitation have come to naught. It means, as we wrote after the stunning Pheu Thai election win in 2011, that Thaksin believes he can have everything back on his own terms. It will certainly mean that this long period of unsettled Thai politics is far from over.

This entry was posted in Analysis, Thai Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.