Analysis: Fears Boil Over for Anti-Government Rally

From Thairath, November 15, 2012
Cartoon title: Storm… or winter wind!
On Gen. Boonlert Kaewprasit: The freezing Thailand mob
Woman in the middle is Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Mouse man Phi Nooring holds a sign that reads: Must be cold
On the mouse’s sign: Externally cold, internally hot

[This refers to Gen. Boonlert’s plan to change the government from the current elected one to one that consists of “virtuous elites” who will rule the country for between three and five years before organizing new elections. During these years, four things would be carried done as a priority: constitutional amendments (to strengthen checks on the elected government and prevent it from compromising vested interests), educational development (to educate Thaksin supporters about the supposed true nature of democracy), promoting knowledge concerning the monarchy (to counteract anti-royalist propaganda of the Red Shirts), and making Thaksin Shinawatra face the justice system. All of these measures are aimed at one goal–from preventing Thaksin from dominating Thai politics. While the idea of a freeze has been widely ridiculed, it is not quite as crazy sounding in the Thai world where “academics” and “good administrators” are traditionally preferred to partisan politicians.]

2Bangkok Analysis (originally posted on November 23, 2012, 12:05pm): The proliferation of news about Thailand’s politics–even more so than just a few years ago–makes it harder to promote the idea to the wider world that the Red Shirt protests in Bangkok in 2010 were simply in support of democracy or that the Pitak Siam protests are about those who hate it.

In the Thai world, protest is seen as a last resort–that is why everyone is expected to act extreme and threatening. The protest itself is a projection in the physical world of something happening behind the scenes and is intended to produce or provoke a certain political result.

With the invoking of the security act, there is absolutely no question that the government has good information (probably via the police, which always have the most accurate intelligence) that they will be targets of some attempt this weekend to discredit them. If it were just a rally with an old general from the 1970s calling for a coup, that could be ignored. That the government is displaying their intense trepidation indicates there is real reason for them to be careful.

A very strong government–like the one now–entirely dominated by the Shinawatra clan–can cause its enemies to come out in droves as its power threatens to overwhelm the prerogatives of other centers of power in the Thai system.

Make no mistake–whatever happens this weekend, this is war, political or otherwise. The past few weeks have seen the government using an old legal case to strip opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva of his military rank and try to disqualify him from being an MP.

To the opposition this means that if their standard bearer can be summarily dismissed by a sitting government, then no one is safe. To other centers of power (the military, the bureaucracy, the privy council, etc.) it shows that once again Thaksin is on the move with very heavy handed tactics that utilize the powers of government to eliminate obstacles to power.

What stays the military’s hand? The overwhelming electoral popularity of the government. The military cannot act if there is the chance that there would be serious opposition to them. All of the Red Shirt posturing about being anti-coup is to that end. Thaksin cannot allow a long series of protests (like the Yellow Shirt rallies that led to the 2006 coup) to set the stage for public opinion to accept military intervention against another government seen to have gone too far.

The model that the government fears is the post-coup unseating of the People Power Party in 2008 facilitated by rallies that occupied the airport and forced the isolated government to flee to Chiang Mai. At that time, the pro-Thaksin camp had no real organized muscle or movement of its own. Today they have the Red Shirts to meet force with force.

However, any direct mixing of these groups that ends in bloodshed would have the effect in the Thai system of discrediting the government (showing they are presiding over a chaotic situation seen as of their own making) and opening its top leaders to legal challenges. So, the government has to very deftly handle and respond to the situation. That hot-tempered Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung has appeared to be the cabinet member in charge of anti-rally activities is not encouraging.

On the surface this protest would not seem to warrant extra mention. It has little public support–and more than its share of ridicule of the general’s “freeze” of politics. However, judging from the high profile it is getting, it is clear that the government believes that whatever might happen this weekend has the potential to seriously challenge its stability. Editor Ron Morris’ book, The Thai Book: A Field Guide to Thai Political Motivations, is available in the Kindle Store.

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