Thai political crisis
- From: xis2xis@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2008 10:57:52 -0700 (PDT)
Thai political crisis at fever pitch
By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok
When doctors decide to violate their Hippocratic Oaths, and refuse to
treat injured police officers, you know things are bad.
Supporter of Thai PAD protest group
Emotions are raw on each side of the political divide
That is what's happening in Thailand right now, so much so that the
world financial meltdown, which will surely affect Thailand just as
badly as any other export-dependent Asian economy, is scarcely being
The deadlock between the government, still led by close allies of one-
time Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and its opponents, spearheaded
by the well-funded People's Alliance for Democracy protest movement,
has been going on for months.
It is actually a continuation of a political crisis that began two
years into Mr Thaksin's second term of office, in early 2006, when the
hugely profitable sale of his family's business empire sparked mass
demonstrations, which eventually led to the coup that forced him from
power in September that year.
Events over the past three years have only hardened the positions of
Mr Thaksin's supporters, most of them in the rural north and north-
east, still see him as a champion who pushed through policies that
made real improvements to their lives. They felt robbed by the coup,
and insulted by the PAD protesters who say their votes for Mr Thaksin
Mr Thaksin's opponents still see him, even in exile, as a dangerous
politician of overreaching ambition, a man who used his wealth to
concentrate power in his hands, and who had a hidden republican
But emotions have never been as raw as they are now.
The violent clashes on Tuesday - the worst since 1992 - have prompted
furious accusations from the PAD and its many sympathisers that the
police used excessive force, and that the government was being
deliberately provocative in sending them in to clear the protesters
who had surrounded parliament.
Thai websites are running gruesome video clips showing horrific
injuries. These, say the PAD, could not have been caused by just
teargas; the police must have been firing other explosives as well,
There is little doubt that the police were reckless in the way they
moved against the protesters.
But there has been surprisingly little condemnation in the Thai media
of the PAD's own tactics: the construction of tyre-and-barbed-wire
barricades to blockade MPs inside parliament, the use of guns by some
PAD supporters against the police, video showing a PAD truck ploughing
into a line of police then reversing over the injured body of one
Thai protester injured in clashes with police in Bangkok on 7 October
The protesters' tactics have been subject to little scrutiny
There has been no attempt by the Thai papers to trace the source of
the PAD's very substantial funding, or of the obviously expert
paramilitary training given to some its followers.
It is true there is little public affection for Thailand's corrupt
police force, and even less, in Bangkok, for the members of the new
cabinet, who astonishingly seems even less convincing than their inept
Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who won some praise for his
conciliatory statements after being appointed last month, has appeared
weak and indecisive in his response to the violent events around
The fact that he had to climb over a fence to escape from the PAD
protesters around the parliament building did not help his image much.
But there is something else afoot here.
Thais now have so little faith in their politicians and institutions
that a substantial number are willing to overlook the PAD's brazenly
No one expects this government to last long. Nor has anyone come up
with a scenario which would be substantially different
Conspiracy theories and wild rumours abound, with each side willing to
believe the most outlandish stories about its opponents. This is
worrying, in what is normally one of the world's more peaceful
Most worrying is the absence of any obvious way out of the deadlock.
And there is one figure conspicuous by his silence.
In times past King Bhumibol Adulyadej has used his unrivalled moral
authority to settle such crises. There are many Thais who wish he
would intervene now.
But the 80-year-old monarch has said nothing. His only recent public
statements have been an expression of concern over coastal erosion,
and a reminder to a new crop of judges to be honest. So little is seen
or heard of the king these days that it is impossible to guess what
his thoughts are on this crisis.
But his silence makes the prospect of a royally endorsed government of
national unity under an appointed prime minister - one possible
solution touted by some - more remote.
A military coup seems unlikely too, although in Thailand it can never
be ruled out.
Army stands back
There have been several occasions over the past few weeks when rumours
of military intervention have swirled around Bangkok; Gen Anupong
Paochinda, the army commander, has squashed them all.
Army commander Gen Anupong Paochinda
Army chief Gen Anupong has seen his standing improve in the crisis
He argues persuasively that the military did not resolve the political
rifts by intervening with its coup two years ago, and that it cannot
solve the problem now. There are believed to be senior officers who
think otherwise, but their views have not prevailed.
Besides, while Gen Anupong stays out of the fray, occasionally sending
his men in, unarmed, to clean up where the police have lost control,
his image and that of the army is further burnished. He has also been
able to bargain for a hugely increased budget for the military. No
government now would dare refuse him.
No one expects this government to last long, but no one has come up
with a workable alternative.
Another election would almost certainly lead to little change. The
People Power Party, the reincarnation of Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak
Thai, still commands sufficient loyalty in the rural north and north-
east to beat the opposition Democrats. Even the Democrats admit this.
So Mr Somchai will soldier on in the job.
And however hard he tries, he remains hopelessly bound by his
unappealing cabinet, and the fact that he is Mr Thaksin's brother-in-
law and is therefore widely assumed to be working to protect the
exiled former prime minister and engineer his eventual return to
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