The UDD leaders should realise they have little chance now of toppling the government.
There is a huge gap between 30,000 and 300,000. The second six-digit figure is the estimated number of red-shirt people who were expected by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship to join its proclaimed biggest ever and most prolonged anti-government protest.
It is probably the same figure that the UDD leaders told their big boss, exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinatra, and thus convinced him to go for broke in his latest battle royal against a handful of “feudalists” allegedly responsible for his overthrow three years ago.
The first five-digit figure is the number of red-shirt protesters estimated by the police who actually turned up on Thursday to join the mass rally. The UDD leaders, however, claimed that the correct number should be about 50,000. But whether it is 30,000 or 50,000, the number has fallen very much short of the original estimate of 300,000.
This is despite the fact that Thaksin himself has intensified the beating of his war drum through his phone-in addresses to his red-shirt supporters on an almost daily basis. More than once he has urged them to join the protest in Bangkok in order to pave the way for his triumphant homecoming to save the country from plunging deeper into the economic quagmire.
Given the excruciating heat during the day and the fact that the bulk of the red-shirt protesters are upcountry grassroots people, it is unlikely the UDD will be able to recruit additional participants. On the contrary, the number may dwindle if the protest drags on for too long.
The number does count if the protest is intended to effect major political change such as the resignation of the Abhisit government as demanded by the UDD.
Historically, most major political changes were caused by a popular revolt, as seen in the October 14 uprising in 1973 which resulted in the departure of the regime of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn or by a military coup as was the case on Sept 19, 2006. Back in 1973, up to one million people took to the streets to demand the ouster of the military regime.
Rarely is change prompted by a non-violent or a violent protest without the support of the majority of the people. It will be even harder if the real protest leader, as in the case of Thaksin, is abroad and hopping from one country to another like a man on the run.
It would not be an overstatement to say that Thaksin’s self-serving and fingerpointing rhetoric, particularly his latest exposure about the coup plotters against him in 2006, has not produced the kind of magic needed to attract a huge crowd, let alone 300,000, which could effect the kind of political change that he and his UDD want.
On Thursday night, Thaksin phoned in to thank his supporters and to attack the military for adopting a double standard in the handling of the protesters. His address was brief but he vowed to come back the following night with more exposures of the people responsible for his overthrow, including the person whom he labelled as an “extra-constitutional charismatic figure”.
But on Friday night, Thaksin did not mince words when he openly accused Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda – “the charismatic extra-constitutional figure” – and Privy Councillor Surayud Chulanont of being behind his overthrow. He also called on the two privy councillors to stop meddling in politics and called for fresh elections to be held as a way out of the protracted political impasse. Both Gen Prem and Gen Surayud have strongly denied Thaksin’s accusations.
Thaksin has now laid down his last trump card. What needs to be monitored is the aftermath consequences. If his latest exposure has the desired effect, then we may see more people joining the red-shirt protest which will put more pressure on the government. But if it fails to fire the sentiment of the people who have not committed themselves to either side in the great political divide, then the fugitive ex-premier should think twice before he decides to phone in again.
For the time being there is no sign that the government will cave in as a result of his damning exposure against the two privy councillors. The siege of Government House by the red-shirt protesters will continue but it will not have the kind of impact needed to force the government to quit. So far, Thaksin has failed to produce the magic touch that would help the UDD realise its slogan, “Red throughout the Land”.
The UDD leaders should realise they have little chance now of toppling the government. Without the support of the majority of the people, whose main concern these days is the economic crisis, and facing searing summer heat which will heavily tax the stamina of the protesters, it will be of more benefit to the UDD if their leaders give some serious thought as to whether to prolong the protest if it is not going to get them closer to their goal.
a former Editor of the Bangkok Post