Despite its repeated pledges to keep the protests peaceful, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leadership must be held accountable for the ugly incident in Pattaya on Tuesday, when its red-shirted protesters used a motorcycle to block the motorcade of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, assaulted his driver and smashed the rear window of his car.
Although this outrageous act of thuggery by a handful of red shirts in Pattaya may not reflect the attitude of the majority of the protesters, it deserves to be condemned in the strongest terms.
Despite the brazenness of the act which took place in broad daylight and in full glare of the media, the UDD leadership’s response to the incident – that the police should go ahead with charging the wrongdoers – is pathetic and unacceptable. The same aloofness adopted by the UDD leadership to stay clear of any responsibility for the illegal acts committed by its supporters is clearly evident in the string of violent incidents perpetrated by the red shirts, especially the Rak Chiang Mai 51 group in Chiang Mai.
Last November, members of the group beat to death a 60-year-old man, Charnchai Jiamkitwattana, when they tried to raid a community radio station allegedly operated by a supporter of the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).
By using methods of intimidation, the Rak Chiang Mai 51 group also broke up a planned gay parade to promote Aids awareness earlier this year, and in February they fought a fist-fight with maize farmers in front of Chiang Mai provincial hall when the farmers rejected interference in their affairs.
For all the blatant legal breaches, there has never been a whisper of reprimand or criticism from the UDD leadership. Nor has there been a word of apology. All the incidents appear to have fallen on deaf ears of the UDD leaders.
But deserving of a stronger reprimand over the Pattaya incident are the Pattaya police for their complete failure to provide adequate protection to the prime minister’s motorcade and to warn the prime minister’s entourage in advance of potential disruption by the protesters.
Still, the worst performers deserving the strongest reprimand are the Chon Buri police in their farcical handling of a suspect caught for allegedly smashing the prime minister’s car.
The suspect, Wanchalerm Kulsen, managed to escape from police custody after he was allowed outside the detention cell for a cigarette break.
The disappointing performance of the police in Chon Buri and, in particular, in Pattaya on Tuesday begs a big question about their ability and efficiency to ensure security and safety for the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their dialogue partners from China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Korea, who are due in Pattaya this weekend for the annual summit.
The reluctance of Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who is in charge of security affairs, to blame the police is understandable as he may not want to further antagonise the police force, many of whom are believed to be still loyal to exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
But he cannot afford to sit idly by and let the lapse in security persist without immediate rectification.
The ugly incident experienced by Prime Minister Abhisit on Tuesday cannot be allowed to repeat itself, especially with our visiting dignitaries in the wake of the red-shirted protesters’ threat to disrupt the summit.
FURTHER SOURCES FOR READING
BANGKOK POST –Red-shirts assault Abhisit’s motorcade
PATTAYA TODAY NEWS-Thai PM unshaken, but driver hurt in Red Shirt attack