Avoiding the water spash
The streets of Bangkok have returned to normal since Tuesday April 14, 2009 when the core leaders of the Red Shirt protesters have called it quit. But Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva would still can’t trust the volatile situation. He has announced two additional holiday days — April 16 and 17 — to make the whole week a public holiday during this Songkran Festival.
During the Songran Festival, you would normally see a Thai prime ministers get a big spash. But since this is an abnormal Songkran, Abhisit would not come out on the streets to throw water at the Thai people.
He and his family are now believed to be staying at a safe house, mostly probably in a military compound, guarded by top security measures. The military coup plotters could kidnap him any time, like what they did to Lt Gen Chatichai Choonhavan, the former prime minister, who lost his power in the 1991 military coup.
As for Thaksin, one reader wrote to be that the ex-premier has just been spotted at the Atlantis Hotel on Palm Island, Dubai.
Yesterday I had dinner at a nice restaurant with my friends on the bank of the Chao Phya River in the Pak Kred area across Rama IV Bridge. As I drove home and about to take the Rama IV Bridge at around mid night, I saw a small unit of soldiers guarding the bridge. Further away along the Chaeng Wattana Road, another small unit of soldiers was also maintaining security. The soldiers were eyeing any suspicious vehicles entering the capital. Fortunately, they did not stop my car.
We so far have seen over the past few days Abhisit appear on national TV to update the Thai public the latest development of the situation. Judging by all the top military commanders and security officials sitting behind him, we can deduce that Abhisit is fully in charge.
If you may recall, after Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat announced a State of Emergency over the Government House crisis and the airport crisis respectively, all the TV cameras focused on Gen Anupong Paochinda, the army chief. After the announcement of the State of Emergency, a Thai prime minister normally hands over the task of maintaining all the security measures to the military chief, whose role will eclipse the police forces.
And you may also recall that in both incidents during the Samak and Somchai government, Gen Anupong stood firm against the governments by declining to use military troops to disperse the Yellow Shirt protesters. He declared that he would not use force against Thai civilians and urged the governments to rely on peaceful negotiations or political means to end the crisis. Gen Anupong’s stature rose higher than those of both Samak and Somchai as the crises developed.
With the military rallying behind Gen Anupong, both Samak and Somchai could not move. As a result, we had a stalemate until the Constitution Court removed the Somchai government from office. Only then did the Yellow Shirt crowd disperse after more than 100 days of marathon anti-government protest.
Gen Anupong is locked out
Returning to the present situation, we have yet to see a firm face of Gen Anupong. Apparently, he has been locked out. After declaring the State of Emergency on Sunday, Abhisit Vejjajiva took full charge over the whole situation. He did not hand over the task of maintaining security to Gen Anupong. On TV, Gen Anupong sat among the other top generals with his grim face further away from Abhisit. You can detect power from the positions people sit.
Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the defence minister, Pol Chief Patcharawat Wongsuwan, and Suthep did not looked very happy either.
It was not until he had to flee on helicopter on Saturday from Royal Cliff Beach Resort and Hotel in Pattaya, the venue of the doomed Asean Summit, did the prime minister realise that he was a target of a dark plot. Abhisit had been warned by Chuan Leekpai, his mentor, that he should not trust the security arrangement measures in Pattaya. But Abhisit brushed Chuan’s concern aside, believing that Suthep Thuagsuban, his big brother, would be able to handle the situation.
The problem is that Suthep is too close to Newin Chidchob for comfort. A picture in The Matichon showed Newin, dressed casually, riding on a motorcycle in Pattaya. What sort of business was Newin doing in Pattaya? Well, he was directing the Blue Shirt protesters against the Red Shirt protesters to complicate the crisis. The Blue Shirt represented a make-belief sideshow.
As it turned out, military and police forces of 4,000-5,000 thousands allowed some several hundred Red Shirt protesters, led by Arismun Pongruangrong, to break into the Royal Cliff without paying heed to the security of the prime minister, the regional leaders and Thailand’s guests. Once Arismun was inside the lobby of the hotel, he called for his Red Shirt protesters to hunt down for Abhisit. “Go look for the prime minister. Go get him,” he shouted.
The Asean Summit had to be cancelled out in big embarassment.
In other countries, Arismun and the Red Shirt protesters would have been shot on spot. But they were allowed to wander about the lobby of the Royal Cliff as if they were going for a walk at Sanam Luang. Only five of the Red Shirt protesters at Pattaya, including Arismun, have been issued arrest warrants.
Abhisit had to flee the scene by helicopter.
Taking charge command centre in Bangkok
After sending off the regional leaders and foreign dignitaries, Abhisit returned to Bangkok hastily to reposition his premiership. He was about to lose power through a coup plot, planned on top of the Red Shirt protesters who were creating the turmoil as the condition for the military to intervene.
A day earlier, Thaksin phoned in to declare that his Red Shirt protesters would be launching a people’s revolution. He would return home to lead the Red Shirts if the military were to fire the first shot.
Khunying Pojaman Shinawatra and the children had already flown out of the country. They all knew in advance what was going to happen.
Abhisit declared a state of emergency covering Pattaya and Chon Buri. But the Red Shirts would not stay on in Pattaya because they had succeeded in derailing the Asean Summit. They would return to Bangkok where further action would determine the course of the outcome.
On Sunday, since the situation at the Government House, where thousands of the Red Shirt protesters were grouping around the area, was not stable, Abhisit went to the Interior Ministry instead to declare a state of emergency in Bangkok. Again, the Red Shirt protesters ambushed him. This time they hammered his Mercedez sedan, including hurting his secretary Nibhom Phromphand and his driver. Abhisit escaped the scene with a minor injury.
The Red Shirt protesters smelled blood from the prime minister. Again, the security forces were no where to protect the country’s chief executive.
Realising that he was in swimming among sharks, Abhisit retreated into a military compound to seek protection — of course, not under Gen Anupong’s protection. The police could not be trusted because they fully backed the Red Shirt protesters.
There Abhisit hastily assembled a special command centre under his direction. Veterans and some retired generals came to his rescue. Gen Anupong’s troops and the police could not be trusted and were edged out of the scene. Instead, Abhisit relied on the security forces brought into the capital from upcountry such as Nakhon Rachasima, Kanchanaburi or Lop Buri.
The Red Shirts threatened to surround the Rachadapisek Court where Arimun was kept under custody over criminal charges that he led the Red Shirts to ambush the Asean Summit. Arismun had to be shipped out of the capital.
The political drama was unfolding as Neptune was manifying its dark omen over the City of Angels. It was eclipsing the influence over the Sun, which symbolises lakhana duang muang. The dark force of Neptune was with Thaksin.
The battle would be decided on April 13 — the Songkran Day when Bangkok would be turned into a capital of inferno.
The Red Shirt protesters, commanded by Thaksin from abroad together with the coup plotters in Bangkok, took over 15 key traffic points in Bangkok. Most other protesters stayed at the area around the Government House. They would burn or explode the capital so that the military would have to come out to suppress the riots. In the ensuing clashes, there would be bloodshed, which would give justification for a military coup in Thaksin’s favour.
We all know that the only way Thaksin could return home is through a coup.
Security forces step into the chaotic scene
The security forces from the provinces descended into Bangkok incognito. Gen Anupong would be taken off guard. The police forces and Gen Anupong’s military forces were kept at the sideline. They were effectively nullified by Abhisit.
The well-trained security forces brought in from the provinces zeroed into the Red Shirt mobs at all the 15 key points. Each Red Shirt mob, which was planning to create riots and conducted espionage activities, consisted of several dozen members, equipped with explosive devices and other weapons.
Three gas-tank trucks were driven out and parked at Sri Ayutthaya, Soi Rang Nam and Din Daeng intersection. These three spots were quite close to he Victory Monument. They were ready to set explosion any time. Holding the public security as hostage by threatening to explode the gas-tank trucks is a very serious crime, amounting to an act of espionage under the Thai law.
At the early hours of four o’clock on Songkran Day, the security forces took the Red Shirt protesters by surprise. There followed clashes as the military security forces sought to reclaim the area from the Red Shirt blockage. The Red Shirt protesters were professionals. One drove a bus into the security forces by using a stick to hold on to the accelerator as he jumped out of the bus and let it run auto pilot.
The Red Shirt protesters clahsed against the security forces burnt and damaged altogether 50 public buses. Bangkok was turned into a capital of inferno, unseen since the May 1992 tragedy.
Media propaganda blitz
Thai Rath called for Abhisit’s resignation to avoid a bloodshed. The Thai Journalists Association called for peaceful negotiations to end the crisis. Prinya Thevanaruemitrakul, a law professor from Thammasat University, came out a number of times on TV talk show to call for peaceful negotations. Thaksin also went on air, booking CNN, BBC and other international media outlet, to support the Red Shirt protesters and denounce the military’s supression of the Red Shirts. Other international media, who have little sympathy of Abhisit government in the first place, also supported the Red Shirts.
It was part of the grand scheme, which proved that Thaksin reigned over the public opinion both inside and outside Thailand.
But the tide quickly turned against Thaksin and the Red Shirts as the day of turmoil progressed. Audience around the world witnessed the act of espionage and the uncontrollable riots by the Red Shirts. This was contrary to Thaksin’s claim that the Red Shirts were pursuing peaceful demonstration to call for democracy.
It was not until late afternoon of Songkran Day that the security forces could bring the plundering of Bangkok under control. In the evening, Abhisit came out with a more confident tone that the government was on top of the situation. The Red Shirts lost their control at all the 50 traffic points and had to retreated to the Government House.
Thaksin and the Red Shirts were losing the game because Gen Anupong was subdued while the police could not do anything much because under State of Emergency, the power rests in the hand of the prime minister alone.
Another most important factor that turned the tide away from Thaksin and the Red Shirts was that Bangkok residents were up in arms against them. Residents in Nang Lerng, Phetchaburi, Sathorn and other areas attacked the Red Shirts. Bangkok became a scene of a mini war zone, a classic civil war.
Thaksin’s cronies rushed to submit to His Majesty the King a petition for him to intervene to end the crisis. Thaksin also called for the King to intervene.
Thaksin must be kidding. He had his Red Shirts burning Bangkok and then he requested the King’s intervention.<.em>
From Sky News Speaking in exile from Dubai, Mr Shinawatra (April 13, 2009) said: “No one else can provide peace except the King now.
I urge his Majesty, please kindly intervene, because otherwise the military and the government will kill more people. Now they cover up everything – the local newspapers spread all the lies.”
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy nominally headed by the King and he does not publicly arbitrate in times of political turmoil.
But during the 1992 uprising, he chastised both the military and protest leaders effectively bringing an end to the violence.
The former PM says the only way this violence will stop is if the King calls for calm.
“If the intervention is not tonight, you will see more people die,” he warned.
Mr Shinawatra is accusing the army and the Government of a cover up, claiming he has photographic evidence of unarmed protesters being shot dead by security forces.
“They say the military is using blank bullets and they shoot in the air,” he said.
But holding up a photo apparently showing a policeman taking aim at ground level, he added: “This is the way they aim and they finally shoot at the heart of the people.”
He then points to a photo which seems to show a dead, blood-drenched protester slumped in the street.
The former leader denies he is inciting violence among his many supporters.
“I would like to urge every party that comes together to gather peacefully. War never ended with a war,” he said a day after phoning in to a rally of supporters and calling for a revolution.
The implicit message is that in the absence of Royal intervention, the Red Shirts would continue to ravage the capital until the country could go down the drain.
This little trick did not work.
Abhisit’s fortifying his position
By April 14, 2009, Abhisit was clearly in control. The Red Shirts had been subdued. Public sentiment inside and outside Thailand went against Thaksin and the Red Shirts. Support was streaming back to Abhisit. Thaksin and the Red Shirts faced a setback. They never thought that Bangkok residents would rise against them. Security for the Red Shirts was further undermkined since it would be dangerous for their members to wear Red and walk on the streets.
Before noon, the plug was pulled off. Veera Musikapong urged the Red Shirts crowd at the Government House to disperse. The leaders would be turning in to hear criminal charges of creating riots over the capital.
Suthep and Pol Chief Patcharawat tried to save their faces by appearing on TV to reveal a plot to bomb and burn Bangkok Bank and CP headquarters on silom road. Patcharawat also went over to Veera and other Red Shirt leaders at the Government House to arrest them in the most polite way.
Thaksin and Pojaman knew by then that they had lost their bet. More than Bt10 billion that went into this financing of the people’s revolution miserably failed.
Now it is clean-up time for Abhisit as he triumphs over his fate and as Thailand struggles to return to its feet.
By: Thanong Khanthong / The Nation Weblog