Peaceful one moment, threats of belligerence the next; there seems no end in sight to the political quagmire
Knowing Thaksin Shinawatra, his Wednesday message to his supporters could mean anything. In that phone-in, aired on Udon Thani community radio, the ousted prime minister voiced concern over this Sunday’s planned rally by the red shirts at the Royal Plaza in Bangkok. It will be the first major gathering of the pro-Thaksin movement since the petition submission ceremony on August 17, and Thaksin told the radio host that he had voiced his anxiety with rally organiser Veera Musigapong.
The first theory is that he is sincere. Having seen the petition submitted to royal authorities in a massive but solemn demonstration of support, Thaksin, whose international image took a battering when his red supporters ran amok in April, must not want another untoward incident. If the pardon-Thaksin petition campaign has somewhat compensated for the Songkran infamy, why spoil it so suddenly?
The second theory has Thaksin hedging against the possibility of Sunday’s rally going wrong. He could not escape responsibility for the April turmoil, which put Thailand on the verge of bloodshed, because it happened after his belligerent speeches were broadcast live to his followers day in and day out. This time, he has somewhat distanced himself from the red shirts’ new move and the “concern” he has voiced will be another shield of immunity. The most important underlying message from Wednesday’s phone-in was: “It’s Veera and company who are planning this, and I can’t do anything except express my worries.”
The third theory has to do with the government’s plan to impose the Internal Security Act in the Dusit area. He is either genuinely worried for his supporters or is taking advantage of the situation by pointing international watchers toward Thailand. Harsh laws were never really enforced when pro-Thaksin governments were in power, although, it has to be said, a bloody crackdown did take place against the People’s Alliance for Democracy in October last year. Protesters were killed and several maimed in that incident.
The fourth theory is based on reported rifts among key red-shirt members. Thaksin naturally will not want a political rally to take place against this backdrop. If he wanted to show the world how well-loved he is among a large portion of the Thai population, that objective must have been fulfilled both prior to and after Songkran. If the movement is not fully ready for another big push, why push it?
As for the red shirts, whether they are doing it for him or whether it’s his secret command, Sunday’s rally will fly in the face of the relatively peaceful petition campaign. After all, it’s one thing to seek “compassion” for Thaksin and then go home, but it’s another to beg for forgiveness and then take up arms again, less than two weeks later.
The red shirts can argue that protesting against a “bad” government and seeking royal clemency for their “good” leader are two separate things. That may be true but the line is very thin indeed. And things will get further complicated considering the fact that it’s the “bad” government they are protesting against that will decide whether the petition should be forwarded to His Majesty the King.
In other words, the red shirts, after accusing the government of trying to politicise their “sincere” petition campaign, are not making it any easier for the administration by planning such a major rally so soon. Democratically, they have the right. But if they think they are helping Thaksin, their choice of strategy is surprising.
Having claimed that the government had distorted an honest petition campaign and made it look like an act of intimidation, the last thing the red shirts should do is really act like an intimidator at this stage.
And in the end, it’s the general Thai public who will have to hold their breath again, after the great anxiety on Thaksin’s birthday last month and the petition submission this month. A brief glance at the calendar and one can’t be too optimistic even if Sunday passes without an incident. The high-level police reshuffle has not been settled, while that for the military is coming up. The first anniversaries of the bloody crackdown on the PAD and the Suvarnabhumi Airport are approaching. And the trial to determine what to do with Thaksin’s impounded, staggering assets cannot be delayed forever.
It has become part of our lives now to keep one eye on the political scene and its every detail because we can never know who will step on the next landmine, and when. Getting nervous has become an endless burden for Thai citizens and the time to pray keeps coming back with common regularity. The most optimistic analysis of Thaksin’s Wednesday statement has him concerned and tired like all of us. The most cynical tells us that if someone like him is concerned, we should be doubly alarmed.
By The Nation
Published on August 28, 2009