AFTER being on the offensive all along, causing difficulties for the Abhisit administration for months, the red shirts suffered another setback when they had to call off a campaign in the capital as measures under the national security law were invoked.
The planned rally on Sunday had to be put off for a while, supposedly until September 19, to mark the third anniversary of the coup which toppled Thaksin Shinawatra. The ringleaders of the anti-government campaign were deterred by the law, which could lead to arrests and detention.
Publicly, they denounced the national security law as being an obstacle to democratic reform. Prime Minister Abhisit countered that the red shirts can hold rallies wherever and whenever they desire, but they must comply with the law.
What they did not admit – and what is suspected by political watchers – is that the real reason must have been the inability of the leaders to mobilise a large number of red shirts on the day. This follows earlier futile attempts to oust the government or make substantial headway in the fight for their fugitive boss.
Waning support from the red shirts is not the only problem. The trio suffered severe credibility problems after being exposed by fellow campaign leaders as having exploited Thaksin’s wealth and enriched themselves all along, while not being able to show any meaningful achievement.
Their paymaster Thaksin went deeper into exile, showing up in South Africa and Swaziland to explore business opportunities. He appeared on Twitter holding rough diamonds in his palm after telling his followers about his venture in diamond and gold mining.
Away from Dubai, amidst speculation that the UAE no longer wants to extend hospitality to him, after repeated complaints from the Thai Foreign Ministry that the fugitive has used the sheikhdom to incite mobs in Bangkok, Thaksin will find his world shrinking.
He will have to rethink the strategy for his next move. If he is not suffering from severe delusion, he must have accepted the fact that his campaign against his own country – including bloody riots in the city during the Songkran festival and personal attacks on Abhisit – has been declining on all fronts.
Many countries treat him like a pariah. The US, Europe and the greater part of Asia have become off-limits. His private jet has narrow airspace and fewer airports to land at. This must cause considerable mental anguish and physical strain, as shown on his face during forced smiles.
Another blow to his thinning credibility and stature was the doctored sound clip of Prime Minister Abhisit. It was a shoddy job and easily confirmed by the Special Branch as a fake. Investigations of e-mail addresses led to elements inside the SC Assets Group.
This was serious damage with extensive repercussions. Two employees of the company have been arrested and given bail at Bt100,000 each. Further investigations can unearth more evidence and expose dirty hands behind the scheme, which was designed to instigate mob riots.
Thaksin’s cronies came out quickly to deny he was involved directly. The company is run by his younger sister, who is being groomed to become the Pheu Thai Party leader. Like it or not, the names of the company and his sister were tarnished, showing the close links between the Shin Group and political interests.
Politicians in Pheu Thai and those banned from politics will also be questioned about their involvement. The evidence is damning. Pheu Thai MPs had pushed for the opening of the clips in the House to embarrass Abhisit and stir up more trouble.
The red shirts are in disarray. The ringleaders are trying to recover from the setbacks but will face further public disdain for their role in self-serving campaigns. They want to divert public attention from the sound-clip fiasco as soon as possible.
It’s the Democrats’ turn to retaliate and get even. This is a golden opportunity for this kind of take-no-prisoners politics. Democrat supporters are not disappointed at all. The party has launched a multi-pronged legal action directed at those involved because the sound clips – on DVD and CD – are still being distributed among the red shirts.
This means more political trouble ahead. The red shirts will not be deterred by the national security law. The ringleaders know that organising rallies has become a means of enhancing their wealth.
The public will suffer and the business sector, tired of the uncertain prospects for economic recovery, has started to complain about the red-shirt menace.
The government will have to take more action to show that it has everything under control and that fumbling around is part of the past.
By Sopon Onkgara
Published on September 1, 2009