Thailand political crisis worsens – further bloodshed forecast

Thailand’s long running political crisis appears to be worsening with the question no longer being whether the military will step in and oust the government of embattled Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat with a coup d’etat but when.

In the wake of the bloody October 7 confrontation between police and “anti-government”Thailand People‚Äôs Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters at Thailand’s Government House, relationships between the different parties in the coalition government have become strained and several parties have publicly threatened to pull-out of the alliance.

At the same time the relationship between the Government and the country’s powerful armed forces has deteriorated to what at best could be described as frozen.

Meanwhile “Yellow Shirt” anti-government protesters have stepped up their campaign, with thousands of supporters marching through downtown Bangkok and rallying at major shopping centres to hand out pamphlets and VCDs of the October 7 clash with police.

This latest escalation in the the anti-government protests has taken the action away from a small isolated park of Bangkok to the main business, shopping and tourism centers of Silom, Sukhumvit, and Wireless roads, to the giant Central World shopping mall.

The result of the October 7 police action to clear PAD protesters from Thailand’s Government House, in which two people were killed and almost 500 hundred people hospitalized, has seen the government of this former Asian economic tiger sidelined to the point of being largely irrelevant.

Thai riot police move in on PAD protesters on October 7, 2008.
Thai riot police move in on PAD protesters on October 7, 2008. Photo Bangkok Post

Forced to running the country from hastily constructed offices at Thailand’s former  international airport, Don Muang, and numerous leased office sites around Bangkok, the government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, Thailand’s second leader in less than eight months, is spending more time trying to remain in power than attending to matters of state.

Of particular significance is a ruling last week by the National Counter Corruption Commission that Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat committed “serious malfeasance” when he was the permanent secretary for the Justice Ministry in 1999.

The NCCC has forwarded its findings to the Justice Ministry’s Civil Services Committee (CCC) to consider retroactively firing Somchai from service as permanent secretary for justice.

The ruling could result in Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat forced out of the prime minister’s role, as Thailand’s Constitution prohibits anyone fired from government service from becoming an MP.

The beleaguered government is under fire from all sides, with various inquiries into the October 7th violence now starting to deliver their findings.

Initial reports showed that the teargas canisters fired by police at protesters were sourced from China and contained the powerful military explosive RDX.

Thailand’s police chief has said police were unaware of the explosive force of the canisters, blamed for severing the hands, arms, feet and legs of several protesters, and killing two.

The director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science Thailand has squarely blamed the explosive, Chinese-made canisters as the cause of one protesters death.

Dr Pornthip Rojanasunan said the protester, 20-year-old Angkana Radubpanyawut, died from the impact of a tear gas canister fired by the police to disperse anti-government protesters.

“The tear gas struck at the chest before exploding a second after,‚Äù she said in her report.

Meanwhile Surasee Kosolnavin, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sub-committee investigating the crowd dispersal operation on October 7, said its investigation had found the operation by police was “excessive, violated human rights and the law.‚Äù

Mr Surasee said, while “the government must take responsibility for ordering police to take action against the protesters, the police themselves must accept responsibility for how the order was carried out.”

Last week General Anupong Paojinda, commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army publicly called on Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to accept responsibility for the death and injuries to PAD protesters at Government House and resign.

The comments came when General Anupong and other top military commanders, along with the commissioner-general of the Royal Thai Police, Police Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwan, appeared on a live television programme.

General Anupong said, “no government could survive after spilling blood on the street as society could not accept it.”

Meanwhile, Air Chief Marshal Ittiporn Supawong, the Royal Thai Air Force commander-in-chief, proclaimed “all branches of the armed forces are united and stand behind the people.”

The comments from the powerful Thai military, who see themselves as protectors of the Thai monarchy and answerable only to the King of Thailand, show the Government cannot rely on the military for support in it’s ongoing battle with anti-government protesters.

The comments by the military follow a call by former deputy prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who resigned from the cabinet after ordering the police action against PAD demonstrators on October 7, for the military to mount a coup d’etat.

Retired Thai army officer, Major General Khattiya Sawasdiphol, threatens to use petrol bombs against the Thai military if they attempt a coup d'etat
Retired Thai army officer, Major General Khattiya Sawasdiphol, threatens to use petrol bombs against the Thai military if they attempt a coup d'etat

At the time he announced his resignation, General Chavalit said, ‚Äúa military-led coup d’etat is the only way to resolve the political strife.‚Äù

However last week Royal Thai Army spokesman, Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnoed, denied speculation that the military might mount another coup d’etat, a little more than two years after deposing the government of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in just such a move.

Quoting General Anupong, Colonel Sansern said, “a coup won’t solve the political problem.‚Äù

With PAD protesters still occupying Thailand‚Äôs Government House and their protest rallies now interrupting traffic in a city which already has some of the worst traffic congestion in the world, “pro-government” “Red Shirt” groups are now threatening to launch their own action.

Retired police General Salang Bunnag, a former deputy police chief, has vowed to lead a group of 1,000 inactive or retired police to retake Thailand’s Government House from the PAD Yellow Shirts and “return it to the Thai people.”

According to General Salang, he plans to launch the reclamation offensive following a religious ceremony on Wednesday, October 22, at the nearby Royal Plaza where more than 10,000 Buddhist monks will say a mass prayer to bless the country and “mend torn Thai society.‚Äù

Unlike the bloodless 2006 military coup, pro-government supporters threaten violent retaliation should the military attempt another putsch
Unlike the bloodless 2006 military coup, pro-government supporters threaten violent retaliation should the military attempt another putsch. Photo Manik Sethisuwan
The 2006 coup d'etat that ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra saw the military receive flowers from Thai citizens. This time it may not be so peaceful
The 2006 coup d'etat that ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra saw the military receive flowers from Thai citizens. This time it may not be so peaceful. Photo Manik Sethisuwan

At the same time a retired Thai army officer, Major General Khattiya Sawasdiphol, said pro-government Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship (DAAD) and United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) members would use petrol bombs against tanks and military vehicles taking part in any coup attempt.

Major General Khattiya said, “the use of Molotov cocktails against tanks has been practised widely, but never in Thailand. This will be the first and only time that the people have threatened a counter-coup, if tanks roam Bangkok streets.

‚ÄúIn the last coup people gave them (the military) flowers. But if they come out now, people will hurl Molotov Cocktails at them,” he added.

The retired army General said he was currently training hundreds of pro-government supporters how to fight at a secret training camp and added that several pro-government movements in the Northeast are poised to take to the streets and fight troops should a coup d’etat be attempted.

The comments have prompted Pracharaj Party leader Snoh Thienthong to claim another bloodbath will definitely happen because certain people are instigating unrest.

He said he believed the country was on the brink of violence because the country was now in the state of lawlessness.

Meanwhile embattled Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has been forced to continue taking extraordinary measures to ensure his own safety and avoid being “captured” and paving the way for a military putsch.

After being forced to scale a spiked, steel fence to leave Government House on October 7th, the premier opted to take a charter flight instead of the usual military jet to Ubon Ratchathani over the weekend to visit soldiers wounded in border clashes with Cambodian troops last week.

With the royal funeral service of HRH Princess Galyani scheduled to take place next month (see: Thai royal cremation set for six days in November) it is difficult to see this the current political situation being allowed to continue for much longer.

The so-called People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) is campaigning for the resignation of the elected Thailand Government, accusing it of being a puppet of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a September 2006 coup d’état and who fled Thailand while on bail while facing corruption charges and has since sought political asylum in England.

The PAD, comprises mostly Bangkok elite, businessmen, generals and aristocrats, and is demanding the introduction of an undemocratic “new politics” where 70 per cent of the  parliament would be appointed and only 30 per cent elected.

It has vowed to not give up its occupation Government House, which it first stormed on August 26, 2008, until the current government resigns.

See graphic television footage of the October 7, 2008 Thai police clash with PAD protesters

Read the head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s comments here: Thailand tourism chief believes deadly clashes will not significantly affect tourism

Read the affect the ongoing political situation is having on the Thailand tourism industry here: Thailand tourism in crisis as protesters die in ‘bloody Bangkok’

Ends:
© John Le Fevre, 2008

October 24, 2008 update. Only hours after I posted a reply to a question from Guy in America (see below), the Bangkok Post published this analysis piece. Written by  Wassana Nanuam Рby far one of the better journalists in Thailand Рit expresses similar views to those contained in the article above and the response below. See: A matter of time

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Bangkok ‚Ä¢ General Anupong Paojinda ‚Ä¢ General Salang Bunnag ‚Ä¢ International affairs ‚Ä¢ Major General Khattiya Sawasdiphol ‚Ä¢ October 7 2008 ‚Ä¢ Somechai Wongsawat ‚Ä¢ Thailand ‚Ä¢ Thailand politics ‚Ä¢ Thailand riots ‚Ä¢ Thailand tourism ‚Ä¢ Thailand travel ‚Ä¢ Tourism/travel industry ‚Ä¢ PAD ‚Ä¢ Peoples Alliance for Democracy ‚Ä¢ Thailand military ‚Ä¢ “Yellow Shirts” ‚Ä¢ Thailand Government House ‚Ä¢ Pornthip Rojanasunan ‚Ä¢ Thaksin Shinawatra ‚Ä¢ “Red shirts” ‚Ä¢ Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship ‚Ä¢ United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship
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John Le Fevre

Deputy editor, Thailand & GMS editor at The Establishment Post

John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 35 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and copy editor.

He is currently deputy editor and Thailand / GMS region editor for The Establishment Post

Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me

2 Responses to "Thailand political crisis worsens – further bloodshed forecast"

  1. wiseguy2u   November 26, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Well John, it turned out that your cautionary may have been off by a few short weeks, but your conclusion was right on the money. Anything could happen was your take a month ago and indeed it has. An international airport and it’s employees and passengers essentially held hostage. Shooting in the streets. I am appalled at the violence and the intensity of it all.

    What does this portend for the future of the democracy in Thailand? And how does the dilution of rural votes constitute a “democracy”?

    Guy
    Los Angeles, USA

    Hello Guy,

    The situation has been deteriorating progressively over time and this is a last desperate push by the PAD thugs to get their way. Unfortunately I think the situation will deteriorate further from this point.

    This has nothing to do with democracy, but rather those who lost the elections seeing themself above the majority of the population.

    The Government has acted calmly and rationally and refused to be drawn into violent confrontation with the protesters thereby giving the military any reason to get involved.

    I would be surprised if there is any escalation or deterioration before the Kings birthday celebrations on December 5, but after that anything could happen.

    Sorry you missed out on your holiday to Thailand but this could have happened just as easily several weeks ago.

    Best wishes,

    John Le Fevre

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  2. wiseguy2u   October 24, 2008 at 12:45 am

    “This latest escalation in the the anti-government protests has taken the action away from a small isolated park of Bangkok to the main business, shopping and tourism centers of Silom, Sukhumvit, and Wireless roads, to the giant Central World shopping mall .”

    John: Earlier this month I posted a question regarding the relative safety of tourists in Bangkok. At that time, your assessment was that it was safe for tourists to come for a visit to Thailand. In light of recent developments, has your assessment of the inherent risks to innocent tourists changed, especially as regards Bangkok?

    Thanks in advance,
    Guy

    Hello Guy,

    Thanks for your question.

    I think the situation is somewhat fluid at the moment and there are various people making a range of inflammatory statements. Thai’s don’t like to loose face and this adds an interesting twist to what otherwise might be put down in the West as simple postulating or grandstanding.

    I think the next few days will be key. The prime minister is out of the country attending the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting Summit in Beijing. If the military are going to act this would be a perfect time. If certain groups are serious in their statements of opposing a military putsch that would become obvious immediately.

    Overall Thailand is still extremely safe for tourists. However, given some of the public comments made by different people I think any tourist in Bangkok would be wise to maintain a heightened level of awareness of ongoing events and to avoid large crowds of people – especially political protests.

    There have been photographs of tourists visiting the Government House rallying site of the PAD and others quoted giving their support to the PAD. This is sheer lunacy as tourists generally are not informed well enough of the big picture, or the overall aims of the PAD – to install a political system where 70 per cent of the parliament is appointed and only 30 per cent elected.

    At this point in time I believe anything is possible. I believe there is now an increased risk of further violence and a requirement to remain more vigilant to the current situation.

    Given the public statements that have been made by former military and police officers, if my 87-year-old mother wanted to spend her time alone in Bangkok seeing the sites, I would now be advising her not to come at this point of time.

    I hope this helps.

    John Le Fevre

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