May 12, 2010

When will Bangkok Boil?

Thailand’s latest political crisis, now in its third month, has been a series of anti-climaxes. More than once the government has resorted to force to dislodge the Red Shirts from their protest camp in the Rajaprasong shopping district. Each time the Red Shirts suffered casualties but held their ground.

The situation can’t go on like this indefinitely though. At some point the ebb and flow will finally tip and oust either the Red Shirts or Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. We can only guess whether now is that time, because the situation always sounds ripe to explode.

"Their refusal to stop the protest meant that the conditions that were set are being canceled, including the election date," said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.

Accordingly, Army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said that security forces "will not use force at this stage,” though only one stage theoretically separates the use of force. Water and electricity to Rajaprasong will be cut at midnight, less than 10 hours from now.

Telephone signal will also be cut off, while buses, trains, and waterway services around the rally site will be blocked.

"This is a full-scale measure to limit the freedom of protesters and to close down the area 100 percent, starting at midnight," Sansern said. "The measures to cut water and power are the first measures. If the protest does not end, we have to fully enforce the law which may involve using force to reclaim the area.”

Though the crisis may have yet to reach its boiling point, some crafty politics and a few change of hearts will be necessary to reduce the temperature, which continues to climb. The latest leg of the crisis stems from the Red Shirts’ demand that Vejjajiva and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban stand trial for protester deaths.

While Suthep told reporters he was, “ready to enter the legal procedure,” the Red Shirts countered that they want him charged with manslaughter. Nor are they happy that Vejjajiva refused their demands completely, creating the perfect storm for violence.

The "red-shirts" can not negotiate anymore Vejjajiva said, and his spokesman Panitan echoed, "He said there will no longer be any more compromises or conditions.”

And even when factoring in the need for psychological warfare, the Red Shirts are serious about refusing to give in and unafraid to shed blood.

Weng Tojirakarn, a Red Shirt leader, vowed to anyone that would listen, "None of the red shirts are afraid of your threats to cut water and power. We will run at soldiers with our two bare hands even if they fire at us with assault rifles."

"The prime minister must not threaten us and must not disperse us," Tojirakarn said in comments to Thailand’s The Nation, the Associated press, and Reuters. "If he wants more deaths, so be it. I don't."

"Whatever measure you use, we are not scared," he said.

The only thing more certain than bloodshed is that force won’t provide a solution. This conflict cannot end without a political settlement, one connected to the overall conflict between ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Somehow this matter needs to be resolved permanently or Thailand will continue swinging between Yellow and Red moods.

Neither Thailand’s democracy or economy can afford to be interrupted every two years. With all this in mind, should at least some form of international assistance - diplomatic and legal - be considered, possibly an international court? Thais notoriously oppose outside intervention, but how long do they want to keep riding this roller-coaster?

Tell us if we’re wrong. Any feedback from Thais would be most appreciated.

No comments:

Post a Comment