The idea that the palace isn’t showing favorites in this political struggle was again shown to be false when it agreed to a royal cremation for slain anti-democracy demonstrator Sutin Taratin. Of course, we haven’t seen any such events for the dead red shirts.
This is yet another signal that the palace is firmly supporting the demands made by Suthep Thaugsuban and his anti-democrats.
On the subject of the role of the palace, Shawn Crispin at Asia Times Online, who can always be relied on for a great story of intra-elite intrigue, backroom deals and unnamed sources, true or not, has some comments worth perusing.
He begins by reasserting a 2011 pre-election deal between Thaksin Shinawatra and “the royal palace and military top brass.” As far as PPT can determine, the source of this rumor is Crispin himself. Every other reference to this “deal” draws on Crispin’s article claiming this in 2011.
Crispin also sticks with his claim that the red shirt protest was “Thaksin mobilized and financed to topple the Democrat Party-led government in 2010 after a court seized over US$1 billion of his personal assets.” We think that when you deal only with the elite and the intrigue, you miss what’s really happening on the ground. This claim that Thaksin paid for it all is as silly as saying that all votes are bought or that the current demonstrators are all paid dupes of Suthep and his backers. Sure, there some funding of rallies – there has to be – but dismissing real grievances is dumb politics and blind journalism.
That “Thaksin’s rehabilitation and return from exile is still deemed as non-negotiable at the highest royalist levels” seems an unremarkable observation, deal or no deal.
We do think that Crispin’s description of the anti-democrats is probably accurate. He says it is:
Fronted by former Democrat party member Suthep Thaugsuban and tacitly backed by a royal establishment with power centers in the bureaucracy, courts, military and monarchy….
He’s also correct to note that the upcoming election “will almost inevitably be marred by violence and finally ruled null and void by establishment-aligned agencies and courts.” And, we have said this too:
Other cases, including a fast-tracked impeachment motion against Yingluck for her alleged role in overseeing a mismanaged and widely criticized rice price-support scheme and pending charges against over 250 Peua Thai politicians for trying to amend the constitution, threaten to create a political vacuum before the Election Commission, as widely expected, officially nullifies the poll result. [Premier] Yingluck [Shinawatra] could be indicted in the rice-price case as early as mid-February.
We agree, and we’d add that those backing the Suthep lot have to keep them on the streets until the judiciary can act against the government in a 2008-like judicial coup. Crispin says this is the royalist strategy:
top royalists have bid to leverage the two-sided squeeze of anti-Shinawatra street protests and legal impeachment pressure to force Yingluck’s resignation and Thaksin’s acquiescence to the formation of an appointed ruling council.
If this scenario comes about and there is no major pro-Yingluck backlash, we think Crispin is also right to say:
… Thailand is more likely headed towards a period of appointed rather than elected governance, a political shift that royalist institutions will justify with rule-by-law arguments and will be backed but not overtly orchestrated by military force.
While much of this is speculation based on past experience, Crispin is on shakier ground when he gets back to his plots and intrigues. He says:
the push and pull is a reflection of ongoing and unresolved behind-the-scenes negotiations between Thaksin and senior royalists comprised mainly of retired senior soldiers, according to diplomats, mediators and a well-placed military insider familiar in varying degrees with the situation. Those negotiations through intermediaries have to date failed to reach a new stabilizing accommodation.
From what we have seen, we doubt there are any real negotiations. The royalists and palace seem to have determined to be rid of a pro-Thaksin government one more time.
Crispin mentions these negotiators: former army commander and defense minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, 2006 coup makers Lieutenant-General Winai Phattiyakul and Prasong Soonsiri, and retired General Saiyud Kerdphol. If Thaksin were dealing with these guys, he’d be bonkers for they all hate him.
As Crispin notes, this lot are in line with the anti-democrats in wanting “a purge of Thaksin’s and his family’s political and business influence, and appointment of a people’s council’.” They also want Thaksin’s whole family in exile.
None of this requires much negotiation unless the royalists are frightened of a red shirt rebellion.
Crispin then follows this with speculation regarding succession, none of which is new. We’d simply point out that the snip from Michael Connors said similar things more than a decade ago. One way or another, speculation on succession and royal death has been going on for a very long time!
Crispin then speculates on violence, with no evidence whatsoever. He notes attacks on protesters but says nothing of attacks on red shirts. Why does only one kind of violence matter at this point in his narrative? Simply because his is speculative thinking out loud, quoting others doing the same.
Some of his claims, though, deserve quotation just for the tortured logic that gets the reader back to some real facts:
One [unnamed] military insider claims that January 17 and 19 grenade attacks on the PDRC were perpetrated by mafia elements involved in illegal video-game gambling and with links to police in Pathum Thani province north of Bangkok.
Okay, this is pretty speculative, but then this:
The [unnamed] source believes rogue police may have hired proxies to exact revenge for PDRC assaults on its personnel and property, while avoiding direct confrontations with military members, including soldiers in plainclothes serving as PDRC guards at certain protest sites.
That seems interesting to us. Rouge police suggests that there is no orchestrated government violence, which Crispin spends considerable time discussing.
Military personnel acting as anti-democrat guards. Interesting indeed.
Finally, Crispin gets to some verifiable facts while admitting he really doesn’t know what is happening:
Police officials have suggested that the PDRC, or allied military-linked culprits, have staged the attacks to frame the government and regain momentum amid signs of flagging popular support for their protests. Police arrests of active Navy Seals near one protest site, and the capture of an apparent military-linked suspect transporting war weapons from the army base central town of Lopburi to an unknown recipient, feed that narrative. Whatever the case, both sides have hidden incentive to escalate the shadowy violence.
Finally Cripin speculates on red shirt reaction and dismisses it, saying “UDD pro-election rallies organized in Thaksin’s and Yingluck’s geographical strongholds failed to galvanize large numbers…”. We think he’s not been watching this. His speculation on Thaksin “launch[ing] a UDD-led rural insurgency aimed at partitioning the country,” is simply the wildest speculation PPT has heard for a very, very long time, even from Crispin, who publishes the most outlandish of this stuff.
Readers can make of this what they will. Fairy tale? A few facts and lots of story? Who do the “informants” want this stuff to be heard by?
What is clear is that this is yet another bit of royal interventionism.
Update: Above it was noted by Crispin that “military members, including soldiers in plainclothes [are] serving as PDRC guards at certain protest sites.” The Bangkok Post confirms this:
More security guards have been recruited to provide protection for the protest leaders, most notably for the PDRC secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban.
Mr Suthep is driven around in a vehicle surrounded by a convoy of motorcycles made up of plainclothes police and soldiers. The convoy includes four to six security vehicles.