Abhisit, Suthep and fear of red shirts

11 07 2009

On Friday, The Nation (10 July 2009: “Ban on protests in Phuket”) reported on the draconian measures being put in place to prevent a repeat of the protests that brought the Pattaya ASEAN summit to an end in April in the run-up to the Songkhran Uprising. United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship red shirts gathered in Pattaya and literally crashed the ASEAN meeting. However, apart from clashes prompted by Newin Chidchob’s blue shirts, there was little violence in Pattaya.

Some will applaud that the Democrat Party-led coalition government has taken steps to avoid violence. However, are the measures reasonable?

The government is led by increasingly politically impotent Abhisit Vejjajiva but these measures are organized by his deputy and chief powerbroker Suthep Taugsuban, together with banned politician Newin Chidchob in the background, and with the backing of the military’s top brass who are directly represented in government by Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

It was Prawit who was cited in the Nation. The security measures are explained: “Phuket must have no protests whatsoever. We will designate no areas for demonstrations. No road blockade, no submission of a protest letter, and not even a peaceful gathering is allowed…”. Not even the usual NGOs that meet on the outskirts of ASEAN meetings will be permitted over the next two weeks.

This state is brought about through the application of the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) that was hurriedly put in place at the end of the military-appointed government led by current privy councillor Surayudh Chulanont following the 2006 coup.

Apparently, though, not even ISA is sufficient. The Cabinet issued “additional rules for the implementation of security during the Phuket meetings [with] relevant authorities … required to cooperate with officials from the Internal Security Operations Command when requested. Isoc officials are empowered to designate certain buildings or places off-limits.” In addition, “unauthorised people are not allowed to carry weapons outside their residences, and the Isoc director is empowered to impose a ban on use of electronic devices in certain areas. The Isoc chief is also empowered to impose restrictions on the use of certain roads or vehicles…”. Prawit added that the use of force would be sufficient to ensure that things did not get out of control.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep, who is in charge of security affairs, said “local residents would be told about prohibitions. For example, gatherings would not be allowed in the airport or on roads to and from the airport, as well as areas around hotels where meeting participants will stay.”

These are remarkable measures that place ISOC in a position of virtually establishing martial law and power over the island. But it gets more worrying.

The Bangkok Post (10 July 2009: “Protesters not allowed at Asean meeting”) reports that Suthep has warned the UDD because it announced that it would not disrupt the meeting but that it “would try to hand a letter to Asean officials during the meeting in Phuket, demanding the resignation of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya.”

And then the Post adds this neat final paragraph: “The PAD’s Phuket branch released a statement saying the group supported the Asean meetings and would help authorities keep an eye on any suspicious people to prevent anyone creating chaos during the summit.” A loyal reader comments: “Thugs and goons, encouraged and protected by the government, in the streets.” Even if PAD isn’t mobilized, at a minimum, this is another example of the government’s lack of commitment to the even-handedness.

PPT wonders if Newin’s blue shirts will again show up and whether they will be accommodated by the government, as they were in Pattaya.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, in another example of the “great fear” permeating the government and ruling class, and despite considerable misgivings about the visit to Newin country, Abhisit is in Buriram province. The Nation (11 July 2009: “4,800 police deployed”) reports that Jongrak Juthanond, deputy national police commissioner, expressed confidence that the addition 4,800 police deployed in the province “would be able to prevent any serious incident from happening even though some 15 groups, including the red shirts, were expected to gather during the prime minister’s tour.”

Jongrak said that “peaceful protests would be allowed but that police would take legal action against any troublemakers who create violence.”

PM’s Office Minister Satit Wongnongtaey is reported to have said that “some 60 community radio stations in northeastern provinces would relay and broadcast Abhisit’s speeches during his Buri Ram visit. Satit said the radio stations would link up to Radio Thailand to broadcast the speeches live.” In a veiled threat, Satit asked the “red shirts not to disrupt the visit, because the prime minister will be there to discuss budget to be allocated for development projects in Buri Ram.” PPT recalls the complaints from the Democrat Party when Thaksin Shinawatra’s government made similar threats to withhold funding from dissident provinces.

UDD leader Nattawut Saikua, while noting that red shirts had the “freedom to travel anywhere they liked in the country,” wryly commented that “it would be the PM’s visit, not the red shirts, that would disrupt peace in Buri Ram, judging from the amount of police to be deployed.”

The Bangkok Post (11 July 2009: “PM given commando escort to Buri Ram”) adds several details on the fear amongst the government (or is it hope for a clash?) and that Abhisit will have the Arintharat commando unit surrounding and escorting him in Buriram.



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