Rattling the establishment

21 03 2010

Immediately following the enormous red shirt caravan around the city yesterday, PPT thought about the options now facing the Abhisit Vejjajiva government and its military and palace backers. In the face of a massive demonstration of red shirt popularity and support, what was this group going to do. One of the options we considered was that government needed to find a way to negotiate a way out that saved face while protecting its critical interests. Another was to seek ways to try to discredit the red shirts.

It seems the strategy is to do both. Initially, reports were that the government agreed to meet red shirt leaders for talks, but this was done in the context of a media-wide attempt to downplay the significance and size of the red shirt caravan around the city. This was followed by the first indications of a more determined clandestine movement that includes trying to link small explosions to red shirts.

At least the Bangkok Post (21 March 2010) manages to explain that the red shirt caravan and the obviously younger crowd involved has rattled the government. And the Post does report police claims of 65,000 protesters. PPT thinks it was much larger, but more on this in an upcoming post. But it does it in this context: “The government is likely to extend the Internal Security Act (ISA) in Bangkok after two grenades exploded on Saturday night near state agencies. A flood of red shirt protesters joining a convoy in the capital Saturday also raised government concerns.” These “concerns” about the protesters are not explained.

As a footnote, PPT points out that some television stations continue to repeat ad nauseum that there were 25,000 protestors. That will make the other tens of thousands who were there pretty angry and will mean the mainstream media will simply be seen as a part of the government’s propaganda machine. At present, that seems like a reasonable perception.

The small explosions reported are of the type seen in recent days, just sufficient impact for the media to get excited and to allow the government to be suitably concerned and to stoke anti-red shirt fears. These fears that must be running very high after recent red shirt successes with non-violent and large rallies and events.

So Abhisit talks of extending the period of the Internal Security Act – by the way, he appeared on television before the explosions to make this point. While the post says he also talked of reducing the areas covered, in his television interview he was also talking about the potential for the ISA being required in other areas. ISOC wants the ISA for a further 15 days until 7 April.

A few days ago, when the red shirts demanded talks, the government responded that it would only talk with the red shirts if Thaksin Shinawatra agreed, Abhisit now seeks to blame Thaksin as an “obstacle to dialogue between the government and the red shirts, also known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.” Now he says “he was open to negotiations with the red shirt leaders as long as Thaksin was not part of the picture.” And he adds: “if Thaksin is still part of the picture, their demand can’t be about democracy. I’ll negotiate when Thaksin is not part of it all…”. The yellow-shirted commentators have immediately jumped on this line (see here).

The red shirt leadership said it would talk with Abhisit.

PPT feels this is a dangerous time. The government’s and establishment’s worst fears were confirmed by a huge and boisterous turn-out for the red shirts, both in the parade and on the streets supporting it. Their next moves will, we fear, reflect this desperation.


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