A parliament “protected”?

25 03 2010

Update: After some limited media criticism, a fierce response from Peua Thai Party MPs, including a 2-day boycott of parliament, the government begun to reduce the huge military presence at parliament. Television news showed the troops withdrawing and razor wire and barricades being removed.

Part of the criticism today came in an extremely emotional statement in parliament by the one Peua Thai MP who showed up, spoke, and then left.As we mentioned below, the senate speaker also made a plea.

The government, which had earlier seen that images of the prime minister surrounded by military personnel was poor public relations, appears to have woken up to that fact that making parliament look like a military base in a war zone is probably not the best message. That said, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva seems not to care all that much, and in parliament was grim-faced in making statements defending his government and the military.

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How many military personnel does it take to make parliament feel safe for the Democrat Party? Quite a few it seems, and not a few barricades and lots of barbed wire. The Bangkok Post (25 March 2010) reports that “Soldiers yesterday blocked all roads but for the intersection of Rajavithi and Rama V roads adjacent to Dusit Zoo. They erected concrete barriers, barbed wire and parked heavy trucks across other access routes. Only one lane was open for MPs and ministers to pass through to parliament.”

None of these are the traits normally associated with an elected parliament. However, several senior Democrat Party members have stated that they fear a repeat of events in October 2008. Those events involved the Democrat Party’s allies in the People’s Alliance for Democracy trying to prevent parliament from meeting. To date, the red shirt rally has shown no such inclination, despite a Democrat Party claim that “without the presence of police and soldiers at access points to parliament, red shirt protesters would have rallied there.”

The Bangkok Post (24 March 2010) reports that “Puea Thai MPs did not attend the House meeting today because they viewed the deployment of troops and placing of barricades inside and around the parliament building compound as a threat to legislators…”. Puea Thai demanded the removal of the barricades. The party also proposed to “file complaints with the Crime Suppression Police, seeking legal action against Mr Abhisit and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban for ordering the deployment of soldiers at parliament, and against Mr Chai for allowing the military to station troops at the parliament.” The Peua Thai Party whip made the claim that the “parliament has now been seized by the army in a silent coup…”.

In response, government whips decided to “seek the impeachment of Puea Thai MPs for violating the law.” What law was that? “The opposition MPs gathered at the parliament’s entrance gate, obstructing House Speaker Chai Chidchob and government MPs from performing their duty at the parliament this morning…”. Recall that the people making this claim themselves stayed away from parliament just a few days ago. The government’s whips confirmed that the troops would stay at parliament.

The man who boycotted an election in 2006, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said “opposition MPs, who boycotted today’s House meeting, had attempted to obstruct other MPs trying to enter the parliament to do their duty. That was undemocratic…”. The Bangkok Post (25 March 2010) claims that the so-called blockade had little impact apart from a short delay, so the prime minister is exaggerating things considerably. He also denied a “quiet coup,” saying, “Who took power from who? Everybody is performing their duty.”

In another report in the Bangkok Post (24 March 2010), Abhisit expressed concern that “Col Apiwan Wiriyachai, the first deputy House speaker, went on the UDD stage and made careless remarks about Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda.”

Interestingly, the military “protection” of parliament comes just prior to the meeting of the International Parliamentary Union in Bangkok, which may also see the Internal Security Act in place. Some ironies there.

The military apparently agreed to open other access roads and this saw the parliament convene and the Puea Thai MPs end their protest and most then left for their party headquarters, boycotting the session. The parliament of mainly government members then passed key pieces of legislation without debate.

The bias in reporting this event is noticeable. While the Bangkok Post (25 March 2010) does point out that “many MPs of both the government and opposition camps appear to have neglected this obligation [ to attend parliamentary meetings].” That said, the editorial is convinced that the military blockade was “because of the barricade [was] set up by the government to prevent red-shirt protesters from storming Parliament.”

The post adds “Anyone with a modicum of common sense would see that the roadblock and the heavy presence of troops in no way constitute an insult to the honour of the legislators.” PPT wonders which common sense permits government members and ministers, including the premier to boycott meetings but causes the Post to consider a huge barricade around parliament with hundreds of soldiers a necessary and democratic move.

Here’s the real kicker, as the Post states: “The government may have overreacted for fear that the red-shirt protesters might storm or lay siege to Parliament and hold all the attending MPs hostage inside the premises, despite promises by the protest leaders that they would not resort to such outrageous action.” In other words, it is only anti-red shirt bias allows the Post to agree with the government.

As a footnote to this post, there are now various reports of how many troops are now in Bangkok “maintaining security.” Last week it was widely reported that there were 48,000. Now it is reported that 13,000 to 17,000 have been added, with a similar number on standby. At a maximum that means 65,000 troops deployed in Bangkok. The minimum figure PPT saw was 49,000. If any of these figures are correct, that’s a heck of a lot. The U.S. had some 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at the end of 2009. Thailand is said to have some 300,000 active military personnel, meaning about a fifth of them might be “peace-keeping” in Bangkok, and thousands more in the provinces, with about another fifth in the south.


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