Cleaning house / Moving house

31 12 2013

The Straits Times has a brief report by Nirmal Ghosh yesterday that includes the phrase that has come up again and again from the anti-democracy movement, “housecleaning”: “Just because we want to postpone the election, that doesn’t mean that we are denying democracy. No, we simply want to clean up our house first.” The same term was once used during Hitler’s time to describe operations in Poland. Far better, perhaps, to simply say that the term sounds very similar to the military’s “reset” following the 2006 coup. However, in the hands of extremists, “house cleaning” is chilling.

Here’s the story, which claims to set out the strategy for the creeping coup to be fully implemented early in the new year:

PROTEST leader Suthep Thaugsuban has declared that anti-government protesters will be out in force again and “seize Bangkok” after the New Year holiday ends on Thursday.”We will not leave an inch of this capital city for the people of the Thaksin (Shinawatra) regime to stay in and take advantage of the people,” said Suthep, who heads the self-styled People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

With the stock market and the baht having already fallen, the prospect is making the business community even more nervous.In its latest note, Kasikorn Research said that if the political stalemate continues into the second half of next year, Thailand’s growth will be only 2.5 per cent, compared with 6.5 per cent last year.

With a large chunk of Bangkok’s middle-class residents, who support the protests, out of the capital for a five-day festive break, the rally site was relatively quiet yesterday.

But underlining the potential for sporadic violence, a giant firecracker was thrown at guards near the United Nations building, injuring three of them [PPT: Some tweets suggested this was an explosion while assembling a firecracker, but no independent confirmation of this]. This, a day after a member of a student network allied with the PDRC died in a drive-by shooting nearby.

The PDRC has said its supporters will clean the streets around the sprawling rally site today.

Meanwhile, the ruling Puea Thai party has begun putting up election posters, many of them featuring caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and urging people to vote on Feb 2.

However, for the second day running yesterday, registration centres in eight southern provinces were blocked by PDRC protesters, preventing candidates from signing up for the election.

The mid-term election is a major sticking point, with the government determined to proceed with it and the PDRC determined to derail it. The PDRC says it wants the country run by an unelected people’s council to institute reforms before an election is held.

Last Saturday night, it showed a short film in English appealing to “the world” for understanding.

“We most certainly do (believe in democracy),” a female voice is heard saying over footage showing the PDRC’s recent Bangkok rallies and marches. “Just because we want to postpone the election, that doesn’t mean that we are denying democracy. No, we simply want to clean up our house first.”

A PDRC insider, who asked not to be named, sketched out the movement’s plans to install its own government. This would be achieved by seizing TV stations and key government ministries, he told The Straits Times, in a shutdown that would last a few days.

“We will control Bangkok and the south and set up our own people’s council and order bureaucrats to report to us,” he said.

He admitted that if this happens, the army may be forced to intervene and seize power.

The Thai north-east and much of the north support the ruling Puea Thai party.

Bangkok and the south are strongholds of the Democrat Party, which is boycotting the Feb 2 election. The Democrats are strongly identified with the PDRC and its supporters [PPT: in fact, there is almost no distinction between the two], who are mainly the capital’s conservative middle- and upper-class elites.

Last Friday, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha indicated for the first time that the military may intervene. This may be welcomed by the royalist upper middle class, the PDRC’s main supporters, but could ignite a backlash from the largely pro-Thaksin “red shirts”.

“Thailand scholar and author David Streckfuss, based in the north-eastern city of Khon Kaen, told The Straits Times: “There are myriad ways the election could be booby-trapped. And there is a chance the military will intervene.” …But if this were to happen, Thais committed to democracy will not let it rest, he said.

Streckfuss reflected a view that was also in the Straits Times:

ANGRY “red shirts” in northern Thailand are preparing to hit back as anti-government protests in Bangkok are set to enter their third month.

Having stayed largely in the background, the red shirts, who propelled the Puea Thai party to power in 2011, are upset by what they see as a weak government response to the protesters’ attempts to paralyse the capital and disrupt the Feb 2 election.

And they are quietly making plans to retaliate if Ms Yingluck Shinawatra’s caretaker government is forced, by a military coup or other means, to cede power to an unelected administration.

“If we find that the elites are taking the law into their own hands, we will take the law into our own hands,” red-shirt leader Pichit Tamool told The Straits Times in the northern province of Chiang Mai, the hometown of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose clan has been denounced by protesters.

Red-shirt groups in all 17 of Thailand’s northern provinces, he said, have agreed among themselves to send tens of thousands of supporters into Bangkok if the military intervenes in the crisis.

“The situation in Bangkok would be pretty dire,” he warned.

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha added uncertainty to the political crisis last Friday when he refused to rule out the possibility of a military coup, saying “it depends on the situation”.

The protesters, who are supported by the royalist establishment and urban middle class, have been trying since late October to topple the government led by Ms Yingluck, who is Thaksin’s sister. Though deposed in a coup in 2006, Thaksin continues to command great loyalty among the rural masses in Thailand’s populous north-east and north.

While protests in Bangkok have quietened down, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed on Saturday to “aggressively use every mechanism at our disposal” to shut down the capital after the New Year.

The red shirts draw their strength largely from rural Thailand and are supported by intellectuals who question the Bangkok- centric, elite-dominated political order. However, not all of them support Thaksin.

In 2010, the red shirts massed in Bangkok’s retail district to demand that the then Democrat-led government hold fresh elections. More than 90 people were killed in a subsequent military crackdown.New state

In the current protests, Thai police have shown relative restraint for fear that any sign of brutality would give legitimacy to protesters and provoke a military intervention. This approach has ironically hardened sentiment among red-shirt leaders.

“I am extremely frustrated,” Dr Pechawat Wattanapongsirigul, a leader from the militant Rak Chiang Mai 51 group, told The Straits Times.

If the protesters succeed in installing an unelected administration, “we will separate ourselves from the central government”, he said. “We will not live under their control.”

According to Chiang Mai- based political scientist Tanet Charoenmuang, the red shirts have been toying with the idea of secession in recent months.

“If this political situation drags on, the question of secession will be more strongly discussed,” he said.

Though analysts say such a possibility is too remote for now, it nevertheless shows how dark the sentiment has turned, and how real the chance of major clashes erupting has become.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Puangthong Pawakapan said: “It reflects how the northerners are fed up with the Bangkokians, who are trying to dictate how Thailand is run, even though Bangkok is just a small part of Thailand.”


Actions

Information




%d bloggers like this: