Updating ISA and medical scam

15 10 2009

There has been a spate of interesting reports today on a range of subjects. In this post PPT updates two stories we have been following, the repeated use of the Internal Security Act and the corruption allegations involving the government’s stimulus package.

Internal Security Act overkill: In a recent post PPT asked why it was that the Internal Security Act was being used in Bangkok for a red shirt rally. We pointed out some inconsistencies. Now we are told that the Democrat Party-led government is deploying 18,000 security force personnel in Bangkok and a similar number in Hua Hin, where the ASEAN summit is located ( Bangkok Post, 15 October 2009: “Massive summit force gets nod”).

An earlier report in the Bangkok Post states that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban,” who is in charge of security affairs, was assigned to be director of the Bangkok peace-keeping command.” He said” 6,000 police, 10,000 soldiers and 2,000 civilian volunteers will be deployed … from Oct 15 to Oct 25 in the wake of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)’s plan to rally on Oct 17 and hold a no-confidence debate against the government outside parliament.”

“Civilian volunteers”? PPT wonders who this might be? Right-wing vigilantes  or something less threatening?

Suthep stated that “Attention will be given specially to Government House, parliament and Chitrlada Palace.”

That’s a total of 36,000 security personnel mobilized. Even leaving aside the questions of human rights and intimidation, this is clearly way, way more than would be reasonable for controlling a rally that the government estimates will be “about 10,000 people.”

The Post says this is to “ensure peace and order.” The government is not expecting the planned rally to be violent. So why this huge number of police and military? Is the government wasting money or does it have “intelligence reports”? Why are 2 security personnel required for each expected demonstrator?

PPT has no answers that we haven’t given before.However, this kind of mobilization is suspiciously large. If we were being really cynical and conspiratorial, we’d be tempted to link to an earlier post.

Corruption in MOPH procurement: The Nation (15 October 2009: “Witthaya’s new committee to study medical equipment scam”) reports that Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai has “decided to set up a new independent committee with members from outside the ministry, to probe irregularities in the procurement of medical equipment under the Bt86-billion Thai Khemkhaeng package.”

Witthaya said he “decided to set up the new independent committee after being criticised over an announcement yesterday – by the ministry’s fact finding committee led by Dr Seri Hongyok – that some senior health officials had been involved in the scandal.”

PPT wonders why an independent committee has taken so long to be established? We also observe that new committee will be led by former Bangkok senator and one-time but short-term police chief, Police General Pratin Santiprabhob. He was a leading anti-Thaksin critic prior to the coup and was a PAD supporter.  Stacking the committee, perhaps?

The Rural Doctors Society’s has expressed some reservations on this appointment and “questioned whether his relationship with the Democrat Party would influence his approach to the investigation.” It also criticized “the ministry’s announcement on October 13, revealing that a retired senior health official and senior health official were involved in the scandal, was not fair as politicians were also involved in the purchase irregularities.”

Pratin of course dismisses any allegation against him and potential favoritism. Yes, he “accepted he knew people among the Democrats as well as in other political parties.” He said: “Don’t question me about my work before you see the results of the investigation…”.

Sounds like a cover-up is planned.

Security law, again

12 10 2009

The red shirt gathering at the Democracy monument in Bangkok on the weekend was larger than expected and peaceful.It called for a return to the 1997 constitution and the ousting of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The government did not use the Internal Security Act and did not explain why it decided against what has become its normal operating procedure.

The Bangkok Post (12 October 2009: “ISA to be used in Bangkok Oct 15-25”) reports that the enforcement of the ISA began today in Hua Hin and Cha-am for the 15th Asean Summit from 23 to 25 October. The ISA will in place for a remarkable 16 days, from 12 to 27 October. For some of the restrictions, see The Nation.

As the ISA came into force, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said “he wanted the security law to be also be imposed in Bangkok.” Abhisit confirmed that such a proposal for Dusit district would be tabled for cabinet approval.

PPT again points out that this is excessive and restricts constitutional rights.

Democrat Party government bias

9 10 2009

No surprises. The Democrat Party-led government yet again demonstrated its double standards by agreeing to the use of the Internal Security Act again for the ASEAN summit in Hua Hin. Aimed at the red shirts, the bias is clear in the recent rally by yellow shirts with not a peep from the government about the ISA.

The Bangkok Post reports (9 October 2009: “Isoc approves security plan for Asean summit”) that the Internal Security Operations Command approved a security plan for the ASEAN summit in Cha-am and Hua Hin this month. ISOC is chaired by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

His committee agreed to a task force of 18,298 military, police and civic officials to be deployed “to ensure full control of the situation.”

According to the prime ministers acting spokesman, the hired academic Panitan Wattanayagorn, “The prime minister has directed security units to prevent any violence occurring during the regional meeting in order to boost confidence in Thailand within the international community…”.

International leaders and friends of Thailand should be asking why Abhisit feels the need for such actions and the use of thousands of security forces under the command of Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon for 16 days when the summit is in place for 3 days.

ISOC declared the red shirts were their target in using the ISA.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban clearly indicated the political nature of the ISA when he stated that the “government was prepared to invoke the ISA in the capital whenever there is a red-shirt gathering.”He added: “I am considering enforcing the security law in Bangkok from the middle of this month until the Asean summit is over.”

Update: Of course, as one of our readers reminds us, the last time there was an ASEAN summit that was disrupted – at the beginning of the Songkhran Uprising – it was in Pattaya in April, and the disruption began with provocation by the blue shirts led by Newin Chidchob and Deputy PM Suthep.

Tighter controls proposed for protests

7 10 2009

Several newspapers report that the government has agreed with police-proposed draft legislation that would further limit political and other rallies. [Update: For the Bangkok Post’s editorial supporting the proposal see here. The Post editorial is clear if wrong-headed: “the violence [of 7 October  2008] could have been averted had there been a legal mechanism, such as a law to control public gatherings, which would have empowered police to take precautionary steps to pre-empt such demonstrations from getting out of hand. The need for such a law became even more apparent in light of the Songkran riots in Bangkok and the storming of the Asean Summit venue in Pattaya by the red-shirted supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in April this year.” In other words, the Post editorialist believes that these demonstrations could have been prevented from violence from such a law. As PPT indicates below, this is a fallacy. Laws need exist already. This proposal is simply a way of limiting rallies.]

As the Bangkok Post (7 October 2009: “Public protests come under strict scrutiny”) points out, there were proposals to “restrict public gatherings … mooted when Thaksin Shinawatra was in power” and again under the “Samak Sundaravej administration … to deal with protests by the People’s Alliance for Democracy.” It is true that the latter proposal ” was dropped after coming under fire from critics.”

PPT will be interested to see if these critics are again vocal or are simply partisan supporters of the PAD.

The reason we think they should be critical of the cabinet decision to enable stricter policing of public protests is that the government already has laws in place to cover almost all of the issues in the proposed bill – the exception is the requirement for the advanced notice of protests. They also have – and use in ways that infringe human rights – the ISA.

The draft bill is being sent to the Council of State to see if it might infringe civil liberties. This is a ruse on the part of the Democrat Party-led government for the repeated use of the ISA already does this.

The bill proposes “prohibiting demonstrators from laying siege to government offices and royal property, destroying state property and from carrying weapons of any kind.” Laws already cover these instances.

At the very same time that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is trumpeting a commitment to civil liberties, he has seen no contradiction in using the ISA again, and for an exceptionally long period, at the ASEAN summit in Hua Hin.

Meanwhile, the government has taken delivery of  “20 bullet-proof vehicles at a cost of eight million baht each to ensure the safety of government leaders attending the Asean Summit.”

None of this suggests any real commitment to civil liberties. Now is the time for the so-called critics to stop the further erosion of people’s rights.

Mocking the rule of law

4 10 2009

At the risk of boring PPT readers, we want to repeat our comment of a couple of posts ago on the planned use of the Internal Security Act once more by the current government:

This is an astounding demonstration that the use of this repressive law is now standard procedure. It is remarkable that it now goes unquestioned.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva claims this use is part of the rule of law. But this is using a draconian law, drafted and passed by a military-backed government, for political gain by a party with hollow claims to be interested in both human rights and the rule of law. For a statement on the ISA’s negative impact on human rights, see here.

We repeat this because the press these days looks like replicas of the last time we observed on the use of this repressive law.

In The Nation (4 October 2009: “Armed forces chief confident of smooth summit”) the “armed forces supreme commander expressed confidence yesterday that the upcoming 15th Asean Summit would take place without interruption despite a planned protest by the anti-government red shirts.”

This is probably because the red shirts are planning to rally in Bangkok, not in Hua Hin.

But that considerable distance seems not to matter to either the military, which benefits politically each time the ISA is used, or the Democrat Party who take every opportunity to use the ISA as a support for the government in repressing red shirt opposition.

On cue, as last time, one of the Democrat Party’s leading opponents of human rights, Buranaj Smutharaks, the party’s spokesman said “that he felt the red-shirts try to provoke violence in the country.” As usual, no evidence at all but a “feeling” seems sufficient for the so-called Democrats.

He will only be happy when “all parties to support the government’s plan to enforce the Internal Security Act in Petchburi and Prachuab Khiri Khan to ensure peace and order during the Asean summit.”

The Democrat Party leadership and their military backers know that each time they use the ISA the next time becomes even easier. Repression becomes acceptable.

Abhisit should be ashamed that he speaks of the rule of law but fails to understand that the law can be used to repress. But perhaps he does understand and his aim is repression and to mock the idea that the rule of law is an element of a democratic polity.

Abhisit talks to foreigners about democracy

23 09 2009

[Update: For another, angrier critique of the Columbia speech, see Thailand Jumped the Shark.]

Also available as มาร์คเจื้อยแจ้วประชาธิปไตยกับคนต่างชาติ

In New York, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has made a series of speeches. PPT wouldn’t expect speeches on such occasions to be deep or challenging for the venues and audiences tend to lend themselves to niceties, platitudes and pleadings on behalf of the country and/or the government. Abhisit’s New York speeches fall into this category. They can be downloaded here.

Earlier in his period as prime minister, perhaps reflecting his inexperience, but also the challenges he received from more knowledgeable audiences, Abhisit tended to be more forthcoming. But this also resulted in problems when he was shown to be making patently false claims. For PPT’s posts on this, search for “Oxford” and see here and here.

There is also a difference in the way Abhisit talks with foreigners and how he talks to Thais. For the latter, the political context makes more sense, so they can see the compromised positions and double standards more easily.

Abhisit has learned to better manage himself and his speeches thus lack the controversy of the earlier outings. Perhaps the closest Abhisit comes to anything substantive is in his speech at Columbia University, where the topic was “Post-Crisis Thailand : Building a New Democratic Society.”

There is nothing particularly astonishing in the words as presented. At the same time, we think there are aspects of the speech that deserve highlighting and critique. We also think there are things left unmentioned that deserve to be considered.

The first thing to note is that Abhisit is in “calm, damage control, mode.” By this we mean that the image of Thailand has taken a battering in recent years and he sees himself as being about restoring confidence in both the politics and economics of the country by appearing to be calm and in control. Of course, anyone who follows Thailand’s newspapers knows that this is an image but not the reality.

Taking up his theme of economic and political crisis, he talks of “post-crisis.” Abhisit is trying to say that the country has been through the crises and is rebuilding. Partly true, but the economy remains fragile and the political crisis remains in mid-course.

Of the political crisis, Abhisit claims: “My Government came in nine months ago and since then we have managed to gain back confidence from our friends. The fact that I can be here speaking to you today can very well testify that the situation is in good order and not to be of concern.” It seems Abhisit means foreign governments and investors. However, his claim is shaky indeed. Sources inside the U.S. government say they expect more political conflict and investors remain exceptionally wary.

Abhisit adds: “After nine months in office, my Government has proved to the Thai people that we are a Government that represents people of all colors. For those who do not see things eye to eye with the Government and feel that their voices can be better heard on the streets, we fully respect their right to assembly and right to freedom of expression. What we as Government will make sure is that these rights are exercised in a peaceful and responsible manner with full respect to the rule of law and does not affect other people’s rights to carry out their daily activities.”

As PPT has shown in its regular posts, this is a false claim. The government relies on the law, but these are laws drawn up by undemocratic governments. Certainly, at the ASEAN meeting in Phuket in July one of these coup-era laws was used to prevent any assembly by anyone (apart from troops and police). In addition, these laws are applied in a partisan manner. This was vividly demonstrated just last weekend. The point is that claims to the rule of law are often little more than an authoritarian regime hiding behind claims to legal legitimacy.

And, of course, no mention of lese majeste, political opponents jailed, extensive censorship, a judicial system that is politicized, and an increasingly well-funded military that backs his government.

Abhisit also reverts to arguments of yore when he argues that there may be multiple coups, serial constitutions, and revolving door governments, but this doesn’t undermine the basic strengths of Thailand. Indeed, he says that these events demonstrate the resiliency of democracy in the country. Abhisit keeps saying that democracy, after 75 years, is still being learned and that it is all an evolutionary process. He doesn’t broach the topic of why democracy hasn’t become rooted in a soil deprived of nutrients by authoritarian institutions like the monarchy and military.

He also admits that the fact that more people are now politically engaged is part of the crisis, but he believes that increased participation is an opportunity with in the crisis. However, he is quick to add – several times – that democracy is not about voting alone. This is a line that the current government feels bound to make given their own lack of electoral legitimacy and the fear many in the Democrat Party and their supporters and backers have that elections support their enemies.

Arguing that the people’s voice needs to be heard all the time, and not just in elections, and that minority views need to be considered sounds reasonable enough. But when the real equation is that the voters’ voice will not be heard and that the voice of voter will be ignored in favor of a vociferous minority, Abhisit’s high-sounding claims mean nothing.

What is missing, apart from the name of Thaksin Shinawatra, is any strong claim for the monarchy. Yes, there is a statement about the sufficiency economy, but this is put in reassuring terms about not being backward looking and meaning moderation related to external and internal demand. By not saying much about the monarchy, Abhisit is acknowledging that the monarchy’s claims to protect the nation and to be the foundation of a stable Thailand have been sullied by their role in the 2006 coup and since. Foreigners no longer simply accept the “good king” and “good coup” arguments.

We’ll end here and leave it to readers to take in Abhisit’s definition of what a post-crisis Thai democracy might look like. All we’ll say is that it lacks a lot of the political detail of democracy and includes a lot on economic development.

If Thaksin was seen as drawing inspiration from Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew, it seems that Abhisit has also seen the advantages of limited democracy and economic “freedom.” The government is currently working out how best to limit democracy.

Elite twittering and a Facebook revolution

8 09 2009

PPT has been chronicling Thailand’s new descent into authoritarianism. The pace of this descent is remarkable and the silence of the protectors of human rights lamentable. As we have pointed out, in the past, allowing this slide to go unchecked has led to human rights abuses.

The recent comments by the prime minister’s deputy secretary general and acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn deserve to be highlighted for falling into the category of low respect for human rights and political activism (The Bangkok Post, 8 September 2009: “Thaksin and red shirts to be under watch”).

Panitan, one of the academics-for-hire architects of the draconian Internal Security Act, is now suggesting that the government will continue to spy on citizens engaged in legal political organizing  and prevent legal political activity.

September and October are months that Panitan believes are “usually fragile” and he sees this year as potentially opening a “way for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts to step up their activities…”. Worse, he predicts that the “red shirts may … create violence, probably in the hope to force cancellation of the Asean Summit scheduled to be held in Hua Hin of Prachuap Khirikhan and Cha-am of Phetchaburi in October.” He says: “The situation between September and October must be closely watched.”

Panitan states that the government has reports that there will be a “demonstration of tens of thousands of people from all over the country” when the red shirts mass on 19 September – like everyone else, Panitan must read the newspapers. Panitan says, however, that the “government will be specially vigilant.” More, the number of troops protecting “Government House will be increased from one to three companies.” And, the government will ” maintain law and order…”.

As in previous alarms set off by the panicky Democrat Party, there is no evidence that anything other than a peaceful demonstration is planned by the red shirts. To date, there are no reports of “third hands,” blue shirts or agents provocateurs from Buriram. But the “acting spokesman” has his reasons for  suspicion: ” Thaksin, knowing that the situation is fragile, has stepped up building political turbulence through twitter or facebook on the internet and even a state-run media to achieve victory.”

So this is why Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is twittering; he has to beat Thaksin to the digital audience that is going to rise up. The Facebook revolution beckons!

The “acting spokesman” added: “If during this period Thaksin could not bring down the government, his chance of regaining his former status would be slim.” However this would not be the end of the war with Thaksin as Panitan “believed Thaksin would after that move closer to Thailand conduct his political activities close to the border to keep the masses loyal to him to be on alert and wait for a chance to re-enter the country.”

Panitan, as a  self-identified  member of the “elite”, believes that the government must weather this brewing storm: “If the situation during this period can be put under control, the atmosphere in the country would change for the better. The economic condition would begin to improve in a V shape. The people would be in a mood for festivities and travels as the New Year is drawing near. Nobody would be interested in politics. Calls for House dissolution would die down because coalition parties and the people would not want a new election…”.

And they all lived happily ever after. Another fairy tale ending for Thailand. Seriously, though, the government is clear here; there needs to be a crackdown against threats, imagined or otherwise, even when the threats are via legal means. Abhisit and members of his party and government speak regularly of the rule of law but seem unable to comprehend this as meaning anything other than partisan laws for political order.

“National security” benefits the Democrat Party and its allies

3 09 2009

As readers will know, PPT has been arguing that the Democrat Party-led government and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva are sliding towards authoritarianism. We have also drawn comparisons with the Thaksin Shinawatra-Thai Rak Thai Party government earlier in the decade. We have also observed how silence has befallen the often self-proclaimed protectors of human rights in Thailand.

There is another aspect to the use of draconian laws such as lese majeste, Internal Security Act and the laws on computer crimes and so on that PPT highlights in this post.

When “national security” takes top billing, what is lost? We mean apart from freedoms and rights.

If we look at the press over the past few weeks, we can see that the government’s persistence in creating fear, loathing and ramping up security issues conveniently gets other difficult issues out of the press. Here are some of them:

  • Remember Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya? He was charged (or was it interviewed? or summonsed?) back in early July, along with other PAD leaders, over the occupation of Bangkok’s airports. Abhisit, for all of his talk of ethics and rule of law, sprang to Kasit’s defence, arguing that the minister could continue to work. He has, but has been rather quiet since his defence of the monarchy against the toothless ASEAN human rights debate in Phuket. That whole issue seems off the boil. Rejigging the police probably helps there also.
  • What about the Sondhi Limthongkul assassination case? Big news for a while, but with all the frothing over the police promotions and then diverting attention to national security, that’s gone too. It is meant to come back by the end of the month. Let’s see.
  • Also important was the northeast’s rejection of the coalition government? The election landslides for pro-Thaksin parties in Sakol Nakhon and Srisaket were a major defeat for the government and its backers. This was compounded by the huge security presence required to even get Abhisit into blue shirt-Newin Chidchob territory in Buriram. Gone from the media, but not from Abhisit’s list of reasons for not holding an election.
  • The scandal in the sufficiency economy projects, directly linked to the Democrat Party and to the nepotism of one deputy prime minister has also been removed from the headlines. PPT’s last post on this is here. [Update: Thanks to Bangkok Pundit, PPT is alerted to a small story in the electronic issue of the Bangkok Post (4 September 2009: “4 Democrats expelled from party”) that indicates that the Democrat Party is continuing to try to limit the damage in this story by pinning it to lower-level members and expelling them, eventhough Democrat spokesman Buranat Samutharak said the four were not directly involved in the irregularities.” They are trying to prevent the scandal reaching Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu who had his brother working on the project.]

And the list could easily be longer – Rohinga, police and military corruption, human rights commission, and so on. In the interests of staying in power – and with powerful backing from the military and higher-ups – the Democrat Party is promoting a dangerous discourse based around monarchy and national security.

ASEAN and protecting Thailand’s royals

25 07 2009

During the ASEAN meetings held with extreme security measures taken, it was reported in The Nation (21 July 2009: “Body ‘A necessary start'”) that when the body’s new human rights commission was being challenged for its lack of power to take action against rights violations in member countries. lese majeste was raised.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who chaired the Asean Ministerial Meeting, was defending the commission when a journalist from Indonesia asking Kasit “what the commission would do about the criticism of the Thai monarchy.”

Kasit replied that “Thailand has a constitutional-monarchy system that keeps the monarchy and especially the personality of His Majesty the King above politics.” He advised: “Don’t mix it up, there are certain quarters in society that would like to bring the institution of the monarchy down into the political fight inside Thailand…” .

He went on to explain, “The royal institution and HM the King have no protection when they’re being attacked. We have to have a law to protect the institution. The lese-majeste law is simply there to protect the institution of monarchy because they cannot protect themselves. The King cannot go to court…”. Adding to this, he opined: “What we have in Thailand is similar to what a lot of countries have with the institution of monarchy.” …

There’s no need for PPT to point out Kasit’s errors in this statement which the current Democrat Party-led government regularly trots out for foreigners. However, it is clear that, for all the talk of Burma and human rights, Thailand’s doesn’t want an ASEAN human rights body that could raise questions about lese majeste and the way it is used to infringe on individual rights.

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.