PAD, Chamlong and Abhisit

28 07 2010

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva still treats the People’s Alliance for Democracy and its activities with care and consideration. Not for the first time in his administration, Abhisit has demonstrated that the government and the PAD remain allies.

On Tuesday, led by former mercenary and long-time PAD leader Major-General Chamlong Srimuang, several hundred PAD-organized protesters rallied at the UNESCO offices on Sukhumvit Road. They were opposing any discussion of the World Heritage status of Cambodia’s Preah Vihear Temple and the management plan – which the government and protesters claim not to have seen – to be discussed in Brazil this week.

PPT briefly visited the rally site to listen to a few ultra-nationalist speeches and read the banners, of which quite a few were in English. Most of the people, in what was essentially a good-natured crowd, seemed to be from Chamlong’s rightist Santi Asoke-Dhamma Army group.

Chamlong stated that the plan could result in Thailand losing “more than 1.8 million rai of land to Cambodia … [and] threatened to unseat Abhisit if he failed to protect Thailand’s sovereignty.” As stated above, the plan seems not to have been seen by anyone, so Chamlong’s claims are based on previous PAD announcements and beliefs.

The more interesting things were taking place quite a long way from the rally, at Ban Pitsanulok, where Abhisit decided to meet with PAD representatives. The Bangkok Post reports that Abhisit met with “PAD’s co-leader Pibhop Dhongchai, the movement’s spokesman Panthep Puapongpan, [PAD-aligned, former Manager journalist, lese majeste activist and appointed] Senator Kamnoon Sitthisamarn and [ultra-nationalist] historian ML Walwipha Charoonroj, who leads the Preah Vihear listing monitoring network.”

At that meeting, according to The Nation, Abhisit “vowed to protect Thailand’s rights and interests…”. Abhisit declared that the plan should not even be considered. He promised PAD representatives “that his government would not accept a resolution from the Unesco World Heritage Committee that could hurt the Kingdom’s interests in any way.” He is quoted: “The resolution must not interfere with Thailand’s territory or sovereignty…. We will not cooperate if the management plan encroaches on our soil.” He promised to consider “harsh measures.” Abhisit blamed the U.N. for conflict over the World Heritage site. In fact, most of the recent conflict has had to do with PAD machinations.

Abhisit may have rejected PAD’s claim that “Thailand force Cambodian soldiers and people out of the disputed area” but told PAD that he would “not accept Cambodia’s map” of the area as it would be “a violation of Thailand’s sovereignty…”. PAD protesters were apparently pleased by Abhisit’s responses. Appointed Senator Kamnoon said “PAD and the government shared a similar view on protecting the country’s sovereignty.” He added that “he felt ‘relieved’ since the government had prepared measures to be taken against the UN agency if it ignores Thailand’s stance.” One measure seems to be non-cooperation.

Old soldier Chamlong was apparently not so sanguine and as well as threatening the government, “warned the PAD would not give up its rallies” on the issue. His view seems to be that the Cambodian claim will not be defeated, so favors more direct action. Chamlong has been antagonistic to several governments and commands limited support. However, he believes he can easily stir nationalist feeling.

At the same time, Abhisit appears to be positioning himself with other PAD leaders in a manner that will allow the government to ride with right-wing nationalism should it be stirred rather than be the target of xenophobic anger. Recall that the Democrat Party stirred such feelings when in opposition and trying to bring down the government in 2008 on this very same issue. It linked with PAD for that campaign as well. So it knows its allies very well and maintains that useful liaison. The Thai right-wing sticks together on the important issues.

Final update: Korat, Bangkok and Srisaket

19 09 2009

Prem, double standards and protests that “improve the situation”

In this post PPT summarizes some of the reports on protests in Thailand on the 2006 coup anniversary.

Korat: The Nation (19 September 2009: “Red shirts end protest in Korat”) reports on the red shirt rally that was meant to be at the residence of Privy Councilor President General Prem Tinsulanonda in Nakhon Ratchasima. Prem is reportedly in the town. Protesters, said in one report to number 4,000 (Monsters & Critics) apparently failed to reach the compound “as they faced with barricades and hundreds of police” and joint forces of “police and soldiers [that] set up a blockage on a road leading to Gen Prem’s residence…”. The protesters called on Prem to stay out of politics and demanded that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call an election. Many of the protesters then departed for Bangkok and the rally there.

Bangkok: Red shirt protesters were reported (The Nation, 19 September 2009: “No march to Prem’s residence”) by police to have decided not to rally at the army house Prem occupies. They said this was because he wasn’t there. However, the huge security presence was also daunting.

A separate report in The Nation (19 September 2009: “Hooligans ordered to incite unrest : Suthep”) says that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has claimed that several groups of unidentified “hooligans” have “received orders to create unrest during the red shirted protest on Saturday in Bangkok…”. Abhisit went further claiming that these groups were going to set off bombs (see the Bangkok Post report in the next paragraph). The last time this happened, in Pattaya in April, the “hooligans” were pro-government blue shirts reportedly organized by Newin Chidchob, apparently with Suthep’s blessing. Citing “intelligence reports,” Suthep said that the groups “were ordered to create violence” during Saturday’s rally, and added that the authorities had the “groups were under close watch.”

The Bangkok Post has a telling headline (19 September 2009: “Bangkok peaceful, yellow shirts riot at the border”). More on Srisaket below. The Post reports that: “the government imposed the draconian Internal Security Act once again for the latest red shirt demonstrations and deployed more than 9,000 soldiers and police to guard key locations.” PPT has emphasized this, noting an increase from previous reports.

At teh red shirt rally, United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leader Jatuporn Promphan,  in pouring rain and flooding told a crowd estimated at more than 5,000: “We came here today to mark the third anniversary of the coup, which has caused huge damage to the country…”. He demanded that  Abhisit resign and hold elections, and added: “This will be a peaceful protest and will end by midnight if the government does not use violence…”.

Srisaket: Meanwhile, the People’s Alliance for Democracy rallied some 5,000 supporters to their ultra-nationalist rally claiming that Thailand is losing territory to Cambodia in Srisaket province at the Preah Vihear Temple. The Nation (19 September 2009: “PM worries on clash in Si Sa Ket”) reports clashes between PAD and local villagers. Abhisit is said to have “expressed concerns” and is said that “he did not want to see Thais clash among themselves.” Abhisit wanted “peace talks” with PAD (Bangkok Post, 19 September 2009: “PM orders peace talk with PAD”). This is unremarkable because the close relationship between PAD and several senior Democrat Party leaders and Abhisit himself. He wanted the PAD leadership consulted. PAD leaders Chamlong Srimuang and Suriyasai Katasila urged that Abhisit send a representative to talk with Veera Somkwamkid, a PAD key member who led the rally, and Abhisit seems to have followed their advice. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep, who is meant to be in charge of security in Bangkok (see above)  is also said to be in charge at Srisaket.

Thai TV reported that many villagers were injured in the clash with PAD. Clashes between PAD and local villager also occurred the last time PAD rallied in this area. According to Bangkok Pundit, the pro-PAD ASTV/Manager proclaimed that: “Those who love the country were … hit on the head and many injuries.”

The Bangkok Post report noted above (19 September 2009: “Bangkok peaceful, yellow shirts riot at the border”) stated that television “showed yellow-clad protesters armed with sticks beating local villagers and Thai riot police, who pushed back with shields.” It also reported that catapults and sticks were used by both sides before police separated them. It confirmed that a number of villagers were injured in the clash. According to the Post, local residents “living near the disputed border area opposed the protest by the yellow shirts protesters as they believed it could impact Thailand’s cross-border trade economy and relations with Cambodia.” The BBC has some footage.

Apparently, “PAD demonstrators broke through barricades and marched towards the 11th century temple…”. Breaking news from the Bangkok Post (19 September 2009: “Anupong: Don’t enter disputed border”) has army chief General Anupong Paochinda warning and pleading with PAD protesters, lamely saying: “The protesters can say they love the country but going into the disputed area would be dangerous and there could still be landmines…”. He warned them that they might be arrested by Cambodian authorities (not Thai authorities?). Associated Press reported that the Cambodian security forces would certainly act if the yellow shirts entered Cambodia.

Anupong asserted: “The army will act in accordance with the government’s bilateral negotiation plan. We are now working on it and we will not do anything beyond this course…”. Remarkably he is also reported to have said: “protests can take place if it can help improve the situation.”

Update 1: When PPT checked at 8:30 p.m. Bangkok time, reports were coming in that some red shirt protesters got to Prem’s Bangkok residence. They carried a 500-metre-long banner saying “we want the 1997 charter back.” The group rallied for about an hour, apparently without incident (The Nation, 19 September 2009: “Red-shirt protesters disperse from Prem’s Sisao residence”). At the main rally, a red-shirt leader, Natthawut Saikua, waited for Thaksin’s video speech at at 8:30 p.m. and, contradicting earlier statements, promised a further march on Prem’s residence. Another leader, Jatuporn, threatened to prolong the protest if police use the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) against protesters. He was apparently responding to police statements that if the protesters turn violent, they would use water cannon and the LRAD.

At 7 p.m. the police estimated a crowd of 20,000. This number is confirmed in an AFP report (Brisbane Times, 19 September 2009: “Rival protests rock Thailand on coup anniversary”).

That report also updates the situation at Srisaket. It says that “[s]tick-wielding protesters from the movement clashed repeatedly with riot police and with villagers who were trying to keep them out of the temple area…”. It adds that the provincial governor said that: “[d]ozens of people were wounded, with 20 people hospitalised including one villager who was shot in the neck…”. Apparently PAD protesters withdrew when “the army agreed to allow 30 of them to go to the Thai territory near the temple on Sunday and read out a declaration…”.

Updates 2/3 (11 p.m. & 1:45 a.m. Bkk time): During the UDD rally, red shirts “mourned for the death of a taxi driver who hung himself to oppose the Sept 2006 coup. The UDD donated 50,000 baht to his wife on stage.” This refers to Nuamthong Praiwan, who first crashed his taxi into a tank. When he’d recovered he then committed suicide as an act protesting the coup and for democracy.

Thaksin spoke by video link, claiming to be “somewhere near Thailand.” He said that things had “not improved three years after the coup,” that “the people became poorer and became less happy after the coup,” and he called on the Abhisit government to “dissolve the House and called for charter amendments for a fresh start in politics.” He is also reported to have stated that: “At present, there are injustice and less human rights and freedom the Thai society” and pointed to the conflict in Srisaket. The Nation now has more on Thaksin’s speech. He apparently also pointed to double standards, human rights and fairness: “They accuse me of interfering with independent organisations, and what about the situation these days? They accused me of interfering in the mass media and what’s going on today?” He also promised to return soon.

There was no violence, no bombs, and no incitement by third parties reported in Bangkok or Korat. Violence appears to have been limited to the PAD in Srisaket.

On PAD in Srisaket, The Nation (20 September 2009: “17 injured in clash near Preah Vihear”) reported that 17 were injured there. It reports that teenagers “armed with sticks and slingshots attacked the yellow shirts as they marched through their village to Preah Vihear.” The villagers “feared [the rally] could spark a war with Cambodia. The villagers have already suffered from the temple being closed, which has cost them income from the lack of tourists. Access to their farms has also been blocked by the military since last year.”

The report says that “thousands of PAD protesters … managed to break the police and villagers’ barricades in Si Sa Ket’s Ban Phumsarol to reach the gate of Pha Mor Ee Daeng, next to Preah Vihear temple.” PAD leaders claimed that the “villagers were misinformed about the PAD mission.” PAD wanted the Abhisit government to “evict the Cambodians…”. The Srisaket governor “Rapee Phongpuphakit had lengthy negotiations with Veera but failed to get the protesters to leave the site.”

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep, still in Bangkok, claimed to not understand the PAD’s intent: “I don’t understand what is the purpose behind their protest…”.

Update 4: The Bangkok Post (20 September 2009: “PAD protest ends in bloodshed”)reports that martial law has been declared in Srisaket, but it remains unclear if this is the situation.

The report says that the government compromised with PAD allowing 76 PAD representatives “read aloud a prepared statement today at Pha Mor E Daeng, which is close to the disputed area.” Abhisit Vejjajiva said “giving the PAD its say could help restore peace.” He also promised that Anyone who “broke the law at the gathering would be punished…”.

The Post points to the role played by “so-called PAD guards” when the demonstrators “were stopped by hundreds of villagers…”. The “PAD guards broke through the barricades, taking protesters to a forest fire control station where they were prepared to spend the night.”

Following talks with “Suranaree Task Force commander Maj-Gen Chavalit Choonhasarn held talks for two hours after which the protesters retreated to the Sisa Asoke Buddhist community, which is a branch of Santi Asoke with close affiliations to the PAD.”

Meanwhile, Santi Asoke aficionado and PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang “distanced all five PAD leaders from the Preah Vihear campaign,” saying that they were not leading the protests at the border.

In the face of the government’s lack of even-handedness in dealing with the two groups, it is likely that the red shirts have gained some political ground vis-a-vis PAD and the government.

Chamlong on the Songkhran uprising, a coup plot, communists and the monarchy

27 04 2009

PPT understands that PAD leader Major-General Chamlong Srimuang is a major political actor in Thailand, and has been since the 1970s. At the same time, he is not the usual kind of politician, and maybe this difference explains some of his personal popularity over the years. As an unusual politician, he has not always been easily understood, especially when he is personally and politically quirky.

Some background before commenting on an interview with Chamlong.

As a devoted follower of the Santi Asoke sect, Chamlong’s religious views have been seen by some to underpin his politics and to explain some of his seemingly erratic decisions. A Young Turk military officer who was close to and served Prem Tinsulanond when he was prime minister, Chamlong was the founder and mentor of the Palang Dhamma Party (PDP) in the 1980s and it was this party that initially provided a platform for Thaksin Shinawatra. Chamlong was criticized for his handling of internal PDP politics in the last days of the Democrat Party-led government and he appeared to retired from politics, choosing Thaksin as the new party leader. In the elections that followed in July 1995, PDP did poorly, but was still able to join a coalition government led by the Chart Thai party. Thaksin was appointed a deputy prime minister. The PDP soon faded and was destroyed.

As Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party developed, Chamlong was a strong supporter and were a range of former PDP people. However, by 2005, Chamlong was speaking against Thaksin and TRT. He joined the PAD as one of its co-leaders and Santi Asoke’s so-called Dharmic Army were important to PAD’s organization and protest successes.

The Interview: This is all by way of introducing an interview with The Nation (27 April 2009: “Abhisit govt not in actual control”) where Chamlong’s ideas are set out, with some attention to the monarchy.

He begins by talking about the new political party that PAD is thinking of establishing and admits that some of its followers do not want to take this step. Asked about “new politics” – the code for a less representative political system proposed by PAD last year – he responds: “Palang Dharma actually practised the so-called ‘new politics’ which has been heralded by the PAD, even back before 1988, when the party was established. In 1990, an American professor who did his doctoral thesis at London University, later wrote a book entitled: ‘Chamlong Srimuang and the New Politics’. I guess it was then that the new politics was first recognised.”

Not quite right. He is referring to the book by British political scientist Duncan McCargo, Chamlong Srimuang and the New Thai Politics. By chance, PPT was reading this book at the very time that Chamlong was interviewed – 60 pages still to read – and the point McCargo seems to make is that Chamlong was not really representative of much that was “new” in Thai politics. Rather, he was a military man, interested in personalism, controlling, and so on. Packaged differently, but not so new. And, we don’t recall any serious PDP calls for reducing parliamentary representation for particular groups. Tell us if we are wrong.

He is then asked: “Who attempted to assassinate Sondhi Limthongkul…” and answers: “I don’t know, but there two motives behind the murder attempt: PAD has tremendous support from the masses across the country and ASTV’s success as a mouthpiece for the PAD, which is known as the core of the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra movement.” Chamlong seems to accept the view, once attributed to elements in the military and perhaps the palace, that both Sondhi and Thaksin are threats because of their ability to mobilize people.

The interviewer then asks why “Sonthi [was] the first target, … instead of those in red shirts?” Chamlong responds: “The people who gave the order didn’t care who they killed, first or later. But the current political turmoil dictated the order of kills. More importanly, there are known leaders of yellow-shirted people, who are even classsified as prime and secondary leaders, while there are no known leaders of red-shirted people. Should Thaksin be killed first? He stays abroad now.” Again, this is Chamlong affirming that both PAD and the red shirts are a threat to others in Thailand’s political quagmire.

The interviewer implies that Chamlong has said that there was an “effort to stage a coup on April 12 and 13” and asks why this planned coup was “aborted”? His response it that a “coup was seen as essential to bring peace – and secondly, it may have been used as bargaining power in exchange for a law to pardon [Thaksin], to promulgate a so-called Reconciliation Act, or even to amend the Constitution. Yet, I don’t know why it was aborted.” So this was a pro-Thaksin coup? Or was it a “reconciliation coup”?

Then the interviewer links this alleged coup and an “assassination attempt” – Sondhi or the privy councilor plot? – what did they want? Chamlong says that they “wanted power … to pardon some wrongdoers so they could escape serving prison terms and asset seizure. Or they wanted more and more power to become bigger in the country.”

The interviewer then jumps to what might be an unrelated topic – but then all of this does seem related somehow – and asks: “Does the ideology of some die-hard communists still exist? Was there any effort to revive it along with other tactics [used by the red shirts]?” Chamlong replies that “Some die-hard communists who became Thaksin’s allies will still pursue their ideology despite the collapse of Soviet-era communism and the capitalism now adopted by China. But it is very difficult for them to achieve their goal. They came up this time with a clear stance against the monarchy – a policy they never stated clearly during their armed struggle then. And they are complaining about the PAD using their anti-monarchy policy as the main goal in our campaign. It’s clear to everyone now that PAD always tells the truth.” He says that Thaksin was an ally to these communist anti-monarchists.

He adds that it is the “government’s duty to uphold and enforce the lese majeste law, as the anti-monarchy doctrine has been spread out and is now widely accepted by people who are highly-respected lecturers, who are admired by their like-minded students.” He sees this “anti-monarchy doctrine” as a “threat to national security” and states that the “government must take responsibility for its inaction in dealing with the widespread violation of the lese majeste laws.” He adds that PAD will become involved if the “government proved incompetent or was inactive in dealing with the issue.”

The reporter asks: “Will the PAD rally to oust the government if it does nothing to deal with people who want to pursue an anti-monarchy stance?” Chamlong replies that the threat to the monarchy must be dealt with, saying that the government “just cannot let these people get away.” The Democrat Party government is warned.

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