Aljazeera, on April 14, 2009, presented an interview of experts on Thai politics.
It would also be helpful to read an article from Straits Times
Thais on the brink, again – Michael J. Montesano
APRIL 13 – Media coverage of last Saturday’s disruption of the Asean summit in Pattaya focused on two dimensions of the shocking event.
On the one hand, the press noted that the abrupt termination of the meeting represented a setback not just for Asean but also for the region. Plans to deepen regional cooperation were scuttled, at least for now.
On the other hand, the press asked how long the government of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva can survive last Saturday’s debacle. In the past three years, waves of street protests, such as those mounted by red-shirted supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in recent weeks, have helped wash away several Thai premiers. It thus makes sense to wonder whether Abhisit will be next.
But Thailand has entered a period far more momentous than either of these two dimensions of the media coverage suggests. A range of evidence indicates that the country is on the brink of a revolutionary situation. In this context, the fate of the Abhisit government represents a minor consideration.
First, observers of Thai politics have long suspected the involvement of Privy Council president General Prem Tinasulanon in the September 2006 coup that drove Thaksin from power.
But the latter’s decision in his March 27 phone-in to a red-shirt rally in Bangkok to cite Gen Prem by name as an instigator of the 2006 putsch broke new ground.
Thaksin’s supporters have since followed up by calling for the resignation of Gen Prem and two other members of the Thai monarch’s Privy Council.
The directness of this attack on royal councillors has little or no precedent in recent Thai history. It is tantamount to a challenge of the “network monarchy” through which Thailand’s current sovereign has played such an active role in the government of his country over the past three or four decades.
World history shows attacks against courtiers serve, more often than not, as mere cover for attacks on the royal institutions themselves.
Second, after months of such quiet that many in Thailand had thought that the red-shirt movement had run its course, the events of the past two weeks have revealed an effective and sophisticated organisation.
That organisation now has the initiative, not only in the capital Bangkok but apparently across much of provincial Thailand.
Press coverage of last weekend’s demonstrations has left unexplored the bases of this organisation and its network of local cells. It has failed to follow up on red-shirt claims to have blocked roads, surrounded provincial halls and mounted protests across northern and north-eastern Thailand.
The current upheaval seems to extend far, far beyond the tourist town of Pattaya and a couple of neighbourhoods of the Thai capital.
Third, Thai military forces made no meaningful effort to defend the Pattaya venue of the Asean summit. Did the army’s chain of command fail on Saturday? Was the Thai military too divided to act? Was its leadership willing cynically to incur the national humiliation of a disrupted summit in order to have a pretext to move violently against the red shirts?
The answers are not clear. But none of these possibilities offers reassurance, especially when there are indications that the Thai police feel they were so ill-used by the yellow-shirted members of the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy late last year that many among their ranks now sympathise with the red shirts.
Finally, neither an election nor a mediated process of reconciliation is likely to resolve Thailand’s present revolutionary situation. A free election will return Thaksinites to power, thus provoking his enemies all over again; an unfree election will only stir the red shirts into more intense opposition to the prevailing order.
Prospects for reconciliation in the interests of the national good are also slim. The figure to whom all Thais look for national reconciliation – the respected King Bhumibol Adulyadej – seems too ill to step in.
The success of Thaksin and his partisans in seizing the political initiative and openly challenging the “network monarchy” must not blind us to his own tawdry record. It must not lead us to overlook the fact that principle, rather than mere attachment to privilege or power, motivates at least some of his opponents.
One cannot know what the outcome of the ongoing back-room deliberations of those opponents will be. The Thai military may yet use violence against the red shirts. This may require it to mount crackdowns not only in Bangkok but also across much of provincial Thailand.
At best, such an effort will bring temporary quiet. At worst, it may exacerbate divisions among Thailand’s soldiers and policemen, leading to Thais spilling the blood of fellow Thais.
But revolutions need not be violent. The revolutionary situation on the brink of which the country now seems to stand can lead to a new Thailand, one in which there is room for all Thais to participate constructively.
It may well be a Thailand in which the monarch, post-King Bhumibol, and the military play less central roles than those to which Thais have grown accustomed over the past half-century.
In many ways, the real significance of Saturday’s debacle at Pattaya may lie in its prompting Asian leaders, along with the rest of us, to anticipate the process of revolutionary change on which Thailand now seems to have embarked. – The Straits Times