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  1. #1
    Mid
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    Red Dawn, a remake?

    Thailand's red shirts

    Red Dawn, a remake?
    Apr 14th 2011


    (Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons)

    THAILAND'S annual New Year holiday, which this year stretched from April 13-16th, is a time of Buddhist merit-making, family reunions and raucous water fights. Businesses close down and send migrant workers home. Bangkok’s streets become less clogged as city dwellers head for the beaches.

    It might seem an odd moment, then, for the International Crisis Group (ICG) to release a sobering report on Thailand’s polarised politics. The timing is apt however: April 10th marked the anniversary of violent clashes last year between red-shirted demonstrators and security forces in Bangkok. Subsequent events took an even bloodier turn, leaving Thailand in a parlous state. In total, 91 people died, mostly civilians, during the protests, which were ended by a military crackdown on May 19th.

    “Thailand: The Calm Before Another Storm?” looks at what happened next. It makes for depressing reading, though none of it is entirely surprising. The red-shirt movement has endured, even as its leaders face terrorism charges, and it lives on to harass the government. The army has stonewalled inquiries into protest-related deaths. Investigators have failed to find anyone culpable for killing civilians. The ultra-nationalist yellow shirts, who helped bring down the previous government, are back on the streets. They oppose further voting and want an appointed administration.

    Thailand’s prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has proposed to hold elections by July. Could this be a way out of the cycle of violence? ICG seems unsure. It argues that any elections must be free, fair and peaceful, so that a new government with a proper mandate can pursue “genuine political reconciliation”. But it warns that the losing side may not accept defeat, particularly in a close race. Then there is the army, which seized power in 2006 and could do the same again. Victory for Puea Thai, the red shirts' political wing, would give an opening to Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former prime minister. Any sign that Mr Thaksin might make a comeback would be anathema to his conservative enemies.

    The ICG takes up the crystal ball, in a well-annotated section of its report:
    Despite the prime minister’s announcement of the time-frame for elections, there is speculation that a military coup or a more subtle “silent coup” could derail the polls. There has been some speculation that if election commissioners were pressured to resign, creating political deadlock, Article 7 of the constitution might then be invoked to form a royally-appointed government.

    The ECT [the Election Commission of Thailand] currently comprises five commissioners and requires at least three commissioners to have quorum. In March 2011, election commissioner Sodsri Satayatham expressed her desire to resign.

    Sodsri later said she would likely stay on, but the prospect of her resignation increased speculation that the PAD [People's Alliance for Democracy; the yellow shirts, give or take] would call for Article 7 to be invoked to “clean up” politics. In a media interview, Sodsri confirmed that she had heard from some army officers of a plan to form a royally-appointed government.

    Senior army commanders deny they will stage a coup and dismiss the idea that they want the king to appoint a prime minister.
    Assuming elections do happen, ICG recommends that political parties sign up to an electoral code of conduct. This is a sensible idea. Politicians from all sides should be free to campaign across the country. Their supporters need to respect the rules. Pre-election pacts have been tried in democracies such as South Africa, Cambodia and Ethiopia. Unfortunately that is precisely why it will be unpalatable to Thai nationalists, who look down on each of those countries and are in denial about the tenuous condition of their own democracy.

    Independent monitoring would offer another way to keep a lid on any cheating. Critics say Mr Thaksin’s election victories were achieved by bribing gullible rural voters. In fact, such practices predate Mr Thaksin and cross party lines. At the last election in 2007, Thailand refused to allow in European Union monitors. There are anyway local groups that do a decent job and have developed an election-monitoring network with NGOs in other Asian democracies. Thailand has plenty of experience holding orderly elections, when it sets its mind to it. The problem lies more with the adjudication of disputes and the meddling of outsiders, particularly among military and royalist circles.

    On April 10th, the red shirts held another large rally in Bangkok. As usual, speakers railed against the lack of accountability for the deaths inflicted last year. What actually happened on that night remains murky. Masked gunmen appeared from the red-shirt ranks and fired at the troops. Other shadowy figures were glimpsed on the rooftops. But most of those who died were unarmed protesters, who were apparently shot by soldiers. Their families are still waiting for answers. A credible law-enforcement investigation would go a long way towards restoring public faith in Thailand’s democratic institutions. An election should not be used as a substitute for justice.

    economist.com

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    Mid
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    Thailand: The Calm Before Another Storm?


    Thailand: The Calm Before Another Storm?
    11 Apr 2011

    Asia Briefing N°121

    OVERVIEW

    Nearly a year after the crackdown on anti-establishment demonstrations, Thailand is preparing for a general election. Despite government efforts to suppress the Red Shirt movement, support remains strong and the deep political divide has not gone away. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s roadmap for reconciliation has led almost nowhere. Although there have been amateurish bomb attacks carried out by angry Red Shirts since the crackdown, fears of an underground battle have not materialised. On the other side, the Yellow Shirts have stepped up their nationalist campaigns against the Democrat Party-led government that their earlier rallies had helped bring to power. They are now claiming elections are useless in “dirty” politics and urging Thais to refuse to vote for any of the political parties. Even if the elections are free, fair and peaceful, it will still be a challenge for all sides to accept the results. If another coalition is pushed together under pressure from the royalist establishment, it will be a rallying cry for renewed mass protests by the Red Shirts that could plunge Thailand into more violent confrontation.

    The Red Shirt demonstrations in March-May 2010 sparked the most deadly clashes between protestors and the state in modern Thai history and killed 92 people. The use of force by the government may have weakened the Red Shirts but the movement has not been dismantled and is still supported by millions of people, particularly in the North and North East. Arresting their leaders as well as shutting down their media and channels of communication has only reinforced their sense of injustice. Some in the movement’s hardline fringe have chosen to retaliate with violence but the leadership has reaffirmed its commitment to peaceful political struggle. The next battle will be waged through ballot boxes and the Red Shirts will throw their weight behind their electoral wing, the Pheu Thai Party.

    The protracted struggle between supporters of the elite establishment – the monarchy, the military and the judiciary – and those allied with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra began with the formation of the “yellow-shirted” People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in 2006. The September 2006 coup removed Thaksin from power but prompted the emergence of a counter movement: the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) or Red Shirts. The PAD’s campaigns to close down Bangkok airports in 2008 created deadlock that was resolved by a court ruling that removed Thaksin’s “proxy” party – People Power Party – from power. This led to the formation of the Democrat-led coalition government, backed by the military. Two years later, the ultra-nationalist Yellow Shirts have apparently split from their former allies and are protesting outside Government House against Abhisit’s alleged failure to defend “Thai territory” in the Preah Vihear border dispute with Cambodia. The PAD’s call for a “virtuous” leader to replace the prime minister has raised concerns that it is inviting the military to stage a coup.

    Abhisit has stated he will dissolve parliament in the first week of May after expediting the enactment of legislation to revise key electoral rules. He is moving quickly towards the elections amid rumours of a coup. With the new rules and pre-poll largesse, the Democrat Party hopes to secure more seats and position itself to lead another coalition. Thaksin is still popular with much of the electorate and there is a strong possibility that his de facto Pheu Thai Party could emerge as the largest party. The formation of the government is likely to be contentious. The UDD has threatened to return to the streets if Pheu Thai wins a plurality but does not form the government. Obvious arm bending by the royalist establishment to this end is a recipe for renewed protests and violence. Should the opposite occur, and Pheu Thai has the numbers to lead a new government, the Yellow Shirts might regain momentum; they are unlikely to tolerate a “proxy” Thaksin government.

    While elections will not resolve the political divide and the post-election scenarios look gloomy, Thailand nevertheless should proceed with the polls. A well-publicised electoral code of conduct and independent monitoring by local and international observers could help enhance their credibility and minimise violence during the campaign. If installed successfully, the new government with a fresh mandate will have greater credibility to lead any longer term effort to bring about genuine political reconciliation.

    Bangkok/Brussels, 11 April 2011

    crisisgroup.org

    More Information


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    Media release



  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mid
    Thailand’s prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has proposed to hold elections by July. Could this be a way out of the cycle of violence?
    What's the point? Unless it's the army's candidate who wins, they'll only break basic democratic laws to instil their own chap anyway. Thailand is not a democratic country.

  4. #4
    Thailand Expat thehighlander959's Avatar
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    There is no such thing as fair elections in Thailand, a democratic society is not on the list of options.
    Ther is no chance of the majority winners in any election campaign being allowed to form a government here, the government is formed to ensure that the Amart, Privy Council,and the big business Thai-Chinese upper class can remain firmly at the trough for their rights to feed off the poorer people in Thailand.

    When I hear of their so-called sufficiency economy. Why is it only the poor who have to live by this guidance from people on high.
    Thailand is a military run government with a few civilian faces in the mix to make it look respectable to western outsiders.
    "Don,t f*ck with the baldies*

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marmite the Dog View Post
    Thailand is not a democratic country.
    Or more to the point, not a democratic culture.

    Attempting a political system based on equality in a culture where no two citizens are equals will remain amusing to watch for decades to come.

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