Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Thais. Bangkok has been unsettled by civil unrest and disorder. Recent media reports have stated a loss of life, and injuries sustained by hundreds of ‘red shirt’ protestors. Even though the army has retreated for now, and the city settles into a stark realization of loss and suffering, many questions remain. Did the Abhisit administration execute crowd control correctly and effectively? Did the government put into place an effective containment strategy? What makes the red shirts so persistent? What motivates them? Is an election the full answer to the present problems faced by the country? Has the 16 month administration of PM Abhisit reached its end?
In this comment, no mention will be made of the Thai King, nor his majesty’s involvement in the events of recent times. In any event, so little is known about his Majesty’s precise role thus far. The recent announcement by the elections commission of irregularities within Abhisit’s party only adds to the intrigue and deep suspicion of what is actually happening behind the scenes. Hardly a coincidence.
Will the death toll rise? In all probability, after the ‘truce’ comes to an end. Are the red shirts justified in their violent activism? Absolutely not. There can never be a justification to full civil disorder and protest, if the demand is nothing more than a call for prime ministerial resignation and elections to follow. In any civil society, there can be little or no sympathy for anyone to bargain with violence.
The question is how could the government allow the red shirts to protest for more than one month? The duration itself suggests that there is much more than meets the eye. For their ‘trouble’, the protestors have been given access to food and drink, and toilet facilities to run their daily ablutions. They have obviously been sustained from external substantial sources.
Truth be told, the Thai government palpably failed to contain the situation. In fact media reports will have us believe that security forces retreated back to camp after declaring a ‘truce’.
Might a better containment strategy have worked so that all the red shirts would have been surrounded and condoned off against any further contact with the rest of the community and media. Jam the phone signals, remove toilet access, food and water will not get through. After 2-3 days, it is likely that people should disperse. They need to satisfy basic necessities. The ‘firm’ resolve of the red shirts may have been broken, or severely tested through this. This was not done. We saw protestors scatter, regroup and attack the soldiers, who were ill-equipped to manage and control their own people.
Now the PM has appointed Chief of Army, Anupong Paojinda, to oversee operations. The red shirts have gathered around Bangkok’s commercial district, and another showdown looms in the capital. More blood will be spilled, involuntarily. Terrorism will reign, with perpetrators from whatever motivation entering into the fracas. In an unprecedented move, the red shirts leaders have declared that they will turn themselves over to the police on 15 May. They are formidable adversaries to the ruling party, as seen from their understanding of the laws of the land. First, there is no telling of the harm and damage that can befall the country and its enforcers between now and 15 May. Secondly, the red shirts will be arrested on 15 May, and thereafter they will apply for bail. They would wish for a change of government after elections, and thereafter for charges (if any) to be dropped. There is a certain confidence on the part of the red shirts that in an election, the red shirts will most likely prevail. The masses threaten the ruling elite and establishment.
But the pre-conditions for a democracy are simply not present, given that any result will be met with firm resistance and street protest. If the country descends into further chaos and civil war, a UN peace keeping force may have to be deployed as an option of last resort. ASEAN is not seen to be intervening effectively, and its lack of effective management of this crisis will further diminish its standing within the international community.