Friday, December 14, 2007

Are these the final preparations for a second coup?

This morning, I rode in a taxi. Two newspapers I had been reading lay open on the seat beside me. The Nation was unfolded to a reveal a page 2 article, "PM orders tightened security into New Year." The Bangkok Post was turned to a page 3 article,"Security beefed up for ballot."

What were these two reports really all about?

My cab stopped at a traffic light on a street that runs past Thai Military Headquarters. Police stood ready to direct traffic at the center of the intersection. After five minutes, a motorcade zoomed past.

By coincidence, that's when the most probable meaning of the articles hit me. The sheer scale of security preparations described in the two reports pointed to only one thing: the final preparations for a second military coup may be underway.

- Thailand's general election is scheduled for December 23. The date would mark Thailand's return to democracy. Since the coup of Sept. 19, 2006, Thailand has been administered by an interim government appointed by HM the King. Elections were promised within one year.
- The Nation reported today that the PPP party is leading in the polls and "expected to win." PPP is favored by supporters of the deposed PM Thaksin and those unhappy with the military-backed interim government.
If elected, PPP is likely to undo the "achievements" of the first coup, perhaps putting coup leaders on trial.
- Rumors of a December "event" have been circulating since the summer and tracked by blogger Bangkok Pundit (BP).

- Government spokesman Chaiya said "as a part of the plan, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) would install 1,300 security cameras across the capital within seven days."
- Thai PM Surayud "has ordered tightened security nationwide into the the New Year to ensure stability during the Dec. 23 general election and the formation of the new government" and "demands a security plan be implemented from December 15 until there is a new prime minister in a new government."
- The PM gave orders for stepped-up security measures and demanded his instructions be followed closely if any serious incidents occur during the period.
- Some officials suggested the premier should impose martial law if there is a security threat
- "Officials will fan out to gather intelligence," Chaiya said.

SMOKESCREEN No. 1: the threat of terrorist bombings

- "We are most concerned about New Year celebrations," Chaiya said.
- Spokesman Chaiya said that Private entrepreneurs would also be asked to hold many events to count down to the New Year because a single big celebration could be more of a target for an attack.
- Surayud emphasised that relevant authorities must closely monitor the situation in tourist centres including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket, Hat Yai and Samui Island.
- In the event of a serious incident, all security authorities should heed only his orders, issued in his capacity as chairman of the government's anti-terrorism committee.

SMOKESCREEN No. 2: intelligence that political protests will turn violent
- Mr Chaiya denied Gen Surayud's security concerns and instructions implied he expected a serious incident in the near future. Intelligence reports referred only to the potential of provocations and protests, not any bombing, he said. Gen Surayud would simply like security authorities to be ready for any eventuality.
- "The PM is concerned that there may be unexpected incidents, like those that occurred late last year, because this government works amid the conflicting opinions of people, provocations, propaganda, and psychological and political attacks," said gov. spokesman Chaiya Yimwilai.
- Asked whether the government foresaw any unrest coming, Chaiya said: "Intelligence reports say there will be movements and rallies that may be incited toward violence."
- PM demanded intelligence reports from the national Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council.

Those behind Thailand's military-backed governement may have been preparing for a second coup since the summer (and possibly since prior to last year's bombings in Bangkok). With the opposition PPP Party poised to win the general election, the first stages of the coup d'etat would appear to have been set in motion Thursday in Bangkok.

If a second coup occurs, there will likely be protests throughout the country, especially in the north where PPP support is highest, and also in Bangkok. By 1) raising the specter of more terrorist bombings , and 2) at the same time, hinting that that protests associated with the political process in Thailand could become violent, the military-backed interim government has prepared the country for the coming crackdown.

All that we are waiting for now is the provocation. Perhaps this will come as some kind of terrorist incident -- perhaps another series of bomb explosions in Bangkok. These will be linked to the opposition PPP party.

Protests are likely to erupt across the country if -- in the wake of a terror incident -- it is announced that the elections have postponed. The high state of security is necessary not to deter potential terrorists, but to quell the demonstrations. (It is also important that the interim government be in a position to say: we did our best to prevent the violence).

The bombings in Bangkok at New Years were pinned on Thaksin supporters. If a terrorist incident occurs in Bangkok within the next 10 days it will be blamed on people associated with Thaksin and the PPP Party which is poised to win the election. Or perhaps only "a plot" will be uncovered.

Thailand stands on the brink of an abyss. Fortunately, it is not too late for supporters the military-backed regime to reconsider.

Photos: video stills show a motorcade in Bangkok.

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