Tuesday, October 7, 2008

PAD protesters trap legislators inside Thai parliament

The NY Times reports:

In a day of street battles that left more than 100 people injured, thousands of anti-government protesters surrounded the Thai Parliament Tuesday, trapping hundreds of members inside for more than five hours.

Anti-government protesters fleeing from tear gas fired by riot police in front of parliament in Bangkok on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat escaped over a back fence in the morning after delivering a policy address. But other members were unable to leave until the police dispersed the protesters and cleared the way for them.

"We ran, ran, ran," said one Parliament member, Niyom Vejkarma, who had stripped off his jacket and tie and fled from the building in his patent leather shoes.

"My eyes are sore," he said, referring to the tear gas that lingered in the air, as he and fellow lawmakers stood at a street corner with their mobile telephones and called their drivers.

In the Asia Sentinel Thai scholar Giles Ji Unphakorn describes the context in which attacks on the Thai Parliament have occured:

The PAD's claim that the government is somehow "illegitimate" is based on the belief that the poor do not deserve the right to vote because they are too stupid. This belief is shared by the opposition Democrat Party, which supported the 2006 military coup and is now supporting the actions of the PAD by boycotting parliament. Previously the Democrats boycotted the 2006 elections because they knew that the poor would not vote for their monetarist and neo-liberal policies. The Democrats when in office set police dogs on peaceful protestors from the Assembly of the Poor. That protest was nothing like the PAD riots of the past few weeks. The Democrats also used public funds to bail out the banks in the 1997 crisis. The poor were told to fend for themselves.

The PAD is calling for the defense of the military constitution of 2007, which has already restricted the electorate's right to vote for the Senate. They want to bring about a Suharto-style "New Order", in which only half of the parliament will be elected and the Prime Minister need not be an elected MP.

On the morning of the 7th October, the police cleared one side of parliament using tear gas. This was to allow MPs to enter the building. The police made it clear that the PAD would continue to be allowed to protest outside the other entrance to parliament. However, the PAD responded by attacking the police with sharpened flag poles, homemade guns and their own tear gas grenades. In any other parliamentary democracy, the PAD leaders and their rioting supporters would have been arrested. They have been illegally occupying Government House for over a month. Yet the police have been told to "lay off the protestors" by people in high places.

Every public institution and organization in Thailand is now compromised by this inter-elite conflict and the losers, as usual, are the poor: workers and small farmers. The monarchy has failed to defuse the situation. The queen has openly sided with the PAD mob. The courts are practicing double standards, attacking Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai/People’s Power Party corruption while ignoring illegal coups, mob violence and corruption by opposition politicians and the military.

Be sure to check out Bangkok Pundit, as he is live-blogging these extraordinary events.

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