With the passing of what some have described as the "judicial coup" of December 2008, the royalist "yellow shirts" appeared to have got what they wanted. So why did the yellows take it upon themselves to invade a temple on the Thai-Cambodian border Saturday?
On Saturday, the third anniversary of the royalist-backed army coup of September 19 that deposed Prime Minister Thaksin, pro-Thaksin supporters held a large rally in the northern city of Chang Mai (photos) where 26,000 listened to Thaksin speak to them by video. Back in Bangkok red shirts tried to march on the house of Prem, who heads the HM the King's Privy Council. Red shirts blame Prem for the 2006 coup. Apparently the red marchers were first obstructed by security but later 20,000 managed to stage a protest there. Meanwhile, members of the anti-Thaksin royalist faction -- the "yellow-shirts" invaded a temple on the Thai-Cambodia border.
The Nation (via PPT) reported that "17 were injured" near the disputed -- see here, here, here, here, here and here -- border-straddling Preah Vihear temple complex. Saturday local teenagers “armed with sticks and slingshots attacked the yellow shirts as they marched through their village to Preah Vihear.” The villagers “feared [the rally] could spark a war with Cambodia. The villagers have already suffered from the temple being closed, which has cost them income from the lack of tourists. Access to their farms has also been blocked by the military since last year.” Al Jazeera reports that protesters in northeastern Sisaket province Saturday numbered 4,000.
The yellow shirts are the same hooligans that took over Bangkok's two international airports in November 2008. Apart from Sondhi Limthongkul, the yellow-shirt leader who got shot, the group's other leaders continue to do well for themselves. Another yellow-shirt leader is now the foreign minister of Thailand. Blogger PPT notes "the close relationship between PAD [yellow shirts] and several senior Democrat Party leaders and Abhisit himself." Needless to say, PAD leaders were never prosecuted for having disrupted the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of international travelers, nor for the prior occupation of Government House.
Mr Wrigley at Bangkok Pundit blogged Sunday, "The yellow shirts reinforced their negative "brand image" as a group of lawless thugs, intent on stirring up trouble wherever they go. The government also comes out a loser by imposing the ISA on the reds, while leaving the yellows essentially free to run wild."
The protests of the major color factions in Thailand may have come full circle. For a time it seemed the red-shirts were playing catch-up, merely imitating the tactics of the yellow. By the time of the crackdown of April it was clear that the red shirts had overshoot their mark. By mid-April, the red shirts were getting nothing but bad press.
But, to borrow a phrase which already inspires a popular blog about Thai politics, with its bungled assault on the ancient Khmer temple on Saturday, the royalist PAD group appears to have "jumped the shark." Any way you look at it, provoking an armed confrontation with impoverished Thai villagers is a peculiar way to defend Thailand's national sovereignty. Certainly, these developments** come at a remarkably inconvenient time for Abhisit as he gets ready to represent ASEAN at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh this week (more about this at Jot Asean)
*TPP (Thai Political Prisoners) live-blogged media reports of Saturday's events in Thailand. Update: Newley live-blogged rain-soaked red shirts protesting in Bangkok (photos and video).
**Background on the situation in Thailand: two posts "Implications of the political crisis in Thailand" and "Bangkok chessboard" For further background on events in the post 2006 era, see Jotman's Thailand page.