Monday, December 29, 2008

Is the red Thai faction set to copy tactics of the yellow?

The emerging conflict on the streets of Bangkok looks set to pit one region of Thailand against another region. The Bangkok Post reports:
Late on Sunday, speakers whipped up thousands of supporters of the red-clad United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) at Sanam Luang with speeches on the theme Prathet Thai Mai Wai Jai Abhisit (Thailand Does not Trust Abhisit).

"Our demand is for Abhisit to dissolve parliament because he has no legitimacy," said Jatuporn Prompan, a core leader of the UDD.

A huge stage at the parade ground near the royal palace was backed with a red banner saying "No confidence in Abhisit Vejjajiva", while protesters waved signs saying "We Love Thaksin" and shook plastic foot-shaped clappers.

"Today the fight is not only for Thaksin but also for justice and democracy," former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama told the crowd.

UDD leaders promised last week that their supporters would not attempt to block parliament to prevent the government from delivering its policy address. But that could change.

UDD leader Chatuporn Promphan said that the UDD will announce its final decision on whether to try to blockade parliament hours before the Lower House is to meet on Monday morning.

Protesters on Sunday afternoon used iron barricades to close down U-Thong Nai Road near the Equestrian Statue of King Rama V. They said they have to blockade the road for the safety of incoming demonstrators in front of the parliament.

Their tactics were a virtual carbon-copy of those used by the parallel group People's Alliance for Democracy, who tried to blockade parliament and halt a policy speech last Oct 7. Police met them with tear gas in a violent confrontation that left one woman dead and several protesters maimed.

The government's Operations Centre at the the Ministry of Interior reported that red-shirted people travelled by train, bus and car to Bangkok from Chiang Mai and Chumphon in the North, Kalasin in the Northeast, Ayutthaya, Chon Buri in the central region and from Chanthaburi in the East to the rally.
The question is whether the Thai police and army will do as little to defend public institutions when confronted by a pro-Thaksin mob dressed in red as they did over the course of the past six months when confronted by a mob dressed in yellow.

It seems to me that confrontation between police and army units and red demonstrators is somewhat more likely than when the protesters wore yellow shirts. Thai government and its supporters -- emboldened by recent success -- could easily miscalculate at this juncture and overplay its hand.

Whereas the red shirt mob is from out of town, the yellow shirt mob -- whose heavy-handed tactics (for example, shutting down the country's main airports) heralded in the new government -- had been comprised of many Bangkok residents. It may seem simplistic to emphasize geography at a time like this, but if these protests lead to violence, regional loyalties will be accentuated. To say that these developments do not bode well for national unity would be an understatement.

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