April 13th, 2010 09:39 EST
Tide Turning in Thai Tussle?
An article by Tom Plate, the distiguished UCLA professor and Asian Affairs Commentator, in the Japan Times a few months back, compared the situations in Myanmar and Thailand, and the author opined, if I got his gist, that Thailand would never become another Myanmar because the Thai people were too gentle, tolerant, and peace-loving. While I know many Thai people in Tokyo and would vouch for his description of what he called the "Thai national character", I am less sure that Thailand will never go to the way of Myanmar/Burma.
The "red shirts" have led largely peaceful protests against the Absihit government for several weeks now, often involving creative and uniquely Thai forms of protest, such as spilling the protestors` own donated blood at selected locations and protest parades that in some ways were equal parts anti-government demonstrations and mardi gras-style carnivals. Even the "red shirt" vs. "yellow shirt" approach is breathtakingly simple but visually effective.
The problem was that sooner or later, one side or the other was bound to crack. Protestors would go too far or the government would come down too hard. And people would die. That bridge was crossed on April 11th when 21 people were killed in a melee in the heart of the tourist/backpacker district of Bangkok.
Despite the bloodshed and the fingerpointing on both sides, the red shirts seem to have emerged stronger than before and the Abhisit Administration seems weakened. As Siripan Nogusan, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University warned the international community that "this fight will not end any time soon" and Apichart Sankary of the Thai Tourism Federation warned that "the number of foreign visitors could drop" by more than a million, the army signaled a shift.
Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda declared that "Parliament dissolution seemed a reasonable step....a solution should be achieved through political means." Many read this as a veiled threat that the Army will not continue to back the Absihit Administration and that he should step down and call elections immediately. Exactly what he has vowed not to do.
Furthermore, the Thai Election Commission has taken the first step towards barring and disbanding the Democrat Party, Thailand`s oldest political grouping and the home of the PM, over claims of financial inpropriety, just what they have accused former PM Thaksin of. It will need concurrence of the Supreme Court but it already represents a further loss of face for the current regime.
On top of that, while 21 people were killed in the protest crackdown, the protestors managed to disable many humvees and personnel carriers of the government and to "appropriate" a number of machine guns and suits of body armor. And they further entreched themselves in the Khao San Road district, the center of Bangkok tourism. While the "yellow shirts" took over the International Airport, the "red shirts" have taken over the hotel district. Either way, more and more tourists are wondering whether they dare go to Thailand or not.
Does this mean that Absihit is gone? Not necessarily. Thaksin will return? Not yet and maybe never. But we have undoubtedly turned a corner and gotten closer to an ending, happy or unhappy. I hope that Thailand can find a way, a middle road, perhaps, to get out of this trouble without any more death. But when both sides denounce the other as murders and refuse to negotiate, I fear the worst.
Where is the Thai version of Aung San Suu Kyi when we need him or her?