The political battle becoming dirtier by the day [in Thailand]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

April 22, 2010
By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation

Thais appear to be keen on expanding the ongoing conflict instead of containing it, with many different colour-coded groups emerging to confront the red-shirt protesters. Such confrontation would only orchestrate violence, if not a civil war.

Initially, the current political stalemate was only meant to be a conflict between Abhisit Vejjajiva's government and former PM Thaksin Shinawata's supporters. Now, unfortunately, lots of issues are being raised and more and more people are getting involved.

For instance, middle-class Bangkokians - at the end of their tether over the chaos caused by the red shirts - decided to take to the streets in multicoloured shirts last week to express their dissatisfaction. Some of them had minor clashes with the red shirts near Lumpini Park, while others had a bit of a fracas on Silom Road.

The multicolour group was born along the same lines as the red shirt's arch foe, the yellow-clad People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). Their demands are the same - disperse the protesters.

In fact, it is no secret that leaders of the multicoloured group used to be members of the PAD movement, which brought down the red-influenced governments of late Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat in 2008 before putting Abhisit at the helm.

The right-wing PAD has given the government a week to bring down the red-shirt movement, otherwise the group - which now calls itself a royal guardian - will take things into its own hands.

The yellow-shirt PAD is accusing Thaksin's red-shirt supporters of trying to bring about a "regime change" in which the Kingdom of Thailand becomes a republic, with Thaksin as its first president.

Although the red shirts' demand for a new election is nothing strange in a democratic society, Prime Minister Abhisit is subscribing to the PAD's belief and echoing accusations that the reds are committing "acts of terrorism" to bring about a "great change" in Thailand.

On Tuesday, an unknown group of people put up stickers on Silom Road saying that the red-shirt group wanted a new Thailand with Thaksin as president. A move like this suggests that the right wing and elitist forces are employing old tactics to label the opponents as anti-monarchists.

The anti-monarchist accusation in Thailand is powerful enough to destroy anybody. The institution of monarchy has been firmly established in the Kingdom for a long time. Stringent laws protect the monarch from the slightest of criticism and if anybody gets accused of lese majeste, it is hard for them to escape.

On October 6, 1976, student activists in Thammasat University were massacred just because they were accused of being anti-monarchists. Many politicians, including the red-shirt leader Veera Musigapong and some members of the ruling Democrat Party, have had bitter experiences related to the lese majeste law.

The stickers on Silom Road prompted an immediate denial from Thaksin, with the red-shirt leaders declaring on Tuesday that it was a dirty political game. They know the power of anti-monarchy accusations.

However, if Abhisit and his government are gentle and fair enough, they should be able to limit the conflict and stop a third hand from using this sensitive issue to make things worse.

Calling the protesters terrorists and turning a normal political protest into a national security issue and a threat to the revered institution, is uncivilised and unfair. Besides, such tactics will only make the problem more complicated and difficult to resolve.


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