Thursday, April 29, 2010

American academic: Thais should realize how fortunate they are

Why can't the Thais appreciate what they have?

The question was raised by Joel Brinkley, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent of the New York Times and now a professor of journalism at Stanford University,who said Thailand should look at its neighbours, realize how fortune they are -- and then wait for the next election.

In an article distributed today by McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Brinkley reviews the political situations in Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia to conclude that Thailand, in terms of democracy, is still in better shape than its neighbours.

"Thailand's protestors should look around, see how their neighbours live, realize how fortunate they are -- and then wait for the next election," he said.

Read his full article:

Enemies engage in "friendly fire" debate

There has been no confirmation over reports that the soldier shot dead in yesterday's clash between the military and protesters near Don Muang was caused by "friendly fire" or not.

The CNN website said the soldier was accidentally killed by fire from security forces but authorities have so far refrained from making any comment. A video clip circulated on the Internet yesterday showed a motor-cycle-riding soldier falling down after he appeared to have been shot.

But such clashes appear inevitable if the red shirts continue to despatch their motor-cycle riders to various areas to confront police and soldiers.

Kwanchai Praipana, one of the red leaders who narrowly escaped arrest yesterday, said he wanted to surround the NBT television station today to protest the state station's "distorted reporting." If that happens, there will be more "enemy fire" on both sides.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Situation normal, all messed up!

The British Embassy has issued a new warning about travelling to "the whole of Thailand" while the US Embassy's travel advisory limits its travel advisory to Bangkok.

Situation normal, all fouled up!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Glimmer of hope of settlement dashed

That little glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel was snuffed out almost as it emerged. After three rounds of unofficial talks between Veera Muksikapong of the red shirts and M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra of the Democrat Party (Bangkok's governor), PM Abhisit Vejjajiva called off the negotiations.

Why? The PM said on TV this morning that the red shirts' new demand for him to dissolve the House in 30 days "simply doesn't make sense." He said there is no guarantee that a new election would resolve the ongoing crisis. The PM claims that some of the red shirted leaders harbour objectives much beyond just a new election.
"They were talking about a new state and changing to the highest institution of the country," Abhisit said.

It is now likely that any future talks will have to be more than just bilateral negotiations between the government and the red shirts. The yellow and the pink shirts as well as other civil society groups have also demanded a say in how the "road map" should be drawn up.

He didn't mention Thaksin Shinawatra, but it was obvious that Abhisit had Thaksin in mind when he said he wasn't sure who was making decisions for the red shirt movement.
"Some of them say they want 30 days, others say 3 months and still other want six months..." he said.

Abhisit, accompanied by Army Chief Anupong Paochinda in the television show, appeared to have bounced back from his week-long "disappearance" from public. Today, he appeared more determined to "overcome the challenge."

How he will achieve that remains unclear and uncertain at best.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

After the Silom blasts, now they are back to the negotiation table

A new round of talks between the Red Shirt leaders and government representatives were supposed to have taken place last night. There were unconfirmed reports that they tentatively agreed to continue the negotiations on whether the new election should be held in 30 or 60 or 90 days.

The fact that they agreed to go back to the negotiation table was at last a breath of fresh air following the April 22 Silom shoot-out that claimed at least one life and nearly 100 injuries.

The Red leaders surprised some observers by offering to soften their stand: Instead of the original 15-day deadline, Veera Muksikapong, one of the three leaders, said the term could be extended to 30 days plus 60 days during which the Abhisit government could serve as the interim government.

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva refused to comment on the new turn of events. Nobody from the government side has made any statement so far. The only clear sign from the military was that Army Chief Anupong Paochinda insisted that he wouldn't send troops to crack down on the protesters at Rajprasong Intersection, preferring to see a political solution to the conflict.

Do I see light at the end of the tunnel? A very small glimmer of hope, yes. But the situation remains too fragile and complicated to make any certain prediction.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Red Fortress at Bangkok's Business Central District

The red protesters have declared an area around Rajprasong Interesection off-limits to outsiders in an attempt to block any possible crackdown by the military. Six "checkpoints" have been set up around this "special fortress" and red security personnel have imposed a strict check on everybody who attempts to get in or out.

Bangkok's "Central Business District" has turned into a "Red Town" of its own. The military has labelled it a "dangerous zone" and said it will clear the protesters out if they don't disperse voluntarily. But nobody is saying when that will take place.

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva has said the task is difficult because the reds have in their possession "war weapons" but the reds say all they have are bamboo sticks and rocks -- and traditional "bung fai" (home-made rockets) that could down helicopters.

The tense stalemate drags on.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thailand: a Mango Republic?

Thailand turning into a Mango Republic?

Time magazine's reporter Hannah Beech, who grew up in Bangok, has written a column saying Thailand suffers from ceaseless spasms of political instability because its democracy is broken.

Then she adds:

"In the facile political taxonomy we use to categorize nations, Thailand is considered a democracy. Yet the country remains, if not a banana republic, a juicy, messy mango republic...."

And if you take into consideration the terms "water melon soldiers" and "tomato policemen" in the current political context, we have fully arrived at an advanced state of "vegetarian politics."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Yellow Shirts are back!

The Yellow Shirts are back in action. They held a nationwide meeting today at Rangsit University campus. They warned the red shirts that they were coming out to counter the red move. They say their patience was running out.

Most leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) pointed their finger Thaksin Shinnawatr for masterminding the April 10 violent clashes between the reds and government troops that claimed 24 lives and over 800 injured. They agreed that the ex-premier was using the political rally together with "one wing of the former leftists" to overthrow the current government and "set up a new state" that they suspect would dramatically change the role of the monarchy.

Most of the PAD leaders were there: Chamlong Srimuang, Somsak Kosaiyasuk, Somkiat Pongpaiboon, Pipop Thongchai, and Suriyasai Takkasila.

Conspicuously absent was the big leader: Sondhi Limthongkul. No explanation was given for his absence. No question about his whereabouts, if any, was raised, publicly anyway.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Arisman's dramatic escape

Arisman Pongruangrong, one of the red-shirt leaders, is seen here using a rope to escape police arrest at SC Park Hotel this morning.

It was a glaring flop on the part of the government. Deputy PM Suthep Thuangsuban went on tv at about 9.40 am to announce that a special police task force had been despatched to surround the hotel to arrest at least four red leaders for inciting the public.

As it turned out, hundreds of red protesters were there even before the police squadron arrived. Arisman fled with a rope with the help of his supporters from his room on the third floor. The four other leaders subsequently fled in a similar manner.

Then four police officers were "disarmed" by the protesters who took them to their Rajprasong stage as "hostages."

No doubt, the law-enforcement unit, packed full with "tamoto policemen" (red all over)were leaking news of the government's imminent round-up of the red leaders well in advance.

Another attempt at enforcing the law, another total failure.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

PM's silence is deafening

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva's silence for the past few days has been deafening. His spokesman, Panitan Watanayakorn, confirmed today that the premier had deliberately kept silent and will continue to refuse any press interviews for the next few days "for his own safety."

What does that mean? Of course, I know that the pressure on Abhisit is daunting. The red shirts want him to dissolve parliament now. The army has asked him to follow the line: Political problems must be solve by political means. His coalition partners want him to make up his mind about a time frame for House dissolution. The Election Commission has ruled that it will propose that his Democrat Party be dissolved.

But that's all the more reason why he should communicate with the people. What is so "unsafe" about telling the public what's happening?

One source says he wants to weigh all the pros and cons before making up his mind on his next step -- and to tell the people about it. Another source says Abhisit is keeping low so that he can consolidate his political position.

Whatever the real reason behind this self-imposed "silent period" when the PM does speak about, it will surely hit like a thunderbolt.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reds abandon Pan Fah Bridge to regroup at Rajprasong for the 'last battle'

The reds made another strategic move today: They closed down the Pan Fah stage and moved the protestors from there to Rajprasong Interesection. One of the leaders declared: "We are regrouping to fight the last battle."

Officially, the red leaders say this move was to improve the efficiency of management of the protest movement because there were indications that the government was planning a move to disperse the crowd at Pan Fah.

Army spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd has a different interpretation. He told a radio programme just now: "Because of the dwindling number of protestors at both sites, the red leaders were using the people from Pan Fah as a human shield to protect them from being arrested."

Arrest warrants have been issued for a total of 24 red leaders so far.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thai democracy under repair

Somebody sent me this piece of artwork which I think pretty well represents what is taking place in this country. Thailand's democracy is under construction...any inconvenience caused is regretted.

But it's more than just the normal kind of inconvenience. It's a blockade!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Democracy cannot die, no matter how hard it is to defend it

The Nation's Page One Monday (April 12) morning calls upon all concerned not to give up hopes on continuing to defend democracy despite attempts from several parties to undermine it through their self-serving activities, claiming to be "fighting for democracy."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The paradox of street chaos

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva admits that there has been pressure for him to "take drastic actions" against the red protestors, especially after they took over Rajprasong Intersection, Bangkok's business central district."

"I also wanted to take that route. But for the sake of national interests, we have to be cautious and to follow the step-by-step plan, trying to disperse the crowd in a proper way -- starting with a soft approach to a stern one when the situation warrants," he said.

Abhisit apparently wants to avoid bloodshed. The reds know that. That's why yesterday, they launched more defiant moves , roaming the prohibited areas of Bangkok, hoping to pile up pressure on the government to dissolve Parliament.

Ironically, it's exactly because of such street chaos that adds to the PM's argument that an early election at this time would result in this kind of uncontrollable turmoil on the campaign trails.

This face-off threatens to be a prolonged one.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


The situation at Rajprasong Intersection will continue to be tense today. The red shirt vow to continue to occupy Bangkok's business center until PM Abhisit dissolves the House but the govt hit back last night with the imposition of a clause in the security law prohibiting the protestors to use that area for their demonstration.

The second round of talks between police and the red shirt leaders will take place this morning. Police will be using megaphones to persuade the demonstrators to leave the area. The red shirt leaders insist they will stay on.

Who will blink first?

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Pinks are out to counter-balance the Reds

The "Pink Shirts" are out today! And their intention is clear: They are against the Reds' demand for a House dissolution to call a new election. In other words, the Pinks want to serve as the counter-balance of the Reds.

The Reds' core leaders immediately branded the Pinks a front for the Yellow Shirts. But the Pink leaders insisted that they are doing this as free thinkers and independent minds. They think the Reds have unfairly put pressure on the government and have somehow "monopolized" the right to protest.

"As equal members of society, we would like to exercise our rights to air our opinion as well. We believe in peaceful protests and would avoid any possible violence at all cost," said the joint statement read out by the Pink members who numbered a few thousands in their first rally at Lumpini Park, after Chulalongkorn University closed it doors to the group.

The anti-Red movement seems to have expanded rapidly. As soon as the Pink group ended their rally at Lumpini Park, another group -- from the tourism business -- lined up at the same location to make their stand as well.

Tomorrow, another group of Bangkokians will gather at Suanluang Rama 9 park to deliver their joint statement against the call for House dissolution.

The Reds will be launching another "offensive" today. As of the time I am writing this, one of their leaders, Nattawut Saikua, is saying tomorrow's operatons remains a secret "but we will strictly stick to our peaceful and non-violent policy."

We shall see.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

New election in 3 to 6 months

Will there be more negotiations between PM Abhisit and the Red Shirts?

Before the third round of talks can be held, some unofficial talks would need to be held to reach some sort of a general agreement on the timeframe of a new election.

At this point, the red shirts want the PM to dissolve the House in 15 days while the PM insists that the government would need at least nine months. Both sides, it seems, are willing to be flexbile although publicly the red shirted leaders sound more determined to stand by their stand.

But there are indications that the red shirts may be using the proposed 3-month deadline submitted by a group of academics as a new prop, meaning that they may be willing to accept a three-month timeframe. The government, it seems, is also ready to offer another concession -- to a six-month timeline.

My take as of today is: The final outcome may be somewhere between three to six months.