Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok in an effort to quell the violent protest actions by the red shirted supporters of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra. The emergency declaration empowers the police and the military to disperse a gathering of five people, make warrant-less arrests and even censor the media. Abhisit’s deputy, Channel News Asia reported yesterday, appealed on the army to impose this emergency declaration.
The army heeded his appeal. A while ago, troops fired rubber bullets and threw tear gases on the protesters, who vowed to continue their protests until the government calls for an election. The confrontation is poised to turn bloody in the next hours, and many countries, including Japan and the Philippines, have issued travel advisories urging their citizens to avoid Thailand.
Thaksin Shinawatra, the idol of the protesters, has vowed to return to Thailand to lead the demonstrations. He has also called on more people to join the protest actions and to launch a revolution. It remains to be seen if he can mobilize enough number of people to launch his revolt. But for now, as I see it, the red shirt protests seem to be facing an end game.
As I have said in a previous blog post, the only way to quell the protests is to either call for fresh elections or use force against the protesters. The government has chosen to do the latter. And the army has decided to support the government.
And there you see the double standards of the military brass.
Just last year, the anti-Thaksin yellow shirts closed down Bangkok’s international airport and occupied the Government House in a series of protest actions that are not different to the ones that led to the cancellation of the East Asia Summit in Pattaya last week. But when the pro-Thaksin government of then Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej declared a state of emergency, which was clearly justified considering the contempt the yellow shirts had shown for the rule of law; the military practically ignored the declaration and stood by as the protests continued to turn violent.
The yellow-shirts eventually got what they wanted: the removal of the pro-Thaksin government, which was duly elected by the majority of the Thai people.
So what, then, is the difference between the pro-Thaksin and the anti-Thaksin protesters? If the anti-Thaksin forces were allowed by the military to pursue violence to attain their political ends, how come the pro-Thaksin protesters now are not being allowed to do the same?
Is it because the anti-Thaksin protesters were composed of people who are better off in terms of income and influence compared to the poor supporters of Thaksin? Or is it because the assertions made by the pro-Thaksin forces that the reason why Thaksin was ousted was that his populist policies were against the interests of the ruling elite, which is allegedly allied with the military and the Royalty, is indeed true?
You just have to agree with the protesters. There is no democracy in Thailand. Indeed, the anti-Thaksin forces, who ironically call themselves the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), have repeatedly called for a parliament that is composed mostly of appointed, not elected, members because they claim that the majority of the Thai people (read: the non-elite) is stupid and incapable of choosing the right leaders.
I feel sad for Thailand.