Saturday, June 07, 2008

A case of protest or be PAD-dywhacked for anti-Thaksin lot


ON THE backdrop of a makeshift stage at the Bangkok protest, which has so far claimed the resignation of a Cabinet minister, is a billboard-sized banner with the slogan “Purge Thaksin regime and the nominee government”.

Also on the yellow-coloured banner is a cartoon of Thaksin Shinawatra (his left hand clutching a bag of money and his right hand holding a cocktail glass) sitting on the head of Thai prime minister Samak Sundaravej who is gobbling a map of Thailand.

On the stage, sitting behind a conference table, are four speakers from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which spearheaded the protests that preceded the coup against Thaksin in September 2006.

The speakers are spitting vitriol against all things Thaksin to the delight of the 1,000 plus protestors (mostly wearing the royal colour yellow) sitting on the road near the prime minister’s office.

Flanking them on the right are tents sheltering hardcore PAD supporters during their 24-hour street demonstration. On the left is an impromptu night market where vendors hawk headbands featuring cartoons of Thaksin and the words “Thaksin get out”, pork noodle soup and grilled squid.

It is 9.40pm on Wednesday. And it is the 11th day of the protest (drawing 10,000 people at its height) which started with the PAD demanding the resignation of Cabinet minister Jakrapob Penkair for alleged lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) and the withdrawal of the Samak government’s plan to amend the military-backed 2007 constitution.

“When the military crafted the constitution there was a particular clause which absolved the coupmakers of all wrongdoing – a bad clause which needs to be scrapped – and they cunningly tied into it mechanisms for prosecuting Thaksin (for alleged corruption),” explained Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a political lecturer at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

“This was deliberate so that any attempt to get rid of that clause is seen as protecting Thaksin.”

Giles opined that PAD launched the street protest to avoid extinction.

“They had these large protests in 2006 where they called for a coup and got a coup. They worked with the military junta that was shown to be completely inept. Election was held under junta rule and still the People Power Party (or PPP, which is pro-Thaksin) won,” said the author of A Coup For The Rich: Thailand’s Political Crisis.

“Now it is very, very hard for them to argue that the PPP did not win the election fair and square, although they are trying to do that. They have to mount something or they will become history.”

The two demands have been met. Jakrapob (who does not represent any of the power brokers within the Samak coalition government) has been sacrificed, and the government has temporarily withdrawn its bid to amend the Constitution.

But the noisy protestors have not cleared the barricaded street, which is causing traffic jams and inconvenience to the people in the vicinity. Instead the PAD is now seeking the ouster of the four-month-old Samak government.

On May 30, its leader media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul told cheering protesters: “The country’s problems still persist, with Thaksin and his cronies being behind everything. So our tasks are not yet complete.

“I ask for your approval to heighten our efforts with a goal to finally oust the government.”

On why the size of the rally was smaller than the protests in 2006 that attracted 100,000 people at its peak, Giles said: “Thaksin is not the prime minister and he is still facing corruption charges. And other politicians are equally corrupt.”

“There are other matters weighing on the people’s mind such as the oil and food crises. PAD has only made token gestures to address these issues.”

Although the number of protesters has dwindled, Giles says the protest is dangerous because the alliance is “hoping for a coup d'etat, as it does not have enough support (to gain power through an election)”.

At 9.54pm on Wednesday it started to drizzle and the PAD protesters unfolded their yellow-coloured umbrellas. Rain or shine, it looks like they are prepared for the long haul.

(Published in The Star on June 7, 2008)