Saturday, August 02, 2008

Fears of a bloody outcome


ON TUESDAY, an editor from The Nation newspaper confessed that Thailand’s political volatility was giving him a massive headache.

“Last night, I met (a minister) and military intelligence officers (separately) and they all tell me that there will be bloodshed in the next few days,” he said.

“The repeat of Udon Thani?” I said, referring to the July 24 bloody attack by Khon Rak Udon (People Who Love Udon) against the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) demonstrators in Udon Thani, a northeast city about an hour’s flight from Bangkok.

“Yes,” replied the editor who sunk his forehead on a stack of back issue copies of The Star piled up on my desk.

Yet again a rumour of bloodshed, I thought. Bloodshed is the second favourite rumour circulating in Thailand after “the military will stage another coup”.

To find out the possibility of violence during the weekend, I made an appointment to meet up with Thammasat University associate professor of sociology and anthropology Worapol Promigabutr who in the past had patiently explained (sometimes by drawing a diagram on an A4 notepad) to me the intricacy of Thai politics.

“Very likely,” Worapol told me on Thursday.

“Tomorrow (Saturday ), parliament will reconvene and the Samak Sundaravej government will push to rewrite the 2007 constitution. Tomorrow the PAD will do what they have been doing every day but it will escalate its protest by increasing the number of protestors,” he noted.

Anti-government protestors from outside Bangkok, he explained, will find it affordable to travel to the Thai capital because of the government’s anti-poverty scheme to counter the soaring cost of living. Starting yesterday, for six months Thais can travel for free in non-air conditioned trains and buses.

Also taking advantage of these free rides will be supporters of the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DADD), which on July 22, 2007 attacked the residence of Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda as it believed he was behind the coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra.

Today, the DADD is expected to organise a huge rally at Bangkok’s Sanam Luang, about 2km from the PAD street protest that is close to the Government House, which is the seat of the Thai government. The DADD rally will be its first since the pro-Thaksin People’s Power Party won the most seats in the Dec 23, 2007 election.

“These two protests which are not far from each other and the Udon Thani incident are making Thais nervous that there will be bloodshed this weekend,” Worapol noted.

“They (especially those who lived through either “May 1992”, “Oct 6, 1976” and “Oct 14, 1973” political bloodshed in Bangkok) are in near panic.”

Will there be bloodshed? “There is highly confidential information that I am waiting to receive. And in order for me to confidently predict whether there will be bloodshed or not I need that information,” he said.

The information the sociologist needs is whether any faction of the military will support either the DADD or PAD if violence broke out when the two groups clashed.

“The group that is secure it has the military’s backing will bay for blood,” he said.

On the benefit of violence, Worapol said the DADD hoped to end the PAD’s prolonged street protest while the PAD wanted to discredit the Samak government for failing to prevent bloodshed and use it as a pretext to call for a coup.

He added that both the PAD and DADD have agent provocateurs who are skilled in rousing a mob into violence.

“It only takes a minor incident such as the burning of a car to stir up bloodshed,” said the 51-year-old sociologist, who as a first year Thammasat University student experienced mob mentality during the 14 Oct 1973 student uprising against the military dictatorship of Field Marshal Thanom where the military killing 77 people.

Yesterday morning, I received a phone call from Worapol who said the latest information he received was the PAD is likely instigating violence today.

“This weekend’s clash will be larger than that in Udon Thani but it will not encourage a coup,” he added.

On Monday, the sociologist will analyse this weekend’s protests in order to predict whether in the next two weeks violence in Bangkok will escalate to a bloody level.

(Editor’s note: Yesterday at noon, Worapol called to inform that the DADD had cancelled its rally scheduled for today because it feared that there would be violence if it proceeded with its plan.)

(Published in The Star on August 2, 2008)