When vats of human blood were spilled by Thailand's Red Shirt movement
in the early stages of its "million man" march two months ago, it was
described by some in the establishment and some analysts as a desperate
cultural stunt designed to shock the authorities into taking the
150,000-strong movement seriously. The rallies did not catch on with the
But the blood-spilling tactic was also a veiled
political threat. Jaran Ditapichai, a leader belonging to United Front
for Democracy Against Dictatorship or UDD put it this way: by staging
"the biggest demonstration in Thai history," they planned to make Prime
Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva choose between "dissolution (of the House) or
suppression." If suppression were to occur, Jaran told the foreign
media before kicking off the UDD's campaign "there will not be elections
if there is civil war."
As Bangkok convulses and the death toll
mounts, did the UDD – the Red Shirts – get what it wanted all along?
Today, after weeks of unadulterated violence and
sporadic negotiations, both sides are far apart with diametrically
opposed positions that seemingly make talks impossible. As to the UDD,
the biggest question is whether Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime
minister whose ouster eventually developed into the crisis that faces
Thailand, is still in charge. Thaksin yesterday issued a formal
statement asking all sides "to step back from the abyss and begin a new
and genuine dialogue between the parties." It seems to have had little
effect so far.
The UDD's "Commander Red" Major General Khattiya
Sawasdipol or Sae Dang, a former Thai army officer allied with deposed
premier Thaksin died Monday after a targeted assassination last week
that triggered the latest orgy of violence. Army Chief Anupong
Paochinda, Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and Deputy Prime Minister
Suthep Thaugsuban, who leads security operations, attended a separate
wake for Lt. Gen. Daopong Ratanasuwan's mother Monday but the trio
skipped Khattiya's wake, where throngs of people flocked to last night.
The royal family has however sponsored Khattiya's funeral rites,
according to local media.
"Those that called this rally cycle
peaceful were suckered by the allure of Red romanticism, and forgot last
April," said a source referring to the riots that broke out last year
after the Red Shirts stormed an ASEAN meeting in Pattaya that left world
leaders scrambling for safety. At the time, a moderate UDD leader and
pious Buddhist, Veera Musikhapong, called off the protest when the
capital descended into chaos. This year, Veera quit the UDD after
failing to persuade hard-line elements last weekend to accept Abhisit's
roadmap and November 14 elections offer, and his departure from the UDD
at the eleventh hour paved the way for anarchy.
passing is an opportunity for the Reds to blame all violence on him and
move on and out. Instead it will reveal that the majority of the
purveyors of violence remain," the source added.
Chaisang, an opposition former Deputy Prime Minister and senior Thaksin
ally, however quashed any notion that the Red Shirts espoused violence.
In an interview, he acknowledged the UDD lost credibility after
Khattiya's capos recently stormed Chulalongkorn Hospital situated next
to the protest site and when their demands kept shifting.
Chaturon argued that the UDD's new demand for some government
accountability for the April 10 violence when a disproportionate number
of protestors were shot and killed was reasonable. Twenty-five people
died then. The talks collapsed after the UDD suddenly demanded that
Suthep, the deputy prime minister handling security, be arrested.
UDD was not going to pack up until there was some charge against the
prime minister and Suthep. They were asking Suthep to surrender to the
police but the police have no jurisdiction over the case. Suthep is a
political appointee and it is up to the counter-corruption body that
also handles illegal activities in Thailand to investigate Suthep. There
was some confusion about the process of accountability but the UDD
leaders had a point," said Chaturon, who had helped the UDD with the
negotiation process but could not close the deal.
of amnesty was another sticking point, according to Chaturon. In
previous episodes of violence in Thailand, notably in 1973, 1979 and
1992, the granting of amnesty had leveled the playing field. The
government is currently reluctant to grant blanket amnesty to the UDD
leaders, instead branding them "terrorists." Government negotiator
Korbsak Sabhavasu, Secretary General to Abhisit, did not want to comment
on the quality of the peace talks as the crisis takes hold but a
Bangkok MP allied with the government Apimongkol Sonakul explained why
amnesty is today a bad idea:
"If you want the breakdown of
society then you give amnesty. They know they can protest again and get
amnesty. In terms of long-term building of democracy, it is the first
button to the death of democracy."
"We took non-military and
non-police actions (at first). We talked about cutting their supplies
(in the Red Shirts' Ratchaprasong encampment). In any kind of
negotiations, sometimes you have to go overboard to put pressure on them
and they have to go overboard to put pressure on you in order to take a
step towards each other, and that's not unusual," Apimongkol added on
why both sides issued threats and ultimatums in Thai-style talks that,
in the end, proved irreconcilable.
In his "Five-Point Road Map",
Prime Minister Abhisit offered to dissolve the House in September,
presumably after the government is able appoint army officials in an
upcoming reshuffle and control the state budget, which Chaturon stressed
ought to be the prerogative of the new government. This point also
caused a rift amongst the UDD leadership. Some, like Veera, thought
Abhisit's timeline was the most practical, others thought it insincere.
note that the royalist Yellow Shirts, for all the movement's equally
criminal failings – and none of its leaders have been jailed – had at
least complete cohesion in the leadership ranks.
tit-for-tat continues, many Bangkok residents are also divided over
whether the Red Shirt movement has moved beyond former Premier Thaksin
Shinawatra who is on the run for a corruption conviction. Several
independent analysts have consistently argued that Thaksin has unleashed
socio-economic forces against Bangkok's aristocratic class that are now
impossible to contain.
Apimonkol, the blue-blooded Bangkok MP,
conceded that the protestors feel hard-done by when the political
parties they support (linked to Thaksin) are routinely dissolved but he
also best summed-up the dominant sentiment amongst many in the Bangkok
"(Thaksin), the leader of the grassroots is one of the
most prominent elitists in Thailand.
"If I said to you Khun
Thaksin came out today and went on TV and said: 'Red protesters, please
go home. It is enough damage to the country, please go home.' Do you
think they would go home? I think they would. Within 20 minutes, they
would be packing their bags. In the end, it is about one man's protest,"