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Thailand: People’s coup or putsch?

Since Tuesday, anti-government protesters have invaded Thailand’s Government House demanding the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. The rallyists, estimated to be as low as 3,000 to as high as 25,000, are members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

The activists accused Samak of being a puppet of ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra. One of the most popular slogans in the rallies is this: “Monarchy, Nation, and Samak you are bad.”

In the last four days, protest actions were launched in different parts of Thailand. Rallyists have forced airports to close down and union workers refused to work in solidarity to the protesters. Despite the rallies, Samak has refused to step down.

It is difficult to ascertain the sentiments of the Thai people about the ongoing protests. Citizen dissatisfaction may be high; and people are very angry against corruption. But many are opposed to the campaign tactics used by PAD.

A sample of public opinion: Bangkok University surveyed 1,023 people in Bangkok this week about the PAD protests. Below is a summary of the poll results as provided and translated by Bangkok Pundit:

1. Do you agree with closing of the roads to force out the government? 13.8% agree, 72.6% disagree and 13.8% have no opinion.

2. Do you agree with the seizing of NBT? 14.8% agree, 70.8% disagree, and 14.4% have no opinion.

3. Do you agree with the seizing of Government House? 16.9% agree, 68.3% disagree, and 14.8% have no opinion.

4. Do you agree with the police to take action against the 5 PAD leaders? 42.8% agree, 31.7% disagree, and 25.5% have no opinion.

5. Do you think it is time to declare a state of emergency? 46.9% say not yet, 27.6% say and 25.5% have no opinion.

6. What action do you want the military to take? 51.8% say join with the police to control the situation, 38.4% say stay neutral and stay put, 4.5% say stage a coup, and 5.3% gave other responses.

7. What do you want the government to do? 34.9% say continue administering the country, and 65.1% want a change (33.3% want a new election, 17% want the PM to resign, 14.8% want the Cabinet to resign).

Christopher G. Moore provides a background to the events which transpired last Tuesday:

“Last night a mob (some estimate to be 25,000) occupied a radio/TV complex in Bangkok, and later broke into and occupied Government House. Tempers are on edge. Violence is in the air. But the police and military have exercised restraint. There is tension and uncertainty as everyone hunkers down and waits for the final confrontations on the streets to play out. Forces hidden out of sight are huddling, contemplating, weighing, and planning. One plan is to starve them into submission. No food is allowed into the building. No keys given out to the washroom.”

absolutely Bangkok.com liveblogged the first day of protest activities.

PAD was severely criticized for invading a TV station and blocking traffic. This prompted ~Meaw & More~ to reflect about nonviolent activism:

“The PADs protest raise questions and doubt for people who heard that it was nonviolent. As we have seen television and website broadcast, it did not seem to be so. Does nonviolent simply mean unarmed or that no one is physically hurt others.

“Considering what PADs have been proclaiming that they want to bring about ‘democratic’ change, can they be the change and democratic?”

PAD was the same group which led the protest actions in 2006. The street rallies were followed by a coup which led to the ouster of Thaksin. But former PAD supporters are now questioning the legitimacy of today’s protest activities. The Lost Boy is one of them:

“This is getting silly now. As a foreigner who has lived in Thailand for three years and often sympathized with the PAD, I’ve lost all patience and respect for that group and I hope the PAD leaders are brought to justice and that the government does not buckle to the demands being made.”

absolutely Bangkok.com further explains why PAD is losing public support and why Samak is benefiting from the crisis:

“Doesn’t seem much popular support left for the PAD. They got carried away by pitiful issues such as Preah Vihear and ran nonstop through town demanding this and condemning that – and are staging a revolution that shall bring Thailand which leadership?! Heaven forbid. Any PAD success would divide the kingdom even more deeper. No disrespect, but the PAD’s current actions and false fronts work for the benefit of Samak.”

Thailand Jumped the Shark identifies the street protests of PAD as Thugocracy:

“This is a fascist movement. Of course, because this is Thailand and an Asian country on the periphery of world affairs, nobody will care. But this is what fascism looks like in the 21st century.”

Even mainstream international media have negative views on PAD, perhaps bolstered by PAD’s attack on a TV station.

But there is no doubt that PAD remains a solid force supported by many Thais, including ordinary people, as noted by The Bangkok Bugle:

“There was noticeably less traffic on the roads this morning, so much so that my taxi driver had no qualms about going past one of the PAD demonstrations close to Government House. The few protesters I saw were very normal, mostly female and a far cry from the mobs that took control of some Government offices yesterday. There are a lot of ordinary people supporting these protests.”

Sustaining a protest movement for several days is not easy. Logistics preparation is essential. The public were asked to support the rallies by donating food and other stuff:

“If the organizers could not manage proper toilet and shower corner, it would be more difficult to female protesters to stay. Some post in Manager webboard ask for donation of flashlight, whistle, helmets, umbrellas, hat, fans, towels, tissue paper, plastic bags and rubber band (to be used as makeshift toilet.) Other requested female and male underwear.”

Manager posted pictures which exposed police brutality. On the other hand, several video clips showed the aggressiveness of the protesters.

New Mandala theorizes the possible motives and endgame plans of PAD:

1) They may hope that the king steps into the fray and asks, to guarantee national “reconciliation” among other things, that Samak resign.

2) Elements within the PAD may hope that an escalating confrontation could motivate an army faction to mount another “extra-constitutional” intervention: a coup. Whether such an effort would be acceptable to the general populace or to the rest of the Bangkok elite is uncertain.

3) The PAD may, more modestly, be hoping to de-stabilise the Samak government sufficiently that its management of the economy and society is brought into further disrepute. Perhaps there is hope among some in the PAD that a confrontation in Bangkok, however resolved, could prepare the way for a stronger Democrat Party showing in future elections. Perhaps there is also some hope that if a compromise can be worked out, perhaps with an interim “government of national unity”, the PAD will be able to take on a role as an un-elected “PM-maker”.

4) Elements within the PAD may also be hoping that a heavy-handed government response to the current protest may provide them with some politically useful symbols of repression (and perhaps even some martyrs) that could be used to invigorate future phases of their campaign.

Bangkok Pundit reacts to this post. A coup is unlikely. Samak is still the Prime Minister even after meeting with the King.

A timely appeal to all parties involved:

“You’d expect rationality and reasoning in a political fight. Thailand’s political landscape has been reduced to a Darwinian diktat of the ruthless and reckless leaving a swatch of hate, division and destruction behind.

“The aims and goals of all sides are respectable and we’re not for or against the Samak government. We’re just asking for some mutual respect, civil debate and adherence to the rule of law. All we can see though are agitation and politics of primal fears.”

7 comments

  • Brian Shroder

    I am a North American, living in Thailand for the past 15 years. The majority of Thais I know are very soft spoken, so to see these protests, I know it goes directly against the Nature of most of the Nationals here.
    There is also a Realistic fear of the Police and Legal system here ( example : Victory Monument Massacre ).
    Even the previous Prime Minister has left the country due to his fear of the current Legal system.
    Any negative talk of the Government, Politics, Police or Military is said in a Hushed Tone.
    I am not writing in support of the PAD, since that would surely be cause for my removal from this Beautifwl Country , NIETHER will I speak in opposition of the current government, for the same reasons..
    My Thai wife, her family, and our friends, who are mostly common Thai people, are all very excited about the changes that could result from these actions , but still live in fear of voicing their opinion aloud. They even wisper in our home as the current affairs are discussed , and the TV is kept at low volume while watching the 100% Gov’t Controlled Broadcasts and News.
    Even in an interview in the Market, my wife lied , feeling that she was being watched, and that the News people were Government personnel.
    What I have read in some of this forum makes me realize how much Mis-information is available, and question its real origin.
    For these people to stand and fight , even though they are in great fear of the existing powers, only proves the depth of their anger.A NOTE ** To show anger in this Culture, means to ”lose Face” , and to ”lose Face” is avoided at all costs , But I guess they think this situation is worth the personal sacrafice..

  • PM Samak demanding? It’s make the coup by peoples. Peoples want to clean goverment from Thaksin Regime … but the fact is differing!

  • […] news: Airports have been re-opened in Thailand. Bad news: The political crisis is far from […]

  • Ralph Cramden

    You got one quote serious wrong when you state

    The activists accused Samak of being a puppet of ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra. One of the most popular slogans in the rallies is this: “Monarchy, Nation, and Samak you are bad.”

    THe point of the original was that the demonstrators support the monarchy and nation and think that Samak is bad. As hyper-nationalists and royalists, the PAD certainly does not have the slogan you create.

  • Gary

    Ok i am responding to brian… the first poster… He has lived in Thailand for 15 years yet knows nothing of thai people or for that matter people in general… I married Thai as well and havent lived there nearly as long but I can tell you that no two Thai is the same… the different regions bring a slew of cultural differences… This is just natural of people that are spread apart… To find these protests shocking is by no means surprising… Showing Anger? loosing face? come the hell on man… Thai culture has one commonality all around the country…and that is its reliance on interpersonal relationships… This is why your wife and family act this way… they are afraid to take sides in the event someone may think bad about them… Not everyone cares as much and are strong in there convictions unlike any other culture ive been around… you could say stubborn but that isnt very nice…

    And by the way… no one is going to deport you for voicing your opinion… because you reside there you are protected under there constitution just as they are… and it does happen to govern free speech…

    Samak and Taksin are part of the International banker elite and there is no way any freedom movement will stop them with all the resources they have… despite PADs alleged association with the Chinese Mafia… The strife will end soon enough and probably for the better at least for another year or so… The bankers always come back

  • […] background information about PAD and the political crisis in Thailand, read Conflict of elites and People’s coup or putsch. Posted by Mong Palatino  Print Version Share […]

  • […] Thaksin. Per forzare un cambiamento nel governo, le Camicie gialle hanno organizzato provocatorie azioni di strada [in] lo scorso agosto. Hanno occupato il Palazzo del Governo per diversi mesi. A dicembra hanno […]

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