Bangkok’s State of Emergency: The End Game?
September 3, 2008
Once right-wing factions of the ruling People Power Party (PPP) began busing pro-government supporters into Bangkok under the banner of the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship (DAAD) to confront the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the violence that erupted was predictable. PAD has been protesting against the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej for the past 100 days and has held the ground of the Government House for the past week. They’ve been successful in maintaining a relatively peaceful demonstration, as they have in the past when organizing protests against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2005 and 2006. However, when red-shirted DAAD forces have made an appearance on the streets, the DAAD resorted to confrontation and violence to force its point of view.
Police were unable to head off hundreds of DAAD as they advanced at 1:00 a.m. against PAD protest sites; PAD security volunteers met the DAAD head-on, resulting in one death and more than 40 injured. At 7:00 a.m. Prime Minister Samak declared a state of emergency under the 2005 Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations, a degree that former Prime Minister Thaksin had introduced to increase his powers to fight the southern insurgency. Just as the decree has created more problems than solutions in the south, Samak is likely to find it an ineffective tool to disperse the thousands of PAD supporters who have defied decree orders to disperse. Although Prime Minister Samak now has extra-constitutional powers to deal with PAD — and insists he will have them dispersed — PAD is equally insistent that Samak will either have to use force or resign.
PAD’s campaign of peaceful civil disobedience has not been without its strategic errors. Last Tuesday, when they moved to take control of Government House, PAD militants attempted to secure the National Broadcasting Television (NBT) station in order to broadcast their own ASTV to a broader audience. The failed attack on a media outlet earned PAD immediate criticism from the media, academics, and civil society. It appeared all PAD gains and supporters would be liquidated by their taking an action associated by most Thais with a military coup rather than a democracy movement. But by Friday, after the police used violence in an attempt to break the demonstration, PAD regained momentum and favorable public opinion. A hastily organized joint House and Senate session on Sunday failed to result in a solution to the confrontation between PAD and the government.
As the PAD crowd continues to grow throughout Tuesday in defiance of the government — while unions threaten to cut essential services to government offices and to block buses, trains and airports and while independent media continue to broadcast both pro- and anti-government perspectives in equal proportion — Samak and his coalition partners must determine if they have any chance of securing a peaceful resolution of the political confrontation they ignited three months ago when they attempted to amend the 2007 Constitution to both save the PPP from dissolution for electoral fraud and to protect former Prime Minister Thaksin from prosecution for corruption and abuse of power. Ironically, on Tuesday, the Election Commission of Thailand, after months of investigation, announced its decision to request the Constitutional Court to dissolve the PPP for electoral fraud.
Many anticipate that tensions will remain high throughout the week until either Samak or PAD concedes. Both are equally strong-headed and defiant. General Anupong Paojinda, appointed by Prime Minister Samak to implement the Emergency Decree, has stated the military will not use force and it is up to the politicians to resolve the situation.
James Klein is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Thailand.
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