Tuesday, December 9, 2008

PAD may fuel backlash

Dec 8, 2008

By Nirmal Ghosh

BANGKOK: With a government led by the Democrat Party imminent, the right-wing People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) may be off the streets for a while.

The PAD always favoured the Democrats over the Thaksin Shinawatra network, which it accused of corruption and worse, republicanism.

But the ease with which the PAD invaded and shut down South-east Asia's busiest airport on the evening of Nov 25 has left many foreign governments and airlines deeply worried.

The police were demoralised and humiliated by their enforced impotence in dealing with PAD protesters. The army, asked for help by the Governor of Samut Prakarn - the province where the airport is located - did not respond.

Many - including some Thai commentators - have asked how the PAD could have been allowed to get away with it.

The answer lies in the power of its backers.

In early October, a PAD woman protester was accidentally killed by the police when breaking up a demonstration.

Shortly after, Queen Sirikit went to her funeral.

Her gesture was explained as one of compassion. But the political context was not lost.

The nexus has been reinforced by the PAD's own invocation of the monarchy, which it claims to be protecting.

From Bangkok taxi drivers hailing from the ruling party's stronghold in the north-east, to the pro-democracy and pro-government 'red shirts', the Queen's alleged involvement is being openly queried.

And many now wonder aloud about Thailand's future after King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Many of the 'red shirts' feel they were robbed of their electoral choice in 2006, and have now being robbed again.

As the struggle over the future of Thailand intensified over the last three months, hidden contours of the conflict were bared.

The PAD had paved the way for the military coup d'etat that deposed Thaksin in September 2006.

Its middle-class support - and backing from Bangkok's old elites: a troika of royalists, the army and bureaucracy - grew out of legitimate concerns.

Mr Thaksin was, for a while, the darling of the business community because he boosted economic growth. But dis-

quiet grew as his government slid into authoritarianism and cronyism.

Thaksin's opponents, Bangkok's old- money elites, were also alarmed by his own patronage system aimed at cultivating the rural masses.

This challenged Thailand's age-old hierarchical Sakdina feudal system, in which it is implicit that every social class knows its place and does not challenge those higher in the pecking order.

The royalists' unhappiness also hinged on his alleged disrespect of the King.

He also did not extend much respect to the Privy Council, which advises the King.

Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda - elder statesman, former premier and chief of the armed forces - in a pointed speech in 2006, compared the army to a racehorse and the government to a jockey.

Jockeys come and go, was his message. But the owner of the racehorse is the King.

Thaksin's voter base, however, refused to be cowed by the army coup, and voted for his party men again under a new label.

The Thaksin loyalist government's moves to rehabilitate the exiled former leader kick-started the PAD's second campaign, which aims at stopping at nothing until the Thaksin network is permanently disabled.

But the PAD's bully tactics, and its seeming immunity from the law, have alarmed many Thais and fuelled anger among the pro-democracy, pro-Thaksin 'red shirts'.

Many analysts say there will inevitably be a backlash to the PAD's ultra-royalist rhetoric and military-style shock tactics and violence - and when it comes, Thailand will be plunged into very serious turmoil.


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