Thursday, January 27, 2011

[Thailand:] Two unlikely partners with the same adversary

Bangkok Post

By chance or by fate, it now appears that the People's Alliance for Democracy and its arch rival, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, share the same common enemy - the Abhisit government. Will the two ever join forces, although separately and for different reasons, to get rid of the government?

by Veera Prateepchaikul

"We are the patriots who are protecting every inch of our Motherland and you are not!” This seems to be the message conveyed to the Abhisit government by the ultra-nationalist leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy or the yellow-shirt movement.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and a few others in the government have been unofficially branded “traitors” by the PAD leaders for allegedly selling out the disputed areas along the Thai-Cambodian border to Cambodia. They are planning to file a lawsuit against them to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Department for Political Office Holders. Also, a complaint against them will also be lodged with the National Counter-Corruption Commission.

I wonder anyone of us who do not agree with the PAD’s ultranationalist stand over the border conflict with Cambodia and their call for forced eviction of Cambodians out of the territory claimed by Thailand will also be branded as unpatriotic or, worse, traitors.

The PAD has vowed to stage a long-haul protest in front of the Government House until the government submits to its three demands which are as follows: to revoke the memorandum of understanding on boundary between Thailand and Cambodia; to withdraw Thailand’s membership from Unesco’s World Heritage Committee and to evict all Cambodians from the disputed areas. All the three demands have, so far, been rejected by the government on the ground that they will not serve the country’s interests.

A few thousand hard-core yellow-shirt supporters joined the PAD protest which started on Tuesday. Whether the protest will draw more supporters remains a big question mark. The truth is that many people who used to support the PAD have now shied away from the movement for a number of reasons, especially the fact that many of them are fed up with protests and just want to have a peace of mind.

The nationalist card which is now being played up by the PAD to mobilize public support to join the cause has nothing to do with the livelihood of most people or the rights of the people to the extent that they will feel compelled to join the protest. On the contrary, it has the potential to bring about more troubles and unnecessarily escalate border tensions with Cambodia.

At best, the PAD can rely on support from the Thai Patriots Network, a splinter group of the PAD, which staged a rally a few days in advance, also at the Government House, to demand the release of their two colleagues, Mr Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary, from Cambodian detention. About 1,000 protesters, mostly members of the Santi Asoke sect, have joined the TPN rally.

The PAD protest alone will not pose a serious threat to the government mainly because the protest is unlikely to gain mass public support unless the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship or the yellow-shirt movement seizes the opportunity to intensify their protest to add more pressure on the government, although for reasons totally from those of the PAD.

For the time being, it appears that the two rival groups which share mutual hatred and contempt of each other may have the same enemy – that is the Abhisit government. Who knows, they may share the same objective – that is the removal of the government from the office through early dissolution of the House.

UDD has now changed its protest strategy by agreeing to hold one instead of two protests each month and to cut short the protest at Ratchaprasong intersection to ease the hardships caused to business operators there. It is only a matter of time whether the movement will adjust its strategy again to get rid of the Abhisit government which has always been its main objective from the start.

A prolonged protest by the PAD which cannot be curbed by the government will offer a good excuse for the UDD to do likewise if it chooses to do so. In which case, Prime Minister Abhisit may feel the heat and hard pressed to stay on and call a snap election sooner than later. Anything is possible now that the constitutional amendment bills are about to be finalized.


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