Another bout of military rule?

Larry Jagan

The battle for Bangkok has entered a new and violent phase, the logical end of which can only be another bout of military rule. So far, the army chiefs have been insisting that the government handle the situation and that soldiers have no place in politics. But many fear if there is more violence the army chief, Anupong Paojinda, may move in.

Three years after the foes of the former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, took to the streets to oust him and his government, Thailand’s political crisis is no closer to being solved. As country’s political deadlock deepens, analysts and commentators fear that only a military coup can resolve the impasse. Soldiers are now deployed on the streets of Bangkok to help quell anti-government protests as police failed to disperse anti-government demonstrators who have vowed to stay on the streets until the government resigns.

“We will stay here until we win,” said Surachai, one of the demonstrators gathered here since the start of the protest some ten weeks ago. “The battle has entered its final phase,” Sondhi Limthongkul, a media mogul and leader of the protest movement, that calls itself the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), told his supporters camped out in the grounds of Government House. “We are on the cusp of victory,” he added.

But the Thai press had a more sober assessment of the violent clashes between riot police and PAD demonstrators which left one woman dead and more than 400 injured — some seriously. “Bloodbath in Bangkok”, screamed the headlines on the front page of the English daily, The Bangkok Post. In a separate incident, a man was killed when a car bomb exploded outside the party headquarters of the Chart Thai party, a part of the ruling coalition under Peoples Power Party, that replaced Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party disbanded by the Constitutional Court early last year.

For weeks the authorities tried to appease or ignore the thousands of demonstrators who have laid siege to Government House. But when the protestors tried to block access to the Parliament, before new PM Somchai Wongsawat was to make his maiden speech, outlining his party’s policies, the security forces were ordered to clear the legislature complex.

Ranged against the supporters of Thaksin — who is charged with using his mandate to promote his business empire — are grandees drawn from the military, aristocracy, officialdom

and the urban middle-class. For legitimacy, the PAD and Limthongkul claim to have the support of Thailand’s venerated monarchy.

Thai society has never been so divided. Although the fault lines appear to be geographic — the South and Bangkok against the North and North-East of the country — the main rift is between those who oppose Thaksin and those who support him. PAD supporters accuse PM Somchai of being a political proxy for Thaksin, his brother-in-law, who is currently seeking political asylum in Britain.

The fresh outbreak of violence has raised fears that the military may be moving towards another coup. “While it cannot be ruled out, a coup would seem to be a remote option at the moment,” said Prof. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, political scientist at the Chulalongkorn University. But many of Thaksin’s supporters believe this indeed is the PAD’s real game plan.