The Economist on Suthep and the DemocratsBy Bangkok Pundit Dec 03, 2013 12:00PM UTC
Banyan in The Economist on November 30:
But the question now is how long they can keep it up for. For, despite the presence of tens of thousands of protestors on the streets; the dramatic occupation of some government offices; and the many sit-ins now taking place around Bangkok, on balance the week probably belonged to Ms Yingluck, rather than to protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban.
After all, on November 25th, when Mr Suthep began his marches, occupations and sit-ins, he had the momentum of the previous day’s enormous rally behind him, when probably the largest number of Thais in recent history turned out to support his anti-government movement. They were united by righteous anger against the failed amnesty bill that would have let Mr Thaksin off the hook (together with thousands of others) and back in the country. At that point, anything seemed possible—including the physical ejection of the government. But by the end of the week, the government had managed to hang on to all the ministries and offices that really count—the prime minister’s offices, the ministry of defence, the interior ministry—and so has managed to carry on functioning fairly normally.
Democrat leaders will join rallies and support the general movement to “eradicate the Thaksin regime”, as party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva put it. Mr Suthep has been squabbling publicly with Korn Chatikavanij, the Democrat’s deputy leader and former finance minister, who has been critical of Mr Suthep’s tactics.
The Economist on November 30:
But just as the government overreached with the amnesty bill, so has Mr Suthep. Ms Yingluck alienated many red-shirt supporters because the amnesty bill would let off those responsible for ordering the shooting of scores of their comrades when they themselves were out on the streets, in 2010, against the (undemocratic) Democrat government of the time. Similarly, Mr Suthep has alienated many who opposed the amnesty bill but do not believe in ousting an elected government in a putsch.
Other Democrat Party leaders have studiously distanced themselves from Mr Suthep’s street tactics. They have also queried what his “people’s assembly”, the body that he suggests would replace Ms Yingluck’s government, might be. Mr Suthep is increasingly being viewed as an opportunist, and the number of people marching with him has fallen.
Banyan in The Economist on December 2
The anti-government movement has taken on a slightly desperate air in recent days. Its numbers have dwindled as the outbreak of violence, in what was billed as a campaign of peaceful civil disobedience, has undermined its legitimacy.
The stalemate stood. By lunchtime, Ms Yingluck had made a televised speech in which she offered to negotiate with the protesters, within the framework of the constitution. But she betrayed no hint of backing down. For the battle for “Bangkok’s Berlin Wall”, as the concrete-and-barbed-wire monstrosity has come to be called, was in full swing. And her side looked to be winning.
The “people’s coup”, declared by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister from the opposition Democrat party, had turned violent over the weekend. Mayhem in Bangkok left at least three people dead and dozens injured. Those who died were killed in the east of the city, at Ramkhamhaeng University. Among them were red-shirted supporters of Ms Yingluck. Other “red shirts” called off a rally they had planned at the nearby Rajamangala Sports Stadium, to let the police concentrate on doing their job elsewhere, one of their leaders said.
So Thailand’s would-be-revolution, paid for by a few but brought to the streets by tens of thousands, has got stuck. For as long as Thais can recall, their governments have built up their majorities in the provinces. The same governments have been unmade rather handily in the capital, to the perennial relief of the Bangkok elite who enjoy ties with the royal palace. The notion that power has shifted permanently from the centre to the provinces—where the Shinawatras have their base—seems to be unacceptable to many of the old guard. The elite are habituated to thinking that power can always be clawed back in Bangkok.
BP: Yesterday, was probably the “best” day for the government in a while. Yingluck is not a good public speaker, but she gave her best press performance – see YouTube. It was a short and concise statement. This time she also answered a few questions from the press in English and Thai.* Obviously, the content was important as well (later post!), but optics also matter. In comparison, Suthep rambled on for over an hour, going back-and-forth. He was very energetic in parts, but in a widely anticipated speech with supposed “good news” to report, he didn’t really say much new except that the protest goes on and that they are going to Metropolitan Police HQ tomorrow (i.e today).
Just remember last Sunday, the Democrats appeared to be in a strong position with a massive turn-out (which BP at 150-175k), but 8 days later things have changed. The protest cannot longer be described as peaceful. Of course, not every protester is violent and there is difference between the front lines at Government House (number of incidents) versus the Government Complex (few, if any, incidents) but there are enough incidents of violence caused by protesters to show that they are no longer isolated incidents. While the police are probably using too much tear gas and firing too many rubber bullets indiscriminately, you have to accept they have been under enormous pressure and have been very restrained** despite all kinds of weapons being utilised against them. Oddly, they have held their ground with little overreaction so BP sees it as preferable they use the non-lethal weapons as opposed to reverting to fire arms. Obviously, the advantage of using non-lethal weapons is that there is a greater margin for error.
Suthep can be hoping for either (1) widespread deaths on Tuesday and Wednesday, or (2) or a speech on Thursday which provides him with a face-saving exit. Short of that his options appear limited. For the government, they will want to wait it out until Thursday as the recent actions by protesters have hurt the protest movement and the Democrats by association.***
*Surely, Yingluck needs to do this on a more regular basis as an authoritative statement together with a few answers to a few questions
**Key part of EU statement on the situation in Thailand is:
The statement praised what it called the “restrained and proportionate” of the government and security forces.
***See post earlier this morning which should be read in conjunction with this post from this morning (actually the text was originally from this post, but decided to separate out the posts as this post was getting too long)