When will the Thai yellow shirts start protesting again?
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When will the Thai yellow shirts start protesting again?

Voranai in the Bangkok Post on the decline of the yellow shirts and the reasons why they may protest again:

In 2005, at the height of Thaksin’s power, the PAD took to the streets on the platform of fighting corruption. But fighting corruption is never a strong enough platform, at least not in the Kingdom of Thailand. The factor that inspired people to don yellow and take to the streets was defence of that most sacred institution, the monarchy.

As for whether the Thaksin network was ever anti-monarchy, there is not and never has been any proof of that. But that is neither here nor there. The lips of society were flapping less about corruption, but more of anti-monarchy sentiments.

With disgust and condemnation, the lips vented about how the former prime minister made funny faces during a royal audience. With rumours and speculation, the lips fumed over how the fugitive prime minister planned to turn Thailand into a republic, with him as the president.

Corruption is never enough to incite passion. The love of the King always is plenty more than enough. As a strategy to undermine the Thaksin political machine, it worked wonders _ seven years ago.

The problem is, seven years have gone by and no plot to overthrow the monarchy has been exposed. In fact, Thaksin’s ruling Pheu Thai Party has proclaimed itself the defender of the monarchy and a staunch supporter of the lese majeste law.

Today, the PAD is splintered into various smaller groups, including the most active one in recent time, Tul Sitthisomwong’s multi-coloured group. But none of them could ever muster more than a few hundred supporters.

They have also split with an important ally, the Democrat Party. Their own political party, the New Politics Party, is practically a non-entity in parliament. And now, the army has closed its doors to them, seemingly in any case.

Corruption, it’s not enough to rally a crusade. Charter amendments are also not enough to rally a crusade, even if many have argued that said amendment is in the interests of granting amnesty to Thaksin.

As for defending the monarchy, how is one to defend the monarchy against someone else who’s also defending the monarchy? Everybody is defending the monarchy. The platform is crowded. There’s not enough of a foothold, not enough space to shout and scream from _ and hence, the passion subsided, the funds drained and the movement waned.

The question then becomes if and when Thaksin sets foot on Thai soil, would the fear/hatred for him spur enough passion to resuscitate the fading yellow? Does the PAD have the logistics, infrastructure and funding to take on the Thaksin political machine for a third time?

As BP blogged back in September which touched on the decline of the yellow shirts:

What kind of reaction are we likely to get if Thaksin was to come back and receive a pardon? Yellows are split into a different groups.

You have the multi-colored shirts who are lead by Dr. Tul, who appear to be mainly middle-class, upper class Democrat voters who organize via Facebook. They don’t have a media arm so there are questions on whether they capable of sustaining a mass protest. So far they have staged brief, symbolic protests in Lumpini Park (adjacent to Silom) of  a couple of hundred.

Another part of the yellows is of course, Sondhi L and his media network and those who still use the PAD name. They don’t appear to be in any mood to protest. Sondhi L said on ASTV TV on Sep 14 that “we will not used as their tool again and the Democrats need to fight”. Then, he launched into a tirade against the Democrats and the multi-colored group linking them to the Democrats. So far the PAD have not joined the multi-colored groups in protesting.

So far this is just speculation, but where this is smoke there can sometimes be fire. Many people are still opposed to Thaksin and well there are risk of protests – and well there is the Q of does Thaksin want to take the risk when he is sitting in the jail that something like a coup will go wrong – but there is now a plausible path to Thaksin returning this year. Of course, you then have the possible associated protests although if he does actually spend some time in a jail then the outrage from the anti-Thaksin side is likely to be more muted. Protests cannot be ruled out though. Nevertheless, this is the most plausible path that BP has seen for Thaksin returning to Thailand. As does he want to wait until December next year in the hope that nothing has gone wrong? The possibility of Thaksin returning – it may not be to live, but just to enter Thailand at times This is also part of the reason why you have been hearing mention of tensions in December…

BP: So you can see there are three issues on which the yellow shirts would protest again, namely (a) anti-monarchy activities by the government including lese majeste reform, (b) constitutional amendments, and (c) amnesty law.

For (a) as noted by Voranai above, Puea Thai have now become the defender of the monarchy. As blogged in March 2012:

 In recent months, the Yingluck government has made it clear that lese majeste will not be amended. Yingluck states she will focus on the economy and rehabilitating the country after the floods (her standard answer). Before the election and even recently, Thaksin has referred to problems with the excessive use of lese majeste, but he has not indicated any reform. It appears as part of some deal/arrangement with the establishment that there will be NO reform of lese majeste in the near future.  The government is only focusing on enforcement of the law – and it seems we may get another committee to review lese majeste cases – but as we saw under Abhisit there was also a committee, but we still had a record number of cases. So focusing on enforcement may not mean much.

BP: For now, this seems unlikely to change so it isn’t a reason to protest.

For (b), as blogged in December 2011:

This is what the Speaker said a few months ago and this would mean a referendum in early 2013. A Puea Thai MP and the party’s chief legal advisor was quoted in Matichon a few days ago as saying the referendum was likely to be held in May/June 2013. This is because it will take a few months to amend Section 291 of the Constitution to set up the drafting assembly – currently the constitution can be amended by parliament without a referendum – and then you are electing the assembly which will take another couple of months, an estimated eight months to draft the amendments, public education and hearing, and then a referendum.This has been the basic plan for a while – see also this earlier post where Chalerm said the same thing. Some red shirts and some within Puea Thai disagree about the process and want it to do be done quicker, but most public statements back the drafting assembly and then a referendum. This is also what Yingluck stated a few days ago that the referendum shouldn’t be held until after the amendments are proposed.

BP: The amendment before parliament is only a procedural amendment on the process to amendment the constitution so the real amendments won’t be for a number of months, but because of the likely process of the real amendments will be a committee made of 99 people (77 being elected and the 22 being appointed by parliament) and then this will go to a referendum, this weakens the ability of PAD to protest. It will be easy to say let the people decide in a referendum – assuming that provisions related to the royal family are not touched. PAD’s method of protest against the procedural amendment is to file a lawsuit (which seems very weak). Chamlong confirmed that the PAD wouldn’t take to the streets to protest against a procedural amendment. MCOT:

Meanwhile, Chamlong Srimuang, a top leader of the Yellow Shirt PAD denied media reports that the PAD will rally later this month at the Army Club to oppose the attempt to amend the Constitution.

He said the PAD will demonstrate only if the constitutional amendment affects the monarchy, and the move paves the way for granting an amnesty to wrongdoers

BP: This leaves (c) which PAD confirmed a few days ago was the main issue they were preparing for. As blogged back in July, the yellow shirts would oppose amnesty:

Actually, BP suspects that even if the PAD were to gain from the amnesty they would still strongly protest against it* because why not? They have nothing to lose. They fail to stop it, the PAD leaders still gain from the amnesty; they stop the amnesty bill, they will be credited with stopping it and well it still seems unlikely the cases will result in them being convicted – it is 30 months since the airport takeover and as we have seen the case against the PAD leaders are still languishing compared with those of the red shirt leaders from last year. A Puea Thai government is the best thing for PAD and ASTV….

The Bangkok Post quotes PAD spokesman Parnthep Pourpongpan:

“Once the monarchy’s power is affected and an amnesty law is launched, we will begin our [large] movement,” he said.

The Nation recently:

The ruling party yesterday gave a signal that it is switching its reconciliation move to a low gear, with a possible plan to sponsor a relevant bill next April.

The timing will coincide with the passage of a new charter. Whether or not the slowing down of reconciliation push would affect Thaksin Shinawatra’s intention to return home remain to be seen.

“The draft reconciliation law should be ready after the charter change,” Pheu Thai MP Kokaew Pikulthong affirmed yesterday.

The Bangkok Post though has more details and we see that Korkaew was stating that the process would not be complete until next April:

The Pheu Thai Party will table a reconciliation bill for House deliberation after the charter amendment draft has been passed by parliament in the final reading, party list MP Korkaew Pikulthong said on Wednesday.

Mr Korkaew said details of the bill had not been finalised because party members still had differing opinions about the scope of the amnesty.

Some MPs were of the opinion the amnesty should cover all political offenders, starting from protests by the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) before the 2006 coup to protests by the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) in 2010 and afterwards.

Other MPs thought the amnesty should not cover protests and government leaders.

Therefore, the amnesty bill would not be filed until after the charter amendment had been passed by parliament, he said.

Mr Korkaew, a UDD core member, expected the reconciliation process to be completed before the next Songkran festival in 2013.

BP: Parliament is currently debating the procedural amendment to the constitution and this is likely to 1-2 more months as the process is drawn out by the Democrats to obtain concessions from the government. Hence, the process is still a number of weeks away from starting. Initially, it seemed that Puea Thai would rush the process after the Interior Minister stated that public hearings would be a waste of time and just delay the process, but he then reversed himself per the Bangkok Post:

Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit, in his capacity as head of a panel to follow up on implementation of the recommendations made by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission, said on Friday that his committee had decided to stage public hearings in all regions throughout the country plus Bangkok to allow all stakeholders to voice their views on the reconciliation plan.

He said the King Prajadhipok’s Institute (KPI) might be invited to join the hearings process. A report about the hearings must be completed and sent to parliament within 60 days; however, the dateline can be slightly extended, he added.

BP: This makes it more difficult for the PAD or a yellow shirt-aligned group to start protesting too early. Will they protest against public hearings? Who will protest? Dr. Tul? The PAD including Sondhi L (who has various legal cases and convictions and as of last month he was abroad).  Recently, there was a protest outside the Army Club. The Bangkok Post:

A group of about 200 people rallied outside the Army Club in Bangkok yesterday, calling for the military to take action against the Yingluck government.

The rally began outside the club on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road about 7am,

The message from demonstrators, who called themselves Riak Khuen Amnart Jak Nak Karnmuang Nerakhun Phaendin was that they wanted the army to take action against the government to pave the way for what they called ”parliamentary reform”. They did not specify what action the military should take.

BP: 200 people? The PAD were not involved and an ASTV Manager article has labelled the protesters as the “establishment mob” (ม็อบอำมาตย์). Then, of course, you have the issue of what establishment support there is for the yellows. Crispin in March 2012 in Asia Times:

A new drive to achieve an amnesty through parliamentary means has met predictable resistance from the opposition Democrat party and anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest group, and raised the specter of new instability after over a year of relative political calm.

Recommendations submitted by a local think-tank to a parliamentary reconciliation subcommittee proposed an amnesty for offenses committed on both sides of the political divide and a reversal of decisions handed down against Thaksin by military coup maker-created bodies.

A similar amnesty proposal in 2008 by a previous Thaksin-aligned government provided the initial spark for PAD protests that for months laid siege to Government House and temporarily shut down Bangkok’s international airport. While the Democrats and PAD have claimed that adoption of the new amnesty recommendations could lead to new instability, that will likely depend more on how the military’s royalist leadership perceives the latest proposed deal.

The establishment is also apparently divided on whether its interests would be best served by mobilizing again around the PAD.

The PAD’s recent decision to call off a planned mass rally against proposed constitutional changes came amid a weak popular showing and is indicative of the broad establishment’s lack of support for more destabilizing street protests. New illegal assembly charges filed against PAD leaders were likely also factored into the PAD’s decision to remain inactive.

BP: Indeed. Regardless, we seem weeks, if not many months, away from something happening. For now, we are still in wait-and-see mode. All signs suggest things between the government and the establishment is stable and so, as long as this holds, there will be little establishment support for the yellows who have been increasingly fractured…..

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