Thai government invokes Internal Security Act ahead of protests
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Thai government invokes Internal Security Act ahead of protests

Translation into English from the Foreign Ministry (Thai transcript is here) of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s address to the nation that was broadcast last night after the invoking of the Internal Security Act for the Pitak Siam protest on November 24:

“My fellow Thai citizens,

I wish to inform you of the reasons behind the Government’s decision to announce the use of the Internal Security Act B.E. 2551 (2008) (ISA) in three districts of Bangkok, namely Phra Nakorn, Pomprab Sattrupai, and Dusit, and the setting up of the ‘Law and Order Administrative Centre’ under the command of the Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police. The ISA will be effective from 22 to 30 November 2012.

I would like to emphasize that the Government fully adhere to the democratic system of government with the monarchy as Head of State. The Government believes in freedom of expression and is convinced that the Parliament is the place for the people’s representatives to settle differences in viewpoints and resolve political conflicts. This is the appropriate channel in accordance with democratic rule. The Parliament also has the duty of monitoring the work of the Government, as demonstrated by the no-confidence motion that will take place in the next few days. On my part, I stand ready to listen to the diversity of view and offer my explanations in accordance with the democratic parliamentary system.

I became Prime Minister through free and fair elections by the people, under the democratic process with the monarchy as Head of State. I maintain that all the decisions that I and the Government have made, have been andwill be in the best interests of the Thai people. It is my duty to protect the revered institutions of the nation, religion, and the monarchy.

Being a democracy nevertheless, is not only about exercising ones’ freedoms. The rule of law must also be observed and obeyed. Our society can co-exist only if there are rules and boundaries for the exercise of rights and freedoms. By exercising these rights and freedom, it must not impinge on the rights and freedoms of others. Indeed, it is our common duty to protect our democracy so that it is not threatened by those who prefer otherwise.

Public gatherings and protests, especially those arising from public grievances, is provided for and protected by the Constitution. But such public gatherings must be peaceful, without the use of weapons, and within the boundaries of the law. I am ready to listen to any ideas and proposals, and to work together to solve any problems.

But if a large number of people is mobilized by incitement, led by those who seek to overthrow an elected government and democratic rule — which is against the Constitution — and there is evidence that violence may be used to achieve those ends, then this is a case of national security. It is the government’s duty to preserve law and order, protect the lives and property of everyone — including those who are protesting and those who are not involved. But most importantly, the government must protect the democratic system under the constitutional monarchy. This is the reason behind today’s Cabinet decision.

The measures that have been put in place in accordance with the law are to preempt and prevent any situations in a most timely and effective manner. The operations center is set up to ensure an integrated and coordinated approach among all agencies involved, should there arise any incidents that may threaten the wellbeing of civilians in any particular area. The measures and mechanisms to control the exercise of authorities will be proportionate to the situation. These measures are to be discontinued as soon as the situation improves.

Lastly, I wish to reiterate that, since I have been elected and inaugurated as the Prime Minister last year, I have remained committed to restoring peace and stability in Thailand. It is my firm belief that reducing political conflicts and promoting national reconciliation are vital to economic development and to enhance the lives of all Thais, regardless of their race, religion, social status, or political stance.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for the opportunity that you have given me over the past year. I am also grateful for all the support and encouragement that has been provided to me. I would like to pledge that I will not be discouraged and will continue to work to the best of my ability, as I intended and promised to all my fellow citizens.”

BP:  As noted back in 2009, the power of ISA does not come from invoking it, but from the issuance of regulations as per Section 18 of the ISA:

Section 18. To facilitate the prevention, suppression, eradication, and solution or mitigation of an occurrence under Section 15, the Director with the approval of the Cabinet shall have the power to issue regulations as follows:(1) to have relevant state officials implement any action, or suspend any action;

(2) to prohibit entry or exit at a locality, building, or designated area during its operating hours, except with the permission of a competent official or being an exempted person;

(3) to prohibit exit from dwelling places within a designated time;

(4) to prohibit the carrying of weapons outside dwelling places;

(5) to prohibit the use of routes or vehicles or to prescribe conditions on the use of routes or vehicles;

(6) to order persons to perform or suspend any action in connection with electronic equipment in order to guard against danger to life, limb, or property of the people

Orders under paragraph 1 may prescribe principles, time period, or other conditions, and the aforesaid prescriptions must not create unreasonable inconvenience for the people

NOTE: This was originally a link to the translation provided by Chang Noi, but the site hosting the PDF no longer works. However, another translation is available from here.

BP: Without the regulations, the ISA is mostly a toothless tiger. We are still waiting to see the regulations and how broad they will be.

This is not the first time that the Internal Security Act has been invoked. It was invoked by the Abhisit government in August-September 2009 and a number of other times during the Abhisit government when there were red shirts protests. The precedent was set back in 2009 that for larger protests the Internal Security Act will be invoked. Continuing the tradition that started back in 2009,  we have dire predictions on the basis for the need for the Internal Security Act.

The Bangkok Post:

Pol Maj Gen Piya said there were several indicators why the Internal Security Act (ISA) should be imposed. He said intelligence reports warned that the Pitak Siam group would intensify the level of its mass rally and the protest would expand to locations outside the Royal Plaza.

Protest numbers would grow, the police spokesman said, and a group of rally-goers had prepared some “equipment” which may be used to raid government premises, according to the reports. He did not elaborate on what kind of “equipment” was involved

Bangkok Post again:

The national police chief claims there is a plan to take Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra hostage, and cites this as one reason for imposing the Internal Security Act in three districts of Bangkok.

Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew said the cabinet decided to impose the Internal Security Act (ISA) in three districts of Bangkok from today until Nov 30 after security agencies reported receiving information there could be attempts to raid government premises and a plan to take Prime Minister Yingluck hostage.

The Nation now expresses concern about this:

National intelligence agencies should be independent from politicians in power in their work to protect the nation’s stability. But the way the government has been handling the planned mass rally over the weekend indicates that these intelligence agencies have reduced themselves to being political tools.

The Pheu Thai-led government has been using these agencies – the National Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council and the Special Branch Police – as tools to stir up public sentiment against the Pitak Siam led by a retired general, General Boonlert Kaewprasit.

Pitak Siam plans a mass rally at the Royal Plaza on Saturday. The closer the rally is drawing, the more the government is stepping up to create public fear towards the demonstrators by using the intelligence agencies as tools.

BP: How credible is the information? We have seen no evidence to substantiate it, but protests upping the ante and seizing government buildings is hardly unheard of. Thaksin talked of a person outside the Constitution trying to overthrow in the government in June 2006 and his comments were widely dismissed although a few months later we had the September 2006 coup (essentially vindicating Thaksin) so the idea that there are people who want to overthrow the government, and this government in particular, well is certainly possible. Whether it is just idle talk or some people have more advanced plans is very difficult to know.  Of course, this does not mean that every statement by the government is about a credible threat. Some people have some nutty ideas that they talk about and well something as specific as a threat that Yingluck being taken as a hostage surely needs to be substantiated before being released to the public. Whether you believe it or not will partially be explained by your own political views (i.e those who in the anti-Thaksin more likely “no” and vice versa).

WSJ on whether the claims are true:

“Stories of ‘third-hand’ plans to attack protesters or plans for protesters to ‘arrest’ Prime Minister Yingluck are part and parcel of emotional political events in Bangkok, and are more political drama than an actual threat,” Bangkok-based security consultancy PSA Asia said in a note to clients Thursday

BP: Back in 2009, the reds viewed the Internal Security Act as bad whereas many in the anti-Thaksin side applauded it. Now, the shoe is on the other foot and the roles have been reversed.

Strategically and politically, BP doesn’t get the invoking of the ISA. While talk of violence will scare some people away, invoking the ISA gives the rally more prominence which may make it even more attractive for those who don’t like the government, and who don’t believe the threats, to actually come to the protest. Was invoking the ISA a wise idea before the protest turned violent or got out-of-hand, really a good idea? We now await the protest tomorrow….