Thailand: Reuniting of the anti-Thaksin coalition?
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Thailand: Reuniting of the anti-Thaksin coalition?

The Democrats were strongly allied with the PAD in 2006 until Abhisit became PM in December 2008, but then gradually over time when the Democrats were in  government,they drifted apart and were openly fighting by the time of the 2011 election. As blogged just before the 2011 election:

Tension between the PAD and the Democrats has been ongoing for a long time. Just as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was about to become PM in December 2008, the PAD issued a list of conditions that the new government had to comply with. By March 2009, the PAD and the Democrats started to drift apart after the PAD announced they were setting up a new party and the PAD criticized Suthep over summons issued to PAD leaders.

In August 2009, Sondhi L called on people to choose sides between the PAD and the Democrats. In September 2009, former well-known PAD member and then Foreign Minister Kasit criticized the PAD and their affiliate over their criticism and their excessive nationalism towards Cambodia.

In August 2010, PAD Leader stated he believed there was now more corruption under the Abhisit government than under Thaksin’s government. Then, in November 2010, PAD started to protest outside of parliament against the amendments to the constitution and then in December against the Abhisit’s government’s refusal to revoke the 2000 Thai-Cambodian Memorandum of Understanding and the French map with a scale of 1:200,000 square kilometres – see posts herehere, and here. In response, Suthep stated that Thaksin and Sondhi Limthongkul were equally bad and branded the PAD as “dangerous for the country”.

In late December 2010, the Cambodian authorities arrested seven Thais on the grounds that they have illegally entered Cambodia. Aside from Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth others arrested include well-known PAD affiliated activist Veera (the Bangkok Post refersto him as a PAD co-leader) and Samdin Lertbutr of the Dharma Army Foundation, who has close connections with Chamlong Srimuang, a leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy.  Then, PAD criticized the government and the military saying they conspired with the Cambodians over the arrest of the Thai seven.

Then, in January, the police arrested Thai Patriots Network (TPN) leader Chaiwat Sinsuwong and another TPN core member. In February, at least one key PAD member, was also suddenly arrested.

In February 2011, a document was released online and Government House sources started to tell reporters that Sondhi L was working with Thaksin for the ‘no vote’ campaign.  Surawich Verawan, the Managing Editor of ASTV, blamed Thepthai (Abhisit’s personal spokesman) as the source of this rumour.  In March 2011, Sondhi L called for Thailand to be cleansed of dirty things and stated that the Democrats were just as bad as Thaksin.

Last month, ASTV criticized Abhisit stating he “lusted” to dissolve parliament and was disregarding HM the King’s health.

BP: Since the election, the Democrats formed their own street protest movement (as opposed to the PAD being the street movement) and started their own TV channel, Blue Sky (ASTV was once a major source of news during pro-Thaksin governments for many Democrat supporters). This means the Democrats are no longer dependent on the PAD and ASTV respectively, but it directly weakens both the PAD and ASTV.

A number of ASTV Manager articles have been disparaging of the Democrats* – see this post for examples – since the 2011 election. In the last month, as the Democrats stated they would march on parliament to protest the Amnesty Bill and did march although  the protests fizzled out, there were a few ASTV Manager cartoons dismissive of the Democrats:

Prior to the Democrat-led protests, the below cartoon appeared in ASTV Manager:

NOTE: The guy with the whistle is Suthep. He is saying, come out people, bring down the government and install us [i.e. the Dems] as government. Ai Hoi [Newin] will get the important ministries and we will file terrorism charges against you. For me, I will continue to eat palm oil.

BP: The Democrats were able to form a government in December 2008 with Newin’s support, but he got the major ministries of Interior and Transport so the cartoon is making the point that if the Democrats form a new government that Newin’s people, who are seen as corrupt, would also likely get such key ministries as they would also be needed. In regards to palm oil, there was a shortage of palm oil in early 2011 (when the Dems were still in power) and the allegation in this cartoon is that Suthep profited from it/caused it. The terrorism charges reference is likely to refer to terrorism charges against the PAD and the continued prosecution – if you can call it that given we are still facing delay after delay – of the PAD. The underlying subtext of the cartoon is the PAD feel they played a key role in helping the Democrats get to power in 2008 and then were abandoned by the Democrats.

Then, after the protests fizzled out:


NOTE: This is a picture of the protesters following Abhisit and Suthep. They have led the protestors to a junction. One sign – leading to the police – says “politics outside parliament” and Suthep is pointing in that direction. Suthep is saying that we must separate at this point. He then says that him and Abhisit have to go to parliament – the other sign says “politics inside parliament”  and that you guys should continue to walk that way for a while [Suthep is pointing towards the police] and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Pol Lt-General Kamronwit will welcome you.

The caption in the bottom right-hand part of screen translates “just as I [damn] expected” and one protester is making an surprised exasperated sound.

BP: These are cartoons within the last month poking fun at the Democrats.

Since the 2011 elections there have been protests against the government by the Democrats themselves, PAD, multi-colored group, Pitak Siam, and more recently Pefot amongst others. Each protest has so far failed to become a sustained movement which puts pressure on the government. In BP’s view one of the big reasons for the failure of a sustained protest movement against the current government  is that the anti-Thaksin coalition is not united like 2006 and 2008, but will this change? There are some signs.

The Bangkok Post on August 17:

The Democrat Party and the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) say they are prepared to form an alliance to fight the amnesty bill and the Thaksin Shinawatra-backed government.

Democrat MP for Phatthalung Nipit Intarasombat and PAD spokesman Parnthep Pourpongpan have confirmed they are discussing the possibility of working together.

Mr Nipit, accompanied by Democrat secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on and Democrat MPs Kasit Piromya and Kalaya Sophonpanich, met Mr Parnthep on Thursday.

The Nation:

According to Nipit, the Democrats and the PAD decided to resume talks as they believed current movements founded to fight “Thaksin’s regime” lacked unity and political clout.

“We have come to the conclusion that we must fight Thaksin’s regime together, but at the moment some political groups are restricted by their own rules, or by other restraints such as bail conditions and the restrictions on PAD leaders to give public speeches,” Nipit said. “Democrat MPs don’t want to resign, but if things return to a situation similar to the political crisis of 2006, they may decide to. We will therefore fight Thaksin’s regime both in Parliament and on the streets.”

Then the following day on August, The Nation reports on the Democrats attending a Pefot rally:

Key Democrat Party figures joined members of the People’s Army Against the Thaksin Regime on stage at Lumpini Park.

It was the first time that Democrat leaders have joined to a People’s Army rally.

Democrat party-list MP Khunying Kalaya Sophonpanich, party deputy leader Korn Chatikavanij and party-list MP Kasit Piromya visited the People’s Army event.

Khunying Kalaya said on stage: “Today we come to Lumpini Park to give moral support to everyone who has gathered for our country. We gather to walk against the Thaksin regime.” The MP was referring to ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who many see as the de facto leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party

BP: It is hardly unsurprising it is those three who attended the rally given their ideological views…

The Bangkok Post on August 19 speaks to Suthep:

Asked about People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Sondhi Limthongkul’s call for the party’s MPs to resign and join the fight against the bill, Mr Suthep said the party has obligations in parliament.

Several groups oppose the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. Each has chosen its own approach to suit its obligations and limitations, he said.

BP: Suthep no longer has a formal role, but he is still an influential figure within the Democrats. More importantly, Suthep and the PAD do not get along so it is not surprising he is not giving an endorsement.

However, Abhisit, as The Nation later reported, does:

In an interview with the Blue Sky TV Channel yesterday, opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the People’s Army rally against “Thaksin’s regime” is being held lawfully as they wanted to make social changes.

“So, it’s good if we can support them,” he said, referring to Democrat leaders who took to the People’s Army stage in Lumpini Park on Sunday.

He said Democrat MP Nipit Intarasombat had also met leaders of the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) last week to discuss the political situation. “Their opinions might be different from ours, but at least parties who disagree with this government are joining forces.

Leaders from the Democrat Party and PAD would also discuss the amnesty bill and moves to amend the Constitution, he said.

BP: So what does this all mean? Well the Democrats and the PAD are talking. The Democrats are also cooperating with Pefot, but the extent of this cooperation is still unsure. No doubt the Democrat and PAD relationship will take a while to repair given what has happened over the last few years, but ASTV Manager has an article today entitled “Change in political direction? Chamlong and Sondhi join hands and will appear on ASTV on Friday at 8pm (จุดเปลี่ยนการเมือง? “จำลอง-สนธิ” จับมือออกรายการทาง ASTV ศุกร์นี้ 2 ทุ่ม). It is still unclear exactly what they will say although Chamlong states that there will be an important turning point for the PAD and that both of them have made up their minds (ซึ่งจะเป็นจุดเปลี่ยนที่สำคัญสำหรับพันธมิตรประชาชนเพื่อประชาธิปไตย ซึ่งเราสองคนได้ตัดสินใจแล้ว).

Perhaps, the situation will become clearer after Friday…

Finally, Thai Rath‘s political analysis of August 20 has a slight word of warning for the Democrats. BP has summarized a few key points from the political analysis:

The situation has pressured Abhisit to send Kalaya and Kasit to speak to the PAD leaders as the Democrats can’t see a way to oppose the government. So they look to go back to the 2005-2006 strategy of bringing down Thaksin. The PAD though want the Democrats to resign en masse and join them on the streets. This condition, by those who hate and are fearful of elections of the PAD (เจอเงื่อนไขของพวกเกลียดกลัวการเลือกตั้ง ยี่ห้อพันธมิตรฯ) and needing to rely on assistance from outside the parliament (ต้องหวังพึ่งตัวช่วยเกมนอกสภา). If the Democrats use the PAD game plan and rely on the strategy of getting rid of professional politicians, the Democrats may lose their stage as well (ถ้าเอาตามเกมพันธมิตรฯ เปิดยุทธศาสตร์ลุยล้างนักเลือกตั้งอาชีพ ประชาธิปัตย์มีสิทธิโดนยึดเวทีด้วย)

BP: Indeed.

btw, notice in the current arguments put forward by the Democrats and PAD et al. that they are placing much less emphasis that Thaksin/Yingluck/Puea Thai are anti-monarchy compared with 2006 and even 2008. BP views there a multitude of reasons including (a) that it is not longer a toxic charge like it was in the past (a pro-Thaksin party won pluralities in 2007 and 2011 despite the campaign that they were against the monarchy), and (b) that the introduction of the monarchy issue by the PAD and the Democrats tarnished the institution (so BP views that people have been asked to tone down their accusations – whether they will continue to listen though is unsure).

*Although, don’t interpret this to mean that ASTV Manager likes Yingluck, Thaksin or the current government. They don’t. They continue to attack – including personal attacks particularly against Yingluck implying she is a whore/slut (see here and here) – and criticize the government on a daily basis.