Thailand's political stalemate deepens
Activists have disrupted air and rail travel, and refuse to leave government grounds.
(Page 2 of 2)
"It's a failure of political parties. Not a failure of democracy," says Kasit Piromya, a former Thai diplomat and an opposition supporter.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
This criticism reflects both the frustration borne out of Thaksin's electoral success – repeated last December by Samak – and a conservative backlash against globalization. The PAD was formed in 2006 after Thaksin sold his family-owned telecommunications company to Singapore's government, igniting nationalist anger. A military-installed government later sought unsuccessfully to restrict foreign ownership in Thailand.
In 2006, tens of thousands of Bangkok residents wore royalist yellow at all-night PAD rallies. Far fewer have joined the current protests, though, while some former allies have condemned the vandalism of state property and use of weapons as extremist.
Police last week seized stacks of golf clubs and sticks from the PAD. Middle-class Thais who marched against Thaksin are weary of political turmoil and fiery nationalism.
Yet smaller numbers don't lessen Samak's burden in tackling the PAD, says Panitan Wattanayagorn, a professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Sending riot police to oust them, as was attempted last week, could spark mayhem, and the blame would likely fall on the government, not the protestors. "If this crisis ends in bloodshed, regardless of the cause, the prime minister must leave office," he says.
Some PAD supporters want King Bhumipol, a constitutional monarch who has long been a guarantor of political stability, to step in. In 1992, Bhumipol intervened after months of antigovernment street protests ended in a massacre by troops. A royally appointed government was credited with steering the country back to normality.
Korn Chatikavanij, deputy leader of the opposition Democrat Party, says the government's refusal to dissolve parliament or negotiate with the PAD has created a dangerous stalemate. "The only force that could tip the scales one way or another is the military," he says.
Until now, the military has stayed out of the crisis. Samak has aligned himself closely with the current Army chief, who has ruled out staging a coup to end the crisis.
These tensions are belied by the atmosphere at the compound, where middle-class families picnic on ceremonial gardens that usually play host to foreign dignitaries and civil servants. Outdoor market stalls sell clothes, souvenirs, snacks, and camp chairs. Rows of temporary toilets and showers offer relief to round-the-clock demonstrators.
But there's also a mood of fatalism among supporters who recall past political showdowns. "We don't worry about violence. We come in peace. But we're ready for anything," says Marut Asdorn, a truck-company owner.