Thailand: election won’t solve problems but it will let tempers cool
In remarkable scenes across the city, Red Shirt protesters have been driving around Bangkok in convoys, chanting political slogans and calling on the government to resign -- but also joining in the New year festivities, writes Gavin Brown.
Bangkok is currently peaceful with a truce between the Red Shirt movement and the government in force for the duration of the New Year (Songkran) holidays. In remarkable scenes across the city, Red Shirt protesters have been driving around Bangkok in convoys and chanting political slogans and calling on the government to resign but also joining in the festivities.
The same carnival atmosphere is in evidence at the main demonstration sites with singing dancing and the traditional water fights. For the time being water guns have replaced the real guns.
The ferocity and the extent of the violence on Saturday night came as shock to many on both sides and to the public at large. It seems that a hard core of demonstrators were well prepared and ready to meet the security forces with violent resistance.
Molotov cocktails had been stockpiled along with other weapons and it seems some were armed with handguns and military rifles. The government suspects the involvement of a small group of retired and serving military officers that remain loyal to the former PM Thaksin. Nevertheless it would appear that the Democrat-led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva has emerged as the main loser from Saturdays events. Having taken the decision to use force to remove the demonstrators and to restore order to the city, the exercise had to succeed.
Instead 21 people were killed (17 civilian and four soldiers), hundreds were injured, the security forces eventually retreated surrendering a lot of their equipment and we are now back to where we started. The Red Shirts continue to occupy the main demonstration sites around Democracy monument and continue to block off one of the city’s major intersections and the main shopping districts.
Army Commander General Anupong Paojinda has made it clear that the army has no intention of making another attempt to clear the demonstrators and has called for a political solution to the crisis. PM Abhisit would probably not attempt another crackdown for fear that the security forces would refuse to follow orders from the government.
The only possible solution now appears to be for the PM to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections. Already the Democrat-led coalition has modified an earlier offer of elections in nine months to a six-month timeline. Both offers have been rejected out of hand by the leaders of the Red Shirt movement. It’s likely that an election will need to be called sooner. My guess would be about three months. While elections will not solve the underlying problems and may in fact simply lead to the Red Shirts being replaced on the streets by the Yellow Shirts, it would at least end the current standoff and allow tempers to cool.