Threats, carrots, and sticks have all failed to dislodge red shirt protestors from central Bangkok. As violence continues to harden positions on both sides of the barricades, widespread civil strife is becoming more and more likely.
A few weeks ago, it seemed like there was a light at the end of the tunnel and the Thai political crisis was not long of this world. The red shirts and the Abhisit government seemed to have a deal in place that would hold mid-November elections, thus addressing the primary concern of the red-shirts and re-routing the conflict back into the confines of the democratic process.
The situation has once again changed completely. Now, the Abhisit government believes that the red shirts were negotiating in bad faith; they received their much-coveted new round of elections and immediately tabled new demands that the deputy prime minister also stand trial over bloody clashes in April. The mood within the red shirts’ movement has changed as well, as spiraling violence of late has served to boost radical elements that want to see the current government toppled at all costs.
Though a peaceful resolution is not beyond the realm of possibility, the situation is extremely dangerous and will likely remain volatile for months if not years. There is a feeling that the fate of the 5,000-strong red shirt vanguard in Bangkok could determine whether or not wide-spread civil strife breaks out in Thaksin Shinawatra’s conventional stronghold of the north. This is the most likely reason for the Abhisit government’s hesitance in giving the green light for a full-scale assault on the red shirt encampment in Bangkok.
However, the chorus of hard line voices and the economic impact of the blockade cannot be ignored forever, making it highly likely that the government will move on the blockade in the coming weeks.
It is important to note that deep divisions exist on both sides of the Thai political crisis. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the army. At the very top, Gen Anupong is regarded as a dove who is not willing to rush into any major conflict with protesters. By contrast, his direct subordinate and soon-to-be replacement Gen Prayuth is widely believed to favor an intense crackdown on the red shirts. Moreover, a similar division appears to exist among the lower rank-and-file troops, most of whom are unwilling to fight and kill their fellow countrymen.
The red shirts too are not without their infighting. In fact, disagreements between moderates with parliamentary aspirations and hardliners seeking a societal redistribution of power are thought to have scuttled the mid-November elections deal earlier this month.
These divisions have two important implications: they allow for the possibility of exceedingly negative outcomes depending on which faction gets the upper hand, and by extension they make accurate forecasting extremely difficult. If, for example, hard line voices on both sides begin to drown out moderates, then a violent clash in Bangkok is inevitable. Such a clash could serve to ignite the tinderbox of the north, triggering widespread civil strife and, depending on where the army fell, even a civil war. On the other hand, the Abhisit government has already demonstrated that it is willing to acquiesce on the red shirts’ central issue in calling new elections, so a peaceful solution is not impossible if cooler heads prevail.
Thus, all eyes should turn to the 5,000-strong garrison in Bangkok, for its’ fate is very likely to determine whether moderates or hardliners will gain the upper hand on both sides of the fault line.
SUMMARY OF EVENTS: May 10th – May 17th, 2010
The US has evidence the Pakistan Taliban was behind the attempted car bombing in New York’s Times Square, Attorney General Eric Holder says.
Stock markets have fallen back after shares across the world surged on Monday in the wake of a deal to tackle Europe’s debt crisis.
The device meant to stop oil leaking from a Gulf of Mexico well after last month’s rig explosion was faulty, US Congressional investigators have said.
The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee says he doesn’t yet see the evidence to support Obama administration claims that the Times Square bombing suspect was working on behalf of the Pakistan Taliban.
US authorities investigating the attempted bombing in New York’s Times Square have arrested three men during searches over four US states.
An experimental attempt to stop an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico experienced some limited success over the weekend, BP announced Sunday afternoon.
A bomb has exploded outside a maximum security prison near the Greek capital, Athens, police say.
France has denied it made a secret pact with Iran to secure the release of a French lecturer charged with spying after last June’s disputed election.
Spain’s PM has outlined a plan to tackle the country’s budget crisis, amid concerns that problems afflicting Greece may spread across the eurozone.
Three alleged organisers of the March suicide bombings on the Moscow metro have been killed after resisting arrest, Russian officials say.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is holding talks with Iran’s leaders on the vexed nuclear issue.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran has been injured in an attack by an Afghan on his car in Tehran, officials say.
Beset by questions about the future of Jerusalem in talks with the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached for the Bible on Wednesday to stake out the Jewish state’s disputed claim on the city.
One year after Sri Lanka’s army wiped out the Tamil Tigers, there are no signs of the rebel group’s revival at home, but concerns remain about extremist fund-raisers abroad.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai left for Washington Sunday on a four-day visit, his office said, aiming to mend ties after a damaging row over his criticism of foreign partners.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said an assault against Taliban rebels in southern Afghanistan would not destroy the city of Kandahar.
Gunfire has been heard in the Thai capital Bangkok hours after a deadline for thousands of protesters to clear a camp expired.
A renegade Thai general who backs anti-government protesters has been shot, shortly after a deadline for troops to seal their Bangkok protest camp passed.
Gunfire and loud explosions have been heard in central Bangkok near the area where the red shirt protesters are camped out, after they ignored a deadline to end their two months of street rallies.
US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that his administration was working with both Pakistan and Afghanistan to break down some of their old suspicions and bad habits.
A by-election is under way in Hong Kong aimed at putting pressure on China to speed up the move to full democracy.
China’s inflation accelerated in April after house and food prices jumped and bank lending increased.
A senior US diplomat said on Sunday the United States was concerned by Burma’s preparations for a long-awaited election but would continue its attempts at deeper engagement with the country’s military rulers.
The Egyptian parliament has voted to extend the state of emergency, which restricts constitutional protections and grants police extensive powers, for a further two years.