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Thai airport protesters' victory short-lived

Nicholas Farrelly and Andrew Walker |  04 December 2008

Bangkok Post articleAfter months of escalating protests in Bangkok, the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy has demonstrated an almost mythical capacity for extreme provocation.

Their impunity has been astounding. The courts have failed to stop their illegal actions. And now the Thai judiciary has taken a key step in the wider campaign against the elected government.

On Tuesday 2 December, the Constitutional Court dissolved the ruling People Power Party and banned the prime minister from politics for five years. The protesters, who have occupied Bangkok's airports for a week, are claiming a victory in their 'final battle'. Amidst their cheers they have agreed to end their airport occupations.

Taking over the Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports was the most recent act of brinksmanship in a series of audacious attacks on the government. In many other countries the continuation and escalation of such attacks would have been impossible. The police and army, at the first hint of an attempt to seize such crucial national infrastructure, would have quickly called for reinforcements.

Those reinforcements would likely have come with water cannons, tear gas and truncheons. In some countries tanks may have been mobilised. Riot police, bristling with firepower and government backing, would have moved, within hours, to re-take the physical, if not the moral, high ground.

Under such circumstances, there would have been little restraint. In fact, in some countries the invasion of airports by well-armed protestors would be considered an act of terrorism.

The Thai security forces have not seen it that way. In fact, with the latest court ruling, it is the government, and not the protesters, that attracted the most serious judicial ire.

But this is far from the end. The government is down, but not out. It has survived previous judicial, military and protest action against it. Even after the most recent setback in the Constitutional Court it will not shy away from a fight.

The prime minister and 12 cabinet members have been banned from politics for five years because they are on the executive of the dissolved ruling party. But most of the government MPs escaped the ban and they will now quickly move to join a new party that was specifically set up for this eventuality. All the signs are that the government will continue to hold a majority of the seats in the parliament.

So, the protesters celebrations may be short-lived. The prime minister is gone, but the government remains in place. After a respectful lull for the king's birthday, which falls tomorrow, they will probably resume their protest action to get rid of the government once and for all.

They will launch yet another phase in their 'final battle' to institute 'new politics' where elected politicians play a subordinate role to unelected statesmen, judges, civil servants and military commanders. This is the anti-democratic agenda of the People's Alliance for Democracy.

With that agenda on full public display, Thai politics has now entered a new and unpredictable phase. Analysts speculate that the courts may go beyond party dissolution and completely overturn the result of the December 2007 election.

If that happens, or if the military stage a coup to prevent further deterioration in civil order, the anti-government protesters would push hard for an appointed government. Thailand would be staring down the barrel of a future without scheduled elections.

This would almost inevitably bring pro-government forces onto the streets in massive numbers. So far their rallies have been largely peaceful but their restraint in the face of anti-democratic provocation and impunity surely has its limits. If the pent-up fury of the pro-government forces is let loose then things could get very ugly indeed.

Andrew WalkerNicholas FarrellyNicholas Farrelly and Andrew Walker are Southeast Asia specialists at The Australian National University. Together they co-founded New Mandala, a website that provides ongoing commentary on developments in Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia.


Nicholas Farrelly and Andrew Walker

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