Monday, 31 January 2011

Can yesterday's enemy be today's ally?

via CAAI

Published: 31/01/2011

"The enemy of our enemy is our ally." This was said some years back by a wise man. Apparently bearing this thoughtful quote in mind, Chaiwat Sinsuwong, a co-leader of the Thai Patriots Network, approached some jailed red shirt leaders while he was held in custody in a Bangkok prison and asked whether the red shirts would be interested in joining his ultra-nationalist group and the People's Alliance for Democracy, in fighting against the Abhisit government.

Mr Chaiwat, who was freed on bail last Thursday, said the TPN would continue camping out in front of Gate 4 of Government House while the yellow shirt supporters of the PAD were digging in on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. He suggested that the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) should rally its red shirt supporters at Orathai Bridge near the building of the Prime Minister's Office, also at Government House.

The jailed red shirt leaders whom Mr Chaiwat did not identify did not immediately respond to his request and asked to consult with their UDD colleagues first.

Obviously, the red shirt leaders were smart enough not to commit themselves to Mr Chaiwat's request or to reject it outright. For the time being, they and the TPN appear to have a common enemy, that is the Abhisit government, in particular the Democrats - although for completely different reasons.

The TPN has been unsuccessfully pressuring the government to secure the release of their two colleagues, Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary Ratree Pipattanapaibul, who are jailed in Phnom Penh for illegal entry, trespassing on a military area and on spying charges.

However, the main issue of the protest is territorial sovereignty regarding disputed areas with Cambodia which, in essence, is similar to the PAD's position.

Meanwhile, the UDD has been demanding justice for their colleagues killed during the bloody protest in Bangkok last May and for the release of its jailed leaders. It is also considering whether to take the case to the International Court of Justice against the Abhisit government with the help of Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer of deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Because the TPN, PAD and UDD are all at odds with the government, Mr Chaiwat may feel that the red shirts could turn into an ally, even if temporarily, just to fight the government or to get rid of the government. But whether the red shirts will think likewise is still a question mark.

The PAD, in particular, is fiercely opposed to the government; it strongly feels that the government has bowed too much to Cambodia in regard to overlapping areas of the disputed border, especially the 4.6 square kilometre area surrounding the ancient Hindu temple of Preah Vihear or Khao Phra Viharn as it is called in Thailand. The group has demanded that the government unilaterally scrap the 2000 memorandum of understanding on boundary demarcation, withdraw from Unesco's World Heritage Committee and to even use force to evict Cambodian settlers from the disputed areas.

The PAD has been using the Cambodian card to rally public support for its cause for several months, before it staged its first rally in front of Government House last Tuesday. About 5,000 yellow shirt supporters showed up on the first day and the number has gradually dropped over the following days, with the protest leaders expecting more supporters during weekends.

PAD leaders should have realised that many of their supporters have now distanced themselves from the movement because they feel their causes of protest are no longer relevant or justified enough. Or simply because they are fed up of street protests - be it staged by the red shirt or yellow shirt people - as they cause them trouble all the same. Some critics say the Cambodian card being played by the PAD may be just a cover for its real agenda.

The yellow shirt leaders have been very bitter against the government, the Democrats in particular, for not showing them due gratitude for their help in ushering the Democrats into the seat of power after their mass protests which resulted in the overthrow of the Thaksin regime in a military coup in 2006 and the eventual collapse of Thaksin's nominee governments led by Somchai Wongsawat and Samak Sundaravej.

The bitterness against the Democrats can be detected in the speech given to the yellow shirt protesters by Sondhi Limthongkul, PAD co-leader and media tycoon, on Thursday night.

"...This is a problem of Thai society. A younger colleague of mine who showed up at our protest against Thaksin every day now questions us as to why we are protesting against Abhisit and complaining about traffic jams. Does it mean that there were no traffic jams when he joined the protest against Thaksin? On Friday I will talk about why I have a bonding with you people because we are of the same class, we are down to earth unlike the 'hi-so' like Kasit [Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya] or Abhisit [Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva] who did not have the courage to come out to fight Thaksin like us. They [Abhisit and Kasit] let us take the lead. They hated Thaksin because Thaksin destroyed their status. They fought but their feet did not touch the ground like us. We risked the bullets and tear gas but they simply rode piggyback upon us..." said Mr Sondhi.

Mr Sondhi's tone sounds as if the PAD has always wanted some "return favours" from the Democrats for the "help" it had given them. As a matter of fact, the Democrats have already returned the favour to PAD by appointing Mr Kasit - a key supporter of the yellow shirts during their protest against Thaksin - as foreign minister. But the foreign minister has fallen out of favour with the PAD and has now been branded an outcast by the yellow shirts.

For the time being the government has rejected all three demands from the PAD. Despite the PAD's threat to camp out for a long-haul protest, it remains to be seen what ammunition the PAD has up its sleeve to deal with the government. But if the number of its protesters keeps dropping and without support from the red shirts, chances are slim that both the PAD and its ally the TPN would be able to force the government to its knees.

Instead, the two political groupings may have to retreat to lick their wounds.

Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.

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