Misdebating in parliament

Just checked on what Chalerm had to say during the debate today, will leave it alone for now, the subject is very juicy indeed.

I don’t know what these debates are supposed to be for. No one has ever been censured, afaik, despite having them every year. In 2003 debate Democrats tried to nail the Finance Minister for Thaksin’s Ratchada deal – nothing came out of it, the coalition voted along party lines and the subject was laid to rest until independent investigators took the case to the court after the coup (independent of Thaksin, mind you).

Still, a good show for either side can certainly make a lot of difference, even though not through the parliamentary means. After 2005 debate that was centered on airport scanner scandal Thaksin had to remove Suriya from Transport Minister post, the public confidence in TRT government was severy shaken, just months after they swept 75% in the elections. Several months later Sondhi started his anti-Thaksin, anti-corruption shows and they quickly attracted thousands of people, and the rest is history, as they say.

Last year PTP brought up 2005 election campaign charges against the Democrats and the matter now is going to the court, even if the parliament didn’t acknowledge the charges, DSI and the EC did.

This year, however, the debate has lost all sense.

It’s more like a discussion board with two sides piling up youtube videos against each other. This is beyond silly, as the presenters give those anonymous, unverified videos a lot more weight than they deserve. A lot of them would simply be inadmissible in the court, I suspect, yet PTP wants to remove the Prime Minister on their strength.

As it always turns out, neither side can possibly claim a victory, they just dig up more suspicious pictures and images.

Quite often the presenters have no clue what was really going on, Phatumwanaram temple is probably the best example.

As I was following the debate on twitter some opposition MP presented a video of soldiers on BTS tracks. Suthep immediately replied that the video was taken a day later, as there was no smoke coming form Siam Paragon (?). The presenter, according to tweet translations, said the smoke was there last time he checked it but now it’s somehow gone. Several minutes later Suthep himself mistakenly attributes something to a different date. Today in the Nation the episode is reported as doubting fires at Central World, not Paragon.

A week ago Suthep claimed that the Italian journalist was killed in a grenade blast, side by side with a soldier. He was clearly wrong, probably confusing the Italian with another reporter, a Canadian.

How can anyone trust anything said by these people?

What qualifications do they have to perform this ridiculous investigation? How are they better equipped than your average Internet user like you or me?

I, for one, would NOT recommend any real world action based on whatever arguments I present here. I would need a real world proof, not some undated, possibly doctored pictures and videos somewhere on the Internet.

I don’t know who shot all those people at the temple, it could have been soldiers, but, if you want to prove it, you need to find what soldiers they were, what unit, under whose command, what was their tactical goal, what were their orders, rules of engagement, when did they move to the area, how long they stayed, what they have been doing all this time, why they were shooting inside the temple and so on.

In other words, you need a real investigation, summoning real witnesses and collecting real evidence, not some half arsed attempt to search the Internet for “truth”.

Same goes for a lot of other “evidence” that the army was shooting innocent people, especially on the first day of Rajprasong blockade when reds on the outside tried to break in trough the army lines by all means possible.

There was this red dude who decided to play with his laser pointer and flash it on the army positions.

WTF!?! You just don’t play this kind of games, pretending to be a spotter for grenade launchers, like on April 10.

He was shot in the head by a sniper right there and then. Was he innocent? Terminally so.

In another case reds commandeered a truck, don’t know what they tried to do, earlier they have tried to ram trucks and buses at army lines. Anyway, soldiers opened fire, shot the tires.

Was is a warning enough for red shirts? One of them got the point and refused to drive the truck any further. Another volunteered, as soon as he got behind the wheel he was shot dead. Was it soldiers’ fault? Really?

Sometime later, in the same area, in front of the same group of soldiers (afaik) reds tried to set up a tire barricade. Didn’t they get the message yet? Did they need any more warnings? What was the barricade there for if not to attack the troops with molotovs, among other things, or what if it was manned by M70 carrying types, with troops well within the firing range?

How did these red expect NOT to get shot there?

I’m not sure MY version of what happened there is correct, far from it. BUT, it could have been so, even more likely than setting up a peaceful protest site for a little bit of flag waiving, and a water truck was needed there to provide showers.

Nevermind the general ignorance of how things actually developed over these days, the underlying premise of the censure debate, that Abhisit and Suthep should be held responsible, is completely beyond me.

They didn’t order troops to shoot, they weren’t there, up until now they still have no idea what happened at the temple, for example.

Why should they be held responsible for some unidentified soldiers breaking their rules of engagement, or even for some commanders ordering their troops to do so? How’s that Abhisit’s fault?

So far there’s not a shred of evidence to suggest the killings at the temple could be traced back to Abhisit, not even a suggestion this connection exist.

Ok, some could say that Abhisit could have expected that engaging the army would result in innocent casualties. But so did Jatuporn and all the other red leaders. I’m referring to Jatuporn’s speech today where he said “How can I hire people to die? Can I hire Suthep for this job?”

Maybe he didn’t hire people to die, but reds’ determination to fight the army and die for the cause is well documented. How can red leaders deny responsibility for setting this mindset among their followers?

Another point that Abhisit mentioned yesterday once but which is generally overlooked – the army didn’t even try to disperse the rally, they set the blockade outside the perimeter and fought off the attacking reds, and, on May 19, they only break through Saladaeng barricade and secured Ratchadamri and Lumpini park only up to Sarasin intersection, well away from the red stage.

It just doesn’t go well with “Abhisit sent the army to kill protesters” accusation.

Ok, back to Chalerm “bomb” – he decided to grill Kasit for suggesting the society needs to talk about taboo subject like monarchy!

“We including Thaksin & his family have never considered les majesty law as an obstacle like Kasit does.”

There you go.

Where is Hobby with his undying support for the red cause AND for reforming LM laws? Where does the entire New Mandala brigade stand on this one?

Were they batting for this Chalerm team all along?

At the start of his speech Chalerm introduced himself as Thaksin’s disciple, btw.

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Chaos – subsiding or expanding?

Let’s step away from “they are armed – no they are not” debate for a moment and look at a slightly bigger picture.

It all started when the army decided to block Rajprasong from getting essential services like electricity and food and prevent more supporters form joining in.

Publicly reds were unperturbed, pointing out to the their own generators and fire hydrants that would never be short of water. Having said that, hordes of red shirts started attacking the army check points, trying to break through the blockade.

Soldiers fought back and defended their positions, scores of attackers were killed or wounded.

It was generally lost on the commentariat that however logical this red tactic might be, attacking army positions has no moral, legal or “democratic” excuse. International media was talking about army fighting the protesters but also failed to mention that the army hasn’t even tried to breach red barricades and came under attack “from behind”.

In the following couple of days the positions remained more or less stable with soldiers holding their positions around Rajprasong and reds on the outside setting fires at a safe distance.

The army is preparing to deal with Rajprasong and for now left tire burning reds to themselves, they are harmless and won’t dare to attack the troops again. They could deal with them later, after the main site is cleared and secured.

As I was typing this the news announcement came in telling the reds at Rajprasong to leave before 3PM or else. Else being put in jail for two years (if they survive the assault, that is…)

The public is fed images of burning Bangkok and reds in places like Bon Kai and Victory monument acting with impunity. In PR terms they are now their own worst enemy, after they burned Tesco Express and a gold shop and a couple of ATMs, robbed 7-Elevens and so on.

Even Weng on the red stage spent nearly half an hour warning against looting and burning property as it would turn the population against them.

So, is it a total chaos? Looks so if you just follow the news, yet it appears to be under control if you look at overall army operations. They didn’t expect all these pillows of smoke and accusations of shooting unarmed protesters or reds trying to attack their positions from the outside but, apart from delaying the crackdown on Rajprasong by a couple of days, reds didn’t achieve anything substantial.

They also failed to inflict any serious casualties on the army proving that their daring assaults are still no match to army’s superior firepower, though that might change when soldiers charge bamboo barricades that are supposed to be well defended. It’s not clear how many people are left manning those barricades, reds might have a serious shortage of manpower to guard their very long perimeter.

What I don’t understand is why the army delayed their advance until after 3 PM at least – there will be only a couple of hours of daylight left. Are they planning to finish the whole operation in three hours? Or are they hoping for a surrender? Or are they planning to move at dawn tomorrow?

Either way, pending some unexpected developments, the final assault on Rajprasong seems inevitable.

Battle of attrition drags on

It’s somewhat depressing to try and resume blogging on this stalemate. Daily developments are too trivial and nothing seems to be worth mentioning.

Last night the CAPO guy promised some action when he announced new rules of engagement – no more pushing and shoving, the only physical contact will be with bullets, be they rubber or live. Interesting, I thought, that would certainly reduce injuries from hand to hand combat with batons and assorted red weaponry, like sharpened bamboo sticks.

Another day has passed with nothing happening, however, except “lak si”, multi colored shirt movement is gaining strength:

Lak Si at Wong Wian

If it goes like this, and PAD’s deadline expires and genuine yellows join in, we’ll soon have a far bigger crowd demonstrating against red demonstration for democracy.

Lak Si leaders promised 100,000 this weekend, a tall order but still a lot of people.

The army and the government have very little time left to mount a red dispersal operation, until the end of the week at most, before the hell breaks loose and everybody, and I mean everybody you can think of, starts blaming them for incompetency and inefficiency.

Electorally speaking, perhaps it would be wiser for Abhisit to cut losses and dissolve the parliament now than clearly and irrevocably prove that he can’t be trusted with protecting the country. He could still fire Anupong, though, and buy himself another week, but one way or another, sooner or later, he should face his red demons. That is simply unavoidable.

Would it mean a civil war? Quite possibly, as Anupong admitted that there will be pockets of resistance throughout the country even if they successfully manage to finish Rajprasong occupation.

Should the government back off to preserve the peace? It could try, but reds want war, not peace. They don’t want to deal with anybody, they want only total capitulation, which is unacceptable to the rest of the country.

If there is going to be civil war, now is the best time, not after reds assumed power and tipped the balance of political and military power to their side. Opposition to their rule would be massive and if the civil war breaks out then, it would be far bloodier and more brutal than now, when all they have to fight with is bamboo sticks and molotov cocktails.

I’m saying that appeasing them now would only make them bolder and stronger and more difficult to deal with later, and that time will inevitably come, first, perhaps, in the form of renewed yellow anti-protest protest next week.

So, the government has no other choice but to physically subdue the reds now, when the whole country demands it to, however difficult it might be.

Oh, and questions about legitimacy of reds as a democratic movement were answered weeks ago, when they broke into and disrupted the work of the government and parliament and Election Commission and “rescued” Arisman from inept cops.

They do not abide by country’s laws anymore, they have to be dealt with accordingly, as outlaws, not as people with grievances making their voice heard. That show is over, now they are already at war with the government, according to Arisman, or threaten the government with civil war, as Weng did the other day.

Abhisit should surely address their grievances and engage in more talks and negotiations, but in tandem with dispersing the protest at Rajprasong and detaining the leaders with outstanding arrest warrants.

Red leaders themselves got into a dead end situation. They have no place to go but to jail, or to war. In case of the war they might be sacrificed by their own “ronins” to try an raise red anger throughout the country.

The only way out for them is a creation of a new Thai state, overwriting the existing laws and throwing away court decisions – ie victory in a civil war, or a red people coup or whatever they would call it. Good luck with that, kids.

They listened only to themselves for too long to believe that they country would allows itself to be overrun by bamboo stick revolutionaries.

The only thing keeping them alive is that their enemies are humane enough not to go out and grant them the wish of “dying for democracy”. These self-proclaimed “prais” don’t value their lives as much as their “ammart masters” who, in turn, have to endure daily admonitions for being bloodthirsty from people they adamantly refuse to harm.

The time will have to come, however, if not now than in a couple of months time or before the end of the year – reds WILL be confronted, it’s inevitable.

As I type this, another red-laksi confrontation is heating up at Silom. So far it’s only shouting, but it’s not even weekend yet.

Third hand

At this moment I’m almost convinced that the Saturday violence was provoked by a third hand, professional soldiers of Khattiya’s variety.

First, the outbreak of violence at Kok Wua came without warning, no one noticed any particular troop build up or anything, it caught all the reporters there off guard. Look at this ThaiFaq’s recap, there are two videos there, too, you can clearly see (hear) how gun shots came out of the blue.

It’s impossible to tell who were the first victims, but it’s clear that the reaction was immediate and both sides engaged in a deadly exchange.

Over here you can see some video of gun shots fired at the soldiers, and some gun toting red guards as they appeared on Al Jazeera.

Once the fighting started, and that included throwing rocks, sticks, molotov cocktails, non-government issue tear gas and grenades at the soldiers, the “third hand” were picking the targets at will on both sides.

Apparently they took a higher ground, on the second floor of the buildings at the intersection and so had clear view of both the army and the reds. There was a video replayed on public TV today showing someone firing from a second floor window, haven’t seen it on youtube yet, sorry.

UPDATE Ok, here it is – at about 20 second mark there are shots fired from the red crowd very close to the camera, and at about 1 min mark there’s a shot fired from the second story building on the right. For a few seconds before that people were pointing at that spot with laser pointers and flashlights, meaning they’ve spotted the shooter earlier and the recorded shot was probably not the first one.

One of the Nation’s editors talked to an aide to the killed army colonel, the soldiers took a lot of fire from the higher ground, pointing at the involvement of a third hand again. Perhaps that’s also how they spotted the command tent and accurately fired a grenade from a grenade launcher that killed the colonel and left four other troops in coma.

The worst thing about these third hands, though, is that they created “martyrs” from innocent red shirts, too. Look at this video, here’s a guy, well away from the troublespot, separated from the soldiers by god knows how many protesters, doing nothing in particular, gets half of his head suddenly blown off.

I’m not a forensic scientist, but I don’t believe a stray bullet from M-16 could have possibly done that. A sniper rifle from a second floor and less than a hundred meters away is a far better explanation.

Why would they have killed their own reds? Well, red leaders got a lot of mileage from snatching this man’s body from a hospital, draping it into a Thai flag and putting it on the red stage for all to see and fill their hears with rage and hatred towards the army.

Tomorrow they are going to parade his body around Bangkok, along with many others. How many of them were actually killed by third hands? Bangkok Pundit didn’t give the sources here but his conclusion also supports the theory of snipers shooting reds.

And, to top it off, we have this admission from Khattiya himself about “Ronin warriors” helping out red shirts to kill the soldiers.

This third hand theory explains everything that happened on that fateful Saturday – the initial outbreak of violence, crucial killings on both sides, scaring soldiers into indiscriminate firing at red protesters as they mistakenly thought that it was reds who were shooting at them, it also explain the escalation of violence – the previous clashes were far less violent with no signs of live ammunition used.

Various analysts have long warned that some third party was ready to stage a provocation and possibly even kill some red leaders in order to take the confrontation to the next level. It seems the army got caught and responded with excessive force.

To be fair to the army, there were people with guns in the red crowd, too, some probably confiscated them from the soldiers earlier, but some of “Ronin” helpers brought their own with a full intent to use them against both sides if necessary.

Now, if the government can put up a quick presentation outlining the involvement of this third hand, and, especially, seed some serious doubts that it was not the soldiers who killed some of the most prominent red victims, it might go a long long way towards diffusing the situation. It will surely take the steam out of tomorrow’s martyr march and, perhaps, even unite the reds and the government against the common enemy.

I bet there will be a massive sigh of relief on both sides if they can find a credible scapegoat. In fact the whole country would be greatly relieved – it wasn’t us, reds and yellows, it was “them” who were responsible for the worst violence in recent history.

Come to think of it, even if the theory turns out not to be true after full investigation, the result might justify presenting it now anyway – if it brings the warring sides together. That’s a bit of a moral dilemma, the end justifies the means, but I can’t immediately see a possible downside.

Final Throes

The conflict is coming to an end, it just can’t go on like this for much longer. The question is – whose final throes?

News were coming fast and hard in the past couple of days with sentiment swinging wildly from one side to another in a matter of hours, and then the hell broke lose.

Reds have abandoned all pretense of civility and resorted to raw force, openly defying and confronting security forces. The city is entirely at their mercy and they abide no laws and show no respect to anybody.

On Monday they broke into EC building, I was in a taxi at the time and heard Arisaman inciting the crowds on the radio, calling on EC Chairman, Apichart, to come and meet them in person or they would go to his house themselves. Tulsathit tweeted another of his lines: “If you don’t dissolve Democrats, we’ll dissolve your lives”.

How on earth is it possible to run free elections when the EC is under such attack from a side that thinks it’s entitled to win?

Then reds marched to Democrat’s HQ and shortly after a grenade explosion injured two people.

Who in his right mind believes reds would allow Democrats run a free, unhindered campaign?

Then reds broke into the parliament compound, forcing MPs to flee over the fence in the back, with Suthep airlifted by a helicopter.

One red leader demanded House dissolution immediately.

At this point this movement needs to be dispersed and forced to abide by the rule of law, it’s beyond talks and negotiations, only, perhaps, on the terms of their dismantling.

In reality, however, Abhisit might not have the resources to enforce the laws. Anupong is against it, at least for now, and it’s currently Bangkok Post’s lead story on their website. Thanong goes even further, claiming that Anupong issued an ultimatum to Abhisit – 48 hours or we’ll announce a new governing coalition.

The problem with this plan is that Abhisit can dissolve the House anytime he wants regardless of generals plan. The only thing that can stop him is a no-confidence motion which would be impossible to start under red assault.

The other problem is that public opinion among the non-reds is quickly shifting towards crackdown rather than capitulation.

Tulsathit ran a tweet poll on this and, among govt supporters, crackdown is leading by 3 to 1 margin. There were only 500+ votes but all other pro-government posted opinions at the Nation are shaping in exactly the same way.

At this point it’s difficult to say what’s holding Abhisit back. Perhaps it’s Anupong’s refusal, perhaps it’s the fact that they started their operations at 9AM on public holiday when reds can mobilize tens of thousands of people in half an hour.

Shutting down this rally, which is now constantly on the move, is a huge challenge for either police or the army, even if Abhisit makes up his mind he’d still need to wait for a working plan and an opportunity.

In the meantime, Banharn is going on TV in a couple of hours, and if he capitulates we can start looking at a quite gloomy prospect of Zimbabwe style elections, run by reds with total impunity in many areas of the country, according to the law of the jungle, and against the wishes of the majority.

Post elections politics will be extremely vicious and, should Democrats form a new coalition, we’ll see return of the reds, and should reds win and try to push pro-Thaksin agenda, return of the yellows and pinks.

Or Abhisit could persevere, get police and the army on board, subdue the reds, and keep on running the country until the reds regroup and start their protests again. The difference would be that the scheduled elections will be already close and reds would be forced to actually campaign for something rather than against everything.

What are the generals up to these days?

Current 24/7, instant replay coverage of political developments has completely bypassed one, allegedly the most important group – the army.

So, who knows what is on generals’ mind?

Bangkok Post’s Wassayos and Nation’s Thanong so far are the only journalists claiming to be in the know. Sadly, their “reports” totally contradict each other. They agree on one thing, though, generals have ulterior motives and are up to no good.

According to Wassayos, they are totally backing Abhisit and forcing him not to give up to dissolution demands until their business is settled first (the budget and the appointment of the next chief).

According to Thanong, however, the generals have deserted Abhisit and are busy cobbling up a new coalition, he actually mentioned it first, on Sunday morning, a few days before Wassayos article.

None of them sites any sources, even anonymous ones.

Both scenarios are equally plausible, too.

Certainly the generals have their self-interests, but, honestly, they will get what they want no matter who will form the government. I doubt they were fond of Somchai, for example, but his first order of business was to sign a huge bill for their needs.

The only practical way to keep them on the leash is for Abhisit to manage through the crisis on his own so that he doesn’t feel obliged. After last Songkran Anupong was left with a tail between his legs already, and then there was police chief saga where 3Ps couldn’t prevail over Abhisit, and so it’s more likely he would rather follow Thanong scenario or, if not, try to get into Abhisit’s good books instead.

This is not to say that Wassayos scenario is less likely. As far as his opinion is concerned, the part that I doubt most is that they call ALL the shots. It’s too late for them to stay away as they did during PAD protests and they won’t dare to publicly abandon Abhisit now. They don’t have any real leverage, being held hostages to their own promises.

They might offer help during the elections but their 2007 involvement in Isan was disastrous and Abhisit could just say thanks but no thanks, you, guys, only draw unwanted attention and, frankly, you are a liability when it comes to election campaign.

This brings me back to the option of secret talks with Banharn and Newin. Generals would certainly get more leverage that way than trying to manipulate Abhisit who has proven himself to be “dek due” – stubborn.

Maybe Thanong’s “report” is totally off mark, given coalition continuing public support for Abhisit, but no one had a clue Newin decided to defect back in 2008, too.

Either way, it seems the best option is for Abhisit to rely on public opinion and groups like “pink shirts”, and sideline the generals altogether. If this latest movement gets momentum even Banharn and Newin would think twice about doing a parliamentary coup. They can wait for the people to do all the fighting, come out clean and shiny, and not owe the generals a single satang.

Oh, and as far as reds are concerned, they’d wholeheartedly embrace this military brokered deal if generals throw a couple of bones Thaksin’s way. Some would probably think something is not right, but, in that group, the leadership has all the power, sets all the agenda, and has all the tools to “educate” the “awakened” masses in any way they want.

That’s just fact of life, without this, centrally installed infrastructure, red movement would not exist, deserters are consigned to oblivion.

Thai Army Asserts Foreign Policy Role – allegedly

Marwaan Macan-Markar has a new article in Irrawaddy.

His main point is that “Thailand’s powerful military remains the dominant player in shaping the relationship between this Southeast Asian kingdom and its immediate neighbors.”

Does it now?

Where was the military in the latest Thai-Cambodia diplomatic spat? They were the cool heads, on both sides, practically ignoring the hysteria in political circles.

Where is the military in relations with Malaysia? Or Burma?

Where was the military when Thaksin unceremoniously sacked Surayud over disagreements on Burma policy? And it was in Thaksin’s years that Hmong refugees were given to the military to handle, and so they did, through five or six civilian governments.

I can’t see any reason for Marwaan to state that Thai military dominates Thai foreign policy. I think he just continues the tired anti-coup agenda, the staple food of FCCT of which he was a president during post coup years.

Besides, given the scum Thai politics has churned up over the past couple of years, the military double check on Thai foreign policies might not be such a bad idea. Prior to Abhisit Thai overtures to Burmese generals were really sickening, for example, and Noppadon’s secret agreement on Preah Vihear could have been stopped in time if he had to run it by Thai army that has its own views on sovereignty.

Ideally, country’s foreign policies must be under parliamentary control, but that had been seriously lacking during the past decade. Any double check, be it by the generals, courts or even Privy Councilors would have been welcome. In that vein even Abhisit should have run Hmong expulsion by the parliament. As for handling refugees – it’s either police, or the military, or ISOC – someone with physical power to control thousands of men.

Originally I’ve seen the article through Thai Political Prisoners but, apparently, comments don’t function there today so I have no other venue to vent my anger on that half-arsed assertion than my own blog.

Without TPP it wouldn’t have happened in the first place, of course.