The Foreign Ministry has told the whole world that the protesters' takeover of Government House represents democracy at work in Thailand. But the Samak government is charging the core leaders of the PAD with high treason. The line between civil disobedience and treason is not clear in this particular case.
The PAD claims to have been following the edicts of civil disobedience through its rallies, which have been going on since May 25. It aims to remove the Samak government from office, which it says has lost legitimacy because it sold out Thailand's sovereignty regarding the temple of Preah Vihear to Cambodia, among other reasons.
The Constitution Court ruled 8-1 against the Samak Cabinet for having approved a joint communiqué that permitted the Cambodian government to go ahead alone in applying for the listing of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site with Unesco.
By this ruling alone, the Samak Cabinet should have resigned because it committed a grave violation against the Constitution. That however would have shown a spirit for high politics that we can't expect from Thai politicians, who have no shame.
That's why we have the inconvenient phenomenon of PAD street demonstrations.
But the Samak government regards the PAD's core leaders as traitors against the state. It has acquired arrest warrants from the Criminal Court to put these dissidents behind bars.
Chamlong Srimuang, one of PAD's core leaders, has made the movement's position clear. First, the PAD demands that the politicians leave the Constitution alone. Second, the Samak government must step down unconditionally because it has lost all legitimacy. Third, the PAD does not support a military coup.
If the PAD's disapproval of a coup is to be believed for the sake of argument, then its call for Samak to step down means that it would like Parliament to pick a new prime minister. Since the PAD would not approve of any candidate from the People Power Party to serve as the new prime minister, it must want an outsider. For all political parties to vote an outsider in as prime minister would mean a "national government" for Thailand if the PAD wins this battle political battle.
The new prime minister would have to possess character and stature, someone in the same league as Anand Panyarachun. To do so, some articles of the Constitution would have to be suspended.
Sondhi Limthongkul, one of PAD's leaders, has vowed to continue the rally inside the Government House compound until Sunday before declaring victory. Anything can happen between now and then.
Chamlong told his supporters that they should not worry about him if he were to be arrested, as General Pallop Pinmanee, his long-time friend with extensive combat experience, would replace him as leader of the PAD.
Pallop has stepped up to take the challenge. He said while Chamlong is a good defence strategist, he himself is more of a warrior. If he were to lead PAD, the battle would be finished in three days, whatever that means.
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has acted like jelly. Initially, he vowed to take drastic action against protesters. Now he is sending out the signal that he is willing to compromise. In the worst-case scenario, he would like to hang on at least until the government has passed the 2009 budget.
What has turned Samak into a man of compromise remains a mystery. Interior Minister Kowit Watana also lacks teeth. The police in general have also softened their tone against the PAD. They all would like the protesters to leave the Government House compound in peace and for the movement's leaders to surrender peacefully as well.
Samak has moved more prudently, by using all legal means available to deal with the PAD. This is aimed at showing to the whole world that the government is playing by the rules.
First, authorities have put 84 members of PAD, including the Srivichai Warriors, behind bars for having trespassing and damaging property at NBT, the state-run television station. Second, the government has sought and acquired arrest warrants from the court for PAD's core leaders. Third, the government has asked the Civil Court to issue an order for the protesters to leave Government House immediately.
The problem now is how to implement the court orders. If authorities storm Government House to implement the court orders, physical clashes and casualties would result. The government would lose this battle immediately. It will have to resort to negotiations to achieve the optimal result.
Meanwhile, the PAD has taken a big step in taking over Government House. But Government House has posed logistical problems. It is very difficult to control people from moving in and out. Once you're inside, you're locked up until the next day. Holding the ground for the next three days will be rather tiresome, depending on whether new protesters add their support by joining in.
We do not know the result yet. If the government loses this battle, it will have to resign. If the PAD loses the battle, its members will have to face a severe jail term.