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ANALYSIS

Blue shirts complicating politics


Did new colour step in to help fight reds, or was there an ulterior motive?

Those who have been divided for long unite, while those who have been united for long divide. This seems to be the case in politics. Besides, there are always new factions created and broken.

For instance, while the anti-government reds and the pro-government yellow-shirts were fighting fierce battles, a new coalition was formed under the colour blue.

The blue shirts emerged under the auspices of the Interior Ministry, run by Bhum Jai Thai party leader Chaovarat Chanweerakul, to help the government fight the reds. The party's de-facto leader, however, is Newin Chidchob from Buri Ram, who created a faction in the now-defunct People's Power Party (PPP), and decided to break away and back the Democrat-led government.

The blue group first appeared in public view during the red-shirt protest at the Asean summit in Pattaya. Newin mobilised hundreds of blue-clad men to attack the red-shirted protesters, which turned a peaceful protest into an angry mob that disrupted the Asean summit.

 

In addition, the blue group reportedly stoked the Songkran Day riots in the capital. Opposition MP and red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan alleged that an LPG truck was brought into the King Power duty-free shopping mall by the blue group to lure the public into believing it was the reds. The owner of the King Power shopping mall is Wichai Raksriaksorn, a long-time friend of Newin.

The blue group's actions could be seen from two perspectives:

First, Newin simply wanted to help the government bring down the red group by stirring violence and shifting the blame to discredit the red shirts.

Second, he wanted to create chaos as a pretext for the military to step in and control the situation, thus prompting Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign for failing to control the situation.

Since the situation on Songkran Day was not bad enough to shift the blame onto the government, an attempt to assassinate media tycoon and yellow-shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul was allegedly used to provoke further political chaos.

Perhaps Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was the only person to believe that ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts were behind the attempt on Sondhi's life. However, most analysts believe that the new blue-clad political group was playing a game at making political changes.

The blue-shirt group includes a small political party as well as people from the military and police.

To be precise, Chaovarat managed to create a brand-new faction under the nose of the previous government.

Chaovarat reinstated police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwan when he was acting government head after then-PM Somchai Wongsawat was forced to step down due to the dissolution of the PPP. Somchai had initially moved Patcharawat to an inactive post for failing to control the yellow-shirted protest last October.

Patcharawat is closely connected to his elder brother Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. Four-star General Prawit is said to have played a key role in forming the current government because he invited all key political factions, including that of Newin, to a secret place to discuss the political plan.

Prawit has never been a Democrat. He was made army chief by Thaksin in 2004. He started climbing the military ladder in the late 1960s when he joined the 21st Infantry Division, 12th Infantry Division and later the 2nd Infantry Division based in the Eastern region, which brought him close to veteran politician Snoh Thienthong, who hails from the Eastern province of Sa Kaew.

Snoh and Newin know each other well, because they both used to work for the now-defunct Chart Thai Party. Newin dispatched his men to run the race in Snoh's Pracharaj Party in the previous election. So, nobody should be surprised that Newin's father, House Speaker Chai Chidchob, proposed that Snoh chair the committee for national reconciliation and political reform.

Prawit also brought Army chief General Anupong Paochinda, who looks up to him as an elder brother, into the power syndicate. Anupong followed in Prawit's footsteps, starting his climb at the 21st Infantry Division, 2nd Infantry Division, then the First Army Region before becoming Army chief. Interestingly, both of them are royal guards.

The new power syndicate can be considered perfect, because they have all kinds of power - politicians, the police and military. If political reform is ever going to happen, it is quite possible that this group will be able to take over soon.

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