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Yingluck dithers as emergency decree proves to be a dud

The state of emergency declared by the caretaker Yingluck government has turned into a farce, adding more confusion and further complicating a political situation already adrift. There is no way it can be effectively implemented. To begin with, there is no clear chain of command to take charge of enforcing the emergency decree. This law authorises government authorities to take drastic measures against the Occupy Bangkok Movement led by Suthep Thaugsuban.

Historical precedent suggests the emergency decree will fail. But does the caretaker government have the legal authority - never mind the legitimacy - to issue an emergency decree in the first place? How can the February 2 election proceed under the dark cloud of emergency, given that the poll result is already almost certain to be subject to a court challenge?

Recent failures in the implementation of emergency decrees were witnessed first under the Samak government and then under the Somchai administration. In both cases, the military took charge but were reluctant to employ force against the yellow-shirt protesters. The emergency decree was thus reduced to a paper tiger. The Abhisit government also declared a state of emergency, responding to the red-shirt protests. In that case, the military, after an initial delay, did step in to drive the red shirts from the Ratchaprasong area and end one of the bloodiest episodes in modern Thai history.

Now, there are signs of growing weakness in the caretaker government. The Occupy Bangkok movement has defied the emergency decree, acting as if nothing has happened. Instead of bringing in the military or police to quash the protest, the administration has remained indecisive. The signs are clear. Yingluck and her mentor Thaksin Shinawatra are losing the support of the military. They committed a grave mistake in overestimating their ability to buy up and subjugate the whole security apparatus. The police remain as a pillar of support for the government. But the police force can't mobilise to nab the protest leaders and disperse the crowds at seven locations in Bangkok without confronting the military, who will provide protection to the Occupy Bangkok movement.

Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha and Supreme Commander General Thanasak Patimaprakorn have been betting on the wrong horse all along by providing support to the Yingluck government. They have never signalled that the military would like the country to undertake reforms first before holding a new election. With the military in indecisive mode, the political crisis has dragged on for almost three months. General Prayuth opted to travel to the South as Yingluck declared the state of emergency. He was running away from the political reality.

The game-changer is the Royal Thai Navy. Earlier this week Rear Admiral Winai Klom-in, commander of the Thai Navy Seals, came out in support of the Occupy Bangkok movement, saying that the military would not allow the government to use force against the protesters. He also attacked those associated with the torching of Bangkok in 2010, when red shirts, black-shirted militiamen and mercenaries from a neighbouring country battled government forces. By implication, Rear Admiral Winai must have been given the green light by the Navy chief to speak his mind. His words reflect a rift within the military and represent strong evidence of Prayuth's frustration at no longer being fully in charge.

At this juncture, the governing Pheu Thai Party is losing its power quickly. If it decides to use force against the protesters, it will be dealt with decisively by the military. If it hangs on until February 2, the opposition-boycotted election will fail to produce a result and legal challenges will help prevent its comeback. The protesters can only remove the caretaker government with a decisive ruling against the administration from the National Anti-Corruption Commission or the courts. This stand-off cannot continue forever. So who will blink first?


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