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A Suthep dilemma: what if the govt plays soft?

THE PLANNED "shutdown" of Bangkok as announced by People's Democratic Reform Committee (PRDC) secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban is drawing near.

It has created widespread concern because it's clear there are many people willing to follow Suthep, and the spreading of the occupation to numerous spots around the city could be a high risk.

The announcement of a plan to set up big rally stages mostly in the heart of Bangkok - at the Government Complex at Chaengwattana, Ladprao intersection, Victory Monument, Rajthevi intersection, Asoke intersection and Ratchaprasong intersection - would be enough to paralyse Bangkok traffic.

The announcement that people near any such spot could also join in the demonstration is also worrisome because the chance of a confrontation between those who support and oppose the PDRC is real. The risks of resistance to the PDRC could be classified as both low and high.

Minimum risk would be to hold placards expressing dissatisfaction regarding the shutdown of Bangkok and its adverse impacts. High risk would be violent confrontation that would lead to chaos at various centres around the capital.

The latter scenario is not what caretaker PM Yingluck Shinawatra wants because violent clashes would open the door to the so-called "outside the system" power, namely the military, to intervene. That's why we have been seeing a very compromising role played by the government with its willingness to take a step back on several fronts, which includes forbidding pro-government red shirts from showing force to avoid risk.

Nevertheless, the big question for the PDRC is what it would do if the government played soft on Monday and avoided all forms of confrontation - because the longer it kept Bangkok shut, the fewer supporters and less support there would be.

Let us not forget that the main support base for the PDRC is in Bangkok. While protesters may feel they're having fun, satisfied and even emboldened by the shutdown, the longer it drags on, the more dissatisfaction it will create, and the more they will distance themselves from the PDRC.

But what will the PDRC do if the game drags on while the government is focused on the February 2 election? Although the election may lead to less than 95 per cent of MPs being elected, the Parliament can still be convened and the government will likely maintain its power. These factors will play against the PDRC.

Given such a scenario, the PDRC may speed up its game to thwart the election. There are not that many choices and they include pushing the protesters to areas that are high-risk for violent confrontation in order to call the military out. Let us not forget that it would not be a nice ending and there are many people who would not accept the power of the coup.

There's no certainty of a happy-ending scenario. If all sides, particularly the PDRC, opened their hearts to a true negotiation and reduced the PDRC's impossible pre-conditions - such as insisting on a "people's revolution" or the setting up of a "People's Council", and directing its demands towards the creation of a national reform council in a way that is acceptable to both parties - then there's hope, however.

The Election Commission (EC) could then try to find a legal solution and the Kingdom could hold an election jointly with reform.

Moves in the days ahead by both the government and the PDRC will determine whether Thailand will find a way out or will be trapped in darkness for a very long time.








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