Reconciliation forums should be carefully managed
With the government finalising preparations to kick off a series of public forums on reconciliation, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung has stepped into the limelight as the man in charge.Based on the preparations in progress, Chalerm is trying to mobilise state mechanisms for a government offensive to sway public sentiment and achieve greater national unity.
However, the push for reconciliation envisioned by the government involves granting an amnesty for fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
And Thaksin's opponents have been monitoring developments closely with an aim to counter every move the government makes in regard to an amnesty.
Should the rival camps make a miscalculated move, the risk of repeating the political violence of two years ago is very real.
Back in May, the yellow shirts descended on the streets and effectively blocked the legislative debate on the reconciliation bill. The government thwarted a confrontation by putting the bill on hold until it could build consensus on the issue.
Faced with the possible resumption of street protests, Chalerm subsequently instructed police to be prepared to undertake crowd control measures. By his estimate, police will earmark Bt400 million to properly equip anti-riot forces.
The Metropolitan Police Bureau has been busy training police to rein in crowds. The police message is clear - they intend to foil any yellow-shirt protests at an early stage rather than allow the crowds to surge.
Several rally organisers face on-going court battles over previous protests and police have threatened to revoke their bail.
Chalerm, meanwhile, has moved ahead in working with police and interior officials to ensure a favourable outcome for the upcoming public forums.
And while he has met officials to talk about the suppression of illicit drugs, many still see his meetings as a discreet check on the loyalty of top bureaucrats and the level of cooperation they give to the government.
On October 12, he chaired a teleconference with provincial governors nationwide. And on the sidelines of the mobile Cabinet meeting in Samui over the weekend, he met with police commanders from Provincial Police Region 8 and provincial governors from the upper South.
This Saturday he will hold a meeting at Nakhon Ratchasima with provincial governors and police commanders in charge of the Northeast.
It is noteworthy that two pro-Thaksin politicians, Adisorn Piengket and Sutham Saenpratoom, have often been seen at Chalerm's side during these meetings.
Adisorn and Sutham are known for their vast experience in working with the masses.
Chalerm has admitted that the two could give invaluable advice in pushing for reconciliation because they were involved in the famous uprisings in 1973 and 1976.
His Nakhon Ratchasima meeting will coincide with a rally at the Royal Turf Club organised by the Pitak Siam Organisation.
Pitak Siam, led by retired Army officer General Boonlert Kaewprasit, is seen as an offshoot of the yellow and multi-coloured shirts. Boonlert is known as an ardent critic of Thaksin's populist policies.
Leaders of the red shirts have voiced suspicion that Pitak Siam is actually a front set up by opponents to fault and unseat the government.
But their suspicion might not be accurate. Pitak Siam organised its first activity, billed as a merit making, in June. Its second event this Saturday will focus on populism and runaway power.
Its real target may be to counter any homecoming by Thaksin - not overthrowing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Pitak Siam may presently appear harmless. But it has the potential to become a roaring tiger should a misstep happen in efforts to bring Thaksin home before achieving genuine reconciliation.