Security agencies see limited possibility of violence today

national February 02, 2014 00:00

By Pakorn Puengnetr
The Sunday N

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Close watch on outskirts of Bangkok, which could be prone to clashes

Security agencies, mainly the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order, expected no riots or severe clashes between people with different political opinions on election day today, but remain wary that the outskirts of Bangkok and provinces in the South could be vulnerable areas.

Many people might be looking beyond today’s election as they believe it will be nullified. However, attention must be paid to the possibility of violence today amid the ongoing political conflict, going by the bloodshed that took place for the advance just last Sunday.
The divide is still great between people who seek national reform before the election and those who want the reforms to follow the election.
According to the security agencies, four scenarios are possible:
1 The anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) undertakes a symbolic protest by rallying on the streets to make the point that a lot of Thais are boycotting the election. In this case, there is little chance of violence.
2 The PDRC obstructs the election by blocking voters at 50 district offices in Bangkok where the ballot equipments are stored. In this case, some chaos is possible but the government believes it would be able to keep it under control and the Election Commission (EC) would be able to hold by-elections.
3 Some groups instigate a situation that could lead to the election being nullified. Some clashes might happen and force the vote counting to be stopped in some areas.
4 Severe clashes lead to widespread rioting, forcing the military to take control of the situation. It will not be a military coup, though.
However, the security agencies have not seen mobilisation of people from the South to Bangkok as during the “Bangkok shutdown” on January 13 or previous mass rallies. Therefore, the first and second scenarios are more likely, a source, who asked not to be named, said.
The PDRC’s strategy appears to have changed from blocking the holding of the election to poll nullification by having political groups file a case in the Constitutional Court to nullify the elections.
The PDRC would need to conserve its manpower and resources should the protests be prolonged further while awaiting the Constitutional Court rulings or other independent agencies to take action against government members as well as former government MPs and senators. The cases include the National Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigation into the rice-pledging scheme and the impeachment of the 308 lawmakers who proposed or supported the Constitution amendment related to the composition of the Senate. 
In Bangkok, sensitive areas include the constituencies where those supporting and opposing the election are in equal numbers. In Thon Buri, Bang Bon could be a volatile district while districts in Bangkok with scope for conflict include Min Buri, Nong Chok and Lat Phrao. These outskirts are also strongholds of the Pheu Thai Party and the red shirts.
In particular, Phra Nakhon, Dusit, Pathumwan, Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Din Daeng, Bang Sue, Chatuchak, Klong Toei, Don Muang, Lak Si, Ratchathewi, Lat Phrao and Wattana are among the vulnerable areas.
Besides Bangkok, the areas deserving special attention include the post offices in Thung Song in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Chumphon and Hat Yai of Songkhla as the party-list ballot papers have been blocked there.
The Democrats’ decision to boycott the election raised hopes of Pheu Thai candidates and local parties to win in the traditional Democrat strongholds. Many of them filed only as party-list candidates. If the election is obstructed, those politicians will be angry at the lost opportunity. 
Besides Bangkok, the areas deserving special attention include the post offices in Thung Song of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Chumphon and Hat Yai of Songkhla as the ballot paper has been blocked there.
To deal with any eventuality, some 130,000 police officers have been deployed nationwide, besides 47 military companies, who will be ready for rapid deployment if there is violence. Logistics that could be used to mobilise a lot of people will also be closely monitored.

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