Stage seems set for return to vicious cycle of political conflict

national August 01, 2013 00:00

By Attayuth Bootsripoom

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As the new parliamentary session approaches, the political situation is becoming intense. Detractors and rivals of the government are taking to the streets after having waited for two years, since the ruling coalition came to power.

The government has been accused repeatedly of corruption, favouritism, unfair treatment, double standards and acting for the benefit of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. The apparent goal is to undermine the government’s legitimacy in running the country.

To the government’s detractors, the last straw is its plan to push for an amnesty law for protesters. A bill proposed by a group of MPs from the ruling Pheu Thai Party has been tabled for House deliberation next Wednesday.

Government critics and the opposition say the main beneficiaries from the proposed law would be red-shirt protesters who committed severe criminal offences during the 2010 unrest, such as rioting, theft, arson and murder. Ordinary protesters who violated the state of emergency law and the Internal Security Act invoked during the unrest have all completed their jail terms.

The opposition Democrat Party has made it clear that they will vote against the amnesty bill. They also have vowed to campaign against such a law both inside and outside Parliament.

For those committing criminal offences, red-shirt leaders and Pheu Thai have argued that their violations stemmed from their political ideology, so they deserve amnesty. Red shirts, who are Pheu Thai supporters, also have vowed to gather outside Parliament to protect the government.

A group of militant anti-government protesters have been trained by former Army captain Songklod Chuenchuphol, in the same way as the late red-shirt strategist Maj-General Khattiya Sawatdiphol did, ahead of the red shirts’ major rallies in 2010.

With confrontation looming between both sides, the political situation again has become volatile.

The government appears to be more skilful than its predecessors in dealing with protesters. The efficient police crackdown on Pitak Siam protesters in November last year was proof.

This government has insisted that its intelligence units provide actual estimates and assessments of protesters and their numbers. As a result, it has good knowledge about its enemies. Moreover, the government has command over a large number of supporters.

The authorities appear to have taken a hard stance against the anti-government demonstrators who plan to protest against the amnesty bill next week. Crowd-control police used live teargas bombs during their recent exercise at Government House. That seems to be intended as a warning to protesters that they will be handled in the same way as the Pitak Siam crowd last year.

Such a stance against anti-government protesters may lead to a negative perception of the Pheu Thai-led administration. The police appear to tolerate street demonstrations and aggressive acts by the red shirts against anti-government protesters. Government figures spoke in support of their acts, describing them as "expression of democratic viewpoints". This has led to the feeling of unfair treatment and double standards.

This standpoint by law enforcers and ruling politicians and the belligerent stance of the government’s enemies threaten to take the country back to a vicious cycle of political conflict. They are like adding fuel to the fire. With more and more of this, a new disaster looks inevitable.

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